Category Archives: Cool Stuff

Van Allen Belts

I saw somewhere the SpaceX launch couldn’t possibly have deployed the Tesla Roadster because of the Van Allen Belts. What? Well I suppose they are having a laugh, but there is a lot of less than accurate information on the internet about the belts (and a lot of other things).

Here is an excellent overview of the Van Allen Belts, thanks to Fraser Cain.

Mother of Hubble

Mother of Hubble, the telescope not Edwin.

In honor of the International Day of Women and Girls in Science which was yesterday this video looks at one of the pioneers in the field and the first Chief of Astronomy at NASA, Nancy Grace Roman.

We need more like her! I am pleased we have many women in the field and I hope to see many more in the future.

Views of Starman

UPDATE: For those wondering about that center section that was to land on the drone ship – the effort was not successful but that’s a minor detail really in an otherwise spectacular mission.

I am looking for ephemeris for Starman and the Tesla Roadster.

Live views of Starman from SpaceX. Starman is the SpaceX spacesuit and is situated behind the wheel of the Tesla Roadster currently flying along in outer space after being put there by the SpaceX Falcon Heavy rocket.

Wargo Crater

NASA — NASA’s former chief exploration scientist, Michael Wargo, has been posthumously honored with the distinction of having a lunar crater named after him. Wargo Crater is an 8.6-mile (13.8 km) diameter impact crater sitting on the northwest edge of Joule T crater, on the far side of the Moon. Wargo worked at NASA from 1991 until his death in 2013.

The International Astronomical Union is the naming authority for celestial bodies, and reserves the naming of Moon craters for deceased astronauts and cosmonauts, as well as deceased scientists and polar explorers who have made outstanding or fundamental contributions to their field.

Wargo had many remarkable contributions to exploration science throughout his 20-year career at NASA. He was known as a science ambassador to the public, and for his ability to decipher complex science for students and nontechnical audiences.

Working in a primarily engineering directorate at NASA, Wargo asserted common goals across disciplines within the agency. He was passionate about scientific discoveries to enable human exploration in deep space, and worked with planetary researchers around the world to develop robotic discovery missions.

“Mike’s passion for exploration and planetary science was an inspiration to us all,” said William Gerstenmaier, associate administrator for Human Exploration and Operations at NASA Headquarters in Washington. “His enthusiasm permeated every part of his career, and helped fuel our global desire to learn more about our solar system.”

As chief exploration scientist, Wargo was a leader in the development of the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO) and the Lunar CRator Observation and Sensing Satellite, or LCROSS, which launched together to the Moon in 2009. LRO remains in orbit, relaying high-resolution science observations, while LCROSS intentionally impacted the Moon to dig up and eject subsurface material for compositional analyses. The missions have revealed a surprisingly active Moon with water molecules and a water cycle, and found evidence that the lunar soil within shadowy craters is rich in useful volatiles. Building on these discoveries, NASA is developing several CubeSat orbital missions (Lunar Flashlight, LunaH-MAP, and Lunar IceCube) to better identify the location and abundance of water-ice on the Moon, and Resource Prospector, a rover and instrument suite currently in formulation, to prove the capability to harvest lunar resources.

The formation of Wargo crater had a big impact on its surroundings. An asteroid measuring several thousand feet in diameter slammed into the steeply sloping rim of Joule T crater (24 miles or 38 km in diameter) at hyper-velocity (3 to 12 miles per second) forming a crater over 3,000 feet (914 meters) deep. Massive amounts of instant magma crested the lower eastern rim and spread across the floor of Joule T.

“Michael would be thrilled to be honored in this way,” said Wargo’s wife, Adele Morrissette. “He was a dedicated member of the NASA lunar exploration team and was particularly proud of the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO).”

Among other honors bestowed upon Wargo, his was the first voice transmitted around the Moon since the last Apollo mission in 1972. Two months after his death, the Lunar Atmosphere and Dust Environment Explorer spacecraft broadcast from lunar orbit a recording of Wargo, voicing his take on the LRO motto: “The true spirit of these missions is that science enables exploration and exploration enables science.”

