All posts by Tom

Super Pressure Balloon

Balloon launch! This one from Wanaka Airport, New Zealand, at 11:35 a.m. Tuesday, May 17, (7:35 p.m. EDT Monday, May 16) on a potentially record-breaking, around-the-world test flight.

As the balloon travels around the Earth, it may be visible from the ground, particularly at sunrise and sunset, to those who live in the southern hemisphere’s mid-latitudes, such as Argentina and South Africa. Anyone may track the progress of the flight, which includes a map showing the balloon’s real-time location, at:
http://www.csbf.nasa.gov/newzealand/wanaka.htm

ESA’s Sentinel-1A Spots Oil Slick

oilslick

Image contains modified Copernicus Sentinel data [2016], processed by ESA & Sentinel-1 Mission Performance Centre

From 20 May:

The Sentinel-1A radar satellite detected a slick in the eastern Mediterranean Sea – in the same area that EgyptAir flight MS804 disappeared early morning of 19 May 2016 on its way from Paris to Cairo. Sentinel-1A acquired this image later in the day at 16:00 GMT (18:00 CEST) in ‘extra-wide swath mode’ of 400 km with horizontal polarisation. ESA provided it to the relevant authorities to support the search operations. The 2 km-long slick is located at 33°32′ N / 29°13′ E – about 40 km southeast of the last known location of the aircraft. Although there is no guarantee that the slick is from the missing airplane, this information could be helpful for the search.

The search for the black boxes is underway.

See the Blue Moon

blue-moon-tree

Today at 21:14 UTC / 17:14 ET the moon will be full and that will make it  a blue moon.

No this isn’t the second full moon in a calendar month, but it will be third full moon in an astronomical season with four full moons.

Yes that is the “other” definition of a blue moon, so be sure to have a look.  You won’t see another until 2019.

No the moon won’t actually be a blue color, in fact if you are in eastern Canada or portions of the US the moon might look red (it did this morning) thanks to the terrible wildfires in eastern Alberta Canada.  Terrible for the people of Fort McMurray.

If the moon isn’t really blue then why the name?  Good question.  The Online Etymology Dictionary has it from 1821 as a specific term in the sense “very rarely” and perhaps as far back to 1528: “Yf they say the mone is blewe, We must beleve that it is true.”

Image: timeanddate.com

 

Peering Through Pluto’s Atmosphere

plutoatmosphere

New findings from New Horizons:

New Horizons succeeded in observing the first occultations of Pluto’s atmosphere by ultraviolet stars, an important goal of the mission’s Pluto encounter. This illustration shows how New Horizons’ Alice ultraviolet spectrometer instrument “watched” as two bright ultraviolet stars passed behind Pluto and its atmosphere. The light from each star dimmed as it moved through deeper layers of the atmosphere, absorbed by various gases and hazes.

The observations were made approximately four hours after New Horizons made its closest approach to Pluto on July 14, 2015, when the spacecraft was about 200,000 miles (320,000 kilometers) beyond Pluto.

Much like the solar occultation that Alice had observed a few hours before – when it used sunlight to make similar measurements – these stellar occultations provided information about the composition and structure of Pluto’s atmosphere. Both stellar occultations revealed ultraviolet spectral fingerprints of nitrogen, hydrocarbons like methane and acetylene, and even haze, just as the solar occultation had done earlier.

The results from the solar and stellar occultations are also consistent in terms of vertical pressure and temperature structure of Pluto’s upper atmosphere. This means that the upper atmosphere vertical profiles of nitrogen, methane, and the observed hydrocarbons are similar over many locations on Pluto.

These results confirm findings from the Alice solar occultation that the upper atmospheric temperature is as much as 25 percent colder and thus more compact than what scientists predicted before New Horizons’ encounter. This also confirms, albeit indirectly, the result from analysis and modeling of the Alice solar observation that the escape rate of nitrogen is about 1,000 times lower than expected before the flyby.

Image: NASA/Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory/Southwest Research Institute

Post Pluto

mystery

The first of many “post-Pluto” observations from New Horizons. I have to smile because missions like this answer so many questions and ask about twice as many – that’s the fun of science.

From New Horizons:

Warming up for a possible extended mission as it speeds through deep space, NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft has now twice observed 1994 JR1, a 90-mile-wide (145-kilometer-wide) Kuiper Belt object (KBO) orbiting more than 3 billion miles (5 billion kilometers) from the sun. Science team members have used these observations to reveal new facts about this distant remnant of the early solar system.

Taken with the spacecraft’s Long Range Reconnaissance Imager (LORRI) on April 7-8 from a distance of about 69 million miles (111 million kilometers), the images shatter New Horizons’ own record for the closest-ever views of this KBO in November 2015, when New Horizons detected JR1 from 170 million miles (280 million kilometers) away.

Simon Porter, a New Horizons science team member from Southwest Research Institute (SwRI) in Boulder, Colorado, said the observations contain several valuable findings. “Combining the November 2015 and April 2016 observations allows us to pinpoint the location of JR1 to within 1,000 kilometers (about 600 miles), far better than any small KBO,” he said, adding that the more accurate orbit also allows the science team to dispel a theory, suggested several years ago, that JR1 is a quasi-satellite of Pluto.

From the closer vantage point of the April 2016 observations, the team also determined the object’s rotation period, observing the changes in light reflected from JR1’s surface to determine that it rotates once every 5.4 hours (or a JR1 day). “That’s relatively fast for a KBO,” said science team member John Spencer, also from SwRI. “This is all part of the excitement of exploring new places and seeing things never seen before.”

Spencer added that these observations are great practice for possible close-up looks at about 20 more ancient Kuiper Belt objects that may come in the next few years, should NASA approve an extended mission. New Horizons flew through the Pluto system on July 14, 2015, making the first close-up observations of Pluto and its family of five moons. The spacecraft is on course for an ultra-close flyby of another Kuiper Belt object, 2014 MU69, on Jan. 1, 2019.

Credits: NASA/JHUAPL/SwRI

Prometheus at Work

saturnandfring

From JPL:
Most planetary rings appear to be shaped, at least in part, by moons orbiting their planets, but nowhere is that more evident than in Saturn’s F ring. Filled with kinks, jets, strands and gores, the F ring has been sculpted by its two neighboring moons Prometheus (seen here) and Pandora. Even more amazing is the fact that the moons remain hard at work reshaping the ring even today.

Prometheus (53 miles, or 86 kilometers across) shapes the F ring through consistent, repeated gravitational nudges and occasionally enters the ring itself (clearing out material and creating a “gore” feature, see PIA12785). Although the gravitational force of Prometheus is much smaller than that of Saturn, even small nudges can tweak the ring particles’ orbits to create new patterns in the ring.

This view looks toward the sunlit side of the rings from about 12 degrees above the ring plane. The image was taken in visible light with the Cassini spacecraft narrow-angle camera on Feb. 21 2016.

Image and caption: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Space Science Institute

ISS Reaches Historic Milestone!

Congratulations to the International Space Station on completing 100,000 orbits since the station was launched on 20 Nov 1998. In the years since launch the station will have traveled around 2,643,342,240 miles, or roughly the distance between Earth and Neptune.

The event occurred at 06:10 UTC this morning 16 May 2016.

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