Category Archives: Uncategorized

Happy Spring!


No not here, today is the first of Spring on Mars!

Determining the seasons on Mars isn’t difficult to understand but is a little complicated to explain and The Planetary Society has already done an excellent job at the task I recommend you go to their Mars Calendar page.

Also if you have been wondering about the lack of updates on the Rovers lately, Mars has been in solar conjunction. Mars is behind the Sun and hidden from us, it happens about every 28 months. When the solar conjunction occurs communications range from very difficult to impossible. The image above from the Mars Science Laboratory – Curiosity was taken on 03 June 2015 and is the last image recieved before the beginning of the conjunction. Mars will come out of the conjunction (hopefully) enough for communications to begin on 21 June.

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LDSD Launch?


THE TEST IS COMPLETE.  There was one anomaly otherwise it was a good test. I will post a replay when the high resolution video becomes available.


The second flight of NASA’s Low-Density Supersonic Decelerator (LDSD) might be attempted today. The attempt is being attempted from from the Pacific Missile Range Facility on the island of Kauai in Hawaii. The launch originally scheduled for 02 June has been delayed due to weather. The launch window extends until 12 June (Friday). Launch time each day are between 17:30 to 19:00 UTC (1:30 p.m. to 3 p.m. EDT / 7:30 to 9 a.m. HST).

The LDSD has the potential to double the payload that can be delivered to the surface of Mars.

A balloon will carry the vehicle to 37,000 meters / 120,000 feet then a booster rocket will take it further, to 55,000 meters / 180,000 feet. The vehicle will accelerate to about three times the speed of sound at which point a “supersonic inflatable aerodynamic decelerator” (SAID) will inflate and slow the vehicle to Mach 2.35 when a parachute will (hopefully) carry the vehicle to a safe landing to the ocean.

The “SAID” and the parachute are new technologies being tested.

The image above shows the dress rehearsal for the launch on 29 May. Image Credit: NASA/Bill Ingalls

Here is a link for live video of the launch for you to check. I will try to confirm the launch but I’m not sure how much go/no go lead time there will be.  NASA TV will also carry the launch live.

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New Horizons Launch

New Horizon launch on 19 January 2006. After nine years the spacecraft is nearing its primary goal – Pluto.

The spacecraft is speeding along at 14.61 km/sec (relative to the sun) that’s 9 miles per second or 32,682 miles per hour. That is something like 16 times faster than a rifle bullet and as fast as that is, the spacecraft will not get to the closest point to Pluto until 18 July 2015!

We are at the first stages of the encounter and in just days we will get some of our first looks at Plutoian system. The view will be improving slowly and by May the images will be better than the Hubble can provide.


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JUICE Gets Approval

Artist's impression of the JUICE mission. Credit: ESA/AOES
Artist’s impression of the JUICE mission. Credit: ESA/AOES

ESA has given the JUICE mission the go ahead to move to the next stage of implementation.

JUICE is the JUpiter ICy moons Explorer and will (hopefully) launch in 2022. The spacecraft will arrive at Jupiter in 2030 to study the giant planet’s atmosphere and magnetosphere, the rings, and the larger moons.

The moons to be studied are likely: Ganymede, Callisto, Europa, and Io. Io is a volcanic wonder and the other three might have internal liquid oceans and therefore could contain habitat for life.

From the ESA press release:

The scientific goals of the mission are enabled by its instrument suite. This includes cameras, spectrometers, a radar, an altimeter, radio science experiments and sensors used to monitor the plasma environment in the Jovian system. In February 2013, the SPC approved the payload that will be developed by scientific teams from 16 European countries, the USA and Japan, through corresponding national funding.
At the November 2014 meeting of the SPC, the multilateral agreement for JUICE was also approved. This agreement provides the legal framework for provision of payload equipment and ongoing mission support between funding agencies. The parties to the agreement are the European Space Agency and the funding agencies of the European countries leading the instrument developments in the JUICE mission: the Agenzia Spaziale Italiana (Italy); the Centre National d’Etudes Spatiales (France); the Deutsches Zentrum für Luft- und Raumfahrt e.V. (Germany); the Swedish National Space Board, and the United Kingdom Space Agency. Austria, Belgium, the Czech Republic, Greece, Poland, and Switzerland participate via the PRODEX programme.

