Monthly Archives: January 2014

Mars Comet Update

Comet 2013 A1 Siding Spring image taken by the NEOWISE mission. Click for larger. Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

You may remember a story about a comet coming quite close to the planet Mars. NASA’s NEOWISE mission captured this image of the comet which is heading towards Mars and currently just inside the orbit of Jupiter.

The comet C/2013 A1 Siding Spring will come within 138,000 km / 88,000 miles of the Martian surface. so the comet will miss Mars, however, dust from the comet could actually enevolop the planet.

This from NASA:

NASA’s NEOWISE mission captured images of comet C/2013 A1 Siding Spring, which is slated to make a close pass by Mars on Oct. 19, 2014. The infrared pictures reveal a comet that is active and very dusty even though it was about 355 million miles (571 million kilometers) away from the sun on Jan. 16, 2014, when this picture was taken.

The infrared measurements will allow astronomers to determine the sizes and quantity of dust particles being flung off the comet. The measurements will also give engineers some indications of what orbiting spacecraft at Mars might expect when the comet gets close. Preliminary analysis of the data indicate approximately 220 pounds (100 kilograms) of dust are being ejected from the comet’s surface each second, assuming the grains are dark and nearly the density of water-ice. The comet’s activity is expected to increase as it gets closer to Mars.

There is more from NASA here.

Great Timing

The LRO gets a picture of LADEE passing below. Click for larger. Image Credit: NASA/Goddard/Arizona State University

Precision tracking is a better title, two spacecraft around the moon and on crossing orbits cross paths. One spacecraft (LRO) was about 9 km / 5.6 miles above the other (LADEE) and they manage a picture of the lower craft.

For me the fun thing these are two different missions with different teams and they had enough interaction to know this was coming, really this is good.

You can get somewhat of a better look by clicking here, I zoomed in on the LADEE and you can see the limitation in the way the LRO camera (LROC) takes a picture. Well limitation to catching another spacecraft passes by, as a lunar imager it is amazing.

Here is a link to an unannotated version of the image above.

LADEE is in an equatorial orbit (east-­to-­west) while LRO is in a polar orbit (south-­to-­north). The two spacecraft are occasionally very close and on Jan. 15, 2014, the two came within 5.6 miles (9 km) of each other. As LROC is a push-broom imager, it builds up an image one line at a time, so catching a target as small and fast as LADEE is tricky. Both spacecraft are orbiting the moon with velocities near 3,600 mph (1,600 meters per second), so timing and pointing of LRO must be nearly perfect to capture LADEE in an LROC image.

LADEE passed directly beneath the LRO orbit plane a few seconds before LRO crossed the LADEE orbit plane, meaning a straight down LROC image would have just missed LADEE. The LADEE and LRO teams worked out the solution: simply have LRO roll 34 degrees to the west so the LROC detector (one line) would be in the right place as LADEE passed beneath.
As planned at 8:11 p.m. EST on Jan. 14, 2014, LADEE entered LRO’s Narrow Angle Camera (NAC) field of view for 1.35 milliseconds and a smeared image of LADEE was snapped. LADEE appears in four lines of the LROC image, and is distorted right­to­left. What can be seen in the LADEE pixels in the NAC image?

Here’s the press release


Science@NASA put up a video about Earth impacting asteroids, notably 2014AA the New Years Day asteroid.

Hey it’s more interesting than the learning the new Federal Grants Program procedures classes I’ve been at for the past two days.  :mrgreen:


Double Vision

Hubble’s view of quasar QSO 0957+561. Click for larger. Credit: ESA/NASA

Gravitational lensing turns out to be a source of double vision for Hubble.

From NASA (click here to get desktop sized versions from the source):

In this new Hubble image two objects are clearly visible, shining brightly. When they were first discovered in 1979, they were thought to be separate objects — however, astronomers soon realized that these twins are a little too identical! They are close together, lie at the same distance from us, and have surprisingly similar properties. The reason they are so similar is not some bizarre coincidence; they are in fact the same object.

Continue reading

Rosetta’s Goal

67P/Churyumov–Gerasimenko from the ESO on 05 Oct 2013. ESO / C. Snodgrass (Max Planck Institute for Solar System Research, Germany)

Here is an image of comet 67P/Churyumov–Gerasimenko taken on 05 Oct 2013. This is the comet ESA’s Rosetta spacecraft is destined to orbit. As far as I know this is the latest image of the comet.

The image was taken by the Very Large Telescope (VLT) at the European Southern Observatory (ESO) in Chile. We can see the comet with and without the background of stars.

The comet was about 500,000 km from Earth and heading behind the Sun from our perspective in its six and a half year orbit at the time. If you have about 15 minutes or so, I’d like to encourage you to visit ESA’s “Where is Rosetta“. This was fantastic look at Rosetta’s journey and gives a nice perspective into how much planning goes into a mission like this.

Partial screen shot showing the positions of Rosetta and 67P/Churyumov–Gerasimenko from the “Where is Rosetta” page on the ESA site.

