All posts by Tom

Landslide!

On Mars that is.

This is from the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter or MRO.  Fantastic observation.  Imagine this landslide unfolding; the gravity on Mars is just a bit less than 38 percent of what it is here on Earth so it probably seem to be happening in slow motion.   Or would it?  Lower gravity means that the perception of time would change as compared to Earth too so then what?  WHERE you are doing the observation from would make a difference I think.  Putting a pencil to that problem would be a good rainy day project

Here’s the NASA caption:

This image NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) finally completes a stereo pair with another observation acquired in 2007. It shows a fresh (well-preserved) landslide scarp and rocky deposit off the edge of a streamlined mesa in Simud Valles, a giant outflow channel carved by ancient floods.

The stereo images can be used to measure the topography, which in turn constrains models for the strength of the mesa’s bedrock. Do look at the stereo anaglyph.

This is a stereo pair with PSP_005701_1920.

The map is projected here at a scale of 25 centimeters (9.8 inches) per pixel. [The original image scale is 31.5 centimeters (12.4 inches) per pixel (with 1 x 1 binning); objects on the order of 94 centimeters (37 inches) across are resolved.] North is up.

The University of Arizona, Tucson, operates HiRISE, which was built by Ball Aerospace & Technologies Corp., Boulder, Colo. NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, a division of Caltech in Pasadena, California, manages the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter Project for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate, Washington.

Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Univ. of Arizona

 

 

Space X Launches Inmarsat-5

The launch of the Inmarsat-5 from Kennedy Space Center Launch Complex 39A (LC-39A). LC-39A saw many of the Apollo missions and eventually Apollo 11. After Apollo LC-39A was used for the Shuttle program and now the site is being used by Space X and after much modification Space X can support launches of both commercial and crew missions on SpaceX’s Falcon 9 and Falcon Heavy launch vehicles.

This is the fourth of the Inmarsat-5 spacecraft in the Global Xpress (GX) constellation. Inmarsat, the only operator of a global Ka-band network, created the GX platform to enable communities across the world to benefit from the emerging digital society.

Because of mission requirements there was no attempt to land the Falcon 9 rocket. is about 9-minutes into the video.

Rocketry Challenge Winners

NASA – For the first time in four years, a new team has won NASA’s Student Launch, the agency’s high-powered rocketry challenge, hosted by and held near NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama, April 5-8. The River City Rocketry team from the University of Louisville, in Louisville, Kentucky, captured top honors. They’ve proven hard work and determination pays off, literally, taking home a cash prize of $5,000, offered by Orbital ATK of Promontory, Utah, longtime corporate sponsor of the challenge. No stranger to success, this team from the bluegrass state placed second last year. Since 2011, they’ve earned 10 awards, including Best Vehicle Design, Safety Award, Project Award and more.

In second place, after a record-setting “four-peat” as champions, is Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tennessee. They earned a cash prize of $2,500, offered by new sponsor, the National Space Club – Huntsville. For 10 straight years, Vanderbilt soared to success with innovative rocket designs and payloads, and this year was no exception. Having earned more than 20 awards the past decade, the Commodores of Vanderbilt added the 2017 Payload Design, Rocket Fair Display and Education Engagement awards.

Rounding out the top five is Cornell University of Ithaca, in New York; the University of Alabama in Huntsville; and the University of North Carolina, Charlotte, in third through fifth place, respectively. The 2017 Rookie of the Year award goes to the University of Evansville, in Evansville, Indiana.

Cornell University, having placed third in back-to-back years, also cracked the top five in 2015, making them a perennial power. The same is true for the University of North Carolina, Charlotte, earning top five finishes in both 2017 and 2015.

While veteran teams prove consistent participation in Student launch helps – especially since this year’s top three teams repeated (though, in a different order) – the novice and rookie teams continue to excel. For example, the University of Huntsville – Alabama team was made up of all-rookie members, yet launched their way to fourth place.

Finishing first may be fun, but it’s not the most important aspect. Student Launch is a real-world outlet for young people to apply lessons learned in class toward relevant and cost-effective research into propulsion and recovery systems.

