Here Come the Supermoons

This year a  trio of supermoons includes one that is a blue moon – a Super Blue Moon.  The first supermoon is in just a couple of days on 03 December 2017.

Here’s Science@NASA’s video “ScienceCasts: A Supermoon Trilogy”:

A Few Updates

First we have an update on the launch zone for the Ariane 6 in in French Guiana from this newly released video:

Next, the Progress MS-06 cargo-spacecraft attached to the International Space Station (ISS)  fired its propulsion unit to adjust the orbital parameters of the ISS. According to Roscosmos a 183.6 second burn changed the speed of the ISS by just 0.36 meters/sec or 1.18 feet/sec. This was done to set up “the formation of ballistic conditions for the landing of the transport manned spacecraft Soyuz MS-05, scheduled for December 14, 2017, as well as the launch of the Soyuz MS-07 transport manned spacecraft scheduled for December 17, 2017”.

Roscosmos is also reporting a commission is being formed to investigate the failed satellite deployment. See the replay here. After a nice looking launch there was apparently a communication issue resulting in the loss of the satellite.  The loss is disappointing to be sure, but the commission will hopefully find out what happened and prevent such occurrences in the future. The results of the investigation should be known by 15 December 2017.

Then we have the SpaceX Zuma mission. Last rumor I heard was that the mission has been postponed indefinitely. I say “rumor” because I read that somewhere but can’t point to a source. There is nothing on the Space X website so I’ll just keep an eye out but don’t expect anything very soon.

Now for the future:

A few days from now (08 December 2017) Space X will be launching a cargo-spaceship to the ISS from Launch Complex 40 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station (CCAFS) in Florida.

On 14 December 2017 as mentioned previously, the manned Soyuz spacecraft with Randy Bresnik of NASA, Sergey Ryazanskiy of Roscosmos and Paolo Nespoli of the European Space Agency will undock their Soyuz spacecraft from the International Space Station’s Rassvet module and land in Kazakhstan.

Finally: NASA astronaut Scott Tingle and crewmates Anton Shkaplerov of the Russian space agency Roscosmos and Norishege Kanai of the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) launch to the International Space Station aboard the Soyuz MS-07 spacecraft from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan.


Two Views of Saturn from Cassini

Two views of Cassini in what NASA titled “Alpha and Omega”.

NASA — These two images illustrate just how far Cassini traveled to get to Saturn. On the left is one of the earliest images Cassini took of the ringed planet, captured during the long voyage from the inner solar system. On the right is one of Cassini’s final images of Saturn, showing the site where the spacecraft would enter the atmosphere on the following day.

In the left image, taken in 2001, about six months after the spacecraft passed Jupiter for a gravity assist flyby, the best view of Saturn using the spacecraft’s high-resolution (narrow-angle) camera was on the order of what could be seen using the Earth-orbiting Hubble Space Telescope. At the end of the mission (at right), from close to Saturn, even the lower resolution (wide-angle) camera could capture just a tiny part of the planet.

The left image looks toward Saturn from 20 degrees below the ring plane and was taken on July 13, 2001 in wavelengths of infrared light centered at 727 nanometers using the Cassini spacecraft narrow-angle camera. The view at right is centered on a point 6 degrees north of the equator and was taken in visible light using the wide-angle camera on Sept. 14, 2017.

The view on the left was acquired at a distance of approximately 317 million miles (510 million kilometers) from Saturn. Image scale is about 1,900 miles (3,100 kilometers) per pixel. The view at right was acquired at a distance of approximately 360,000 miles (579,000 kilometers) from Saturn. Image scale is 22 miles (35 kilometers) per pixel.

The Cassini spacecraft ended its mission on Sept. 15, 2017.

The Cassini mission is a cooperative project of NASA, ESA (the European Space Agency) and the Italian Space Agency. The Jet Propulsion Laboratory, a division of Caltech in Pasadena, manages the mission for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate, Washington. The Cassini orbiter and its two onboard cameras were designed, developed and assembled at JPL. The imaging operations center is based at the Space Science Institute in Boulder, Colorado.

For more information about the Cassini-Huygens mission visit and The Cassini imaging team homepage is at

Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Space Science Institute

Soyuz 2-1B Launch from Vostochny — REPLAY

A Soyuz 2-1B rocket lifted off from the new Vostochny Cosmodrome earlier today with a Meteor-M 2-1 weather satellite.

I thought there were a few CubeSats were on board as well but cannot confirm that.

It appeared to be a very nice launch with orbit achieved, but then this from Roscosmos: “According the flight program, the first three stages of Soyuz-2.1b have taken the ascent unit into the specified intermediate orbit. However, during the first planned communication session with the satellite, it was not possible to establish a connection due to its absence in the target orbit. Currently, the information is being analyzed.”

Updates when available. There is no news being reported at least from Roscosmos now about 15 hours after launch.

Hubble Meets Gaia

Combining Hubble and Gaia data we now have proper motions for stars in a galaxy other than our own. It is a rather rigorous process undertaken by astronomers at the University of Groningen and the results were not expected.