If you watch it from the begining, you will notice around late 2010 or early 2011 both the comet and Rosetta go “off screen”, click the “reset view” to zoom out to see it. I would suggest not hitting that link until then though as early on the orbits by Rosetta are pretty interesting as far as how the mission was set up to put the spacecaft in position to chase down Churyumov–Gerasimenko — it loses its flair zoomed out.

You can also move the slider along the time line if you are in a hurry.

Spacewalk Ahead

A beautiful image of the Soyuz in the foreground and Cuba in the background taken by an unnamed member of Expedition 38.

There will be a spacewalk by Expedition 38 Commander Oleg Kotov and Flight Engineer Sergey Ryazanskiy tomorrow (27 January).

The spacewalk will be to reinstall a pair of cameras after a 27 December attempt to install them were not completely successful. In that EVA, the longest Russian spacewalk ever, the cameras would not deliver a signal to flight controllers. Troubleshooting on several cable connectors was performed by the crew and hopefully the issue has been solved.

Coverage from NASA TV will begin tomorrow at 13:30 UTC / 08:30 EST and the hatch opening at 14:10 UTC / 09:10 EST. You should be able to watch from the link in the banner and certainally from the NASA TV link.


Roving for Ten Years

The first color image returned by the rover Spirit in Jan 2004.  Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Cornell Univ./Arizona State Univ.
The first color image returned by the rover Spirit in Jan 2004. Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Cornell Univ./Arizona State Univ.

It’s hard to believe but true, this year marks 10-years of roving the red planet. The Mars Exploration Rover Spirit landed on Mars on 4 January 2004 (UTC).

The image above was taken on 6 January 2004 by the rover Spirit. At the time this was the highest resolution image returned from another planet. It is still one of the best images taken.

A month after the image was taken Spirit used the RAT or Rock Abrasion Tool to drill into a rock dubbed Adirondack (on 6 Feb 2004).

In May of 2009 Spirit got stuck in soft soil. The soil consisted of iron sulfate which does not provide very good traction.

Problems with the flash memory were evident a few months later in October. Then in late November and into December problems with the wheels on Spirit began to crop up.

In January 2010 Spirit stopped roving and became a stationary science platform. In addition to the previously mentioned problems during 2009, communications problems were also occurring. The last contact with Spirit was on 22 March 2010, although later unsuccessful attempts were made until May 2011.

Spirit’s mission was ended on 25 May 2011.

The matching rover, Opportunity landed on Mars on 25 January 2004 (UTC) and is still conducting science and yes roving.

Just incredible.  See a complete time-line from NASA.

As an aside:  I meant to publish this back on 05 Jan, but for some reason it never made it on the queue.  Oh it was my fault all right.  Good thing these rovers were a set.  

Supercritical Water

Fire and water do mix? Crew members aboard the ISS are conducting experiments that use water to help start a fire. I never would have guessed, but my water knowledge is more in the super-saturated dissolved gas realm.

There is an application too: “this fundamental physics investigation could have down-to-Earth benefits such as clean-burning municipal waste disposal and improved saltwater purification.”


M82 Supernova

A supernova is discovered in M82, by accident. Click for larger. Image via University of London

This is awesome! Imagine it, a demonstration to undergrads at the University of London leads to a discovery of a supernova – talk about luck!

Before we go to far M82 is:

  • Located in Ursa Major (aka: The Big Dipper)
  • Magnitude: 8.4 (easily visible with binoculars of better)
  • Distace (about): 3.5 Mega-parsecs / 12 Million light-years

Get more information about M82 at SEDS.

From the University of London:

Students and staff at UCL’s teaching observatory, the University of London Observatory, have spotted one of the closest supernovae to Earth in recent decades. At 19:20 GMT on 21 January, a team of students — Ben Cooke, Tom Wright, Matthew Wilde and Guy Pollack — assisted by Dr. Steve Fossey, spotted the exploding star in nearby galaxy Messier 82 (the Cigar Galaxy).

The discovery was a fluke — a 10 minute telescope workshop for undergraduate students that led to a global scramble to acquire confirming images and spectra of a supernova in one of the most unusual and interesting of our near-neighbor galaxies.

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The Lagoon Nebula

The Lagoon Nebula.  Click for larger.  Credit: ESO
The Lagoon Nebula. Click for larger. Credit: ESO

A wonderful image of the Lagoon Nebula from the VLT Survey Telescope at the Paranal Observatory in Chile and operated by the ESO.

I enjoy the Lagoon, it’s low in my sky but I can see it (it can be seen with binoculars during the summer if you have a decent sky). Nothing like this though, but then I don’t have a 16,000 pixel-wide camera either.

Yes, 16,000 pixel-wide, to that end the best way to enjoy this image is to go to the large version at ESO (here is the direct link). The image is zoomable and is just amazing, if you have a few minutes to spare do check it out.

The Lagoon Nebula is also known as Messier 8, it is a giant cloud some 31 parsecs (100 light-years) across in the constellation Sagittarius about 1,500 parsecs (5,000 light-years away).

Read more at the ESO website.