All posts by Tom



NASA’s JPL is studying a new concept in planetary exploration – windbots.

Windbots, designed to be buoyant in the atmosphere (like a balloon but not a balloon).

A windbot could potentially explore the thick atmospheres of planets like Jupiter and Saturn.
Check out details at JPL.

About the image:
An artist’s rendering shows a windbot bobbing through the skies of Jupiter, drawing energy from turbulent winds there. This notional windbot is portrayed as a polyhedron with sections that spin to absorb wind energy and create lift, although other potential configurations are being investigated. Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmailby feather

New Mountain Range


It’s almost like the lighter color is a vast lake of frozen methane or nitrogen or other similar substance bounded by the normal “dry” terrain.

From New Horizons:

A newly discovered mountain range lies near the southwestern margin of Pluto’s heart-shaped Tombaugh Regio (Tombaugh Region), situated between bright, icy plains and dark, heavily-cratered terrain.

This image was acquired by New Horizons’ Long Range Reconnaissance Imager (LORRI) on July 14, 2015, from a distance of 48,000 miles (77,000 kilometers) and sent back to Earth on July 20. Features as small as a half-mile (1 kilometer) across are visible.

These frozen peaks are estimated to be one-half mile to one mile (1-1.5 kilometers) high, about the same height as the United States’ Appalachian Mountains. The Norgay Montes (Norgay Mountains) discovered by New Horizons on July 15 more closely approximate the height of the taller Rocky Mountains.

The names of features on Pluto have all been given on an informal basis by the New Horizons team.

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

facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmailby feather

Nix and Hydra


Why does Nix have a red region? Scientists have an idea the reddish region is a crater.

Additional compositional data has already been taken of Nix, but is not yet downlinked. It will tell us why this region is redder than its surroundings,” said mission scientist Carly Howett, of the Southwest Research Institute, Boulder, Colorado. She added, “This observation is so tantalizing, I’m finding it hard to be patient for more Nix data to be downlinked” – ref.

The image caption:
Pluto’s moon Nix (left), shown here in enhanced color as imaged by the New Horizons Ralph instrument, has a reddish spot that has attracted the interest of mission scientists. The data were obtained on the morning of July 14, 2015, and received on the ground on July 18. At the time the observations were taken New Horizons was about 102,000 miles (165,000 km) from Nix. The image shows features as small as approximately 2 miles (3 kilometers) across on Nix, which is estimated to be 26 miles (42 kilometers) long and 22 miles (36 kilometers) wide.

Pluto’s small, irregularly shaped moon Hydra (right) is revealed in this black and white image taken from New Horizons’ LORRI instrument on July 14, 2015 from a distance of about 143,000 miles (231,000 kilometers). Features as small as 0.7 miles (1.2 kilometers) are visible on Hydra, which measures 34 miles (55 kilometers) in length.

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

facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmailby feather

Mother and Daughter


From the Cassini page:

In Greek mythology, Dione was the daughter of Tethys, so we should perhaps not be surprised to see the two eponymous moons together.

In reality, the moons Tethys (660 miles or 1062 kilometers across) and Dione (698 miles or 1123 kilometers across) are not mother and daughter in any sense. They are perhaps more like sisters since scientists believe that they formed out of the same disk around an early Saturn.

Dione in this image is the upper moon, while Tethys is the lower.

This view looks toward the anti-Saturn side of Dione. North on Dione is up. The image was taken in visible light with the Cassini spacecraft narrow-angle camera on April 4, 2015.

The view was obtained at a distance of approximately 1.5 million miles (2.4 million kilometers) from Dione. Image scale is 9 miles (14 kilometers) per pixel.

Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Space Science Institute

facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmailby feather

Home Sweet Home!


Just look at that! This is the first view of the entire sunlit side of Earth from the Deep Space Climate Observatory.

NASA describes this as EPIC Earth. Indeed it is.

A NASA camera on the Deep Space Climate Observatory satellite has returned its first view of the entire sunlit side of Earth from one million miles (1.6 million km) away.

About the image from NASA/Karen Northon:

This color image of Earth was taken by NASA’s Earth Polychromatic Imaging Camera (EPIC), a four megapixel CCD camera and telescope. The image was generated by combining three separate images to create a photographic-quality image. The camera takes a series of 10 images using different narrowband filters — from ultraviolet to near infrared — to produce a variety of science products. The red, green and blue channel images are used in these color images.
Continue reading

facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmailby feather

Venus and the Moon

I looked out the window last night and Venus and the thin crescent Moon made a nice pair in the cloudy sky.


The pair won’t be lined up quite this way tonight or the next few nights but you should see Venus and Jupiter paired up just at sunset. All you need to do is look in the Western sky. Venus will be west of the Moon and Jupiter will be west of and lower in the sky than Venus. As days go by Venus and Jupiter will get farther away from the Moon at Sunset.

You can seem everything with no extra optical aids, however if you have binoculars give them a try. With binoculars you probably can get Jupiter and Venus in the same field of view and you also should be able to see a few of Jupiter’s moons if it is dark enough.

facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmailby feather

Terraced Crater

The Dawn spacecraft is orbiting Ceres and returned this picture of a wonderfully terraced crater in the southern hemisphere of Ceres.


The image was taken on 25 June 2015 from a distance of 4,400 km / 2,700 miles. We will have to wait on details on the measurement details as there isn’t enough information in the Dawn description nor are there any shadows to infer them. We will get them eventually as this is one of the larger craters and the Dawn team gathers a little more information themselves.

Currently the Dawn spacecraft is descending to a lower orbit using its ion engine and over the next five weeks will drop to about 1,500 km / 900 miles. The alititude was last reported at 3,900 km / 2,400 miles.

The spacecraft did go into “safe mode” due to the Ion Engine-3 gimbal system anomaly moving the orientation out of expected values. The engineering team switched to Ion-Engine 2 and after testing for a couple of days before deciding all was good.

When Dawn reaches the lower altitude the resolution of the images will naturally get better and we should see the results in August. The image above has a resolution of 410 meters per pixel (or 1,400 feet) we will be seeing the best resolution ever soon.

Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/UCLA/MPS/DLR/IDA

facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmailby feather


NASA Armstrong Flight Research Center recently upgraded the foam fire suppression system for their aircraft support hangar – this shows the system being tested.

In another life, seems like it anyway, I was an emergency medical responder. We participated in drills involving aircraft fire when the fire suppression teams deployed foam, it was amazing but nothing this dense.

I was at a fire where a virtual mountain of tires was on fire, thousands of tires. The heat was incredible, the fire department hit the fire with foam and almost instantly the fire was out, you’d have to see it to believe it. Again the foam was not as what is depectied in the video seems to be so I bet the system will work great, even though I hope it never has to.


facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmailby feather