Monthly Archives: November 2013

ISON Heading for Sun

Comet ISON evolving. Credit: Max Planck Institute for Solar System Research (MPS)
Comet ISON evolving. Credit: Max Planck Institute for Solar System Research (MPS)

ISON has showing signs of activity lately, not that I would know thanks to poor skies, but in this excellent image from the Max Planck Institute for Solar System Research seems to confirm what I’ve been reading.

Now the question becomes: will ISON survive the trip around the sun which will be happening next week? I know I took issue with everyone that was predicting ISON’s demise months ago and I still do. The fact is simply even the experts do not know what is going to happen.

ISON if you didn’t know is considered a sungrazing comet.  Here’s a video explaining sungrazers.

I of course want the comet to survive, if it does it should be fairly easy to see. Imagine this too, should it survive ISON will most likely be flung out of the solar system never to return.

Here’s the press release from MPS:

One or more fragments may have detached from comet ISON in the past days, as two wing-shaped features in the comet’s atmosphere suggest.

Scientists from the Max Planck Institute for Solar System Research (MPS) in Germany and the Wendelstein Observatory of the Ludwig-Maximilians-University in Munich (Germany) discovered these features in images taken at the end of last week. The fragmentation may offer an explanation for the comet’s recent outburst of activity.

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Catching Up

GOCE comes home.  Credit: Bill Chater via ESA.
GOCE comes home. Credit: Bill Chater via ESA.

Now that MAVEN has launched, it might be a good time to sort of catch up a little on the newer unmanned missions.

The image above shows the GOCE spacecraft re-entering the atmosphere. It was taken by Bill Chater in the Falklands at 21:20 local time on 11 November. Nice image, made the page this week too.

NASA’s LADEE mission is around halfway though the lunar commissioning phase, the orbit is about 250 km (155 mi) above the lunar surface. Instrument testing and calibration is continuing. Contact passes via a European ground station in Tenerife Spain have begun. NASA’s Update

The Indian Space Research Organisation’s Mars Orbiter Mission continues to go well. On an earlier update (11 Nov) the spacecraft’s apogee was increased to 78276 km (48,638 miles), apogee being the part of the orbit where it is farthest from Earth. Another maneuver to increase Apogee has been completed and the current distance has increased to 118,642 km (73,720 miles). ISRO Mars Mission Page.

Plenty of activity to come too. Something like 60 (?) small cubesats are to be sent up in two separate launches on the 20 and 21 November and the SWARM launch on 22 November.

I am hoping the Gaia launch comes off in December too – that’s going to be a fantastic mission.

Busy times!

MAVEN Launch Replay

In case you didn’t get to see it “live”. I did BTW, sadly I was not where I could get on the site.

I was also asked about the name and what does the “N” at the end of MAVEN stand for, thinking I forgot to include part of the name: Mars Atmosphere and Volatile Evolution. It does seem to be missing something and I AM quite capable of missing/omitting/mis-spelling (etc) something. Just not in this case:

MAVEN: Mars Atmosphere and Volatile EvolutioN


MAVEN Is Ready to Go

Mission:  Mars Atmosphere and Volatile Evolution (MAVEN)

Rocket: Atlas V

Launch Facility: Cape Canaveral Florida / Complex 41

Current Status: Go –

Launch Date: Monday, 18 November. 2013 18:28 UTC / 13:28 EDT

Odds of Launch: 60 percent (as of the morning of 17 Nov )

MAVEN on the pad ready for launch.  Credit: NASA.  Note. Will try to replace this with live video tomorrow.
MAVEN on the pad ready for launch. Credit: NASA. Note. I took the live feed off and the replay is in the next post

NOAA’s Forecast:

Monday: A 50 percent chance of showers. Mostly cloudy, with a high near 81. Southwest wind around 5 mph becoming calm in the afternoon.

MAVEN will collect data to determine the role that loss of volatile from the Mars atmosphere to space has played through time, giving insight into the history of Mars’ atmosphere and climate, liquid water, and planetary habitability.

To collect that data MAVEN will use a suite of eight sensors:

Neutral Gas and Ion Mass Spectrometer
Langmuir Probe and Waves
Imaging Ultraviolet Spectrometer
Solar Wind Electron Analyzer
Solar Wind Ion Analyzer
Solar Energetic Particles
SupraThermal And Thermal Ion Composition

The principle investigator is Dr. Bruce Jakosky of the University of Colorado’s Laboratory for Atmospheric and Space Physics (CU/LASP) and this will be the first Mars mission managed by the Goddard Space Flight Center.

Murray Ridge

The rover Opportunity's view of Murray Ridge. Credit: Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Cornell/ASU
The rover Opportunity’s view of Murray Ridge. Credit: Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Cornell/ASU

Here is a landscape of Endeavour Crater as seen by the intrepid rover Opportunity on 03 October 2013. Yes Opportunity is alive and well and the Pancam is working wonderfully!  Actually this is a collection of images taken between 03 and 08 October.  Those dates correspond to Martian day number 3,446 and 3,451 of Opportunity’s time on Mars!

