Monthly Archives: June 2014

NASA LDSD Test Success

The test complete, the NASA LDSD is lifted aboard the Kahana recovery vehicle.  Image via SpaceRef
The test complete, the NASA LDSD is lifted aboard the Kahana recovery vehicle. Image via SpaceRef

The Low-Density Supersonic Decelerator (LDSD) launched yesterday by balloon from the US Navy’s Pacific Missile Range Facility in Kauai, Hawaii.

The balloon was launched at 08:45 local HST and by 11:05 HST the test vehicle was released at an altitude of 120,000 feet or 36.6 km. The decent took a half hour and the est vehicle hardware, black box data recorder and parachute were all recovered later in the day.

This first of three test planned tests designed to determine the flying ability of the vehicle and it also deployed two new landing technologies as a bonus.

The test apparently went very well:

“Because our vehicle flew so well, we had the chance to earn ‘extra credit’ points with the Supersonic Inflatable Aerodynamic Decelerator [SIAD],” said Ian Clark, principal investigator for LDSD at JPL. “All indications are that the SIAD deployed flawlessly, and because of that, we got the opportunity to test the second technology, the enormous supersonic parachute, which is almost a year ahead of schedule.”

Here are a couple of links to video of the test / flight:

LDSD Test Flight part 1

LDSD Test Flight part 2


By studying ions, or small electrically charged particles, in and above the Martian atmosphere, the Solar Wind Ion Analyzer on board the Mars Atmosphere and Volatile Evolution (MAVEN) mission may provide clues to why the Martian atmosphere has gradually been lost.

The MAVEN fact sheet.


Hubble Looks at a Dwarf Galaxy

The dwarf galaxy NGC 5474 as seen by Hubble. Click for larger. Image Credit: ESA/NASA
The dwarf galaxy NGC 5474 as seen by Hubble. Click for larger. Image Credit: ESA/NASA

NGC 5474 is visible to observers in the northern hemisphere. It’s another of the gems in the area of Ursa Major or the Big Dipper.

This is an amazing image.  To see just how good, compare the Hubble image to a pretty good image from the ground (University of Alaska).

A link to the SEDS page for the M 101 galaxy group (mentioned below).

Here’s the caption from the NASA site :

The subject of this Hubble image is NGC 5474, a dwarf galaxy located 21 million light-years away in the constellation of Ursa Major (The Great Bear). This beautiful image was taken with Hubble’s Advanced Camera for Surveys (ACS).
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Curiosity Posts a Selfie

Curiousity takes a selfie. Click for larger.Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS
Curiousity takes a selfie. Click for larger.Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

Using the Mars Hand Lens Imager (MHLI) at the end of its arm to take dozens of images of itself (selfies). The images were taken in April and May (2014) while the rover was doing science at the Windjana drilling site.

Winjana is inside a science waypoint called “The Kimberley” and was chosen were sandstone layers with varying exposure to the Martian wind which causes erosion. A great spot for science samples.

What you don’t see in the image is the rover arm. What you can see are the holes drilled by by Curiosity’s drill out in front of the rover. You can spot them left of center and down a little, look for the gray spots. We can see dust accumulating on the rover, not too bad yet.

See this links to more images and details at the NASA site.

Perseus Cluster from Chandra

The Perseus Cluster by Chandra. Click for larger. Image credit: X-ray: NASA/CXC/SAO/E.Bulbul, et al.
The Perseus Cluster by Chandra. Click for larger. Image credit: X-ray: NASA/CXC/SAO/E.Bulbul, et al.

You want big? The Perseus Cluster is BIG!

Perseus A (aka NGC 1275) is 72.7 Mpc (237 million light-years) away in the constellation Perseus of all places.

Perseus is located at RA: 03h 25m 20.601s Dec: +49°54’29.118″,actually the location of Mirfak, the alpha star which means it is the brightest star in the constellation.  Easily visible in the northern sky, it is home to the Double Cluster, a pair of open clusters, simply beautiful, It’s one of my favorites and very easy to find (the link has a finders chart).

From the Chandra site:

This image is Chandra’s latest view of the Perseus Cluster, where red, green, and blue show low, medium, and high-energy X-rays respectively. It combines data equivalent to more than 17 days worth of observing time taken over a decade with Chandra. The Perseus Cluster is one of the most massive objects in the Universe, and contains thousands of galaxies immersed in an enormous cloud of superheated gas.

