All posts by Tom

Mars Moisture


Pretty exciting news!  Mars seems to be at least a little wet.  The NASA account is below.  Makes me wonder if we can get rover there to directly sample the area.  If it were only that simple.  Time for a “glide-in” rover of some type.

I wonder if the researchers have speculated on amount of water seeping up based on the environmental conditions present – what is the minimum amount of water in a brine concentration to resist freezing at  minus 23 C / minus 10 F to make such wet spot.

How much of that moisture is lost to the atmosphere is another question, could it be the planet is still drying out?

The NASA press release.

The image caption:

Dark narrow streaks, called “recurring slope lineae,” emanate from the walls of Garni Crater on Mars, in this view constructed from observations by the High Resolution Imaging Science Experiment (HiRISE) camera on NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter.

The dark streaks here are up to few hundred yards, or meters, long. They are hypothesized to be formed by flow of briny liquid water on Mars.

The image was produced by first creating a 3-D computer model (a digital terrain map) of the area based on stereo information from two HiRISE observations, and then draping an image over the land-shape model. The vertical dimension is exaggerated by a factor of 1.5 compared to horizontal dimensions. The draped image is a red waveband (monochrome) product from HiRISE observation ESP_031059_1685, taken on March 12, 2013 at 11.5 degrees south latitude, 290.3 degrees east longitude. Other image products from this observation are at

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

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

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Oppy’s Winter Home

The rover Opportunity will be spending the winter in the Marathon Valley on Mars.  This view from the rover shows Hinners point near the northern part of the valley.


The rover Opportunity (or Oppy for short) took this image on its 4,108th Martian day on the planet Mars!

From the NASA press release:

The summit takes its informal name as a tribute to Noel Hinners (1935-2014). For NASA’s Apollo program, Hinners played important roles in selection of landing sites on the moon and scientific training of astronauts. He then served as NASA associate administrator for space science, director of the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum, director of NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, NASA chief scientist and associate deputy administrator of NASA. Subsequent to responsibility for the Viking Mars missions while at NASA, he spent the latter part of his career as vice president for flight systems at Lockheed Martin, where he had responsibility for the company’s roles in development and operation of NASA’s Mars Global Surveyor, Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, Mars Odyssey, Phoenix Mars Lander, Stardust and Genesis missions.

Marathon Valley cuts generally east-west through the western rim of Endeavour Crater. The valley’s name refers to the distance Opportunity drove from its 2004 landing site to arrival at this location in 2014. The valley was a high-priority destination for the rover mission because observations from orbit detected clay minerals there.

Dark rocks on Hinners Point show a pattern dipping downward toward the interior of Endeavour, to the right from this viewing angle. The strong dip may have resulted from the violence of the impact event that excavated the crater.

Brighter rocks make up the valley floor. The reddish zones there may be areas where water has altered composition. Inspections by Opportunity have found compositions there are higher in silica and lower in iron than the typical composition of rocks on Endeavour’s rim.

Image: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Cornell Univ./Arizona State Univ.

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Methane Map


New Horizons maps the methane ice on Pluto using the Ralph/LEISA infrared spectrometer  We only have part of the data back explaining the unexposed parts. The LORRI imager supplied the rest of the land features we can see

The purple color indicates strong methane absorption and the black are lesser abundances.   It is worth nothing methane melts at 91 K, which is  – 182.5 C / – 296.4 F.

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

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Super Moon Eclipse

I’ve been waiting for this eclipse with great anticipation.  I am starting to get settled in to a new location and my skies seem to be nice and  dark.  I probably won’t have the big scope up for a while but I certainly can try to get a decent picture of the eclipse.

I will be participating in the Globe@Night project for October.  You can go to Globe@Night pretty much anytime to see how your skies compare in a measurable way to other locations.  In my case I will compare this place to my former residence of 25 years.  I saw light pollution at my old location degrade my skies by about almost a full magnitude and it happened in just a couple of years.  So Globe@Night is great idea and it is so well done, if you haven’t heard about it before, I will recommend it highly  – it is an especially good  project for the kids that mom and dad can do too.