I have to say I am very pleased to hear of the approval. The would leave just Uranus and Neptune with no spacecraft visits since Voyager. Who knows, Neptune Express anybody?

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Galactic Clumping

A galactic group or "clump" in the Fornax cluster of galaxies. Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech
A galactic group or “clump” in the Fornax cluster of galaxies. Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

I subscribed to the theory that black holes in the centers of galaxies, the supermassive ones were all surrounded by a torus and it was how the galactic plane was angled toward us that made them appear different. NASA’s Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer (WISE) casts a shadow doubt on this so-called unified theory of active supermassive black holes:

From the Wise site:

Active, supermassive black holes at the hearts of galaxies tend to fall into two categories: those that are hidden by dust, and those that are exposed. Data from NASA’s Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer, or WISE, have shown that galaxies with hidden supermassive black holes tend to clump together in space more than the galaxies with exposed, or unobscured, black holes.

Continue reading

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Closer to the Big Bang?

Those whom subscribe to the idea of cosmic inflation theory of the Big Bang are a little closer having the idea confirmed. The Background Imaging of Cosmic Extragalactic Polarisation — BICEP2 — experiment at the South Pole has spotted the footprints of something called primordial gravitational waves.

The “instruments” used to detect the primordial gravity waves are both huge and exquisitely precise.

Other stuff:

Apparently I didn’t miss too much not being able to see the Camelopardalis meteor shower due to rain. Oh well it goes like that sometimes.

video form ESA Eronews.

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New Crater on Mars

The Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter using the MARCI, the Mars Color Imager used as a weather monitoring camera took an image of a new crater on Mars. The crater, first appeared in March 2012 was caused by an air-bursting meteor. Intense pressures caused by friction with the thin Martian atmosphere caused the meteor to explode before it impacted the ground. We see that happen on Earth too. An example is the the Russian meteor last year in Chelyabinsk.


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See a Double Star!

While you are out tonight or early tomorrow morning enjoying (or at least looking for) the Camelopardalis meteor shower — you ARE going to look right? — you can see a double star too maybe even at the same time.

The stars, Mizar and Alcor are in the constellation Ursa Major (also The Big Dipper or The Plough). The picture below will help you get your bearings. In the “handle” of the “dipper” the second star is named Mizar. Mizer has a partner  called Alcor. I’ve heard stories the pair was used to as a vision test, if you could resolve the pair you had “normal” eyes. Maybe you have good eyes and can see both, I’ve not had that experience, skies were darker not so many years ago too and that had to help. Still it’s right there get your eyes dark adapted (no lights for about 15 minutes should do it) and have a look.

Note:  The Mizar and Alcor pair are much more than a pair.  Mizar is really part of a four-star system and Alcor is part of another binary system and apparently all are gravitationally bound.  A sextuple system!

Better yet if you have even a small pair of binoculars, take a look at that star and you will see the pair. Click the image to see them resolved.

Ursa Major and Mizar.  Stellarium
Ursa Major and Mizar. Stellarium

Also notice how the end two stars making the “dipper” part sort of point to the star labeled Polaris. Polaris is of course the “North Star. The meteor shower should emanate from the constellation Camelopardalis which is between Polaris and your northern horizon early on. Normally we think of stars moving from East to West, but the stars in Camelopardalis, being “below” Polaris will rotate to the East as the night goes on.

Here’s a picture to help. I would imagine if the meteor shower is anything at all you will find the radiant pretty easily if you just look north.

The radiant for the Camelopardalis meteor shower.
The radiant for the Camelopardalis meteor shower.

But what to do if is cloudy? All is not lost, turns out the forecast for me is rain, naturally. I’ll be watching on SLOOH if nothing else.

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