Kepler’s Hall of Fame

Eight near Earth-sized planets found by Kepler in the Goldilocks zone of their stars.  Credit: NASA

Eight near Earth-sized planets found by Kepler in the Goldilocks zone of their stars. Credit: NASA

Not so long ago there were no other planets around other stars known. Now we have over 1,500 and thoussands more candidates. The Kepler now has over 1000 confirmed planets to its credit.

So far out of all those Kepler planets, eight are less than Earth sized and are inside of the habitable zones of their parent stars. So not only are they warm enough for life like we know it, the size of the planet means the atmosphere could have similar charateristics to our own thanks to gravity. That isn’t to say they actually do, just that the potential is there. I would like to think eventually those atmospheres will be charachterized. In the mean time the search continues.

The Kepler press release:

How many stars like our sun host planets like our Earth? NASA’s Kepler Space Telescope continuously monitored more than 150,000 stars beyond our solar system, and to date has offered scientists an assortment of more than 4,000 candidate planets for further study — the 1,000th of which was recently verified.

Using Kepler data, scientists reached this millenary milestone after validating that eight more candidates spotted by the planet-hunting telescope are, in fact, planets. The Kepler team also has added another 554 candidates to the roll of potential planets, six of which are near-Earth-size and orbit in the habitable zone of stars similar to our sun.

Three of the newly-validated planets are located in their distant suns’ habitable zone, the range of distances from the host star where liquid water might exist on the surface of an orbiting planet. Of the three, two are likely made of rock, like Earth.
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SpaceX Update

The SpaceX launch was aborted very late in the count (T – 1 min 28 secs).  There was “some actuator drift” in the thruster vector control system.   The actuator drift occurred in a 2nd stage actuator.

New launch date and time is Saturday 10 Jan 2015 at 04:47 ET/ 09:47 UTC,




LADEE Crater


LADEE impact site on the eastern rim of Sundman V crater. the crater was made by the 383 kg (844 lb) spacecraft. Image: NASA/GSFC/Arizona State University

The Lunar Atmosphere and Dust Environment Explorer also known as LADEE was launched from the Wallops Flight Facility on 06 September 2013 on a mission that would take it to the moon with four main goals:

Determine the global density, composition, and time variability of the tenuous lunar exosphere before it is perturbed by further human activity;

Determine if the Apollo astronaut sightings of diffuse emission at tens of kilometers above the surface were sodium glow or dust;

Document the dust impactor environment (size, frequency) to help guide design engineering for the outpost and also future robotic missions;

Demonstrate two-way laser communication from lunar orbit.

The laser communication demonstration was successful and a download link of 622 megabits/sec was attained. The science data I think is still being studied.

The mission ended with a controlled interface with the lunar surface (it crashed on purpose) on 18 April 2014 at a velocity of 5,800 km/sec or 3,600 mph.

See more images at LROC’s LADEE Impact Crater site.

SpaceX Launch Tomorrow

Mission/Orbiter: SpaceX CRS-5 / Dragon

Launch Vehicle:  SpaceX Falcon 9 

Note: Will carry Cloud-Aerosol Transport System, a laser instrument to measure clouds and the location and distribution of pollution, dust, smoke, and other particulates in the atmosphere. See additional at end of post.

Current Status: LAUNCH ABORTED The abort happened late in count, almost to liftoff. Anomaly is actuator drift on the thrust vector control system.

Launch Date: Saturday, 10 January 2015 04:47 EDT / 09:47 UTC UPDATED

ISS arrival: 12 Jan 2015 at 06:00 ET / 11:00 UTC  UPDATED

Odds of Launch: UNK percent  UPDATED

NOAA’s Forecast:

Monday Night A 20 percent chance of showers. Mostly cloudy, with a low around 60. North wind 5 to 10 mph.

Tuesday A 20 percent chance of showers. Partly sunny, with a high near 77. North wind 5 to 10 mph becoming west in the afternoon.

When Dragon reaches the ISS on 08 Jan, the robotic arm will be used to capture it and will be operated by Commander Barry “Butch” Wilmore of NASA and supported by Flight Engineer Samantha Cristoforetti of the European Space Agency. The coverage will be 04:30 ET / 09:30 UTC with capture at about 06:00 ET / 11:00 UTC.

You can catch the launch and return at NASA-TV link above and will link the replay after the launch when it comes available.

PLUS!! I believe SpaceX is going to try to land the first stage on on a custom-built ocean platform known as the autonomous spaceport drone ship. Sure they only give it a 50 percent chance of success but I’d say that’s pretty good.


