InSight On Mars

Very nice image from the surface of Mars from the InSight Lander, thanks to NASA and JPL-Caltech. Do you know what that hexagonal copper colored box is? Its the Seismic Experiment for Interior Structure instrument or SEIS and at some point soon will be placed on the surface and it apparently functions properly because it could feel vibrations from the Martian wind – see here.

Marsquakes? I hope so, but we will have to wait and see.

NASA: This image from InSight’s robotic-arm mounted Instrument Deployment Camera shows the instruments on the spacecraft’s deck, with the Martian surface of Elysium Planitia in the background.

The color-calibrated picture was acquired on Dec. 4, 2018 (Sol 8). In the foreground, a copper-colored hexagonal cover protects the Seismic Experiment for Interior Structure instrument (SEIS), a seismometer that will measure marsquakes. The gray dome behind SEIS is the wind and thermal shield, which will be placed over SEIS. To the left is a black cylindrical instrument, the Heat Flow and Physical Properties Probe (HP3). HP3 will drill up to 16 feet (5 meters) below the Martian surface, measuring heat released from the interior of the planet. Above the deck is InSight’s robotic arm, with the stowed grapple directly facing the camera.

To the right can be seen a small portion of one of the two solar panels that help power InSight and part of the UHF communication antenna.

JPL manages InSight for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate. InSight is part of NASA’s Discovery Program, managed by the agency’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama.

A number of European partners, including France’s Centre National d’Études Spatiales (CNES) and the German Aerospace Center (DLR), are supporting the InSight mission. CNES, and the Institut de Physique du Globe de Paris (IPGP), provided the SEIS instrument, with significant contributions from the Max Planck Institute for Solar System Research (MPS) in Germany, the Swiss Institute of Technology (ETH) in Switzerland, Imperial College and Oxford University in the United Kingdom, and JPL. DLR provided the HP3 instrument, with significant contributions from the Space Research Center (CBK) of the Polish Academy of Sciences and Astronika in Poland. Spain’s Centro de Astrobiologí­a (CAB) supplied the wind sensors.

For more information about the mission, go to

Delta IV Heavy Staggered Start

I was watching coverage of the NROL-71 launch and United Launch Alliance usually precedes launch coverage with informative topics. One of the ones today was the fireball at launch time, just before leaving the ground.

What happened with the launch? As the rocket was about to fully light – we got to the fireball part – then everything stopped.

At this point I am guessing a 24 hour turn-around but that could be very optimistic so the delay could be longer.

Contrived View of the Solar North Pole

We have not seen an image of the solar poles since the Ulysses mission ended in 2009. Now ESA has figured out a way to contrive a view of the poles once again. Looking at the image it appears to be a little “off” in the way it is put together, but what a nice effort – great job ESA! This technique is quite timely because while we are at the bottom of a solar cycle there are signs a new solar cycle could be in the very-very early stages of beginning.

A tiny sunspot formed a couple of weeks ago at a very high latitude with the correct magnetic configuration for the next cycle. Now that sunspot apparently disappeared because I’ve not seen it since, however there is hope and high latitude sunspots a good sign.

Image: ESA/Royal Observatory of Belgium

ESA:  We’ve sent numerous missions into space to study the Sun; past and present solar explorers include ESA’s Proba-2 (PRoject for OnBoard Autonomy 2) and SOHO (SOlar Heliospheric Observatory) probes, NASA’s SDO and STEREO missions (the Solar Dynamics Observatory and Solar Terrestrial Relations Observatory, respectively), and the joint NASA/ESA Ulysses mission. However, most of these spacecraft have focused mainly on the equatorial regions of the Sun, with the notable exception of Ulysses – this probe observed our star at a wide range of latitudes for nearly two decades, until the mission came to an end in 2009.

Despite Ulysses’ insights, this focus on low solar latitudes has left the Sun’s poles relatively unexplored. A lack of imaging data means that scientists must get creative in piecing together pictures of the Sun’s polar regions – as seen here in this artificial image of the solar north pole.

This image extrapolates low-latitude Proba-2 observations of the Sun to reconstruct a view of the star’s pole. While the poles cannot be seen directly, when spacecraft observe the solar atmosphere they gather data on everything along their line of sight, also viewing the atmosphere extending around the disc of the Sun (the apparent glow around the main disc of the Sun, which also extends over the poles). Scientists can use this to infer the appearance of the polar regions. In order to estimate the properties of the solar atmosphere over the poles, they continuously image the main disc of the Sun and take small slivers of data from the outer and upper regions of the star as it rotates, compensating for the fact that the Sun does not rotate at constant speeds at all latitudes. Over time, these small arrays of data can be combined to approximate a view of the pole, as shown in this view. More in-depth information on the process used to create this image can be found here.

