Cygnus Leaves the ISS

The Cygnus cargo ship just after being released from the ISS robotic arm. Click for larger. Credit: NASA TV

Orbital Sciences Corporation is putting the final touches on the first its first operational resupply of the International Space Station with the Cygnus cargo ship.

Cygnus left the the ISS this morning at 11:41 UTC when it was released the robot arm 260 miles above the South Atlantic east of Argentina. Once released Cygnus “set sail” so to speak by firing thrusters for a minute and a half to get it out of a safety zone maintained around the ISS.

On Wednesday (19 February) a couple of braking manuvers will slow the Cygnus enough to cause it to fall out of orbit in a controlled fashion.

Cygnus was launched a little over a month ago and on 12 January after a three day journey from Wallops Island Virginia, it arrived at the ISS with almost 2,800 pounds of supplies.

After the supplies were removed from Cygnus it was refilled with trash from the station. No recycling here, the Cygnus and its contents will burn up during the re-entry interface with the atmosphere. The re-entry if we can call it that, will occur at around 18:20 UTC tomorrow, Wednesday 19 February over the Atlantic between South America and New Zealand.


Static image from OVATION. Click to go to the OVATION page with live images. Credit NOAA

The US Space Weather Prediction Center and the Space Weather Prediction Testbed recently introduced a new Auroral Foercast (test) product.

The Auroral Forecast product is based ont eh OVATION Prime model providing a 30 to 40 minute forecast on auroral displays and probabilities for both polar regions. The model itself was developed by P. Newell at the Johns Hopkins, Applied Physics Lab. Scientists at the NESDIS National Geophysical Data Center (NGDC) added further refinements to make the model run in real time.

The model uses data from the Advanced Composition Explorer (ACE) satelite. For the displays, the model takes the ACE data and provides output in terms of energy per unit area and converts that into a relative intesity map and that is further translated into a probability of observation. The resulting images show where the aurora most likely will be seen and how intense it is likely to be.

The release of the OVATION product is timely as we should be seeing an increase in auroral activity.

What is the solar cycle progression shaping up? Quite close to predictions.

The image is a static image of the northern hemisphere, click it to go to the OVATION page and get a live look at both poles or you can click here.

Comet Totas

Four images stacked and centered on the Comet. Creidit: TOTASESA/TOTAS/M. Micheli

Sometimes you just get a lucky break. A team of astronomers with Europe’s Teide Observatory Tenerife Asteroid Survey team (TOTAS) has been credited with discovering comet P/2014 C1, named ‘TOTAS’ in recognition of the teamwork involved in the find.

The group found the comet while doing “routine” observations using a 1m telescope at ESA’s Optical Ground Station, Tenerife, Spain.

This isn’t one of those far flung comets. TOTAS orbits is between Mars and Jupiter and there it stays so it will never be close to Earth (all other things being equal that is). TOTAS is rather dim from reports, being only a magnitude 18 to 20 and this no doubt explains why it was just found. Like I said sometimes it takes a lucky break, I can just imagine how tickled the team was when they found out what they discovered.

If you would like to see an animated gif of TOTAS take a look at the ESA page.

Saturn’s Aurora

On 5 April and 20 May 2013 Saturn was on the receiving end of blast of solar wind. The electrons in the solar wind and collided with hydrogen molecules and an aurora resulted.

Between the Cassini spacecraft and the Hubble Space Telescope a series of ultraviolet and infrared images were taken and put into video form.

Source Video

BTW: Snowing here, 300 to 360 mm expected overnight.

Ganymede Map

Map of Ganymede. Image Credit: USGS Astrogeology Science Ctr/Wheaton/ASU/NASA/JPL-Caltech

A group of scientists have produced the first global geologic map of Jupiter moon Ganymede. The scientists led by Geoffery Collins of Wheaton College combined the best images obtained during flybys conducted by NASA’s Voyager 1 and 2 spacecraft (1979) and Galileo orbiter (1995 to 2003) and is now published by the U. S. Geological Survey as a global map.

I downloaded the map from the USGS site. I clicked on the image at the site and wow what a nice job they did. The image above will make a lot more sense for you if you check out the links at the USGS page. I am heading over to get the database, that should be excellent.

Centaurus A – A New Look

A new look at Centaurus A.Image credit: X-ray: NASA/CXC/U. Birmingham/M. Burke et al.

Centaurus A is always a treat to see in a good image. This Chandra image gives us an especially good look at those huge jets of material being rejected by the supermassive blackhole at the center of the galaxy.

This image shows those bubble structures too.

From NASA:

Just weeks after NASA’s Chandra X-ray Observatory began operations in 1999, the telescope pointed at Centaurus A (Cen A, for short). This galaxy, at a distance of about 12 million light years from Earth, contains a gargantuan jet blasting away from a central supermassive black hole.
Since then, Chandra has returned its attention to this galaxy, each time gathering more data. And, like an old family photo that has been digitally restored, new processing techniques are providing astronomers with a new look at this old galactic friend.

Continue reading

Saturn’s F Ring

The F ring of Saturn as seen from the Cassini spacecraft. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Space Science Institute

An interesting offering from the Cassini spacecraft. The JPL caption (below) says “the ring appears to separate from the core of the ring”. It looks more to me as if the ring isn’t so much separated as it is sort of folded, but then I’m no expert. Click the image and have a look to see what you think.

The JPL caption:

Saturn’s F ring often appears to do things other rings don’t. In this Cassini spacecraft image, a strand of ring appears to separate from the core of the ring as if pulled apart by mysterious forces.
Some ring scientists believe that this feature may be due to repeated collisions between the F ring and a single small object.
Eight stars are also visible in this image.
This view looks toward the unilluminated side of the rings from about 49 degrees below the ringplane. The image was taken in visible light with the Cassini spacecraft narrow-angle camera on Oct. 19, 2013.
The view was obtained at a distance of approximately 1.2 million miles (1.9 million kilometers) from Saturn and at a Sun-Saturn-spacecraft, or phase, angle of 120 degrees. Image scale is 6.8 miles (11 kilometers) per pixel.

The Travels of the Torch

I’m watching some of the Olympic coverage this morning. Got to thinking about how much work the athletes have put into for the honor of representing their respective countries. The dedication and ability is simply amazing.

The whole event is a great spectacle, even the travels of the torch were over the top.