All posts by Tom

Rosetta’s Moment in the Sun

Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko and its human-made-moon called Rosetta has now passed its closest distance to the Sun in this orbit (perihelion) and is now spending several weeks at peak activity. The activity means the flight operations team must be prepared to react to fast jets of dust and gas erupting from the comet or stray boulders ejected from its surface.

Video from ESA

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Nearing Dione


As Cassini neared the Saturn moon Dione it captured this image of the moon in front of Saturn’s rings.

When the image was taken Cassini was 158,000 km / 98,000 miles away on 17 August. We see the southern part of the moon in the image – north is up.

This is the final flyby of the moon for Cassini.

Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Space Science Institute

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Spitzer’s Calendar

The Spitzer Space Telescope released a very nice calendar to celebrate its 12th anniversary.


The digital calendar gives us highlights and the best infrared images for each of the 12 years in succession for every month in the calendar.

Get your calendar here.

Spitzer, which launched into space on August 25, 2003, from Cape Canaveral, Florida, is still going strong. It continues to use its ultra-sensitive infrared vision to probe asteroids, comets, exoplanets (planets outside our solar system) and some of the farthest known galaxies. Recently, Spitzer helped discover the closest known rocky exoplanet to us, named HD219134b, at 21 light-years away.

In fact, Spitzer’s exoplanet studies continue to surprise the astronomy community. The telescope wasn’t originally designed to study exoplanets, but as luck — and some creative engineering — would have it, Spitzer has turned out to be a critical tool in the field, probing the climates and compositions of these exotic worlds. This pioneering work began in 2005, when Spitzer became the first telescope to detect light from an exoplanet. — Spitzer press release:

Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

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A Curious Selfie


It’s different that’s for sure, I like it!

Here’s the explanation from the MSL site:

This version of a self-portrait of NASA’s Curiosity Mars rover at a drilling site called “Buckskin” on lower Mount Sharp is presented as a stereographic projection, which shows the horizon as a circle.

It is a mosaic assembled from the same set of 92 component raw images used for the flatter-horizon version at PIA19807. The component images were taken by Curiosity’s Mars Hand Lens Imager (MAHLI) on Aug. 5, 2015, during the 1,065th Martian day, or sol, of the rover’s work on Mars.

Curiosity drilled the hole at Buckskin during Sol 1060 (July 30, 2015). Two patches of pale, powdered rock material pulled from inside Buckskin are visible in this scene, in front of the rover. The patch closer to the rover is where the sample-handling mechanism on Curiosity’s robotic arm dumped collected material that did not pass through a sieve in the mechanism. Sieved sample material was delivered to laboratory instruments inside the rover. The patch farther in front of the rover, roughly triangular in shape, shows where fresh tailings spread downhill from the drilling process. The drilled hole, 0.63 inch (1.6 centimeters) in diameter, is at the upper point of the tailings.

The rover is facing northeast, looking out over the plains from the crest of a 20-foot (6-meter) hill that it climbed to reach the “Marias Pass” area. The upper levels of Mount Sharp are visible behind the rover, while Gale Crater’s northern rim dominates most of the rest of the horizon.the horizon on the left and right of the mosaic.

MAHLI is mounted at the end of the rover’s robotic arm. For this self-portrait, the rover team positioned the camera lower in relation to the rover body than for any previous full self-portrait of Curiosity. The assembled mosaic does not include the rover’s arm beyond a portion of the upper arm held nearly vertical from the shoulder joint. Shadows from the rest of the arm and the turret of tools at the end of the arm are visible on the ground. With the wrist motions and turret rotations used in pointing the camera for the component images, the arm was positioned out of the shot in the frames or portions of frames used in this mosaic.

MAHLI was built by Malin Space Science Systems, San Diego. NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, a division of the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena, manages the Mars Science Laboratory Project for the NASA Science Mission Directorate, Washington. JPL designed and built the project’s Curiosity rover.

Image Credit:  NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

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Send Your Name


Want to put your name on a microchip and send it to Mars? Sure you do and you can but you need to do it by 08 September.

Don’t worry it’s simple and only takes a minute. All you need to do is submit your name to NASA here where it will be collected and put on a microchip aboard the InSight spacecraft.

Launch is scheduled for March 2016 from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California. Arrival at Mars will be 28 Sept 2016.

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Fly Kounotori

As I mentioned yesterday the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) is scheduled to launch a cargo ship to the International Space Station this morning.

The cargo ship named Kounotori which means “White Stork”, is set to deliver more than 3,600 kg (8,000 lb) of supplies and equipment.

Launch coverage begins at 11:00 UTC / 07:00 EDT.

Broadcast live streaming video on Ustream

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Japan to Launch Cargo Ship

JAXA is scheduled to launch its H-II Transport Vehicle 5 (HTV-5) to the International Space Station  tomorrow at 11:50 UTC / 07:50 a.m. EDT.

The HTV-5 will launch from the Tanegashima Space Center if the weather cooperates. The launch has been delayed twice due to weather.

If all goes as scheduled the HTV-5 will arrive at the ISS on 24 August.

Streaming coverage can be found at NASA-TV starting at 11:00 UTC / 07:00 EDT.

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The Last at Dione


Cassini took this image of the Saturn moon Dione in the last flyby of the moon.

The main mission for Cassini ended in June 2008. The Cassini Equinox Mission was the first mission extention and ran until September 2010. The current (and second) mission extention called the Solstice Mission is scheduled to end in September 2017.

So keeping the end of mission in mind this image really is from the last flyby of the moon.

The original caption from Cassini:
While not bursting with activity like its sister satellite Enceladus, the surface of Dione is definitely not boring. Some parts of the surface are covered by linear features, called chasmata, which provide dramatic contrast to the round impact craters that typically cover moons.

The bright network of fractures on Dione (698 miles or 1123 kilometers across) was seen originally at poor resolution in Voyager images and was labeled as “wispy terrain.” The nature of this terrain was unclear until Cassini showed that they weren’t surface deposits of frost, as some had suspected, but rather a pattern of bright icy cliffs among myriad fractures. One possibility is that this stress pattern may be related to Dione’s orbital evolution and the effect of tidal stresses over time.

This view looks toward the trailing hemisphere of Dione. North on Dione is up. The image was taken in visible light with the Cassini spacecraft narrow-angle camera on April 11, 2015.

The view was acquired at a distance of approximately 68,000 miles (110,000 kilometers) from Dione. Image scale is 2,200 feet (660 meters) per pixel.

The Cassini mission is a cooperative project of NASA, ESA (the European Space Agency) and the Italian Space Agency. The Jet Propulsion Laboratory, a division of the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena, manages the mission for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate, Washington. The Cassini orbiter and its two onboard cameras were designed, developed and assembled at JPL. The imaging operations center is based at the Space Science Institute in Boulder, Colorado.

Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Space Science Institute

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