Monthly Archives: November 2013

ISON Survives

ISON comes around the sun. ©ESA/NASA/SOHO
ISON comes around the sun. ©ESA/NASA/SOHO via SpaceRef

An update to yesterday’s post when I was unsure of whether ISON actually did survive and apparently it did although it could be in pieces. Glad I didn’t jump on the ISON is dead bandwagon the one newscast had running around — no wonder I don’t listen to that one network.

Hope to have a look at it soon, naturally there is a hill in the way though so it might be a few days from here. Time for a short road trip to get around the hill in question.

Thank goodness for my little Meade ETX scope, I can toss it in the car an go. Looking for a Christmas gift? The smaller Meade’s (and probably Celestron) are priced reasonably. A pair of image stabilizing binoculars would be a great gift too, best thing about them is the fact you can use them anytime. I heard once the best scope is the one you use the most and there is much truth in that. I would stay away from the department store “telescopes” though, and notice I’m not going to admonish you to NOT buy one, just if possible get something from a company that knows something about quality optics. If a sales pitch involves telling you how powerful the product is, consider that a red-flag. Concern yourself with optical quality first.

There, before I really get going, back to the original point of the post. Here’s a press release from the Max Planck Institute:

The unusual shape of the comet’s tail permits conclusions about yesterday’s encounter with the sun November 29, 2013

At the time of its closest approach to the sun, comet ISON still had an active nucleus which was spewing gas and dust. This is the assessment made by scientists at the Max Planck Institute for Solar System Research in Katlenburg- Lindau. They are currently analyzing actual pictures of the instrument LASCO which enjoys a unique view of the comet from its vantage point on board of the Solar Observatory SOHO. From the assessments, it is not clear whether the nucleus still exists or whether it partially fragmented on its fiery swing around the sun.
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Sizzle and Poof

First the sizzle:

ISON appears to have lost a lot of it’s “comet goodness” during its sizzling close-encounter with the Sun. There does seem to be a little bit of it left and a tail seems to be growing as you can see at the very end of this (SOHO) video at the ESA channel. How long will it last and is there really anything left that the solar wind won’t strip away? Too soon to tell.

I was watching television this morning and the program did one of those “cut-ins” with a “news” network, one that I never watch on its own, and they were declaring ISON dead. This is the same “news” network ridiculing SpaceX for aborting last afternoon’s launch attempt, the attempt being the second this week and how inept they were yada-yada.

I did see the launch attempt and no the launch didn’t happen, still, it was quite exciting. The abort came at the moment after the main engines lit off, then poof it was over. No word on the reason for this abort yet. You must know the coverage by Space X was excellent, the two hosts and non-PR Space X employees, Molly and John were awesome in their explanations of the events of the countdown and mission. They made the time spent watching worth it. Really a very-very good job.


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Curiosity Update

A NAV_LEFT_B image from Curiostiy on Sol 465.  Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech
A NAV_LEFT_B image from Curiostiy on Sol 465. Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

The Curiosity rover has resumed operations on the Martian surface. The the voltage drop of 17 Nov. that halted Curiosity’s operations was diagnosed (see Curious Troubles).

The “likely” cause of the voltage drop was determined to be an internal short in Curiosity’s Multi-Mission Radioisotope Thermoelectric Generator. The design is robust and the short apparently does not affect operation of the power source or the rover. These systems are on other spacecraft, Cassini for example and the shorts don’t seem to result in a loss of capability. Putting those two things together mission managers decided to resume operations.

Interestingly after the decision to resume science activities was made engineers learned the voltage level drop had reversed and is back at the pre-drop level of 17 Nov.

The image is from the left Navcam on Curiosity of Sol 465 (26 November 2013). Makes me wonder about how much mileage they are going to get out of the wheels, that one looks more  beat up than I would have thought.  Perhaps the wear could simply be from the way Curiosity landed, I’m not sure.

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Here’s a short video made from images taken by the Solar Terrestrial Relations Observatory (STEREO – A). The video was made over a five day period from 20 to 25 November 2013 (Image Credit: NASA/STEREO).

ISON is heading towards perihelion, the point in the orbit where it is closest to the sun as it passes around. That distance is going to be about 0.013 AU on 28 November.

ISON is also in the region where, if it is going to break up the next few days is when it is going to happen. I read somewhere ISON needs to be around 200 meters in diameter to survive and current estimates has it between 500 meters and 1.2 km so my fingers are crossed it will make it around and give us a nice show on the way out.

You will notice another object crossing ISON’s path about the time ISON is in line with Mercury. That is another comet, Comet Enke.

See this and other versions leading up to this video here.

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Mach 1000 Shock Wave

A photograph of the Tycho supernova remnant taken by the Chandra X-ray Observatory. Low-energy X-rays (red) in the image show expanding debris from the supernova explosion and high energy X-rays (blue) show the blast wave, a shell of extremely energetic electrons. X-ray: NASA/CXC/Rutgers/K. Eriksen et al.; Optical (starry background): DSS
A photograph of the Tycho supernova remnant taken by the Chandra X-ray Observatory. Low-energy X-rays (red) in the image show expanding debris from the supernova explosion and high energy X-rays (blue) show the blast wave, a shell of extremely energetic electrons.
X-ray: NASA/CXC/Rutgers/K. Eriksen et al.; Optical (starry background): DSS

Mach 1000 shock wave but in reverse?