Nearly 50 student teams from middle and high schools, colleges and universities in 22 states demonstrated advanced rocketry and engineering skills. Teams spent eight months building and testing rockets designed to fly to an altitude of one mile, deploy an automated parachute system, and safely land for reuse, each carrying a scientific payload for data collection during flight.

“It’s exciting to see team designs and enable them to conduct meaningful research into NASA’s journey to Mars and beyond,” said Katie Wallace of Marshall’s Academic Affairs Office. “Working through the NASA design process, students gain a broader understanding of current projects, like the Space Launch System, NASA’s next deep-space exploration rocket.”

On April 8, preliminary awards for additional achievements such as best vehicle design, safety, best team website and more were announced during an awards ceremony at the U.S. Space & Rocket Center in Huntsville, hosted by Orbital ATK. View the full list of preliminary award winners here.

The Academic Affairs Office at Marshall manages Student Launch to further NASA’s education goal of attracting and encouraging students to pursue degrees and careers in the STEM fields of science, technology, engineering and mathematics. NASA’s Office of Education and Human Exploration and Operations Mission Directorate, as well as Orbital ATK’s Propulsion Systems Division and the National Space Club – Huntsville, provide funding and leadership.

As the high-pitched whistle of rocket launches have faded, next year’s teams are on deck, ready to solve thrust-to-weight ratios and kinetic energy predictions. After all, it IS rocket science.

Credit: Angela Storey/NASA

There is video of the rocketry team and the rockets available at NASA MFC Ustream, video does not start straightaway so you will need to advance to the beginning or about a half hour.

Behind the scenes photos are on the Marshall Space Flight Center’s Flickr feed, do check them out (better than the video).

200 Spacewalks at the ISS

This is video of the 200th spacewalk in support of the International Space Station since 1998!

This was the ninth space walk for Expedition 51 Commander Peggy Whitson and the first for Flight Engineer Jack Fischer of NASA. Whitson now has the third most hours on spacewalks, congratulations Peggy.

The pair replaced an avionics box responsible for routing power and data commands to experiments on the orbital outpost. In addition to that work, the two spacewalkers installed a data cable for the Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer and a new high definition camera on the station’s truss.

Chandra Chases a Rouge Black Hole

NASA – Supermassive holes are generally stationary objects, sitting at the centers of most galaxies. However, using data from NASA’s Chandra X-ray Observatory and other telescopes, astronomers recently hunted down what could be a supermassive black hole that may be on the move.
This possible renegade black hole, which contains about 160 million times the mass of our Sun, is located in an elliptical galaxy about 3.9 billion light years from Earth. Astronomers are interested in these moving supermassive black holes because they may reveal more about the properties of these enigmatic objects.

This black hole may have “recoiled,” in the terminology used by scientists, when two smaller supermassive black holes collided and merged to form an even larger one. At the same time, this collision would have generated gravitational waves that emitted more strongly in one direction than others. This newly formed black hole could have received a kick in the opposite direction of those stronger gravitational waves. This kick would have pushed the black hole out of the galaxy’s center, as depicted in the artist’s illustration.

The strength of the kick depends on the rate and direction of spin of the two smaller black holes before they merge. Therefore, information about these important but elusive properties can be obtained by studying the speed of recoiling black holes.

Astronomers found this recoiling black hole candidate by sifting through X-ray and optical data for thousands of galaxies. First, they used Chandra observations to select galaxies that contain a bright X-ray source and were observed as part of the Sloan Digital Sky Survey (SDSS). Bright X-ray emission is a common feature of supermassive black holes that are rapidly growing.

Next, the researchers looked to see if Hubble Space Telescope observations of these X-ray bright galaxies revealed two peaks near their center in the optical image. These two peaks might show that a pair of supermassive black holes is present or that a recoiling black hole has moved away from the cluster of stars in the center of the galaxy.

If those criteria were met, then the astronomers examined the SDSS spectra, which show how the amount of optical light varies with wavelength. If the researchers found telltale signatures in the spectra indicative of the presence of a supermassive black hole, they followed up with an even closer examination of those galaxies.

