Seeing in UV

The astronomical community frequently hears about UV as we make scientific use of that particular band of light.

What does it look like? Here’s a video from Veritasium: “The World in UV”:

Lunar Eclipse Time

Today we have the second total lunar eclipse of 2018, the first being on 31 January. This eclipse has a couple of special distinctions.

The Earth-Moon configuration this time of year is such that the Moon is very near apogee (occurring at 05:43 UTC today. The close proximity of the Moon means this eclipse will last a long time, 103 minutes to be exact, the longest eclipse of the 21st Century.

The Moon will pass through the center of the shadow, known as a central lunar eclipse. Despite what one would think, the central eclipse does not happen every time, the last time we had one was in June 2011.

And finally not that this means anything (despite some wild claims otherwise) Mars will also be at what is called “perihelic opposition”, this is when Mars is at opposition and is at its closest point to the Sun. The two events only occur together every 25,000 years.

This eclipse will be best viewed from the Middle East, Eastern Africa and India, regions outside this can still see parts of the eclipse:

Image by PIRULITON – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0,

ESA put out a nice little video explaining an eclipse:

The eclipse starts at 17:14 UTC and reaches totality at 20:21 UTC and ends at 23:28 UTC.

So if you can please go out and enjoy the eclipse!


Not wasting any time getting ECOSTRESS operational. Launched on 29 June, then (robotically) unpacked and transferred to the Japanese Experiment Module – Exposed Facility and installed it on 05 July. This image was taken just days after that on 09 July.

Image: NASA/JPL-Caltech

NASA: ECOSTRESS acquired this image the night of July 9, 2018, over Egypt. Yellow and red indicate generally higher temperatures. The River Nile is visible as a thin blue line on the main image. The black-and-white inset shows the level of detail available from ECOSTRESS, with the relatively cool Nile River and surrounding vegetation appearing darker.

JPL built and manages the ECOSTRESS mission for NASA’s Earth Science Division in the Science Mission Directorate at NASA Headquarters in Washington. ECOSTRESS is an Earth Venture Instrument mission; the program is managed by NASA’s Earth System Science Pathfinder program at NASA’s Langley Research Center in Hampton, Virginia.

For more information on ECOSTRESS visit

Launches Today – Maybe Two – Done!

Yes, launches plural, not something that happens very often! I will post a replay when available.

First we have the Ariane 5 ES rocket – VA244,- launching four Galileo satellites for Europe’s Galileo navigation constellation.

Live Replay coverage below begins at 11:10 UT / 07:10 ET for a 11:25 UT / 07:25 ET launch from ELA-3, Kourou, French Guiana:

A few minutes later from Vandenberg Air Force Base California US, SpaceX is scheduled to launch the Iridium 7 NEXT mission delivering 10 Iridium NEXT satellites using the tried and true Falcon 9 rocket.

Launch time: 11:39 UT / 07:39 ET. Space X generally begins coverage about 15 minutes before launch. Update, SpaceX always gives great information in those minutes before launch – fast forward to the 21 minute-mark in the video for the launch.

Europa Radiation Mapping

Looking to the future of exploration of the Jovian moon Europa, radiation mapping is key. The top picture is a fun thought experiment. Both images are from NASA of course. So how far below the surface does the radiation penetrate? Research suggests not all that far.

NASA (Gretchen McCartney, Dwayne Brown / JoAnna Wendel) New comprehensive mapping of the radiation pummeling Jupiter’s icy moon Europa reveals where scientists should look — and how deep they’ll have to go — when searching for signs of habitability and biosignatures.

Since NASA’s Galileo mission yielded strong evidence of a global ocean underneath Europa’s icy shell in the 1990s, scientists have considered that moon one of the most promising places in our solar system to look for ingredients to support life. There’s even evidence that the salty water sloshing around the moon’s interior makes its way to the surface.

By studying this material from the interior, scientists developing future missions hope to learn more about the possible habitability of Europa’s ocean. However, Europa’s surface is bombarded by a constant and intense blast of radiation from Jupiter. This radiation can destroy or alter material transported up to the surface, making it more difficult for scientists to know if it actually represents conditions in Europa’s ocean.

