Happy Birthday RAS

Mineral flow on the asteroid Vesta, from Feb 2014.  Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/UCLAMPS/DLR/IDA via RAS

Mineral flow on the asteroid Vesta, from Feb 2014. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/UCLAMPS/DLR/IDA via RAS

There are a few things going on these days and among them:

The Dawn spacecraft is about to start Ceres approach imaging very soon – last I heard was tomorrow, 13 January 2015.

The image above was created by researchers from the Max Planck Institute for Solar System Research in Katlenburg-Lindau, Germany, have used the multiwavelength filters on NASA’s Dawn spacecraft to create compositional maps of the surface of the asteroid Vesta. More about the image from RAS.

I found the image at the Royal Astronomical Society and as it happens as of today has been around 195 years. Here’s to many more!

At one time (link) “New Horizon’s Distant Encounter Operations” (approaching Pluto) were to begin today, I’m sure there is much to do before the “Closest Enounter Operations” being in just 30 days.

And finally at 06:00 EST / 11:00 UTC the SpaceX Dragon cargo ship should arrive at the International Space Station – I will be away briefly at that time and will update this a little later.

SpaceX Launch Replay

Here’s a replay of the SpaceX CRS-5 launch yesterday morning.

The attempt at landing the first stage on a “drone spaceport ship” almost worked. The rocket did not soft-land successfully on the floating spaceport, it did however, make it back so it appears they almost have a handle on the procedure.


What’s Up for January

Here’s a look at what’s doing in the skies this month from JPL.

We had an aurora alert the other night. I was out and about on three different occasions and did not see anything. I do have a bit of light pollution these days. Still the way the forecast was going I still should have seen it.

I did’t look long though I must admit especially early on. Temps to -25 C / -13 F and wind chill to -40 C / -40 F meant I was not having fun. I was having to work on an electrical problem outside too. I diagnosed the problem and bypassed the circuit and did the repair the next day.

Video source

Eagle Nebula in 2014

The Pillar of Creation imaged by Hubble in 2014.  Credit: NASA, ESA, and the Hubble Heritage Team (STScI/AURA)

The Pillar of Creation imaged by Hubble in 2014. Credit: NASA, ESA, and the Hubble Heritage Team (STScI/AURA)

Wow! Look at that! Click the image for the larger version and take it in.

You can see the zoomable version at Hubblesite.

From Hubblesite:

NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope has revisited the famous Pillars of Creation, revealing a sharper and wider view of the structures in this visible-light image.

Astronomers combined several Hubble exposures to assemble the wider view. The towering pillars are about 5 light-years tall. The dark, finger-like feature at bottom right may be a smaller version of the giant pillars. The new image was taken with Hubble’s versatile and sharp-eyed Wide Field Camera 3.

The pillars are bathed in the blistering ultraviolet light from a grouping of young, massive stars located off the top of the image. Streamers of gas can be seen bleeding off the pillars as the intense radiation heats and evaporates it into space. Denser regions of the pillars are shadowing material beneath them from the powerful radiation. Stars are being born deep inside the pillars, which are made of cold hydrogen gas laced with dust. The pillars are part of a small region of the Eagle Nebula, a vast star-forming region 6,500 light-years from Earth.

The colors in the image highlight emission from several chemical elements. Oxygen emission is blue, sulfur is orange, and hydrogen and nitrogen are green.

Aurora Alert



Via SpaceRef:

NOAA has issued a space weather warning of the potential for a geomagnetic K-index of 7 or greater. Severe to extreme space weather conditions may result. Resulting aurora may be seen as low as Pennsylvania to Iowa to Oregon.
Space Weather Message Code: WARK07
Serial Number: 45
Issue Time: 2015 Jan 07 1122 UTC

WARNING: Geomagnetic K-index of 7 or greater expected
Valid From: 2015 Jan 07 1122 UTC
Valid To: 2015 Jan 07 1500 UTC
Warning Condition: Onset
NOAA Scale: G3 or greater – Strong to Extreme

NOAA Space Weather Scale descriptions can be found at

Potential Impacts: Area of impact primarily poleward of 50 degrees Geomagnetic Latitude.

Induced Currents – Power system voltage irregularities possible, false alarms may be triggered on some protection devices.

Spacecraft – Systems may experience surface charging; increased drag on low Earth-orbit satellites and orientation problems may occur.

Navigation – Intermittent satellite navigation (GPS) problems, including loss-of-lock and increased range error may occur.

Radio – HF (high frequency) radio may be intermittent.  (will try 10 and 6 meters!!)

Aurora – Aurora may be seen as low as Pennsylvania to Iowa to Oregon.

