Category Archives: Cool Stuff

Name the ExoMars Rover

The UK built ExoMars Rover will launch as part of ESA’s ExoMars Mission. The rover is a mobile laboratory and one of the things it will do is examine the Martian sub-surface for signs of life when it lands in 2021.

It needs a name, not that there is anything wrong with “The ExoMars Rover”, but I think they (all involved with the mission ESA, UK Space Agency, Airbus etc) are looking for something a little more imaginative probably so it wouldn’t clash with the mission name.

It’s all good! I have the PERFECT name and have submitted it. I bet there will be quite a number of the same idea too. I hope so. I won’t tell you what I decided on until the official name is announced.

So go ENTER!

About the contest and ExoMars mission.

Bluedot Festival!

If you are close enough to Cheshire UK, specifically the wonderful Jodrell Observatory you can thank your lucky stars.

The Bluedot Fesitival is in full swing and is a great way to spend some time. Oh I would LOVE to be there but that won’t be possible this year.

The festival runs 19, 20, 21, and 22 July so there is plenty of opportunity. Please go if you can, I would.

Details here: Bluedot Festival

The Long and Short of it

The Sun has reached the most northerly extent of the annual cycle of the seasons and will now begin the journey to the corresponding southernmost point.

In the north the daylight will begin to shorten and while it is called the start of summer, quite a few of us have been enjoying warmer temperatures for a while compared to earlier in the year. In the south of course the opposite is true.

The time of the June Solstice is (or was) 10:07 UTC, today 21 June 2018.

Thanks to for the image.

How About That!

The shot all night-time probably anyone who has spent any time taking pictures of the night sky hope for but seldom, if ever get. Planned shots are difficult enough to begin with but to take such a fabulous image, well balanced and composed, it’s simply amazing is what it is.

Congratulations and bravo Uwe Reichert. There is a great story behind the image also. Thank you ESA I enjoyed it very much:

Sometimes, nature is the best art director!

When Uwe Reichert grabbed his camera and tripod on the evening of 16 June 2018, he intended simply to image the conjunction of the then-three-day old Moon and the bright Venus.

In his backyard, near Heidelberg, Germany, trees and bushes blocked the view towards the western horizon, so he strolled through the neighbourhood searching for a better viewpoint. After taking a few pictures from various positions, he finally ended up on the outskirts of the town where he could see both celestial objects shining above some scattered clouds in the far distance.

He set the focal length of his 100-400mm telephoto lens to 180mm, chose a small aperture of f/10 so that bright Venus might produce some pictorial rays and switched the sensitivity to ISO 4000 to keep the exposure time short enough to avoid blurring due to Earth’s rotation. By cosmic chance, in the same instant that he pressed the button of the camera’s remote control, Reichert saw something bright falling from the sky.

First, a white light flashed up above Venus, moved downward with high speed, changing colour into an intense greenish glare, and what once appeared as one object disintegrated to a spray of smaller sparkles keeping the original trajectory until dying out just over the horizon.

As a long-time observer, both amateur and professional, he had seen many different celestial phenomena, including countless meteors and some bright fireballs, but this one appeared odd: The sparkles looked more like an exploding firework than a dying shooting star. But both the speed of the object and the very narrow angle under which the sparkles fanned out were arguments against artificial fireworks or other pyrotechnics.

Within a few seconds, Reichert went through different emotional states ranging from astonishment and puzzlement to euphoria: Had he really seen a cosmic body burning up in Earth’s atmosphere? When he checked the display of his camera, he was even more surprised: The object had crossed the camera’s field of view leaving a bright streak on the image. The streak appeared to have pierced the clouds as an object would have done when falling from high altitude down to Earth. Clearly, this object had really been falling down, but taking perspective into account the whole trajectory must have been above the clouds. Therefore, the flight path must have been much farther away than it appeared.

As it turned out a few hours later, with the help of Reichert’s picture, the fireball’s ground track was identified to have been over Belgium, some 230 kilometres away from the photographer’s position. Hundreds of people had seen the fireball, and the many sightings were also reported from Belgium and Holland, where Reichert’s picture made it to several news websites the next day.

Uwe Reichert is editor-in-chief at Sterne und Weltraum

Test Rover in Chile

Wow! I now have new desktop background. If you click the image you can see a larger version.

The original caption from NASA: The Moon begins to rise behind the ARADS rover during the 2017 season of field tests in Chile’s Atacama Desert. The Milky Way is visible in the night sky.

The Atacama Rover and Astrobiology Drilling Studies, or ARADS, project is designing tools and techniques that could be used to search for life one day on Mars or other places in the Solar System. The team’s prototype rover combines the ability to move across the surface, drill down to collect soil samples, and feed them to several life-detection instruments on board. The extreme conditions of Chile’s Atacama Desert provide one of the most Mars-like environments on Earth, where the team can test and refine these technologies and methods.

ARADS is led by NASA’s Ames Research Center in California’s Silicon Valley. Partners include NASA centers Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, and the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, as well as Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, Maryland, Honeybee Robotics in New York, the University of Antofagasta and CampoAlto SpA, both in Chile, and Spain’s Center for Astrobiology.

Credit: NASA/CampoAlto/Victor Robles

Our (distant) Future

NASA: An image of the galaxy Arp299B, which is undergoing a merging process with Arp299A (the galaxy to the left), captured by NASA’s Hubble space telescope. The inset features an artist’s illustration of a tidal disruption event (TDE), which occurs when a star passes fatally close to a supermassive black hole. A TDE was recently observed near the center of Arp299B.

Is this our future? Yes it or something approximating this will, it seems, will happen. The Milky Way and the Andromeda Galaxy will one day merge. Not to worry, it will be many millions of years in the future. Most galaxies are red-shifted, moving away from us; most but not all. Andromeda is blue-shifted meaning it is moving towards us.

Red-shifted? Blue-shifted? Ahh, the Doppler Effect.


CubeSat Plasma Thruster

Nice, it was only a matter of time.

ESA: This micro-pulsed plasma thruster has been designed for propulsion of miniature CubeSats; its first firing is seen here. The thruster works by pulsing a lightning-like electric arc between two electrodes. This vaporizes the thruster propellant into charged plasma, which is then accelerated in the electromagnetic field set up between the electrodes.

Developed for ESA by Mars Space Ltd and Clyde Space of the UK with Southampton University, this 2 Watt, 42 Newton-second impulse plasma thruster has been qualified for space, with more than a million firing pulses demonstrated during testing.

It has been designed for a range of uses, including drag compensation in low orbits, orbit maintenance, formation flying and small orbit transfers. The thruster could also serve as a CubeSat deorbiting device, gradually reducing orbital altitude until atmospheric re-entry is achieved.

About the size of a DVD reader, the thruster weighs just 280 grams including its propellant load and drive electronics.