As scientists plan for upcoming exploration of Europa, they have grappled with many unknowns: Where is the radiation most intense? How deep do the energetic particles go? How does radiation affect what’s on the surface and beneath — including potential chemical signs, or biosignatures, that could imply the presence of life.

A new scientific study, published today in Nature Astronomy, represents the most complete modeling and mapping of radiation at Europa and offers key pieces to the puzzle. The lead author is Tom Nordheim, research scientist at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, California.

“If we want to understand what’s going on at the surface of Europa and how that links to the ocean underneath, we need to understand the radiation,” Nordheim said. “When we examine materials that have come up from the subsurface, what are we looking at? Does this tell us what is in the ocean, or is this what happened to the materials after they have been radiated?”

Using data from Galileo’s flybys of Europa two decades ago and electron measurements from NASA’s Voyager 1 spacecraft, Nordheim and his team looked closely at the electrons blasting the moon’s surface. They found that the radiation doses vary by location. The harshest radiation is concentrated in zones around the equator, and the radiation lessens closer to the poles.

Mapped out, the harsh radiation zones appear as oval-shaped regions, connected at the narrow ends, that cover more than half of the moon.

“This is the first prediction of radiation levels at each point on Europa’s surface and is important information for future Europa missions,” said Chris Paranicas, a co-author from the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory in Laurel, Maryland.

Now scientists know where to find regions least altered by radiation, which could be crucial information for the JPL-led Europa Clipper, NASA’s mission to orbit Jupiter and monitor Europa with about 45 close flybys. The spacecraft may launch as early as 2022 and will carry cameras, spectrometers, plasma and radar instruments to investigate the composition of the moon’s surface, its ocean, and material that has been ejected from the surface.

In his new paper, Nordheim didn’t stop with a two-dimensional map. He went deeper, gauging how far below the surface the radiation penetrates, and building 3D models of the most intense radiation on Europa. The results tell us how deep scientists need to dig or drill, during a potential future Europa lander mission, to find any biosignatures that might be preserved.

The answer varies, from 4 to 8 inches (10 to 20 centimeters) in the highest-radiation zones – down to less than 0.4 inches (1 centimeter) deep in regions of Europa at middle- and high-latitudes, toward the moon’s poles.

To reach that conclusion, Nordheim tested the effect of radiation on amino acids, basic building blocks for proteins, to figure out how Europa’s radiation would affect potential biosignatures. Amino acids are among the simplest molecules that qualify as a potential biosignature, the paper notes.

“The radiation that bombards Europa’s surface leaves a fingerprint,” said Kevin Hand, co-author of the new research and project scientist for the potential Europa Lander mission. “If we know what that fingerprint looks like, we can better understand the nature of any organics and possible biosignatures that might be detected with future missions, be they spacecraft that fly by or land on Europa.

Europa Clipper’s mission team is examining possible orbit paths, and proposed routes pass over many regions of Europa that experience lower levels of radiation, Hand said. “That’s good news for looking at potentially fresh ocean material that has not been heavily modified by the fingerprint of radiation.”

JPL, a division of Caltech in Pasadena, California, manages the Europa Clipper mission for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate in Washington.

For more information about NASA’s Europa Clipper mission, visit:

Name the ExoMars Rover

The UK built ExoMars Rover will launch as part of ESA’s ExoMars Mission. The rover is a mobile laboratory and one of the things it will do is examine the Martian sub-surface for signs of life when it lands in 2021.

It needs a name, not that there is anything wrong with “The ExoMars Rover”, but I think they (all involved with the mission ESA, UK Space Agency, Airbus etc) are looking for something a little more imaginative probably so it wouldn’t clash with the mission name.

It’s all good! I have the PERFECT name and have submitted it. I bet there will be quite a number of the same idea too. I hope so. I won’t tell you what I decided on until the official name is announced.

So go ENTER!

About the contest and ExoMars mission.