COBALT (CoOperative Blending of Autonomous Landing Technologies) strives to provide the higest quality precision navigation solution ever tested for NASA space landing applications.

The technologies included a navigation doppler lidar (NDL), which provides ultra-precise velocity and line-of-sight range measurements, and the Lander Vision System (LVS), which provides terrain-relative navigation.

NASA’S Armstrong Flight Research Center – Through flight campaigns conducted in March and April aboard Masten Space Systems’ Xodiac, a rocket-powered vertical takeoff, vertical landing (VTVL) platform, the COBALT system was flight tested to collect sensor performance data for NDL and LVS and to check the integration and communication between COBALT and the rocket. The flight tests provided excellent performance data for both sensors, as well as valuable information on the integrated performance with the rocket that will be used for subsequent COBALT modifications prior to follow-on flight tests.

Expedition 52 Launch – Replay

Replays later today, in the mean time NASA TV and that’s pretty good, so if you don’t usually get to watch, here you go.

NASA – NASA astronaut Randy Bresnik, Sergey Ryazanskiy of Roscosmos and Paolo Nespoli of ESA (European Space Agency) will launch at 11:41 a.m. (9:41 p.m. Baikonur time) from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan. The Expedition 52/53 crew will spend more than four months together aboard the orbital complex before returning to Earth in December. Video of prelaunch activities from the crew’s activities in Baikonur will air July 24-27 on NASA TV.

After launching, the trio will travel for six hours in the Soyuz MS-05 spacecraft before docking to the space station’s Rassvet module at 6 p.m. NASA TV coverage of the docking will begin at 5:15 p.m.

Great Red Spot


The image above is Jupiter’s Great Red Spot in true color.

NASA – This image of Jupiter’s iconic Great Red Spot (GRS) was created by citizen scientist Björn Jónsson using data from the JunoCam imager on NASA’s Juno spacecraft.

This true-color image offers a natural color rendition of what the Great Red Spot and surrounding areas would look like to human eyes from Juno’s position. The tumultuous atmospheric zones in and around the Great Red Spot are clearly visible.

The image was taken on July 10, 2017 at 07:10 p.m. PDT (10:10 p.m. EDT), as the Juno spacecraft performed its seventh close flyby of Jupiter. At the time the image was taken, the spacecraft was about 8,648 miles (13,917 kilometers) from the tops of the clouds of the planet at a latitude of -32.6 degrees.

JunoCam’s raw images are available at for the public to peruse and process into image products.

NASA/JPL-Caltech/SwRI/MSSS/Bjorn Jonsson

Saturn’s Haze

What a great image from Cassini! Click the image for a larger version and you can see the haze in the very upper reaches of Saturn’s atmosphere.

NASA – This false-color view from NASA’s Cassini spacecraft gazes toward the rings beyond Saturn’s sunlit horizon. Along the limb (the planet’s edge) at left can be seen a thin, detached haze. This haze vanishes toward the left side of the scene.

Cassini will pass through Saturn’s upper atmosphere during the final five orbits of the mission, before making a fateful plunge into Saturn on Sept. 15, 2017. The region through which the spacecraft will fly on those last orbits is well above the haze seen here, which is in Saturn’s stratosphere. In fact, even when Cassini plunges toward Saturn to meet its fate, contact with the spacecraft is expected to be lost before it reaches the depth of this haze.

This view is a false-color composite made using images taken in red, green and ultraviolet spectral filters. The images were obtained using the Cassini spacecraft narrow-angle camera on July 16, 2017, at a distance of about 777,000 miles (1.25 million kilometers) from Saturn. Image scale is about 4 miles (7 kilometers) per pixel on Saturn.

Image: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Space Science Institute

What Makes Drizzle Drizzle?

Image: Wikimedia Commons contributor GerritR, CC BY-SA 4.0 via NASA.

A recent NASA study sheds some light on what makes drizzle. I have to admit to really “geeking-out” after reading the following from Carol Rasmussen (NASA’s Earth Science News Team) – especially the end.

NASA – A new NASA study shows that updrafts are more important than previously understood in determining what makes clouds produce drizzle instead of full-sized raindrops, overturning a common assumption.

The study offers a pathway for improving accuracy in weather and climate models’ treatments of rainfall — recognized as one of the greater challenges in improving short term weather forecasts and long-term climate projections.

The research by scientists at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California; UCLA; and the University of Tokyo found that low-lying clouds over the ocean produce more drizzle droplets than the same type of cloud over land. The results are published online in the Quarterly Journal of the Royal Meteorological Society.

Water droplets in clouds initially form on microscopic airborne particles, or aerosols. Scientists have been studying the role of aerosols in clouds and rain for decades. There are more aerosols over land than over the ocean, and scientists had thought the additional aerosols would tend to form more drizzle over land as well. The new study shows that the presence of aerosols alone can’t explain where drizzle occurs.
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A Solar Flare and More

Here is a view of the solar flare of 17 July from the Solar Dynamics Observatory. The video is a great example of where you would expect to see sunspots at this stage in the solar cycle.

If you start watching sunspot activity about now, you will notice that most of sunspots will be in the general equatorial region (+/- 20 degrees or so) and not in the high latitudes as we near the solar minimum.