In Chandra’s X-ray image, enormous bright loops, ripples, and jet-like streaks throughout the cluster can be seen. The dark blue filaments in the center are likely due to a galaxy that has been torn apart and is falling into NGC 1275 (a.k.a. Perseus A), the giant galaxy that lies at the center of the cluster. A different view of Perseus combines data from Chandra in the inner regions of the cluster and XMM data in the outer regions.


A Curious Mercury Transit

A gif of the Mercury transit from Mars. Image via JPL

The Mars Science Laboratory we know as Curiosity recently witnessed a transit of Mercury. We can see the transit captured by the Curiosity Mast cam. This is the first solar transit of a planet viewed from another planet.

Mercury appears to be a faint dot in the images, faint because the planet takes up only about 16 percent of a pixel from such a distance. The two large dots are sun spots, those two spots are each about the size of Earth.

The next Mercury transit visible from Earth will occur on 09 May 2016. From Mars the transits occur more frequently. From Mars: the next Mercury transit will be in April 2015, A Venus transit won’t occur until 2030, and an Earth transit is way out there on the calendar – November 2084.

Note:  I am posting this from a Wifi hotspot because my internet provider is failing me.  I will try to post Wednesday but if you don’t hear from me you will know my connection is still down.  Hopefully not.

Apollo 15

The LRO view of the Apollo 15 landing site. Click for larger. Image credit: NASA/Goddard/Arizona State University
The LRO view of the Apollo 15 landing site. Click for larger. Image credit: NASA/Goddard/Arizona State University

This image from the LRO shows the Apollo 15 landing area and the EVA routes drawn in. The great thing about this is you can go to The Project Apollo Image Gallery and see images of the area taken from the mission, including photos taken from the surface along the route marked above. note: you may have to click the Apollo 15 link once the page opens.

See that small bright crater on the St. George crater rim? it was there in July 1971 when Commander David Scott and Lunar Module Pilot James Irwin landed. Alfred Worden remained in orbit in the Command Module and was no doubt the source of many of these great shots. Do check the archive photos out – there are a lot of them.

The NASA caption puts it all in perspective nicely I think. You can read it below or at the NASA site where you can get a larger version of the image too.

More images and information from Arizona State University’s LRO Camera website

The NASA caption:

This image from NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter shows the area surrounding Apollo 15’s landing site, annotated with the traverse plots of the mission’s first two moonwalks, abbreviated as EVAs (extra-vehicular activities). Numbers indicate elevations in meters above the landing site (indicated by the arrow labeled “LM” — lunar module). Astronauts David Scott and James Irwin ventured to the lower slopes of Mons Hadley Delta (center left). The distance they travelled from the lunar module to Elbow crater along the edge of Hadley Rille (EVA 1) is about 2.8 miles. Apollo 15 was the first mission on which the “lunar rover” was used.

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Something Different

Something a little different for today.

The NACA the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics was a US government agency founded on 3 March 1915 to” undertake, promote, and institutionalize aeronautical research”.  The NACA was dissolved and its assets and personnel were transferred to what we all know as NASA.

This archived footage comes from the Neil A. Armstrong Flight Research Center (formerly Dryden Flight Research Center) and was made available courtesy the US Department of Defense, NASAimages and the US National Archives. The film shows 1940’s experimental aircraft including the YB-49 flying wing and the X-1 and X-15 space plane.



Summer for some (including me) and winter for others “officially” arrived at 10:51 UTC (06:51 EDT).

Funny, I seem to notice the morning shadows as much as the extra daylight. I think it is because the sun rises northeasterly enough to clear the mountains earlier than normal thank to hitting a low spot in the hills. This means the sun is at a lower angle, thus longer shadows and it does this for a very short time – only a couple weeks. “Normally” the sun has to be pretty high before the sun hits here, being relatively close to the mountains. It’s light of course but direct sunlight has to move in from the west as the Sun climbs.

At any rate I kind of liked this time lapse from Anchorage Alaska. I should try this, maybe Sunday. An image every half hour? I bet I can find some weather cams to capture image frames from. The video was from 2012 and runs from 1930 on 21 Jun to 00:40 on 24 Jun.