Wargo Crater

NASA — NASA’s former chief exploration scientist, Michael Wargo, has been posthumously honored with the distinction of having a lunar crater named after him. Wargo Crater is an 8.6-mile (13.8 km) diameter impact crater sitting on the northwest edge of Joule T crater, on the far side of the Moon. Wargo worked at NASA from 1991 until his death in 2013.

The International Astronomical Union is the naming authority for celestial bodies, and reserves the naming of Moon craters for deceased astronauts and cosmonauts, as well as deceased scientists and polar explorers who have made outstanding or fundamental contributions to their field.

Wargo had many remarkable contributions to exploration science throughout his 20-year career at NASA. He was known as a science ambassador to the public, and for his ability to decipher complex science for students and nontechnical audiences.

Working in a primarily engineering directorate at NASA, Wargo asserted common goals across disciplines within the agency. He was passionate about scientific discoveries to enable human exploration in deep space, and worked with planetary researchers around the world to develop robotic discovery missions.

“Mike’s passion for exploration and planetary science was an inspiration to us all,” said William Gerstenmaier, associate administrator for Human Exploration and Operations at NASA Headquarters in Washington. “His enthusiasm permeated every part of his career, and helped fuel our global desire to learn more about our solar system.”

As chief exploration scientist, Wargo was a leader in the development of the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO) and the Lunar CRator Observation and Sensing Satellite, or LCROSS, which launched together to the Moon in 2009. LRO remains in orbit, relaying high-resolution science observations, while LCROSS intentionally impacted the Moon to dig up and eject subsurface material for compositional analyses. The missions have revealed a surprisingly active Moon with water molecules and a water cycle, and found evidence that the lunar soil within shadowy craters is rich in useful volatiles. Building on these discoveries, NASA is developing several CubeSat orbital missions (Lunar Flashlight, LunaH-MAP, and Lunar IceCube) to better identify the location and abundance of water-ice on the Moon, and Resource Prospector, a rover and instrument suite currently in formulation, to prove the capability to harvest lunar resources.

The formation of Wargo crater had a big impact on its surroundings. An asteroid measuring several thousand feet in diameter slammed into the steeply sloping rim of Joule T crater (24 miles or 38 km in diameter) at hyper-velocity (3 to 12 miles per second) forming a crater over 3,000 feet (914 meters) deep. Massive amounts of instant magma crested the lower eastern rim and spread across the floor of Joule T.

“Michael would be thrilled to be honored in this way,” said Wargo’s wife, Adele Morrissette. “He was a dedicated member of the NASA lunar exploration team and was particularly proud of the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO).”

Among other honors bestowed upon Wargo, his was the first voice transmitted around the Moon since the last Apollo mission in 1972. Two months after his death, the Lunar Atmosphere and Dust Environment Explorer spacecraft broadcast from lunar orbit a recording of Wargo, voicing his take on the LRO motto: “The true spirit of these missions is that science enables exploration and exploration enables science.”

This is NOT a Test

This is a static fire test of the Falcon 9 Heavy a week and a few days ago (see earlier post).

What is coming up will not be a test.  Yes!  The maiden voyage of the Falcon 9 Heavy will occur as soon as tomorrow (06 Feb 2018) from launch pad 39A at Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

From what I know launch time is set for 18:30 UTC / 13:30 EST tomorrow.  If the launch does not go off as planned tomorrow, the next few days are planned for, each with a three-hour window each day.

The Falcon 9 Heavy is the most powerful rocket to take flight in a number of years.  The 70 meter tall (229 feet), 12 meter wide (40 feet) rocket will produce a thrust of 2.3 million kg / 5 million pounds to get into orbit.

Check back for a live link about 15 minutes before launch time.

Hubble’s Pegasus Spiral

This is a wonderful telescope target, at a magnitude 9.5 it shows up nicely, however it is much too dim to be seen by binoculars in most places thanks to light pollution.

This was discovered by the famous Charles Messier, but oddly enough this galaxy was NOT included in his most excellent catalog.

NASA/ESA Hubble — This NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope image shows a spiral galaxy known as NGC 7331. First spotted by the prolific galaxy hunter William Herschel in 1784, NGC 7331 is located about 45 million light-years away in the constellation of Pegasus (the Winged Horse). Facing us partially edge-on, the galaxy showcases its beautiful arms, which swirl like a whirlpool around its bright central region.

Astronomers took this image using Hubble’s Wide Field Camera 3 (WFC3), as they were observing an extraordinary exploding star — a supernova — near the galaxy’s central yellow core. Named SN 2014C, it rapidly evolved from a supernova containing very little hydrogen to one that is hydrogen-rich — in just one year. This rarely observed metamorphosis was luminous at high energies and provides unique insight into the poorly understood final phases of massive stars.