The Remarkable IMAGE Recovery

On March 25, 2000, NASA launched the Imager for Magnetopause-to-Aurora Global Exploration, or IMAGE, mission. It was the first mission to use neutral atom, photon and radio imaging techniques to produce large-scale, simultaneous measurements of the charged particles that exist in near-Earth space — namely in our magnetosphere, the magnetic fields that surround our planet, and its inner bubble of cold material called the plasmasphere. — NASA

Contact was lost with the spacecraft in 2005 and then thanks to Ham Radio Astronomer Scott Tilley, VE7TIL who found the spacecraft on 18 January 2018 the spacecraft is found alive and well!

I have been hearing about this but I could not quite figure out what was going on, I could hardly believe it. Simply amazing and we have data! Great work and 73 Scott!

Open Cluster Gaia 1

Look what Gaia found! Nice job with the image Mr. Kaiser and nice job to Gaia for pointing this out.

Image: H. Kaiser / ESA

Original caption: If you gazed at the night sky over the past few weeks, it is possible that you stumbled upon a very bright star near the Orion constellation. This is Sirius, the brightest star of the entire night sky, which is visible from almost everywhere on Earth except the northernmost regions. It is, in fact, a binary stellar system, and one of the nearest to our Sun – only eight light-years away.

Known since antiquity, this star played a key role for the keeping of time and agriculture in Ancient Egypt, as its return to the sky was linked to the annual flooding of the Nile. In Ancient Greek mythology, it represented the eye of the Canis Major constellation, the Great Dog that diligently follows Orion, the Hunter.

Dazzling stars like Sirius are both a blessing and a curse for astronomers. Their bright appearance provides plenty of light to study their properties, but also outshines other celestial sources that happen to lie in the same patch of sky.

This is why Sirius has been masked in this picture taken by amateur astronomer Harald Kaiser on 10 January from Karlsruhe, a city in the southwest of Germany.

Once the glare of Sirius is removed, an interesting object becomes visible to its left: the stellar cluster Gaia 1, first spotted last year using data from ESA’s Gaia satellite.

Gaia 1 is an open cluster – a family of stars all born at the same time and held together by gravity – and it is located some 15 000 light-years away. Its chance alignment next to nearby, bright Sirius kept it hidden to generations of astronomers that have been sweeping the heavens with their telescopes over the past four centuries. But not to the inquisitive eye of Gaia, which has been charting more than a billion stars in our Milky Way galaxy.

Mr Kaiser heard about the discovery of this cluster during a public talk on the Gaia mission and zealously waited for a clear sky to try and image it using his 30 cm-diameter telescope. After covering Sirius on the telescope sensor – creating the dark circle on the image – he succeeded at recording some of the brightest stars of the Gaia 1 cluster.

Gaia 1 is one of two previously unknown star clusters that have been discovered by counting stars from the first set of Gaia data, which was released in September 2016. Astronomers are now looking forward to Gaia’s second data release, planned for 25 April, which will provide vast possibilities for new, exciting discoveries.

More information about opportunities for amateur astronomers to follow up on Gaia observations here.

Sahara Snow

Great look at the Sahara snows. Turns out snow in the Sahara while rare, is not unheard of.

NASA — For the second time in three years, snow has accumulated in the desert near the northern Algerian town of Aïn Séfra. Sometimes called the “gateway to the desert,” the town of 35,000 people sits between the Sahara and the Atlas Mountains. On January 8, Landsat 8 captured data for these natural-color images of the snow in the Sahara. The Landsat 8 image was draped over a global digital elevation model, built from data acquired by NASA’s Shuttle Radar Topography Mission.

According to news and social media accounts, anywhere from 10 to 30 centimeters (4 to 12 inches) of snow accumulated on January 8, 2018, on some higher desert elevations (1000 meters or more above sea level). Social media photos showed citizens sliding down snow-covered sand dunes. Warming temperatures melted much of it within a day.

Snow in the Sahara and other parts of North Africa is infrequent, but not unprecedented. Measurable snow fell near Aïn Séfra in December 2016. Substantial snow also blanketed the Atlas Mountains in Morocco in February 2012 and January 2005.

Image Credits: NASA Earth Observatory image by Joshua Stevens, using Landsat data from the U.S. Geological Survey and topographic data from the Shuttle Radar Topography Mission

Fly Through the Orion Nebula

Using actual scientific data along with Hollywood techniques, a team at the Space Telescope Science Institute in Baltimore, Maryland, and the Caltech/IPAC in Pasadena, California put together this excellent visualization. Thanks to NASA for the video.