Kepler’s Hall of Fame

Eight near Earth-sized planets found by Kepler in the Goldilocks zone of their stars.  Credit: NASA

Eight near Earth-sized planets found by Kepler in the Goldilocks zone of their stars. Credit: NASA

Not so long ago there were no other planets around other stars known. Now we have over 1,500 and thoussands more candidates. The Kepler now has over 1000 confirmed planets to its credit.

So far out of all those Kepler planets, eight are less than Earth sized and are inside of the habitable zones of their parent stars. So not only are they warm enough for life like we know it, the size of the planet means the atmosphere could have similar charateristics to our own thanks to gravity. That isn’t to say they actually do, just that the potential is there. I would like to think eventually those atmospheres will be charachterized. In the mean time the search continues.

The Kepler press release:

How many stars like our sun host planets like our Earth? NASA’s Kepler Space Telescope continuously monitored more than 150,000 stars beyond our solar system, and to date has offered scientists an assortment of more than 4,000 candidate planets for further study — the 1,000th of which was recently verified.

Using Kepler data, scientists reached this millenary milestone after validating that eight more candidates spotted by the planet-hunting telescope are, in fact, planets. The Kepler team also has added another 554 candidates to the roll of potential planets, six of which are near-Earth-size and orbit in the habitable zone of stars similar to our sun.

Three of the newly-validated planets are located in their distant suns’ habitable zone, the range of distances from the host star where liquid water might exist on the surface of an orbiting planet. Of the three, two are likely made of rock, like Earth.
Continue reading

SpaceX Update

The SpaceX launch was aborted very late in the count (T – 1 min 28 secs).  There was “some actuator drift” in the thruster vector control system.   The actuator drift occurred in a 2nd stage actuator.

New launch date and time is Saturday 10 Jan 2015 at 04:47 ET/ 09:47 UTC,




LADEE Crater


LADEE impact site on the eastern rim of Sundman V crater. the crater was made by the 383 kg (844 lb) spacecraft. Image: NASA/GSFC/Arizona State University

The Lunar Atmosphere and Dust Environment Explorer also known as LADEE was launched from the Wallops Flight Facility on 06 September 2013 on a mission that would take it to the moon with four main goals:

Determine the global density, composition, and time variability of the tenuous lunar exosphere before it is perturbed by further human activity;

Determine if the Apollo astronaut sightings of diffuse emission at tens of kilometers above the surface were sodium glow or dust;

Document the dust impactor environment (size, frequency) to help guide design engineering for the outpost and also future robotic missions;

Demonstrate two-way laser communication from lunar orbit.

The laser communication demonstration was successful and a download link of 622 megabits/sec was attained. The science data I think is still being studied.

The mission ended with a controlled interface with the lunar surface (it crashed on purpose) on 18 April 2014 at a velocity of 5,800 km/sec or 3,600 mph.

See more images at LROC’s LADEE Impact Crater site.

SpaceX Launch Tomorrow

Mission/Orbiter: SpaceX CRS-5 / Dragon

Launch Vehicle:  SpaceX Falcon 9 

Note: Will carry Cloud-Aerosol Transport System, a laser instrument to measure clouds and the location and distribution of pollution, dust, smoke, and other particulates in the atmosphere. See additional at end of post.

Current Status: LAUNCH ABORTED The abort happened late in count, almost to liftoff. Anomaly is actuator drift on the thrust vector control system.

Launch Date: Saturday, 10 January 2015 04:47 EDT / 09:47 UTC UPDATED

ISS arrival: 12 Jan 2015 at 06:00 ET / 11:00 UTC  UPDATED

Odds of Launch: UNK percent  UPDATED

NOAA’s Forecast:

Monday Night A 20 percent chance of showers. Mostly cloudy, with a low around 60. North wind 5 to 10 mph.

Tuesday A 20 percent chance of showers. Partly sunny, with a high near 77. North wind 5 to 10 mph becoming west in the afternoon.

When Dragon reaches the ISS on 08 Jan, the robotic arm will be used to capture it and will be operated by Commander Barry “Butch” Wilmore of NASA and supported by Flight Engineer Samantha Cristoforetti of the European Space Agency. The coverage will be 04:30 ET / 09:30 UTC with capture at about 06:00 ET / 11:00 UTC.

You can catch the launch and return at NASA-TV link above and will link the replay after the launch when it comes available.

PLUS!! I believe SpaceX is going to try to land the first stage on on a custom-built ocean platform known as the autonomous spaceport drone ship. Sure they only give it a 50 percent chance of success but I’d say that’s pretty good.


Image Credits: NASA / NOAA