NGC 7331 is similar in size, shape and mass to the Milky Way. It also has a comparable star formation rate, hosts a similar number of stars, has a central supermassive black hole and comparable spiral arms. The primary difference between this galaxy and our own is that NGC 7331 is an unbarred spiral galaxy — it lacks a “bar” of stars, gas and dust cutting through its nucleus, as we see in the Milky Way. Its central bulge also displays a quirky and unusual rotation pattern, spinning in the opposite direction to the galactic disk itself.

By studying similar galaxies we hold a scientific mirror up to our own, allowing us to build a better understanding of our galactic environment, which we cannot always observe, and of galactic behavior and evolution as a whole.

Credit: ESA/Hubble & NASA/D. Milisavljevic (Purdue University)
Text: European Space Agency

The Remarkable IMAGE Recovery

On March 25, 2000, NASA launched the Imager for Magnetopause-to-Aurora Global Exploration, or IMAGE, mission. It was the first mission to use neutral atom, photon and radio imaging techniques to produce large-scale, simultaneous measurements of the charged particles that exist in near-Earth space — namely in our magnetosphere, the magnetic fields that surround our planet, and its inner bubble of cold material called the plasmasphere. — NASA

Contact was lost with the spacecraft in 2005 and then thanks to Ham Radio Astronomer Scott Tilley, VE7TIL who found the spacecraft on 18 January 2018 the spacecraft is found alive and well!

I have been hearing about this but I could not quite figure out what was going on, I could hardly believe it. Simply amazing and we have data! Great work and 73 Scott!

James Webb Telescope Update

An update on the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) from NASA being readied for launch in 2019. This is the point where, even though the launch is a year away, things really start to come together and I’m sure nervous anticipation sets in.

The Penguin and Egg

These collaborative efforts and always great. By the way, what I was able to see of the eclipse was awesome! My pictures came out awful, I need a new camera.

Back to Arp 142, this from NASA: This image of distant interacting galaxies, known collectively as Arp 142, bears an uncanny resemblance to a penguin guarding an egg. Data from NASA’s Spitzer and Hubble space telescopes have been combined to show these dramatic galaxies in light that spans the visible and infrared parts of the spectrum.

This dramatic pairing shows two galaxies that couldn’t look more different as their mutual gravitational attraction slowly drags them closer together.

The “penguin” part of the pair, NGC 2336, was probably once a relatively normal-looking spiral galaxy, flattened like a pancake with smoothly symmetric spiral arms. Rich with newly-formed hot stars, seen in visible light from Hubble as bluish filaments, its shape has now been twisted and distorted as it responds to the gravitational tugs of its neighbor. Strands of gas mixed with dust stand out as red filaments detected at longer wavelengths of infrared light seen by Spitzer.

The “egg” of the pair, NGC 2937, by contrast, is nearly featureless. The distinctly different greenish glow of starlight tells the story of a population of much older stars. The absence of glowing red dust features informs us that it has long since lost its reservoir of gas and dust from which new stars can form. While this galaxy is certainly reacting to the presence of its neighbor, its smooth distribution of stars obscures any obvious distortions of its shape.

Eventually these two galaxies will merge to form a single object, with their two populations of stars, gas and dust intermingling. This kind of merger was likely a significant step in the history of most large galaxies we see around us in the nearby universe, including our own Milky Way.

At a distance of about 23 million light-years, these two galaxies are roughly 10 times farther away than our nearest major galactic neighbor, the Andromeda galaxy. The blue streak at the top of the image is an unrelated background galaxy that is farther away than Arp 142.

Combining light from across the visible and infrared spectrums helps astronomers piece together the complex story of the life cycles of galaxies. While this image required data from both the Spitzer and Hubble telescopes to cover this range of light, NASA’s upcoming James Webb Space Telescope will be able to see all of these wavelengths of light, and with dramatically better clarity.

The Hubble Space Telescope is a project of international cooperation between NASA and ESA (European Space Agency). NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, manages the telescope. The Space Telescope Science Institute (STScI) in Baltimore, Maryland, conducts Hubble science operations. STScI is operated for NASA by the Association of Universities for Research in Astronomy, Inc., in Washington, D.C.

The Big Picture

The United States launched its first satellite on this day 60 years ago – 31 January 1958.

The Explorer 1 satellite was put into an orbit that orbited the Earth for a little more than 12-years and completing 58,000 orbits before interfacing with the atmosphere and burning up on 31 March 1970.

This film is from 1958: