Category Archives: Cool Stuff

CubeSats Bound for Mars


CubeSats have come a long way and a relatively short time and are about to go much farther – all the way to Mars.

The image shows a full-scale mock-up of the CubeSat held by mechanical engineer Joel Steinkraus and systems engineer Farah Alibay are on the team at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, preparing twin MarCo (Mars Cube One) CubeSats for launch in March 2016.

The CubeSats will catch a ride on an Atlas V launch vehicle from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California when it launches with InSight, the next Mars lander.

From NASA:
The mock-up in the photo is in a configuration to show the deployed position of components that correspond to MarCO’s two solar panels and two antennas. During launch, those components will be stowed for a total vehicle size of about 14.4 inches (36.6 centimeters) by 9.5 inches (24.3 centimeters) by 4.6 inches (11.8 centimeters).

After launch, the two MarCO CubeSats and InSight will be navigated separately to Mars. The MarCO twins will fly past the planet in September 2016 just as InSight is descending through the atmosphere and landing on the surface. MarCO is a technology demonstration mission to relay communications from InSight to Earth during InSight’s descent and landing. InSight communications during that critical period will also be recorded by NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter for delayed transmission to Earth.

The MarCO and InSight projects are managed for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate, Washington, by JPL, a division of the California Institute of Technology, Pasadena.

Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

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The Galaxy Behind the Ring







Einstein Rings are near the top of my coolest things in the sky and they just got even better. I knew eventually this would happen. Great work!

From ALMA:
ALMA’s Long Baseline Campaign has produced a spectacularly detailed image of a distant galaxy being gravitationally lensed, revealing star-forming regions — something that has never been seen before at this level of detail in a galaxy so remote. The resulting reconstructed image of the distant galaxy using sophisticated models of the magnifying gravitational lens, reveal fine structures within the ring that have never been seen before: several dust clouds within the galaxy, which are thought to be giant cold molecular clouds, the birthplaces of stars and planets. Note that some of the smaller structures visible here might be artifacts caused by the reconstruction method. Credit: ALMA (NRAO/ESO/NAOJ)/Mark Swinbank (Durham University)

Here’s a more detailed version.

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Pluto Time


After traveling 3 billion miles I would have guessed Pluto would be almost dark. Turns out it’s not quite as dark as I thought.

From NASA (link is below):

Just how dim is the sunlight on Pluto, some three billion miles away? While sunlight is much weaker than it is here on Earth, it isn’t as dark as you might expect. In fact, for just a moment during dawn and dusk each day, the illumination on Earth matches that of high noon on Pluto.

We call this “Pluto Time”. If you go outside at this time on a clear day, the world around you will be as dim as the surface of Pluto.

It’s always Pluto Time somewhere, and NASA wants to see your view, using a new interactive widget that provides the approximate time, based on your location. The tool also allows you to set reminders for upcoming Pluto Times.

Go out and see what Pluto Time looks like! Take a photo during your Pluto Time – preferably with a local landmark – and share it on social media with #PlutoTime. We’ll highlight some of the most interesting shots from around the world and combine your photos into a mosaic image of Pluto and its moons to be unveiled in August.

Read more. . .

So I’ve just got to try this out and you can too. Just go here. I’ll post my It’s #PlutoTime picture when I get it. The sky is supposed to be clear which it isn’t at the moment.

Thanks NASA this will be fun.

Here’s how to do it.

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Supernova Animation

A nice animation of a Type 1a Supernova. The Type 1a isn’t a giant star exploding, rather it is a smaller white dwarf star pulling matter off a larger companion until the smaller star accumulates enough matter, around 1.44 solar masses, so the star can no longer support its weight with electron degeneracy pressure – that’s when things go bad.

A white dwarf star is what our Sun will become in the distant future. Since it does not have a binary companion it will not become a supernova, just a super-dense remnant.


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Kepler Sees Neptune’s Dance

Seventy days of Kepler spacecraft observations in the K2 mission provide for a look at Neptune’s dance with a couple of its moons.

Neptune appears on Day 15, the moon Triton shows up quite well. The YouTube description says some can see the moon Nereid at 24, I cannot.


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ESA, France’s space agency CNES and the German aerospace centre DLR inaugurated the Airbus A310 ZERO-G refitted for altered gravity by running 12 scientific experiments this week.

The French company Novespace has conducted “parabolic flights” for more than 25 years. By flying the parabolic patterns at around 50 degrees up and down a brief period of weightlessness is created at the top of the curve. As the plane comes “over the top” forces on everything in the plane (people included) cancels out and weightlessness is achieved for a brief period.

We’ve all see the videos, what I seldom thought about is what happens at the bottom of the curve. When the plane “bottoms out” and starts climbing the forces on everything in the plane is about 2G.

This particular plane is new being acquired in 2014 replacing an Airbus A300. You won’t find many seats in the passenger area, you will find padded walls so people do not get hurt during the weight/weightless cycles, sick maybe, but not hurt.

Image: ESA

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Kids Can You Draw?

The CHaracterising ExOPlanet Satellite or CHEOPS set to launch in 2017 will measure the bulk density of exo-planets from the size of super-Earths to around Neptune already known to be in orbit around stars. The mission will accomplish this by using ultra-high precision photometry.

ESA is holding a fun contest open to kids ages 8 to 14 and the winners (around 3,000) will get their entries engraved on metal plaques that will fly on Cheops. Very cool.

The video gives the details also available below (and on the video site):
Continue reading

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Zombie Stars


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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