Mars InSight Mission Flight Profile

The Atlas V flight profile for the InSight mission to the planet Mars.

Launching tomorrow (05 May 2018): 11:05 UTC / 07:05 ET / O4:05 PT

Launch site: Vandenberg Air Force Base California.

NOTE: This is the first interplanetary fight to launch from the US West Coast.

Coverage begins at 10:30 UTC / 06:30 ET / 03:30 PT

If you live in southern California you may be able to see the ascent phase of the flight!

Hubble’s 28th

More from the 28 years of Hubble! This video shows some from the past year.

Credit: NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center / Emmalee Mauldin
Music Credits: “Hurricanes Wrap my Heart” by Joshua Robert Moore from

Rotation of the LMC

Wow, what a sight! One day I hope to see the Large Magellanic Cloud, someday perhaps I can do this when I take my “bucket list” ride on The Ghan.


Last week the much-awaited second slew of data from ESA’s Gaia mission was released, providing information on a phenomenal 1.7 billion stars – the richest star catalogue to date.

To put that vast number into context, if you were to count ‘only’ to one billion at a rate of one count per second, it would take more than 30 years. The new data will surely keep astronomers busy for even longer.

The dataset has already revealed fine details about the make-up of the Milky Way’s stellar population and about how stars move, essential information for investigating the formation and evolution of our home Galaxy.

The treasure trove of data also includes information about stars beyond our own Galaxy. One example is illustrated in this image, which focuses on one of the nearest galaxies to our Milky Way, the Large Magellanic Cloud, or LMC.

This image combines the total density of stars detected by Gaia in each pixel with information about the proper motion of stars – their velocity across the sky – which is represented as the texture of the image, giving it a fingerprint-like appearance.

Measuring the proper motion of several million stars in the LMC, astronomers were able to see an imprint of the stars rotating clockwise around the centre of the galaxy. The impression of motion is evoked by the swirling nature of the line texture.

Astronomers are interested to derive the orbits of globular clusters – ancient systems of stars bound together by gravity and found in the halo of the Milky Way – and dwarf galaxies that revolve around the Milky Way. This will provide all-important information to study the past evolution of our Galaxy and its environment.

A similar view based on the total amount of radiation detected by Gaia and colour information about the stars is available here, and an animated view of the rotation of stars within the Large Magellanic Cloud is available here.

Read more about Gaia’s latest data release here.

Acknowledgement: Gaia Data Processing and Analysis Consortium (DPAC); A. Moitinho / A. F. Silva / M. Barros / C. Barata, University of Lisbon, Portugal; H. Savietto, Fork Research, Portugal; P. McMillan, Lund Observatory, Sweden

Image: ESA/Gaia/DPAC

New Ganymede Data

From the Galileo mission over 20 years ago. The data comes from the first flyby of the moon. I worked with a group that would collect all sorts of data and it went to two places, one into a US federal aide report to get money to collect more data to put into the next years federal aide report (and so on) and the other place was a file cabinet. The data amounted to nothing at all. Now not ALL of the people wasted the data but some did. Terrible. So when I see data that gets multiple looks it makes me smile. Thankfully ESA and NASA are both taking fresh looks at old data.

And this is new Ganymede data so it is REALLY fun.

NASA: Far across the solar system, from where Earth appears merely as a pale blue dot, NASA’s Galileo spacecraft spent eight years orbiting Jupiter. During that time, the hearty spacecraft — slightly larger than a full-grown giraffe — sent back spates of discoveries on the gas giant’s moons, including the observation of a magnetic environment around Ganymede that was distinct from Jupiter’s own magnetic field. The mission ended in 2003, but newly resurrected data from Galileo’s first flyby of Ganymede is yielding new insights about the moon’s environment — which is unlike any other in the solar system.

“We are now coming back over 20 years later to take a new look at some of the data that was never published and finish the story,” said Glyn Collinson, lead author of a recent paper about Ganymede’s magnetosphere at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland. “We found there’s a whole piece no one knew about.”

The new results showed a stormy scene: particles blasted off the moon’s icy surface as a result of incoming plasma rain, and strong flows of plasma pushed between Jupiter and Ganymede due to an explosive magnetic event occurring between the two bodies’ magnetic environments. Scientists think these observations could be key to unlocking the secrets of the moon, such as why Ganymede’s auroras are so bright.

In 1996, shortly after arriving at Jupiter, Galileo made a surprising discovery: Ganymede had its own magnetic field. While most planets in our solar system, including Earth, have magnetic environments — known as magnetospheres — no one expected a moon to have one.

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The Surface of Venus

A look at a very inhospitable place, Venus. Short of actually landing on the surface and dealing with the incredible heat and crushing surface pressure the only way to get a look is with radar.

NRAO – This is a radar image of the planet Venus made by transmitting a signal at 13 cm wavelength from Arecibo and using the Green Bank Telescope (GBT) to detect the reflection off its surface. Brighter parts of the image indicate a rougher surface, while dark regions are smoother (on centimeter to meter scales). Many features, including mountain ranges, volcanic domes, and craters can be seen.

Credit: NRAO/AUI/NSF and Campbell et al., NRAO, NAIC

Blue Origins Launch and Landing

Space X will have more company shortly, Blue Origin is making progress. In fact this is the second successful launch and landing of their New Shepard 2.0 rocket. Overall there has been eight successful launches of the New Shepard program.

This flight test went 106 km into the sky and landed perfectly, or at least it looked perfect. Congrats Blue Origin!

The Morning Sky

If you get a chance to look at the sky before daylight you will be treated to (R to L): the Moon, Jupiter, Saturn, and Mars all lined up across the sky. Provided the moonlight does not over whelm Saturn and Mars they all will be visible at the same time.

Jupiter in particular will be very bright so so worries there. You should also be able to see a few of the giant planet’s moons.

The above graphic is from Stellarium showing the line-up before sun rise (click to see a larger version).

Hopefully you won’t be clouded in, I think I am going to be.

Also apparently there is some ridiculous claims this line up is going to cause an increase in volcanism and earthquakes. In a word: NO. That’s just plain crazy.

Gaia’s Second Data Release

Based on observations between July 2014 to May 2016, the second release helped produce a catalog of over 500,000,000 start! The catalog includes the most accurate information yet on the positions, brightness, distance, motion, colour and temperature of stars in the Milky Way as well as information on asteroids and quasars.