After all of this searching, a good candidate for a recoiling black hole was discovered. The left image in the inset is from the Hubble data, which shows two bright points near the middle of the galaxy. One of them is located at the center of the galaxy and the other is located about 3,000 light years away from the center. The latter source shows the properties of a growing supermassive black hole and its position matches that of a bright X-ray source detected with Chandra (right image in inset). Using data from the SDSS and the Keck telescope in Hawaii, the team determined that the growing black hole located near, but visibly offset from, the center of the galaxy has a velocity that is different from the galaxy. These properties suggest that this source may be a recoiling supermassive black hole.

The host galaxy of the possible recoiling black hole also shows some evidence of disturbance in its outer regions, which is an indication that a merger between two galaxies occurred in the relatively recent past. Since supermassive black hole mergers are thought to occur when their host galaxies merge, this information supports the idea of a recoiling black hole in the system.

Moreover, stars are forming at a high rate in the galaxy, at several hundred times the mass of the Sun per year. This agrees with computer simulations, which predict that star formation rates may be enhanced for merging galaxies particularly those containing recoiling black holes.

Another possible explanation for the data is that two supermassive black holes are located in the center of the galaxy but one of them is not producing detectable radiation because it is growing too slowly. The researchers favor the recoiling black hole explanation, but more data are needed to strengthen their case.

A paper describing these results was recently accepted for publication in The Astrophysical Journal and is available online. The first author is Dongchan Kim from the National Radio Astronomy Observatory in Charlottesville, Virginia. NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama, manages the Chandra program for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate in Washington. The Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory in Cambridge, Massachusetts, controls Chandra’s science and flight operations.

Image credit: Illustration: CXC/M. Weiss; X-ray: NASA/CXC/NRAO/D.-C. Kim; Optical: NASA/STScI

The Crab Nebula

The video above combines views of the Crab Nebula from five observatories: the Very Large Array, the Spitzer Space Telescope, the Hubble Space Telescope, the XMM-Newton Observatory, and the Chandra X-ray Observatory. The telescopes cover a nice chunk of the the electromagnetic spectrum to build up the final image.

The product of the telescopes:

I really like the Chandra contribution, here is a look at the very center which I isolated and enlarged:

Before we get to the original caption I should mention the Crab Nebula is the very first entry in Charles Messiers famous catalog and thus has the entry of M-1. Check out the SEDS page for an excellent presentation of the history of observations.

The original caption (and thanks to the Space Telescope Science Institute:

In the summer of the year 1054 AD, Chinese astronomers saw a new “guest star,” that appeared six times brighter than Venus. So bright in fact, it could be seen during the daytime for several months.

This “guest star” was forgotten about until 700 years later with the advent of telescopes. Astronomers saw a tentacle-like nebula in the place of the vanished star and called it the Crab Nebula. Today we know it as the expanding gaseous remnant from a star that self-detonated as a supernova, briefly shining as brightly as 400 million suns. The explosion took place 6,500 light-years away. If the blast had instead happened 50 light-years away it would have irradiated Earth, wiping out most life forms.

In the late 1960s astronomers discovered the crushed heart of the doomed star, an ultra-dense neutron star that is a dynamo of intense magnetic field and radiation energizing the nebula. Astronomers therefore need to study the Crab Nebula across a broad range of electromagnetic radiation, from X-rays to radio waves.

This image combines data from five different telescopes: the VLA (radio) in red; Spitzer Space Telescope (infrared) in yellow; Hubble Space Telescope (visible) in green; XMM-Newton (ultraviolet) in blue; and Chandra X-ray Observatory (X-ray) in purple.

The Hubble Space Telescope is a project of international cooperation between NASA and ESA (European Space Agency). NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, manages the telescope. The Space Telescope Science Institute (STScI) in Baltimore conducts Hubble science operations. STScI is operated for NASA by the Association of Universities for Research in Astronomy, Inc., in Washington, D.C.

Titan’s Clouds

Here is what is likely one of the last good looks at Titan’s atmosphere from Cassini.

From the Cassini caption: NASA’s Cassini spacecraft captured this view of bands of bright, feathery methane clouds drifting across Saturn’s moon Titan on May 7, 2017.

The view was obtained during a distant (non-targeted) flyby, during which Cassini passed 303,000 miles (488,000 kilometers) above the moon’s surface. Although Cassini will have no further close, targeted flybys of Titan, the spacecraft continues to observe the giant moon and its atmosphere from a distance.