From Harvard-Smithsonian CFA

Cambridge, MA –
When a star explodes as a supernova, it shines brightly for a few weeks or months before fading away. Yet the material blasted outward from the explosion still glows hundreds or thousands of years later, forming a picturesque supernova remnant. What powers such long-lived brilliance?


In the case of Tycho’s supernova remnant, astronomers have discovered that a reverse shock wave racing inward at Mach 1000 (1000 times the speed of sound) is heating the remnant and causing it to emit X-ray light.


“We wouldn’t be able to study ancient supernova remnants without a reverse shock to light them up,” says Hiroya Yamaguchi, who conducted this research at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics (CfA).
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Stunning Rings and Two Moons

Saturns rings and two moons. Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Space Science Institute
Saturns rings and two moons. Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Space Science Institute

A stunning image of Saturn’s rings. There are two moons in this image too, the larger of the two is obvious and is Epimetheus and the other is Daphnis.

Daphnis is a wee moon being only 8 km / 5 mi. and is very difficult to see unless you click the image to get the larger view. Look just to the right of center and in the rings just to the inside of the (Keeler) gap.

More about Saturn.

Before you read the NASA supplied caption below, I wanted to let you know there are TWO different launches today and they are only a short time apart from each other:

1. The Progress 53 cargo ship is scheduled to launch from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan at 20:53 UTC (15:53 EST) The coverage should be here: Update:  Launched,

2. A SpaceX launch is scheduled for 22:45 UTC (17:45 EST). The flight will put the SES-8 communications into a geostationary orbit from Cape Canaveral Florida USA. Coverage: Update: A delay due to an issue, next attempt not before Thursday.  The delay came around T minus 3 minutes 40 seconds.  I could not get back to the time and a news release with more info is still in the works.


Here’s the caption from NASA (link goes to much larger versions of the image):

Amidst and Beyond the Rings

While the moon Epimetheus passes by, beyond the edge of Saturn’s main rings, the tiny moon Daphnis carries on its orbit within the Keeler gap of the A ring. Although quite different in size, both moons create waves in the rings thanks to their gravitational influences.

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15 Years of the ISS

15 years of building the ISS in two and a half minutes.

With the launch of Zarya module on 20 November 1998, the International Space Station was born. The ISS has been with us for 15-years this week thanks to the dedication and corporation of different space agencies from around the world.

The video above was put together by the Canadian Space Agency. One of the Canadian contributions is the robotic arm called Canadarm 2 featured in the video. The Canadarm continues to be instrumental in the success of the station and something Canadians everywhere are rightfully proud of – yeah, you go Canada!


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ISON From the Ground

ISON this week. Image credit: NASA/MSFC/MEO/Cameron McCarty
ISON this week. Image credit: NASA/MSFC/MEO/Cameron McCarty

Here’s a ground based image of comet ISON taken on 19 November by the Marshall Space Flight Center’s 20-inch (508 mm) in New Mexico.

My own efforts have been thwarted by cloudy skies thanks mostly to the mountain range to the east, plus they block a good bit of the lower angle look to the horizon. Once the comet goes around the sun, another mountain range will come into play (the Adirondacks of New York) but they are further away and are not as much of an issue. The snow and bad weather promised this week will pass and the first week of December hopefully will be a good one.

Larger versions available here.

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Swarm Launched

ESA’s SWARM satellites are successfully launched from the Plesetsk cosmodrome in northern Russia this morning in what has to be one of the prettiest launches I’ve seen in a long while. The launch went off perfectly at 12:03 UTC. ESA has since acquired signals from all three satellites so it would sound as if things are going smoothly.

The mission is going to be a very interesting one: study the magnetic field. Sounds simple, but it’s not so much. For example we know the magnetic field is basically set up by the molten core of iron at the Earth’s center.

Video source

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Curious Troubles

One of the latest images of 17 November from Curiosity. Taken with the left NavCam.  Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech
One of the latest images of 17 November from Curiosity. Taken with the left NavCam. Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

The MSL rover Curiosity has suspended scientific operations for a few days to take a look at an electrical issue detected on 17 Nov.

A voltage drop of about 7 volts (~ 11 to ~ 4 volts) was detected on Curiosity’s 450th Martian day. The The possibility of a “soft short” is being investigated. A “soft short” partially conducts electricity differing from a “hard” short that occurs when two wires touch that shouldn’t.

Jim Erickison of JPL says: The vehicle is safe and stable, fully capable of operating in its present condition, but we are taking the precaution of investigating what may be a soft short.” so far, analysis has shown a voltage change had occurred intermittently three times prior to the current event.

The press release reminded me about the “soft short” on landing day involving the explosive-release deployment devices. That reduced the bus voltage to the 11 volts mentioned here from an original 16 volts.

It sounds like in total, the voltage has dropped from 16 volts to 4 volts. While Curiosity can operate, hopefully the mission managers can get this sorted out before another 50 to 75 percent voltage drop happens. I have to think the mission team will get to the bottom of things if at all possible, even from around 261,518,000 km / 162500000 miles.

Getting to the bottom of the problem is one thing, mitigating it is quite another — good luck!

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