Murray Ridge is so named by the rover team in memoriam of Bruce Murray (1931-2013). Mr. Murray was a former director of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory and a member of the science teams to the earliest Mars missions.

Read the full description and get larger versions of the image here.

One of the best parts of this image isn’t readily apparent. Examination of the full-sized version shows a distant ridge (probably the other side of Endeavour crater but I don’t know that for sure) with a couple of distinct craters in it. Have a look.

Hubble and NGC 6984

Hubble's look at NGC 6984 . Image Credit: NASA/ESA/Hubble
Hubble’s look at NGC 6984 . Image Credit: NASA/ESA/Hubble

An amazing image, no wonder it is made NASA’s Image of the Day.

NGC 6984 is 65.9 Mpc (180 million light-years) away in the direction of the constellation Indus.

You can get a large version (desktop size) at the link below.

From the NASA Image of the Day:

Supernovae are intensely bright objects. They are formed when a star reaches the end of its life with a dramatic explosion, expelling most of its material out into space. The subject of this new Hubble image, spiral galaxy NGC 6984, played host to one of these explosions back in 2012, known as SN 2012im. Now, another star has exploded, forming supernova SN 2013ek — visible in this image as the prominent, star-like bright object just slightly above and to the right of the galaxy’s center.

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ISON moving through Virgo. Click for larger. Image credit: NASA/MSFC/Aaron Kingery
ISON moving through Virgo. Click for larger. Image credit: NASA/MSFC/Aaron Kingery

I’ve been having a lot of bad luck with ISON observations. It’s been a good while since I’ve seen anything other than clouds in the sky. Oh sure there were two or three mornings with semi-clear sky conditions but even then ISON happened to be covered. Right now it is a magnitude 5.24, probably a decent binocular object.

I will keep watching and you should too because ISON should be starting to brighten quickly and could be a naked eye object in just days to a week. Don’t miss out!

Here is a screenshot from Stellarium for 18 November 2013 at 05:30 and at 45 deg north latitude, you might find it useful for a guide.  Note: Higher latitudes will see objects lower in the sky and vice versa.

Here are the specific coordinates: RA/Dec 13h43m19 sec/ 12o53’26”

If you use the screenshot ISON will appear higher in the sky with respect to the stars on days preceding 18 November and lower in the sky and subsequent days.

As a bonus Mercury is approaching its Western Elongation and will reach it on 18 November, so if you have a good look at the eastern horizon you will get a chance to see it. If you can I say: lucky you! I have a mountain range in the way. When was the last time you saw Mercury? Seeing Mercury in the east is worth getting up for all by itself!

Here is the caption released with the ISON image above:

Comet ISON shines in this five-minute exposure taken at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center on Nov. 8 at 5:40 a.m. EST. The image has a field of view of roughly 1.5 degrees by 1 degree and was captured using a color CCD camera attached to a 14″ telescope located at Marshall. At the time of this picture, Comet ISON was 97 million miles from Earth, heading toward a close encounter with the sun on Nov. 28. Located in the constellation of Virgo, it is now visible in a good pair of binoculars.

Welcome Home

Soyuz Returns ISS crew and Olympic torch.  Image: RSA via Spaceref
Soyuz Returns ISS crew and Olympic torch. Image: RSA TV via Spaceref

Three Expedition 37 crew members returned to Earth yesterday aboard the Soyuz TMA-09M spacecraft. Soyuz Commander Fyodor Yurchikhin and Flight Engineers Karen Nyberg and Luca Parmitano undocked from the Zvezda service module at 6:26 p.m. EST Sunday to begin the journey home.

The trio landed in the steppe of Kazakhstan southeast of Dzhezkazgan at 9:49 p.m. (8:49 a.m. Monday, Kazakh time).  Welcome home!

The returning crew brought back a bit of very special cargo: the Olympic torch to be used to light the Olympic flame at the opening ceremonies of the 2014 Winter Olympic Games in Sochi, Russia (07 Feb 2014).

The undocking marks the end of the Expedition 37 mission and the beginning of Expedition 38 aboard the ISS.


India Heads to Mars

Congratulations to the Indian Space Research Organisation for their successful launch of their first interplanetary mission with their own Mars Orbiter.

Yes, India is going to Mars and if all goes well the journey should take right around 300 days to get to Mars orbit insertion.

I look forward to watching the mission play out as time goes on. The ISRO is a wonderful organization and I am sure they will make the most of everything they learn along the way.

Currently the spacecraft seems to be functioning well and is undergoing in-flight systems tests during as of today a fourth “orbit-raising” maneuver – increasing the size and velocity of the orbit.

The ISRO have put together a very informative website for the mission that is worth the look. Mars Orbiter Mission Website