Category Archives: History

History in the Making

Who will be the first passenger to go to the moon and back (hopefully)? SpaceX has signed a passenger and that person will be the first to ride the SpaceX BFR Mission to the Moon. The trip has been made by just 24 people in history.

We are about to find out who, when, and why! History in the making.

When? The SpaceX website says 18 Sept 2018 at 01:00 UT / 21:00 ET (on 17 Sept). However if one actually does the math using the little “timer to live” they give on the link, the start times are an hour BEFORE that.  It can be confusing, that’s why I will almost always use UTC and the prevailing US Eastern time, I figure people in the states and Canada will easily convert that to what ever timezone they are in.

I am going to err on the side of caution and publish an hour before hand (the 1 am time). The 21:00 ET / 01:00 UT time makes more sense because that is 18:00 PDT.

Remember SMART-1?

2006? My memory is pretty good; I remember this mission vividly including the flash at impact. Just not what year, they all kind of blend together sometimes (LOL).

Anyway, thanks ESA for this remembrance.

ESA: This greyscale, mottled image shows a patch of the Moon’s surface, and features an intriguing shape towards the top of the frame. This was actually made by a spacecraft – it marks the final resting place of ESA’s SMART-1 (Small Missions for Advanced Research in Technology-1).

Launched in 2003, SMART-1 was a Moon-orbiting probe that observed our cosmic companion for roughly three years. On 3 September 2006 the mission’s operations came to an end and the spacecraft was sent down to deliberately crash into the Moon, bouncing and grazing across the lunar surface at a speed of two kilometres per second and achieving Europe’s first lunar touchdown.

After the impact, a bright flash was seen at the boundary between lunar day and night by the Canada-France-Hawaii Telescope in Hawaii. However, as no other spacecraft were currently in orbit at the time to watch the event unfurl, it was not possible to pinpoint exactly where SMART-1 crashed. Scientists used orbit tracking, Earth-based simulations, and observations of the bright impact flash to estimate the location of the landing site, but the mission’s precise resting place remained unknown for over a decade.

Last year, high-resolution images from NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO) revealed the whereabouts of SMART-1 – as shown here. The spacecraft carved out a four-metre-wide and 20-metre-long gouge as it it impacted and bounced at 34.262° south, 46.193° west. It cut across a small crater and sent lunar soil flying outwards from its skidding, ricocheting path, creating the brighter patches of material seen either side of the crater, with debris from spacecraft and oblique dust ejecta coming to a halt several to tens of kilometres in the forward stream direction.

Alongside searching for water ice on the Moon and observing and photographing our nearest celestial neighbour, SMART-1 played a key role in testing ion propulsion – an efficient type of propulsion that uses electrical energy to propel a spacecraft through space.

SMART-1 was ESA’s first mission to travel to deep space using this type of propulsion. Ion propulsion will also be used on the joint ESA-JAXA BepiColombo mission when it launches in October of this year towards Mercury.

The field of view in the image is 50 metres wide (north is up), with solar illumination coming from the west. SMART-1 touched down from north to south.

More about SMART-1

Copyright P. Stooke/B. Foing et al 2017/ NASA/GSFC/Arizona State University

We Can See Ultima Thule

New Horizon’s is four months away from the Kuiper Belt Object Ultima Thule and we are getting our first look at it thanks to the LORRI imager on board the spacecraft. New Horizons was 172 million km / 107 million miles from Ultima Thule at the time. Ultima Thule is about 1.6 billion km / 1 billion miles BEYOND Pluto!

Be sure to click the image for a larger version.

NASA: Mission team members were thrilled – if not a little surprised – that New Horizons’ telescopic Long Range Reconnaissance Imager (LORRI) was able to see the small, dim object while still more than 100 million miles away, and against a dense background of stars. Taken Aug. 16 and transmitted home through NASA’s Deep Space Network over the following days, the set of 48 images marked the team’s first attempt to find Ultima with the spacecraft’s own cameras.

“The image field is extremely rich with background stars, which makes it difficult to detect faint objects,” said Hal Weaver, New Horizons project scientist and LORRI principal investigator from the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory in Laurel, Maryland. “It really is like finding a needle in a haystack. In these first images, Ultima appears only as a bump on the side of a background star that’s roughly 17 times brighter, but Ultima will be getting brighter – and easier to see – as the spacecraft gets closer.”

This first detection is important because the observations New Horizons makes of Ultima over the next four months will help the mission team refine the spacecraft’s course toward a closest approach to Ultima, at 12:33 a.m. EST on Jan. 1, 2019. That Ultima was where mission scientists expected it to be – in precisely the spot they predicted, using data gathered by the Hubble Space Telescope – indicates the team already has a good idea of Ultima’s orbit.

The Ultima flyby will be the first-ever close-up exploration of a small Kuiper Belt object and the farthest exploration of any planetary body in history, shattering the record New Horizons itself set at Pluto in July 2015 by about 1 billion miles. These images are also the most distant from the Sun ever taken, breaking the record set by Voyager 1’s “Pale Blue Dot” image of Earth taken in 1990. (New Horizons set the record for the most distant image from Earth in December 2017.)

“Our team worked hard to determine if Ultima was detected by LORRI at such a great distance, and the result is a clear yes,” said New Horizons Principal Investigator Alan Stern, of the Southwest Research Institute in Boulder, Colorado. “We now have Ultima in our sights from much farther out than once thought possible. We are on Ultima’s doorstep, and an amazing exploration awaits!”


