All posts by Tom

Goodbye MESSENGER

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The MESSENGER spacecraft impacted the surface of Mercury and ended its mission on Friday 30 April 2015.

Launch Date: Tuesday, 03 August, 2004
Launch Time: 2:15:56.537 a.m. EDT
Location: Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Fla.

Orbital insertion: March 18, 2011 becoming the first spacecraft to orbit Mercury.

Spacecraft impact with Mercury: 15:26 EDT, Friday 30 April, 2015 (predicted time)

The image above depicts the predicted impact site on a topographically color-coded map of the Mercury surface. The tallest areas are colored red and are about 3 km / 1.9 miles higher than the blue areas showing low-lying areas for example: crater floors.

There is a new crater on Mercury, MESSENGER crater (not the official name just my thought) is estimated to be 16 meters / 53 feet in diameter as it impacted at 3.91 km/sec / 8,700 miles per hour.

The large, 400-kilometer-diameter (250-mile-diameter), impact basin Shakespeare occupies the bottom left quarter of this image. Shakespeare is filled with smooth plains material, likely due to extensive lava flooding the basin in the past. As of 24 hours before the impact, the current best estimates predict that the spacecraft will strike a ridge slightly to the northeast of Shakespeare. – NASA

Click here to see the elevation profile provided by NASA

Credit: NASA/Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory/Carnegie Institution of Washington

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Lunar Evolution

The skies here cleared out overnight and when I got up everything was lit up the the brilliant full moon. Well, almost full moon, full moon occurs on 04 May at 03:43 UTC / 03 May at 23:43 EDT. It has been a while since I had good skies and the sight was beautiful and I thought of this video, glad to see it was still there.

Video

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Zombie Stars

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NuSTAR looked towards the center of the galaxy and the black hole at the galactic center and look what it found:

From NuSTAR:

NASA’s Nuclear Spectroscopic Telescope Array, or NuSTAR, has captured a new high-energy X-ray view (magenta) of the bustling center of our Milky Way galaxy. The smaller circle shows the area where the NuSTAR image was taken — the very center of our galaxy, where a giant black hole resides. That region is enlarged to the right, in the larger circle, to show the NuSTAR data.

The NuSTAR picture is one of the most detailed ever taken of the center of our galaxy in high-energy X-rays. The X-ray light, normally invisible to our eyes, has been assigned the color magenta. The brightest point of light near the center of the X-ray picture is coming from a spinning dead star, known as a pulsar, which is near the giant black hole. While the pulsar’s X-ray emissions were known before, scientists were surprised to find more high-energy X-rays than predicted in the surrounding regions, seen here as the elliptical haze.

Astronomers aren’t sure what the sources of the extra X-rays are, but one possibility is a population of dead stars.

The background picture was captured in infrared light by NASA’s Spitzer Space Telescope.

The NuSTAR image has an X-ray energy range of 20 to 40 kiloelectron volts.

Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Read the whole story and see higher resolution images at NuSTAR.

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Polar Cap on Pluto?

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The New Horizons spacecraft took a great set of images from a distance of 113 million km / 70 million miles using the LORRI camera. We are begining to see surface features. Here’s the New Horizon team’s description:

Pluto and Charon rotate around a center-of-mass (also called the “barycenter”) once every 6.4 Earth days, and these LORRI images capture one complete rotation of the system. The direction of the rotation axis is shown in the figure. In one of these movies, the center of Pluto is kept fixed in the frame, while the other movie is fixed on the center of mass (accounting for the “wobble” in the system as Charon orbits Pluto).

The 3x-magnified view of Pluto highlights the changing brightness across the disk of Pluto as it rotates. Because Pluto is tipped on its side (like Uranus), when observing Pluto from the New Horizons spacecraft, one primarily sees one pole of Pluto, which appears to be brighter than the rest of the disk in all the images. Scientists suggest this brightening in Pluto’s polar region might be caused by a “cap” of highly reflective snow on the surface. The “snow” in this case is likely to be frozen molecular nitrogen ice. New Horizons observations in July will determine definitively whether or not this hypothesis is correct.

In addition to the polar cap, these images reveal changing brightness patterns from place to place as Pluto rotates, presumably caused by large-scale dark and bright patches at different longitudes on Pluto’s surface. In all of these images, a mathematical technique called “deconvolution” is used to improve the resolution of the raw LORRI images, restoring nearly the full resolution allowed by the camera’s optics and detector.

Be sure to click here to see another “movie” which shows the barycentric motion beautifully.

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The Days Are Numbered

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The days are numbered for the MESSENGER spacecraft and that number is 1. In one more day the MESSENGER spacecraft now out of fuel even out of helium that gas used to pressurize the fuel tanks is out.

Gravity wins again. MESSENGER will impact the surface of Mercury tomorrow. In the mean time data will still be taken. Over 500 images will be transmitted back home and believe it or not more than a thousand more images are on the recorder waiting in the queue. They will never be seen. As NASA says it is better to collect more data than can be transmitted than end the mission having been able to possibly have done more!

This image is about 7 km / 4.3 miles across with a resolution of 6.7 meters per pixel.

Image Credit: NASA/Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory/Carnegie Institution of Washington

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Progress 59 Launch

The Progress 59 cargo ship was launched from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan. The launch occurring at 07:09 UTC (1:09 p.m. Baikonur time) was good and the ship was placed in a preliminary orbit.

Telemetry between Mission Control and the spacecraft became problematic. Controllers have been unable to get commands to the spacecraft’s onboard computer and can not for example, confirm the deployment of the navigational antennas  but they confirm the solar panels are extended.

The plan goes into a default flight, meaning the cargo ship will not arrive at the station until Thursday instead of later today. This gives the mission control more time to work the problem and everything functioning properly. The cargo ship has about a 3-day flight capability, so they could push the time a little but not much. Good Luck!

I’ll post a video of the launch when I can.  I am having Internet troubles (since yesterday afternoon), hoping to have it sorted this morning.

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The Last Days For MESSENGER

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This week will be the last for the MESSENGER spacecraft in orbit around the planet Mercury.

The image above comes just before the final orbital correction maneuver of the mission and is one of the highest resolution images yet returned from Mercury at 1.1 meters/pixel. The entire image is only 560 meters / 1837 feet across.

That correction came as scheduled on 24 April 2015. The maneuver consumed no fuel by the sounds, there was none left, what was expelled was helium used to pressurize the fuel. Mission managers had things perfectly figured, the boost was just enough to extend the flight until the scheduled date of 30 April.

Now, gravity will have its way and gravity always wins in the end. On 30 April the spececraft will impact the surface of Mercury – hard. At impact MESSENGER will be traveling 3.91 km/sec / 8,750 mph and it is expected to create a crater 16 meters / 52 feet in diameter.

There has been no word on how the naming of this new crater will be handled. We won’t get to see the crater until possibly 2024 when the ESA/JAXA BepiColumbo mission arrives after being launched in 2017.

Image Credit: NASA/Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory/Carnegie Institution of Washington

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