Rosetta To Get Close

By close I mean really close!  Rosetta will be a nail biting 6 km / 3.7 miles from Comet 67P/Churyumov–Gerasimenko. Good thing it’s ESA doing it is all I can say, if anybody can pull it off, they can. At times during the flyby Rosetta will almost speed match the rotational rate of the comet, an amazing opportunity for detail observations from many of Rosetta’s instruments.

“The upcoming close flyby will allow unique scientific observations, providing us with high-resolution measurements of the surface over a range of wavelengths and giving us the opportunity to sample – taste or sniff – the very innermost parts of the comet’s atmosphere,” says Matt Taylor, ESA’s Rosetta project scientist.

Read more about the encounter at ESA.

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Cargo Ships to Sail From ISS

Expedition 42 crew members Commander Barry Wilmore and Flight Engineers Samantha Cristoforetti and Terry Virts during a recent interview.  Image: NASA

Expedition 42 crew members Commander Barry Wilmore and Flight Engineers Samantha Cristoforetti and Terry Virts during a recent interview. Image: NASA

The International Space Station has three cargo ships docked to it. Two of the ships are being prepared for departure.

The SpaceX Dragon ship, currently being loaded with research and gear will leave the ISS on 10 February. The Dragon will be detached from the Harmony module where it is berthed at the ISS by the Canadarm2. The Dragon will re-enter the atmosphere and splashdown in the Pacific Ocean off Baja California where it will be retrieved.

The other ship, Europe’s ATV-5 (Automated Transfer Vehicle 5) is being turned into something of a garbage scow. The ATV-5 is being laden with rubbish and unwanted cast off gear and it is scheduled for departure on 14 February. The last ATV resupply ship from Europe will deorbit and incinerate on atmospheric re-entry not long after leaving the station.

A few days after the ATV-5 ends its mission a new cargo ship will launch to the station. This one is a new ISS Progress 58 will leave the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan on 17 February. The trip up should only take six hours and the ship will dock to the Zvezda module.

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Waiting for Pluto

New Horizons LORRI image while passing Jupiter. Image Credit: NASA/Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory/Southwest Research Institute

New Horizons LORRI image while passing Jupiter. Image Credit: NASA/Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory/Southwest Research Institute

Here is an image from the New Horizon’s Long Range Reconnaissance Imager (LORRI) as it was passing by the Jupiter system on 02 March 2007.

The image shown is actually a merger of two images one from LORRI which is a high resolution black-and-white image and a lower resolution color image from teh MVIC or Multispectral Visual Imaging Camera. The result is amazing as you can see.

The image shows the Jupiter moons Io and Europa. Io shows the 300 km / 190 mile high volcanic plume from the Tvashtar volcano. There are two other plumes one from the volcano Prometheus (look at the edge at the 9 o’clock position) and Amirana located between the Prometheus and Tvashtar.

Looks can be deceiving too. while Europa appears more distant, it is 790,000 km / 490,000 miles closer then Io.  From the image caption:

This image was taken from a range of 4.6 million kilometers (2.8 million miles) from Io and 3.8 million kilometers (2.4 million miles) from Europa.

The bright crescents are from sunshine as you might expect and the nighttime side of Io is lit by reflected light from Jupiter.

For more details about the image have a look at CICLOPS, the Cassini Imaging Central Laboratory for Operations

Just imagine what awaits at Pluto!

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IXV Readies for Launch

The  Intermediate eXperimental Vehicle, installed on its payload adapter being readied for the 11 February launch. Credit:  ESA–M. Pedoussaut, 2015

The Intermediate eXperimental Vehicle, installed on its payload adapter being readied for the 11 February launch. Credit: ESA–M. Pedoussaut, 2015

February is here and soon ESA’s IXV (Intermediate eXperimental Vehicle) will be put to a big test.

The IXV is about the size of a car and will be lifted by a Vega rocet from Europe’s Spaceport in French Guiana this month if all goes well. The IXV will reach an altitude of about 420 km / 256 miles and then it will reach a speed of 7.5 km/sec or 16,777 mph as it interfaces with the atmosphere at 120 km / 74 miles.