The Origin of the Perseids

Ever wonder where the Perseids come from? Wonder no more because this is Comet Swift-Tuttle and it is the origin of the Perseids showers.

I have been stymied in my viewing thanks to persistent clouds. In the few breaks I have managed to see a few meteors. Yesterday morning mostly, trying to watch the meteors and the launch of the Parker Space Probe (from the outside and through a window) at the same time.

Here’s ESA’s caption for the image above (E.E. Barnard/Internet Archive ):Comet Swift–Tuttle, formally 109P/Swift–Tuttle, is an enormous, icy comet on a 133 year orbit around the Sun, and the reason for the spectacular annual Perseids meteor showers on Earth.

This image shows the comet photographed on 4 April 1892 (top) and 6 April 1892 (bottom) by Professor EE Barnard, taken from Plate III in A Popular History of Astronomy in the nineteenth century by Agnes M Clerke (third edition), courtesy of Internet Archive.

Once a year, Earth passes through a section of Swift–Tuttle’s cometary tail — a cloud of particles ejected from the comet, most of which have been in this formation for a thousand years. As these tiny particles enter Earth’s atmosphere at extremely fast speeds, they burn up, resulting in the wonderful show that is a meteor shower.

Every year from the middle of July to late August, observers are treated to the spectacle of glowing cosmic debris, streaming across the night’s skies. This year the shower will peak from the evening of Sunday 12 August to the early hours of Monday 13 August. The Moon will be a new crescent moon, fortunately setting before the show really gets underway and so leaving the skies dark for what is set to be the best shower of 2018.

Discovered in 1862, the ‘near-Earth comet’ Swift–Tuttle has a nucleus 26 km in diameter — that’s two-and-a-half times the size of the asteroid that wiped out the dinosaurs, and it is travelling four times as fast.

As the largest Solar System object (bar the Moon) to repeatedly pass close to Earth, comet Swift-Tuttle’s movements have been meticulously studied by scientists around the globe. It’s most recent ‘perihelion’ — the point in its orbit in which it comes closest to the Sun — was in 1992, and the next won’t be until 12 July 2126.

Fortunately all of comet Swift–Tuttle’s orbits for the next 2000 years have been intricately calculated, when Earth is 100% safe – passing for example 22.9 million km from Earth in 2126 and 22 million km in 2261.

A close encounter is expected around 15 September 4479, when Swift-Tuttle is expected to pass within 1.6 million km of Earth — more than 90 times closer than the Sun, or, only about four times the distance of the Moon.

So, for the foreseeable future we will continue to enjoy the beautiful show put on every year by the remnants of this Sun-grazer’s historic journeys to the centre of our Solar System. These stunning events also serve as a reminder that our planet has been visited before by huge cosmic space-rocks, and has the potential to be once again.

VividX2 Makes History

The VividX2 makes history as the world’s first commercial satellite able to provide full-colour video of life on Earth.

It is capable of taking ultra-high definition images of any location on Earth and can take two minutes of video at the same time.

The satellite is only about the size of a typical cloths-washing machine (a cubic meter) and weighs just 100 kg.

See more at

Hand Prints on Hubble

Kind of a fun video from Science@NASA.

Tiangong Update: The remains of the Space Station ended up in the Pacific Ocean, reentry occurred on 2018/04/02 00:16 UTC.

I also want to mention there is a Space X launch of a cargo-spaceship heading to the International Space Station tomorrow with coverage beginning at about 19:00 UTC / 15:00 ET.

Neptune Clouds

Heres an image I really like from the outer solar system taken much too long ago. The Voyager 2 spacecraft took this high resolution image of clouds on Neptune.

More about Neptune and its moons.

The New Horizons mission is active in the outer solar system and closing in on Pluto. Soon if all goes well we will have a good look at the Dwarf planet and it’s moon (or co-planet depending on your point of view).

A high resolution of the image above can be had here.

The original caption from NASA/JPL:
This Voyager 2 high resolution color image, taken 2 hours before closest approach, provides obvious evidence of vertical relief in Neptune’s bright cloud streaks. These clouds were observed at a latitude of 29 degrees north near Neptune’s east terminator. The linear cloud forms are stretched approximately along lines of constant latitude and the sun is toward the lower left. The bright sides of the clouds which face the sun are brighter than the surrounding cloud deck because they are more directly exposed to the sun. Shadows can be seen on the side opposite the sun. These shadows are less distinct at short wavelengths (violet filter) and more distinct at long wavelengths (orange filter). This can be understood if the underlying cloud deck on which the shadow is cast is at a relatively great depth, in which case scattering by molecules in the overlying atmosphere will diffuse light into the shadow. Because molecules scatter blue light much more efficiently than red light, the shadows will be darkest at the longest (reddest) wavelengths, and will appear blue under white light illumination. The resolution of this image is 11 kilometers (6.8 miles per pixel) and the range is only 157,000 kilometers (98,000 miles). The width of the cloud streaks range from 50 to 200 kilometers (31 to 124 miles), and their shadow widths range from 30 to 50 kilometers (18 to 31 miles). Cloud heights appear to be of the order of 50 kilometers (31 miles). This corresponds to 2 scale heights. The Voyager Mission is conducted by JPL for NASA’s Office of Space Science and Applications.