Image Credits: NASA / NOAA

New Years Sun

The sun on 01 Jan 2015.  Image Credit: NASA/SDO

The sun on 01 Jan 2015. Image Credit: NASA/SDO

An image of the sun on 01 Jan taken by the Solar Dynamics Observatory. The image is dominated by a large coronal hole in the southern hemisphere.  As the sun rotates we should get an idea of the extent of the size.

NASA’s Dean Pesnell explains:

Coronal holes are regions of the corona where the magnetic field reaches out into space rather than looping back down onto the surface. Particles moving along those magnetic fields can leave the sun rather than being trapped near the surface. Those trapped particles can heat up and glow, giving us the lovely AIA images. In the parts of the corona where the particles leave the sun, the glow is much dimmer and the coronal hole looks dark.

Coronal holes were first seen in images taken by astronauts on board NASA’s Skylab space station in 1973 and 1974. They can be seen for a long time, although the exact shape changes all the time. The polar coronal hole can remain visible for five years or longer. Each time a coronal hole rotates by the Earth we can measure the particles flowing out of the hole as a high-speed stream, another source of space weather.

Charged particles in the Earth’s radiation belts are accelerated when the high-speed stream runs into the Earth’s magnetosphere. The acceleration of particles in the magnetosphere is studied by NASA’s Van Allen Probes mission.
As Solar Cycle 24 fades, the number of flares each day will get smaller, but the coronal holes provide another source of space weather that needs to be understood and predicted.

AirBus Jets in Formation

This really isn’t astronomy but I really liked the video. Must have been a sight to see!

The five test and development A350-900s took to the skies for a formation flight in September 2014, bringing together all of the aircraft used for Airbus’ successful campaign leading to certification of this latest Airbus widebody jetliner.



The best image of Ceres so far is from Hubble.  The blurry  surface will soon come into focus.  Image Credit: NASA/ESA/J. Parker (SWRI), P. Thomas (Cornell U.), L. McFadden (U-Md., College Park), and M. Mutchler and Z. Levay (STScI)

The best image of Ceres so far is from Hubble. The blurry surface will soon come into focus. Image Credit: NASA/ESA/J. Parker (SWRI), P. Thomas (Cornell U.), L. McFadden (U-Md., College Park), and M. Mutchler and Z. Levay (STScI)

We are very close to getting the best images of Ceres ever as the Dawn spacecraft gets closer to the March encounter. As details emerge we will get to see what the contrasts in the surface really are. Although I’m betting on impact craters I have been fooled many times before.

This image was NASA’s Image of the Day featured yesterday.

The caption released with the image by NASA:

Discovered on Jan. 1, 1801 by Giuseppe Piazzi of Italy, Ceres is the largest object in the asteroid belt – the strip of solar system real estate between Mars and Jupiter. On March 6, 2015, NASA’s Dawn spacecraft will arrive at Ceres, marking the first time that a spacecraft has ever orbited two solar system targets. Dawn previously explored the protoplanet Vesta for 14 months, from 2011 to 2012, capturing detailed images and data about that body. Dawn has entered its approach phase toward Ceres, and the next couple of months promise continually improving views prior to arrival. By the end of January, the spacecraft’s images and other data will be the best ever taken of the dwarf planet.

This image of Ceres was taken by the Advanced Camera for Surveys on NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope between December 2003 and January 2004. Hubble images of Vesta and Ceres helped astronomers plan for the Dawn spacecraft’s tour. Astronomers enhanced the sharpness in the image to bring out features on Ceres’ surface, including brighter and darker regions that could be asteroid impact features. The observations were made in visible and ultraviolet light.

The colors represent the differences between relatively red and blue regions. These differences may simply be due to variation on the surface among different types of material. Ceres’ round shape suggests that its interior is layered like those of terrestrial planets such as Earth. Ceres may have a rocky inner core, an icy mantle, and a thin, dusty outer crust inferred from its density and rotation rate of 9 hours. Ceres is approximately 590 miles (950 kilometers) across.

Battered Mimas

A view of the north polar region of the moon Mimas. Image Credit:NASA/JPL-Caltech/Space Science Institute

A view of the north polar region of the moon Mimas. Image Credit:NASA/JPL-Caltech/Space Science Institute

Cassini took this image of Mimas from just 50,000 km / 31,000 miles on 05 June 2012. North is up and rotated four degrees to the left.

Mimas shows a surface with numerous impact craters. Generally the more craters there are, the older the terrain is. As always there are other factors like surface renewal processes which can erase craters on a few moons. In most cases the rule of thumb prevails.

See the image and JPL caption at the Cassini webpage.