Image: Sculptor-dwergsterrenstelsel.   Credit: ESO/Digitized Sky Survey 2 via  University of Groningen

University of Groningen — By combining data from the Hubble Space Telescope and the Gaia mission, University of Groningen astronomers have been able to measure the proper motion for fifteen stars in the Sculptor galaxy, the first such measurement for stars in a small galaxy outside the Milky Way. The results show an unexpected preference in the direction of the movement, which suggests that the standard theoretical model s used to describe the motion of stars and dark matter halo’s in other galaxies might be invalid. Th e results were published on 27/11/2017 in Nature Astronomy.

Astronomers have long been able to measure the movement of stars in our ‘line of sight’ (i.e. the movement towards us or away from us) through the redshift, caused by the Doppler effect. However, measuring the movement in the plane of the sky, called the ‘proper motion’ is much more difficult. It requires multiple very precise measurements of a stars position spread out over several years to detect this proper motion. Because of the immense distance, even many stars in our galaxy only move very little across the sky as seen from Earth. For stars outside the galaxy, this movement is even smaller.
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Space Debris Sensor

Next week there will be a couple of launches. One in particular will be on 04 December when Space X will be sending a cargo-spaceship to the International Space Station (ISS).

Among the more interesting items on the manifest is the Space Debris Sensor or SDS which will be installed on the outside of the ISS. The sensor has a one square meter area and will directly measure orbital debris impacts. Very interesting and super important. The image above is an impact on one of the window’s within the space station’s Cupola.

Have a look at this and other items/studies that are pretty amazing;  although I am not too sure about the Self-assembling and Self-replicating materials experiment — mostly because of one of my favorite authors:  Michael Crichton.

Image: NASA / ISS

Human vs. Machine

I will bet the result doesn’t stand for long. The pre-loaded map won’t be necessary for too long either. Let’s hope JPL repeats this in a years time.

You may have also noticed “I” was not the one flying the drone either. Perhaps JPL and Google have heard about my expertise in this area. I have a drone well suited to be flown inside. Instead I took it outdoors and flew it around for about three-minutes when a gust of wind took the drone on a ride of it’s own.

Last I saw of the thing, it was passing over the top of the house towards the other side and losing altitude, although rather smoothly. I knew the drone was going to cross the road but would it be smashed by the truck and couple of cars going by at the time?

I ran around the house, all the while madly operating the flight controller in some sort of effort to do something.
Just what the something was supposed to be is still a mystery but it seemed like the thing to do. Well I did not see any wreckage in the road. Great, the drone is one piece, but where is it? Immediately on the other side of the road it is thickly wooded.

That seemed like a plus, so I looked in a grid search quite a large area, twice. Nearly two-hours later I had nothing but a bunch of Ticks to show for my effort, I took a break. After running around doing errands, I returned to the search and expanded the search area well outside the area I figured drone could reach given the angle of descent (as reckoned by me at the time).

Almost immediately I found the drone, it had flown about twice as far as I thought! The battery was dead and after charging it up I found I had a motor problem. So, I have to fix the motor and I do have new ones, otherwise everything is good.

Yes! There is video, it seems I quite accidentally hit the “record” button during my frantic attempt “to do something” as described earlier, and perhaps someday I will get it to YouTube although it’s really rather dull. The video showed the drone had hit a Pine tree branch about 3 or so meters up and dangled there for about as long as I was doing my search. A gust of wind shook it out to where it was easily visible from the road. I am pretty lucky nobody spotted it before I did because it is a popular dog-walker stretch of road. Anyway, there you have it, how not to fly a drone.

Comet 45P Is Kind of Odd

This great image shows Comet 45P/Honda-Mrkos-Pajdušáková as seen from Africa. The image was captured by Gerald Rhemann using a telescope on December 22 from Farm Tivoli in Namibia, Africa. Very nice and very nice dark skies!  Click the image for a larger version.

Astronomers in Hawaii used the iSHELL high-resolution spectrograph to see what they could find out about 45P and what they found was not what they might have expected.

NASA — When comet 45P zipped past Earth early in 2017, researchers observing from NASA’s Infrared Telescope Facility, or IRTF, in Hawaii gave the long-time trekker a thorough astronomical checkup. The results help fill in crucial details about ices in Jupiter-family comets and reveal that quirky 45P doesn’t quite match any comet studied so far.

Like a doctor recording vital signs, the team measured the levels of nine gases released from the icy nucleus into the comet’s thin atmosphere, or coma. Several of these gases supply building blocks for amino acids, sugars and other biologically relevant molecules. Of particular interest were carbon monoxide and methane, which are so hard to detect in Jupiter-family comets that they’ve only been studied a few times before.

The gases all originate from the hodgepodge of ices, rock and dust that make up the nucleus. These native ices are thought to hold clues to the comet’s history and how it has been aging.

“Comets retain a record of conditions from the early solar system, but astronomers think some comets might preserve that history more completely than others,” said Michael DiSanti, an astronomer at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, and lead author of the new study in the Astronomical Journal.

The comet—officially named 45P/Honda-Mrkos-Pajdušáková—belongs to the Jupiter family of comets, frequent orbiters that loop around the Sun about every five to seven years. Much less is known about native ices in this group than in the long-haul comets from the Oort Cloud.
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Happy Anniversary Meteosat

Meteosat was the first Earth observation satellite launched by ESA and that launch was 40 years ago today.

On 23 November 1977 at 13:35 GMT the Meteosat took-off from Cape Canaveral Florida and by 07 December the spacecraft had reached its destination in geostationary orbit. Two days later on 09 December, Meteosat took its first image and here it is.

Want to know more?