Category Archives: History

The Moon Namaka


The moon Namaka was discovered 10 years ago by Mike Brown, Chad Trujillo, and David Rabinowitz et al.

Although the discovery occured on 30 June 2005, the discovery wasn’t announced until 29 November 2005.

Never heard of Namaka? You’re probably not alone. Namaka is a moon of the (dwarf) planet Haumea which it shares with another moon called Hiʻiaka. The Keck telescope image above shows the Haumea family – click for the annotated version.

The Haumea system is a long ways away. The semi-major axis is a little more than 43.2 AU puts it well beyond the orbit of Neptune (30 AU). Brown et al (and possibly Ortiz et al but that another story) discovered Haumea in December 2004.

The moon Namaka is an amazing find, it is so far away even the diameter is hard to pin down but it is somewhere between (probably) 85 km and 170 km.

Here are data points of  the Haumea family.  Oh, by the way the other moon,  Hiʻiaka was also discovered by Brown,  Trujillo and Rabinowitz et al.

“2003 EL61 Haumea, with moons” by CalTech, Mike Brown et al. – Keck Telescope, CalTech. Licensed under Fair use via Wikipedia –


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Charon’s Discovery


Yesterday was the anniversary of the discovery of Pluto’s moon Charon. The moon was found by astronomer James Christy while using the 1.55 meter telescope at the US Naval Observatory Flagstaff Station on 22 June 1978 and announced to the world on 07 July 1978 by the IAU.

Above is the image the moon was spotted in. The image above is Pluto, the image on the left shows a “bulge” near the top that is not in the iamge on the right. The so-called bulge would appear and disappear over time and the period between subsequent “bulges” corresponded to the rotational period of Pluto.

It also turns out this “bulge” was seen and confirmed in hindsight on photographic plates going back to 29 April 1965.

Just think in a few short weeks we will be treated to a very good look at this moon.  Quite a difference between then and now already and we haven’t seen anything yet!

Image: USNO  / NASA

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Martian Clouds

marsclouds2The THEMIS instrument on the Mars Odyssey orbiter gives us this image of clouds on Mars (see NASA’s explanation below).

On 23 June 2015 the Mars Odyssey Orbiter will complete 60,000 orbits around Mars. That means the spacecraft has traveled 1.43 Billion km / 888 million miles and that does not include the travel to the planet. According to David Lehman, project manager for the Mars Odyssey at JPL: “The spacecraft is in good health, with all subsystems functional and with enough propellant for about 10 more years”.

The image shown here is a cropped version, click it to see the original version.

Here’s NASA’s caption:
Pavonis Mons stands about nine miles (14 kilometers) high, and the caldera spans about 29 miles (47 kilometers) wide. This image was made by THEMIS through three of its visual-light filters plus a near-infrared filter, and it is approximately true in color.

THEMIS and other instruments on Mars Odyssey have been studying Mars from orbit since 2001.

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An Interview with Venetia Burney Phair

For those of you who don’t know, Venetia Burney Phair was an accountant and taught economics and math to school girls.

She at age 11 is the person who gave Pluto its name. This interview was recorded in 2006.

Sadly Venetia  passed away on 30 April 2009.

This interview and more is  available at the New Horizons site.

Audio: NASA

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Mission Control Houston – 50 Years

NASA’s Houston Mission Control turned 50 years-old on 03 June 2015. There has been major changes on one hand and no change at all on the other.

The technology has vastly improved in those 50 years. Slide rules and black boards to cutting edge computer technology.

The one thing has not changed at all and it is not unique to NASA – the people. The work requires like minded people and that hasn’t changed at all. Oh sure the faces are different, the names are different, even the languages spoken and the lands they work from are different. Whether it’s NASA, ESA, JAXA or Roscosmos the people share a common dedication and drive for what they are doing. Always have and probably always will, at least the successful ones.

But this is Houston’s party, congratulations and here’s to 50 more!


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25 Years of Hubble

NASA Unveils Celestial Fireworks as Official Hubble 25th Anniversary Image

Happy Anniversary Hubble! Hubble was launched 25 years ago today on 24 April 1990 aboard the Shuttle Discovery on mission STS-31.

The Hubble was deployed on 25 April 1990 and immediately a problem with the optics was noticed and it would take a couple of years to get a correction in place. Once the corrective optics, kind of like “eye-glasses” for the telescope were flown up in December 1993 aboard the Shuttle Endeavour along with a few other upgrades and the repairs were made, the images were stunning.

Hubble has be serviced a few times since and continues to advance our knowledge and will for many more years with any luck at all.

About the image from Hubblesite:

NASA and ESA are celebrating the Hubble Space Telescope’s silver anniversary of 25 years in space by unveiling some of nature’s own fireworks — a giant cluster of about 3,000 stars called Westerlund 2. The cluster resides inside a vibrant stellar breeding ground known as Gum 29, located 20,000 light-years away in the constellation Carina. The comparatively young, 2-million-year-old star cluster contains some of our galaxy’s hottest, brightest, and most massive stars. The largest stars are unleashing a torrent of ultraviolet light and hurricane-force winds that etch away the enveloping hydrogen gas cloud. This creates a fantasy celestial landscape of pillars, ridges, and valleys.

Credit: NASA, ESA, the Hubble Heritage Team (STScI/AURA), A. Nota (ESA/STScI), and the Westerlund 2 Science Team

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Apollo 13 Launch

45 years ago today, 11 April 1970 at 14:13 EDT (18:13 UTC) NASA’s Apollo 13 launched. The mission was the third mission destined to land on the moon.

The moon landing was not to be and the crew: Commander James Lovel, Command Module Pilot John Swigert and Lunar Module Pilot Fred Haise encountered major problems resulting from an oxygen tank explosion.

What resulted was a life and death undertaking to bring the crew back to Earth.

The newscast was from the American network CBS with reporting by Walter Conkite and former astronaut Wally Schirra.

Video – hat tip to zellco321

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Ranger 8

Launched on 17 February 1965, Ranger 8 reached the moon on 20 February when it impacted the surface. The spacecraft sent back some of the closest images of the lunar surface and helped select landing sites for the Apollo missions.

Ranger 8 impacted the surface at something a little less than 2.68 km/sec or 6,000 mph. I spent a bit of time looking for the possible impact site in LROC data, still looking too.


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