Anyway, to get back on track, I have always found taking a decent picture of the moon  with a SLR and no filter kind of hit or miss.  So this time I went to YouTube for help and found this video:  Photographing the Total Eclipse (hat tip to Schuch Designs). I will try the settings the video gives at 02:18 into the video. The one thing I need is decent skies and according to the forecast they should be good — I’m still optimistic though.


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The Veil Nebula by Hubble

Veil Nebula Supernova Remnant

Stunning.  I have tried to get an image of the Veil for a long time, so I have a great appreciation for this picture.  Then again this is from Hubble.

Click the image to see a zoomable version at Hubblesite.

Not long before the dawn of recorded human history, our distant ancestors would have witnessed what appeared to be a bright new star briefly blazing in the northern sky, rivaling the glow of our moon. In fact, it was the titanic detonation of a bloated star much more massive than our sun. Now, thousands of years later, the expanding remnant of that blast can be seen as the Cygnus Loop, a donut-shaped nebula that is six times the apparent diameter of the full moon. The Hubble Space Telescope was used to zoom into a small portion of that remnant, called the Veil Nebula. Hubble resolves tangled rope-like filaments of glowing gases. Supernovae enrich space with heavier elements used in the formation of future stars and planets — and possibly life.

Credit: NASA, ESA, and the Hubble Heritage Team (STScI/AURA)

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Pluto in Color


WOW!  Larger version?

The New Horizons caption:

In this extended color image of Pluto taken by NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft, rounded and bizarrely textured mountains, informally named the Tartarus Dorsa, rise up along Pluto’s day-night terminator and show intricate but puzzling patterns of blue-gray ridges and reddish material in between. This view, roughly 330 miles (530 kilometers) across, combines blue, red and infrared images taken by the Ralph/Multispectral Visual Imaging Camera (MVIC) on July 14, 2015, and resolves details and colors on scales as small as 0.8 miles (1.3 kilometers).

Credit: NASA/Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory/Southwest Research Institute
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Milky Way’s Black Hole is Getting Active


Is the black hole at the center of the Milky Way becoming more active?  It’s been getting some attention lately.  There is ten-fold increase of X-ray flares from Sagittarius A* since an object called G2 made a close approach.

Here’s the NASA  / Chandra press release:

Three orbiting X-ray space telescopes have detected an increased rate of X-ray flares from the usually quiet giant black hole at the center of our Milky Way galaxy after new long-term monitoring.

Scientists are trying to learn whether this is normal behavior that was unnoticed due to limited monitoring, or these flares are triggered by the recent close passage of a mysterious, dusty object.

Continue reading

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DSA-1 in 3D


Grab those 3D glasses and have a look at this picture from ESA of the Deep Space Network Antenna (DSA 1) with credit to  D. O’Donnell/ESA – CC BY-SA 3.0.

ESA has a large version of this image, see it here.

A visit to DSN Now is a good way to find out which spacecraft are communicating.

From ESA

This 3D anaglyph image, taken on 3 August 2015, shows ESA’s 35 m-diameter deep-space tracking dish at New Norcia, Western Australia, at night. It can be viewed using stereoscopic glasses with red–blue filters.

This Deep Space Antenna, DSA-1, regularly communicates with distant spacecraft such as Mars Express, Rosetta and Gaia. In the near future, it will also work with BepiColombo at Mercury, LISA Pathfinder and ExoMars.

In 2014, it beamed commands and received data from Rosetta, voyaging 800 million km away. On 12 November 2014, it received data relayed by Rosetta as DLR’s Philae craft landed on its target comet.

Despite the moveable structure weighing 580 tonnes, engineers can point it accurately at 1 degree per second in the horizontal and vertical axes.

On 3 August, the dish was illuminated for that evening’s photography – it usually operates in the dark to reduce power usage and avoid light pollution.

In 2015, ESA’s Estrack ground station network celebrates 40 years of European tracking


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