Tomorrow’s First Step to Mars

Mission/Orbiter:  Exploration Flight Test-1 / Orion (United Launch Alliance (ULA) and Lockheed Martin)

Launch Vehicle:  ULA’s Delta IV Heavy rocket 

Note: This is the first flight of spacecraft that will take astronauts to Mars.

Current Status: Go

Launch Date: Thursday, 04 December 2014 07:05 EDT / 12:05 UTC

Mission Duration: 4.5 hours

Odds of Launch: 60 percent

Hoping to put up a look at Complex 37 at KSC when it comes available. — Webcam Image courtesy: NASA/Kennedy Space Center

NOAA’s Forecast:

Wednesday Night A 20 percent chance of showers. Partly cloudy, with a low around 66. Northeast wind around 10 mph.

Thursday A 20 percent chance of showers. Partly sunny, with a high near 77. Northeast wind 10 to 15 mph, with gusts as high as 20 mph.

Keeping an eye on the weather!  This flight is short in duration and long on expectations.

You can catch the launch and return at NASA-TV link above and hope to have Live video on this page when the time comes.

Image Credits: NASA / NOAA


Enceladus seen against Saturn. Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Space Science Institute

Enceladus seen against Saturn. Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Space Science Institute

A nice image of the moon Enceladus seen with the back drop of the planet Saturn. This is the same sort of alignment Cassini was in to get the image of Tethys and Mimas posted here a last week (see Ring Shadows).

Enceladus is 504 km / 313 miles across and Cassini was 948,000 km / 589,000 miles away (about twice the Earth – Moon distance) so we can see how massive Saturn is.  Learn more about Enceladus here,

Aside from Enceladus, the image shows wonderful detail in Saturn’s atmosphere. In particular the two dark round spots (center and upper right) and the interesting cloud feature about half way between Enceladus and the larger round spot. The cloud features look like they are rising vertically from the planet but probably are not. The round spots are disturbances in the atmosphere, much like Jupiter’s Great Red Spot only smaller.

Click the image to get a larger version and it scales pretty well so if you download it you can make it larger yet. You can get a full-res version and more details at the “Mighty Little Dot“.

Charon in Orbit

The moon Charon orbiting Pluto at a distance of 18,000 km / 11,200 miles from the New Horizons spacecraft.  Credit: NASA/Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory/Southwest Research Institute

The moon Charon orbiting Pluto at a distance of 18,000 km / 11,200 miles from the New Horizons spacecraft. Credit: NASA/Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory/Southwest Research Institute

A nice animation of Pluto’s largest moon, Charon in orbit around Pluto. The animation was made in July 2014 from 12 images taken by the Long Range Reconnaissance Imager (LORRI) aboard the New Horizons spacecraft. At the time of the photos New Horizons was closing in quickly on Pluto. The distance to the Plutonian system ranged from 429 million to 422 million km (or 267 million to 262 million miles) in the time it took to take the images. Shortly after this set of images was taken New Horizons went back into a hibernation mode, the last one.

On Saturday (06 Dec 2014) at 15:00 EST / 20:00 UTC, the instruments on the New Horizons spacecraft will be switched on as the craft comes out of hibernation and gets ready to do some serious science!

The first thing on the agenda is, as you might guess, telling mission control it is alive and well and in “active” mode. The transmission from New Horizons is scheduled to occur 90 minutes after the spacecraft wakes up, so that will be at 16:30 EST / 21:30 UTC. When will we hear the good news signal? Not until 4 hours and 25 minutes later, it takes that long for radio signals to travel the 4.7 billion km / 2.9 billion miles from New Horizons at the speed of light!

A long way from home and closing in on the prize.  The spacecraft will be just 162 million miles from Pluto when it wakes up.

New Horizons

By the way if you notice a wobble in the image above, it occurs because Charon is a very large moon compared to Pluto and they orbit around their common center of gravity – the barycenter.

Ring Shadows

Ring Shadows on Saturn. Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Space Science Institute

Ring Shadows on Saturn. Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Space Science Institute

The Cassini – Saturn – Sun angles were just right for Cassini to capture this unusual picture. The rings of Saturn are edge on and their shadows are projected onto the planet.

From the NASA caption:

This view looks toward the sunlit side of the rings from slightly above the ringplane. The image was taken in visible light with the Cassini spacecraft wide-angle camera on Aug. 14, 2014.

The view was obtained at a distance of approximately 1.1 million miles (1.7 million kilometers) from Saturn and at a Sun-Saturn-spacecraft, or phase, angle of 23 degrees. Image scale is 63 miles (102 kilometers) per pixel.

There are two moons in the image: the most obvious one is Tethys, seen at the lower right below the rings. The other is Mimas. Can you spot it? You may need to click the image to see the large version. Funny how it sticks right out once you find it. Give it a try.

If you give up ckck the “More” link below to narrow you search.
Continue reading

Bollide Map

Bolide map 1994 - 2013.  Image credit: Planetary Science via NASA

Bolide map 1994 – 2013. Image credit: Planetary Science via NASA

Here’s a great map especially if you like fireballs as much as I do. As you will read below it is a map of small asteroid strikes. I find the distribution of daytime/nighttime remarkable. Sure it’s about 50/50 as you would expect but I’d think the daytime ones would be more difficult to detect – apparently not.