The idea is to simulate any re-entry from low Earth orbit. YES! This is huge! ESA will open up a whole new set of possibilities with the capability of atmospheric return.

The mission should last only about 1 hour and 40 minutes.
About the IXV from ESA

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Ceres and the White Spot

There is quite a bit of speculation about the white/bright spot on Ceres. At first it looked to me like a mountain, but now after taking another look at the image I’m going with crater. I know, going from hill to hole is quite a change.

Thanks to a trick my brain plays sometimes making craters look like “lumps”,  I have to turn images that feature craters upside down to see them properly.  The trick I am told, occurs because of the direction of the lighting. Flip the latest Ceres image and the result is very interesting.

ceresjan27USD

The latest Dawn image of Ceres rotated 180 degrees. Image: NASA/JPL-Caltech/UCLA/MPS/DLR/IDA

 

Compare this image to the original NASA image in this post.

The white spot does indeed look more like a crater (to me). The color probably comes from a substrate of ice exposed by some sort of impact disrupting a darker covering. ESA’s Herschel did find water vapor around Ceres and Michael Küppers of ESA’s European Space Astronomy Centre in Spain, lead author of the paper published in Nature said “This is the first time that water has been detected in the asteroid belt, and provides proof that Ceres has an icy surface and an atmosphere . . . ”. See the story here.

Perhaps the bright spot  is some sort of melt pool and crater hybrid or maybe it’s the same thing as the dark spots at the top center in this image except the interior isn’t shadowed.

I don’t know, I’m pretty sure it is NOT an alien base though :mrgreen:

We will find out shortly!

Video

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Keck

Showcasing the Keck telescope and its many capabilities this video was originally produced to give a hat tip to the contributions of the W. M. Keck Foundation including its support for the National Academies’ Keck Futures Initiative.

Video

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Colliding Galaxies

Hubble captures two galaxies colliding.  Image: Credit: NASA and ESA Acknowledgment: A. Gal-Yam (Weizmann Institute of Science)

Hubble captures two galaxies colliding. Image: Credit: NASA and ESA Acknowledgment: A. Gal-Yam (Weizmann Institute of Science)

This is an amazing image. Hubblesite has a “zoomable” version of this and I’ve been trying to count the smaller more distant galaxies – I’m at 22 other than the two subjects of the image.

This NASA Hubble Space Telescope photo of NGC 7714 presents an especially striking view of the galaxy’s smoke-ring-like structure. The golden loop is made of sun-like stars that have been pulled deep into space, far from the galaxy’s center. The galaxy is located approximately 100 million light-years from Earth in the direction of the constellation Pisces.
The universe is full of such galaxies that are gravitationally stretched and pulled and otherwise distorted in gravitational tug-o’-wars with bypassing galaxies.

The companion galaxy doing the “taffy pulling” in this case, NGC 7715, lies just out of the field of view in this image. A very faint bridge of stars extends to the unseen companion. The close encounter has compressed interstellar gas to trigger bursts of star formation seen in bright blue arcs extending around NGC 7714’s center.

The gravitational disruption of NGC 7714 began between 100 million and 200 million years ago, at the epoch when dinosaurs ruled the Earth.

The image was taken with the Wide Field Camera 3 and the Advanced Camera for Surveys in October 2011.
The Hubble Space Telescope is a project of international cooperation between NASA and the European Space Agency. NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, manages the telescope. The Space Telescope Science Institute (STScI) in Baltimore conducts Hubble science operations. STScI is operated for NASA by the Association of Universities for Research in Astronomy, Inc., in Washington, D.C.

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Comet Dust

Dust particles from Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko collected by ESA's Rosetta spacecraft. Copyright ESA/Rosetta/MPS for COSIMA Team MPS/CSNSM/UNIBW/TUORLA/IWF/IAS/ESA/ BUW/MPE/LPC2E/LCM/FMI/UTU/LISA/UOFC/vH&S

Dust particles from Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko collected by ESA’s Rosetta spacecraft. Copyright ESA/Rosetta/MPS for COSIMA Team MPS/CSNSM/UNIBW/TUORLA/IWF/IAS/ESA/ BUW/MPE/LPC2E/LCM/FMI/UTU/LISA/UOFC/vH&S

One of the instruments on board ESA’s Rosetta called COSIMA, short for the COmetary Secondary Ion Mass Analyser one of three dust analysis experiments.

Essentially this instrument has a plate for catching dust grains from the comet at fairly low speeds. The dust grains shown above is two of the grains collected and they have yielded some interesting results.

I’ll let ESA explain:

Two examples of dust grains collected by Rosetta’s COmetary Secondary Ion Mass Analyser (COSIMA) instrument in the period 25–31 October 2014. Both grains were collected at a distance of 10–20 km from the comet nucleus. Image (a) shows a dust particle (named by the COSIMA team as Eloi) that crumbled into a rubble pile when collected; (b) shows a dust particle that shattered (named Arvid).

For both grains, the image is shown twice under two different grazing illumination conditions: the top image is illuminated from the right, the bottom image from the left. The brightness is adjusted to emphasise the shadows, in order to determine the height of the dust grain. Eloi therefore reaches about 0.1 mm above the target plate; Arvid about 0.06 mm. The two small grains at the far right of image (b) are not part of the shattered cluster.

The fact that the grains broke apart so easily means their individual parts are not well glued together. If they contained ice they would not shatter; instead, the icy component would evaporate off the grain shortly after touching the collecting plate, leaving voids in what remained. By comparison, if a pure water-ice grain had struck the detector, then only a dark patch would have been seen.

These ‘fluffy’ grains are thought to originate from the dusty layer built up on the comet’s surface since its last close approach to the Sun, and will soon be lost into the coma.

Be sure to check the Rosetta Blog. The have this and results from six other Rosetta’s science instruments since arriving at Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko – great stuff!!

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Latest Ceres Approach Image

The latest Dawn image of Ceres.  Image: NASA/JPL-Caltech/UCLA/MPS/DLR/IDA

The latest Dawn image of Ceres. Image: NASA/JPL-Caltech/UCLA/MPS/DLR/IDA

The dwarf planet Ceres is coming into focus little by little as the Dawn spacecraft approaches. The image above is around 30 percent increase in resolution over Hubble images and we are just beginning to make out details. The light colored spot on the upper part of the planet is looking like a mountain to my untrained eye or it could as easily be a deep and newly formed crater.

Dawn will arrive at Ceres in just a couple of weeks and enter orbit on 06 March.

If some of you are wondering why Ceres being called a dwarf planet instead of an asteroid as a lot of us were taught. The new classification came with the new definition of a planet in 2006.

Here’s the caption from NASA:

This image, taken 147,000 miles (237,000 kilometers) from Ceres on January 25, 2015 by NASA’s Dawn spacecraft, is part of a series of views representing the best look so far at the dwarf planet. The image is 43 pixels across, representing a higher resolution than images of Ceres taken by the Hubble Space Telescope in 2003 and 2004.
Continue reading

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Asteroid With a Moon

Asteroid 2004 BL86 made a relatively close pass yesterday. The asteroid passed about 3.1 lunar distances from Earth or 1.2 million km / 745,000 miles. In cosmic scales that is indeed close. The asteroid is 325 meters / 1,100 feet in diameter, not something we would want to hit us!

Scientists used the Deep Space Network antenna at Goldstone California took took radar images of the asteroid and assembled 20 of them into this video and look at what they found – the asteroid has a moon! Actually about 16 percent of the near-Earth population of asteroids of 200 meters in diameter (655 feet) have moons and a few have two. This particular moon is 70 meters (230 feet) across.

The observations of the asteroid enabled scientists to get data on the orbit to predict future close passes and this asteroid will not make another pass this close for 200 years. We do have others though, the next known asteroid to make a close pass is called 1999 AN10 in 2027.

The asteroid was found on Jan. 30, 2004, by the Lincoln Near-Earth Asteroid Research (LINEAR) survey in White Sands, New Mexico, one of a handful of observing groups around the world looking for these very difficult to find objects.

Video source

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