As time goes on sunspots will start appearing in the high latitudes so we have spots in both areas.  The high latitude spots could herald a new cycle, IF they are polarized reverse from the current cycle.  Yes, sunspots are polarized and that reverses every cycle.  So all scientists have to do is look at how the spots are polarized; with EVERY cycle the polarization of the new cycle spots are reverse of the old cycle.  There is no “solid wall” with cycle changes, the new cycle mixes into the old.  The cycle repeats about every 11 years.

Eventually the whole Sun will will reverse polarity!  Yes, that happens with EVERY cycle change and usually around the maximum point in the cycle.

Just because we are nearing the end of a solar cycle does not mean powerful eruptions on the sun won’t take place. Over the weekend (23 July) there was a Coronal Mass Ejection (CME) on the opposite side of the sun the likes of which are seldom seen. In fact I’ve heard comparisons to the Carrington Event of 1859. If that were to happen today, I would not be surprised in the least to see wide spread power and satellite interruptions – yes it’s that significant. Everyone is watching for the return of the region in about two to see how it has held together.

Magnetic Reconnection

Earlier this week I had a fellow telling me about magnetic portals that threaten Earth that have just started showing up and “oh my goodness”.

Given the grin I had upon my face at hearing the news, especially from him because he learned all about it from the internet and he tends towards the conspiracy sides of things if you know what I mean. I don’t think he believed me when I told him to relax.

So I thought I’d post a couple of videos explaining correctly what he was all excited about because magnetic reconnection is REAL, but not quite like he thinks.

See what the MMS mission is about and learning, first this:

and then this:

Phobos in Orbit

Check this out – Hubble captures the Martian moon Phobos in orbit.

Goddard Space Flight Center/NASA/ESAHubble — A football-shaped object just 16.5 miles by 13.5 miles by 11 miles, Phobos is one of the smallest moons in the solar system. It is so tiny that it would fit comfortably inside the Washington, D.C. Beltway.

The little moon completes an orbit in just 7 hours and 39 minutes, which is faster than Mars rotates. Rising in the Martian west, it runs three laps around the Red Planet in the course of one Martian day, which is about 24 hours and 40 minutes. It is the only natural satellite in the solar system that circles its planet in a time shorter than the parent planet’s day.

About two weeks after the Apollo 11 manned lunar landing on July 20, 1969, NASA’s Mariner 7 flew by the Red Planet and took the first crude close-up snapshot of Phobos. On July 20, 1976 NASA’s Viking 1 lander touched down on the Martian surface. A year later, its parent craft, the Viking 1 orbiter, took the first detailed photograph of Phobos, revealing a gaping crater from an impact that nearly shattered the moon.

Phobos was discovered by Asaph Hall on August 17, 1877 at the U.S. Naval Observatory in Washington, D.C., six days after he found the smaller, outer moon, named Deimos. Hall was deliberately searching for Martian moons.

Both moons are named after the sons of Ares, the Greek god of war, who was known as Mars in Roman mythology. Phobos (panic or fear) and Deimos (terror or dread) accompanied their father into battle.

Close-up photos from Mars-orbiting spacecraft reveal that Phobos is apparently being torn apart by the gravitational pull of Mars. The moon is marred by long, shallow grooves that are probably caused by tidal interactions with its parent planet. Phobos draws nearer to Mars by about 6.5 feet every hundred years. Scientists predict that within 30 to 50 million years, it either will crash into the Red Planet or be torn to pieces and scattered as a ring around Mars.

Orbiting 3,700 miles above the Martian surface, Phobos is closer to its parent planet than any other moon in the solar system. Despite its proximity, observers on Mars would see Phobos at just one-third the width of the full moon as seen from Earth. Conversely, someone standing on Phobos would see Mars dominating the horizon, enveloping a quarter of the sky.

From the surface of Mars, Phobos can be seen eclipsing the sun. However, it is so tiny that it doesn’t completely cover our host star. Transits of Phobos across the sun have been photographed by several Mars-faring spacecraft.

The origin of Phobos and Deimos is still being debated. Scientists concluded that the two moons were made of the same material as asteroids. This composition and their irregular shapes led some astrophysicists to theorize that the Martian moons came from the asteroid belt.

However, because of their stable, nearly circular orbits, other scientists doubt that the moons were born as asteroids. Such orbits are rare for captured objects, which tend to move erratically. An atmosphere could have slowed down Phobos and Deimos and settled them into their current orbits, but the Martian atmosphere is too thin to have circularized the orbits. Also, the moons are not as dense as members of the asteroid belt.

Phobos may be a pile of rubble that is held together by a thin crust. It may have formed as dust and rocks encircling Mars were drawn together by gravity. Or, it may have experienced a more violent birth, where a large body smashing into Mars flung pieces skyward, and those pieces were brought together by gravity. Perhaps an existing moon was destroyed, reduced to the rubble that would become Phobos.

Hubble took the images of Phobos orbiting the Red Planet on May 12, 2016, when Mars was 50 million miles from Earth. This was just a few days before the planet passed closer to Earth in its orbit than it had in the past 11 years.

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.