Check out the links at the end of the article.

From NASA’s Near Earth Object (NEO) Program:

A map released today by NASA’s Near Earth Object (NEO) Program reveals that small asteroids frequently enter and disintegrate in the Earth’s atmosphere with random distribution around the globe. Released to the scientific community, the map visualizes data gathered by U.S. government sensors from 1994 to 2013. The data indicate that Earth’s atmosphere was impacted by small asteroids, resulting in a bolide (or fireball), on 556 separate occasions in a 20-year period. Almost all asteroids of this size disintegrate in the atmosphere and are usually harmless. The notable exception was the Chelyabinsk event which was the largest asteroid to hit Earth in this period. The new data could help scientists better refine estimates of the distribution of the sizes of NEOs including larger ones that could pose a danger to Earth.


Finding and characterizing hazardous asteroids to protect our home planet is a high priority for NASA. It is one of the reasons NASA has increased by a factor of 10 investments in asteroid detection, characterization and mitigation activities over the last five years. In addition, NASA has aggressively developed strategies and plans with its partners in the U.S. and abroad to detect, track and characterize NEOs. These activities also will help identify NEOs that might pose a risk of Earth impact, and further help inform developing options for planetary defense.


The public can help participate in the hunt for potentially hazardous Near Earth Objects through the Asteroid Grand Challenge, which aims to create a plan to find all asteroid threats to human populations and know what to do about them. NASA is also pursuing an Asteroid Redirect Mission (ARM) which will identify, redirect and send astronauts to explore an asteroid. Among its many exploration goals, the mission could demonstrate basic planetary defense techniques for asteroid deflection.


For more information about the map and data, go to:

For details about ARM, and the Asteroid Grand Challenge, visit:

The Egg Nebula

A Hubble look at the Egg Nebula. Copyright Credit: NASA/ESA/Hubble Heritage Team (STScI/AURA). Acknowledgment: W. Sparks (STScI) & R. Sahai (JPL)

A Hubble look at the Egg Nebula. Copyright Credit: NASA/ESA/Hubble Heritage Team (STScI/AURA). Acknowledgment: W. Sparks (STScI) & R. Sahai (JPL)

Not a new image but always fun to look at is the Egg Nebula. I always think of ripples in a pond produced by tossing a pebble in and in a way it is. ars

Planetary nebulas have nothing much to do with planets, rather they are how stars like our own sun will end their active life cycles. Planetary nebulas are varied in how they present themselves but all are beautiful sights to see.

Treat yourself to a Planetary Nebula sampler.

From ESA Space in Images:

This colourful image shows a cosmic lighthouse known as the Egg Nebula, which lies around 3000 light-years from Earth. The image, taken with the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope, has captured a brief but dramatic phase in the life of a Sun-like star.

The Egg Nebula is a ‘preplanetary nebula’. These objects occur as a dying star’s hot remains briefly illuminates material it has expelled, lighting up the gas and dust that surrounds it.

These objects will one day develop into planetary nebulas which, despite the name, have nothing at all to do with planets. They gained their rather misleading title because when they were discovered in the 18th century they resembled planets in our Solar System when viewed through a telescope.

Although the dying star is hidden behind the thick dust lane that streaks down the centre of this image, it is revealed by the four lighthouse-like beams clearly visible through the veil of dust that lies beyond the central lane.

The light beams were able to penetrate the central dust lane due to paths carved out of the thick cloud by powerful jets of material expelled from the star, although the cause of these jets is not yet known.

The concentric rings seen in the less dense cloud surrounding the star are due to the star ejecting material at regular intervals – typically every hundred years – during a phase of the star’s evolution just prior to this preplanetary nebula phase. These dusty shells are not usually visible in these nebulas, but when they are it provides astronomers with a rare opportunity to study their formation and evolution.
Continue reading

Dusty Rover

Dust buildup on Curiosity. Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

Dust buildup on Curiosity. Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

An image from Curiosity’s Mastcam (left cam) showing surface texture on Mars. A thin coating of dust is starting to accumulate on Curiosity, but so far it looks pretty good. I am not sure of the image scale.

The image was taken on 23 November 2014 in the Mount Sharp area where it has been driving around taking a look for good sites to examine.

Second Time Through, Mars Rover Examines Chosen Rocks.

Futura Launch Replay

Here is a replay of yesterday’s beautiful Futura launch as the Soyuz TMA-15M left from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan to the International Space Station.

Terry Virts of NASA, Anton Shkaplerov of the Russian Federal Space Agency (Roscosmos) and Samantha Cristoforetti of the European Space Agency join Expedition 42 Commander Barry “Butch” Wilmore of NASA and Alexander Samoukutyaev and Elena Serova of Roscosmos.

Among the investigations during the mission involves “Space Headaches” which are often caused by intracranial pressure change. The goal is to come up with effective counter measures. Scientists will use biologic samples to determine if immune system impairment increases the risk of infection or poses a health risk aboard the ISS and likely other long duration missions.

Video source