Signs of this patchwork approach can be seen in this image, which comprises data from Proba-2’s extreme-ultraviolet SWAP imager. The line across the middle is created due to small changes in the solar atmosphere that occurred over the timeframe of creating this image. This image also shows a bright bulge on the upper-right side of the Sun; this is created by a low-latitude coronal hole rotating around the solar disc. The polar coronal hole region, which can be seen as the dark patch in the centre of the solar disc, is a source of fast solar wind. It is seen here to contain a subtle network of light and dark structures, which may cause variations in solar wind speed.

While such views go a way towards revealing the secrets of the Sun’s poles – such as how waves propagate across our star, and how it may create phenomena such as coronal holes and ejections that go on to influence space weather around the Earth – direct observations of these regions are needed in order to build on past data gathered by Ulysses. ESA’s Solar Orbiter aims to plug this knowledge gap when it launches in 2020. This mission will study the Sun in detail from latitudes high enough to explore its polar regions, also revealing how its magnetic field and particle emissions impact its cosmic environment – including the area of space that we call home.

Strange Object on Bennu?

Have a look in the southern area and left of center in this remarkable image of the asteroid Bennu from the OSIRIS-REx spacecraft (click the image for a larger version). Sure looks like “something”, but what? At first glance it almost doesn’t seem to fit, like it is foreign and probably the conspiracy theorists are jumping to conclusions we will be hearing shortly.

Why not?  The object appears to be in the order of what, 30 meters across or so?  Well we can hopefully rule out anything “unnatural”. If you take a look at the GIF made on 02 November from 197 km / 122 miles, this appears to be a very interesting geological feature; I will be glad to hear NASA’s idea’s on how this formed.

Images:  NASA/Goddard/University of Arizona

NASA: nASA’s Origins, Spectral Interpretation, Resource Identification, Security-Regolith Explorer (OSIRIS-REx) spacecraft completed its 1.2 billion-mile (2 billion-kilometer) journey to arrive at the asteroid Bennu Monday. The spacecraft executed a maneuver that transitioned it from flying toward Bennu to operating around the asteroid.

Now, at about 11.8 miles (19 kilometers) from Bennu’s Sun-facing surface, OSIRIS-REx will begin a preliminary survey of the asteroid. The spacecraft will commence flyovers of Bennu’s north pole, equatorial region, and south pole, getting as close as nearly 4 miles (7 kilometers) above Bennu during each flyover.

The primary science goals of this survey are to refine estimates of Bennu’s mass and spin rate, and to generate a more precise model of its shape. The data will help determine potential sites for later sample collection.

OSIRIS-REx’s mission will help scientists investigate how planets formed and how life began, as well as improve our understanding of asteroids that could impact Earth. Asteroids are remnants of the building blocks that formed the planets and enabled life. Those like Bennu contain natural resources, such as water, organics and metals. Future space exploration and economic development may rely on asteroids for these materials.

“As explorers, we at NASA have never shied away from the most extreme challenges in the solar system in our quest for knowledge,” said Lori Glaze, acting director for NASA’s Planetary Science Division. “Now we’re at it again, working with our partners in the U.S. and Canada to accomplish the Herculean task of bringing back to Earth a piece of the early solar system.”
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Arianespace Launches VA-246

Arianespace is launching (hopeuflly) two satellites: GSAT-11 and GEO-KOMPSAT-2A atop of an Ariane 5 rocket.

The GSAT-11 is for the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) and GEO-KOMPSAT-2A isfor the Korea Aerospace Research Institute (KARI).

The launch windows is as follows, and THANK YOU Arianespace for this very nice list!

 Between 3:37 p.m. and 4:53 p.m. Washington DC time
 Between 5:37 p.m. and 6:53 p.m. Kourou, French Guiana time
 Between 20:37 and 21:53 Universal Time (UTC)
 Between 9:37 p.m. and 10:53 p.m. Paris time
 Between 2:07 a.m and 3:23 a.m Bangalore time, on Wednesday, December 5, 2018
 Between 5:37 a.m. and 6:53 a.m Seoul and Tokyo time on Wednesday, December 5, 2018