Venus Express

After eight years in orbit, ESA’s Venus Express has completed routine science observations and is preparing for a daring plunge into the planet’s hostile atmosphere.

Venus Express was launched on 9 November 2005, and arrived at Venus on 11 April 2006.

It has been orbiting Venus in an elliptical 24-hour loop that takes it from a distant 66 000 km over the south pole — affording incredible global views — to an altitude of around 250 km above the surface at the north pole, close to the top of the planet’s atmosphere.

With a suite of seven instruments, the spacecraft has provided a comprehensive study of the ionosphere, atmosphere and surface of Venus.

This video includes interviews in English with Håkan Svedhem, ESA mission scientist and Patrick Martin, ESA Venus Express mission manager

Europa in Color

A color image of Europa. Click for larger. Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/SETI Institute

A color image of Europa. Click for larger. Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/SETI Institute

NASA gives us this newly released image of Europa created from images taken by the Galileo spacecraft in 1997 and 1998.

Click the image to get a good look at the amazing terrain!

The following caption from JPL/NASA:

This colorized image of Europa is a product of clear-filter grayscale data from one orbit of NASA’s Galileo spacecraft, combined with lower-resolution color data taken on a different orbit. The blue-white terrains indicate relatively pure water ice, whereas the reddish areas contain water ice mixed with hydrated salts, potentially magnesium sulfate or sulfuric acid. The reddish material is associated with the broad band in the center of the image, as well as some of the narrower bands, ridges, and disrupted chaos-type features. It is possible that these surface features may have communicated with a global subsurface ocean layer during or after their formation.

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The caption from JPL (link has larger still-images):

NASA’s NEOWISE mission captured this series of pictures of comet C/2012 K1 — also known as comet Pan-STARRS — as it swept across our skies on May 20, 2014. The comet is relatively close to us — it was only about 143 million miles (230 million kilometers) from Earth when this picture was taken. It is seen passing a much more distant spiral galaxy, called NGC 3726, which is about 55 million light-years from Earth, or 2 trillion times farther away than the comet.


Gravity Map

Free air gravity map of the Moon.  Credit: NASA

Free air gravity map of the Moon. Credit: NASA

Here is a gravity map of the Moon’s southern area made from data collected by the GRAIL (Gravity Recovery and Interior Laboratory) by S. Goossens and others.

Because the moon is not a smooth homogeneous sphere of equal altitude, gravity varies from area to area, just as it does here on Earth. The GRAIL spacecraft was able to measure gravitational differences from what would occur of the Moon was like a cue ball. The differences are expressed by color, in this case purple is the low end of the range, yellow is average and red is at the high end.

Get an more in-depth explanation at NASA Goddared Space Fight Center’s photostream at Flickr (along with other pictures).

Something Different

Something a little different for today.

The NACA the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics was a US government agency founded on 3 March 1915 to” undertake, promote, and institutionalize aeronautical research”.  The NACA was dissolved and its assets and personnel were transferred to what we all know as NASA.

This archived footage comes from the Neil A. Armstrong Flight Research Center (formerly Dryden Flight Research Center) and was made available courtesy the US Department of Defense, NASAimages and the US National Archives. The film shows 1940’s experimental aircraft including the YB-49 flying wing and the X-1 and X-15 space plane.


The Beast

A few days ago you may recall there was an asteroid that passed by Earth. The asteroid passed about three times further from us than our moon. Yes that is quite a ways out, but compared to cosmic distances, pretty close.

NASA was able to get some great images of the more than 366 meter (1200 ft) long oblong shaped rock once it had passed. The video above was pieced together from images taken at a range of 1.25 and 1.39 million km (774,000 to 864,000 miles).

The images were captured by the 70-meter Goldstone antenna working with the Arecibo Observatory in Puerto Rico.

As an aside: Arecibo is located in a seismically active area being not far from the Caribbean plate boundary. Generally the quakes are fairly small, for example yesterday 14 June there was a magnitude 2.7 quake at a depth of 26 km (22.4 miles) occurred 75 km (47 miles) out in the ocean and that was among eight occurring in the previous 24 hours having magnitudes of 2.7 to 3.2. Sure those are pretty small but I wonder if they are noticed by the observatory especially during an observing run.

The same could be asked of the ESO and Keck now that I think of it, it’s just that Arecibo is so huge.

Sun Watchers

“The Sun Watchers” from AstronomyOutreach network on Vimeo.

Very nice! Be sure to visit the AstronomyOutreach network at the link above.

From AstronomyOutreach:

“The Sun Watchers” was funded through a grant by Explore Scientific and produced by the AstronomyOutreach network. The Sun Watchers is a look inside the solar observatory in Big Bear, CA. The telescopes and instruments at the observatory are designed and employed specifically for studying the activities and phenomena of the Sun.

ISEE-3 Reboot Project

Artist rendering of IEEE. Credit: Space College

Artist rendering of IEEE. Credit: Space College

Wow, can an old spacecraft launched in the 1970’s and currently in a heliocentric orbit be contacted and rebooted while passing by the Earth?

Dennis Wingo, president of Moffett Field, California-based Skycorp Inc, Internet publisher Keith Cowing and many donors and volunteers, are going to try do not just that, they are going to try to coax the 70’s era spacecraft into telemetry mode and perhaps get it back into an Earth orbit. We will find out soon, IEEE is passing by right now.

The IEEE-3 spacecraft was launched on 12 August 1978. Originally the mission was cooperative effort between NASA and ESRO/ESA to study the interaction between the Earth’s magnetic field and the solar wind.

On 10 June 1982 IEEE-3 became the International Cometary Explorer with the primary scientific objective of ICE was to study the interaction between the solar wind and a cometary atmosphere. The mission required the spacecraft to leave the Earth/moon system and orbit around the sun instead.

After encounters with comet Giacobini-Zinner in 1985 and the famous Halley’s comet in 1986 and the study of CME’s from the sun in 1991, the “plug” was pulled in the spacecraft on 5 May 1997.

Read all about this incredible effort at Space College: ISEE-3 Reboot Project Status and Schedule for First Contact gives the current status and you can read other posts leading up to now.