The dark regions at top are Titan’s hydrocarbon lakes and seas.

The image was taken on May 7, 2017, at a distance of 316,000 miles (508,000 kilometers). The view is an orthographic projection centered on 57 degrees north latitude, 48 degrees west longitude. An orthographic view is most like the view seen by a distant observer. Image scale is about 2 miles (3 kilometers) per pixel.

What about the future of NASA exploration?  Following Cassini’s epic mission is going to be tough.

The proposals are being reviewed by NASA and while we don’t have specifics of course, we do have the six themes for the new proposals for a possible mission in the mid-2020’s:

  • Comet Surface Sample Return
  • Lunar South Pole-Aitken Basin Sample Return
  • Ocean Worlds (Titan and/or Enceladus)
  • Saturn Probe
  • Trojan Tour and Rendezvous
  • Venus In Situ Explorer

Keep in mind the first on the list is in progress, the OSIRIS-REx, which will rendezvous with and return a sample of asteroid Bennu.  Other than that, the only one I would change maybe, would be the Saturn Probe, my version would be the Neptune probe.  They all do look pretty good so the choice will not be easy.

Saturn’s North

Take a look at the northern reaches of Saturn as Cassini did a few months ago.  The structure in the atmosphere aside from the hexagonal formation is rather remarkable.  Click the image to get a larger version.

NASA – “Hail the Hexagon” – Saturn’s hexagonal polar jet stream is the shining feature of almost every view of the north polar region of Saturn. The region, in shadow for the first part of the Cassini mission, now enjoys full sunlight, which enables Cassini scientists to directly image it in reflected light.

Although the sunlight falling on the north pole of Saturn is enough to allow us to image and study the region, it does not provide much warmth. In addition to being low in the sky (just like summer at Earth’s poles), the sun is nearly ten times as distant from Saturn as from Earth. This results in the sunlight being only about 1 percent as intense as at our planet.

This view looks toward Saturn from about 31 degrees above the ring plane. The image was taken with the Cassini spacecraft wide-angle camera on Jan. 22, 2017 using a spectral filter which preferentially admits wavelengths of near-infrared light centered at 939 nanometers.

The view was obtained at a distance of approximately 560,000 miles (900,000 kilometers) from Saturn. Image scale is 33 miles (54 kilometers) per pixel.

Image: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Space Science Institute

Sand Dunes on Mars

It has been a while since I’ve done a Curiosity rover update. Curiosity continues to do great science on Mars, although the wheels are showing more wear and hopefully design modifications are in place for the next rover. Still, Curiosity can get around and with judicious planning it will continue to do so in the future.

The image shows there is wind on Mars and that helps keep Curiosity clean enough to provide power for operations and the wind is strong enough to make ripples in the landscape. One would imagine the texture is very fine because the wind is blowing in a thin atmosphere. The primarily Carbon Dioxide atmosphere (95.6 %) on Mars has a pressure only around 0.6 percent of what we see here on Earth.

NASA – This view from the Mast Camera (Mastcam) on NASA’s Curiosity Mars rover shows two scales of ripples, plus other textures, in an area where the mission examined a linear-shaped dune in the Bagnold dune field on lower Mount Sharp.

The scene is an excerpt from a 360-degree panorama acquired on March 24 and March 25, 2017, (PST) during the 1,647th Martian day, or sol, of Curiosity’s work on Mars, at a location called “Ogunquit Beach.”

Crests of the longer ripples visible in the dark sand of the dune are several feet (a few meters) apart. This medium-scale feature in active sand dunes on Mars was one of Curiosity’s findings at the crescent-shaped dunes that the rover examined in late 2015 and early 2016. Ripples that scale are not seen on Earth’s sand dunes. Overlaid on those ripples are much smaller ripples, with crests about ten times closer together.

Textures of the local bedrock in the foreground — part of the Murray formation that originated as lakebed sediments — and of gravel-covered ground (at right) are also visible. The image has been white-balanced so that the colors of the colors of the rock and sand materials resemble how they would appear under daytime lighting conditions on Earth.

Image: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS