Venus and the Moon

I looked out the window last night and Venus and the thin crescent Moon made a nice pair in the cloudy sky.


The pair won’t be lined up quite this way tonight or the next few nights but you should see Venus and Jupiter paired up just at sunset. All you need to do is look in the Western sky. Venus will be west of the Moon and Jupiter will be west of and lower in the sky than Venus. As days go by Venus and Jupiter will get farther away from the Moon at Sunset.

You can seem everything with no extra optical aids, however if you have binoculars give them a try. With binoculars you probably can get Jupiter and Venus in the same field of view and you also should be able to see a few of Jupiter’s moons if it is dark enough.

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Terraced Crater

The Dawn spacecraft is orbiting Ceres and returned this picture of a wonderfully terraced crater in the southern hemisphere of Ceres.


The image was taken on 25 June 2015 from a distance of 4,400 km / 2,700 miles. We will have to wait on details on the measurement details as there isn’t enough information in the Dawn description nor are there any shadows to infer them. We will get them eventually as this is one of the larger craters and the Dawn team gathers a little more information themselves.

Currently the Dawn spacecraft is descending to a lower orbit using its ion engine and over the next five weeks will drop to about 1,500 km / 900 miles. The alititude was last reported at 3,900 km / 2,400 miles.

The spacecraft did go into “safe mode” due to the Ion Engine-3 gimbal system anomaly moving the orientation out of expected values. The engineering team switched to Ion-Engine 2 and after testing for a couple of days before deciding all was good.

When Dawn reaches the lower altitude the resolution of the images will naturally get better and we should see the results in August. The image above has a resolution of 410 meters per pixel (or 1,400 feet) we will be seeing the best resolution ever soon.

Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/UCLA/MPS/DLR/IDA

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NASA Armstrong Flight Research Center recently upgraded the foam fire suppression system for their aircraft support hangar – this shows the system being tested.

In another life, seems like it anyway, I was an emergency medical responder. We participated in drills involving aircraft fire when the fire suppression teams deployed foam, it was amazing but nothing this dense.

I was at a fire where a virtual mountain of tires was on fire, thousands of tires. The heat was incredible, the fire department hit the fire with foam and almost instantly the fire was out, you’d have to see it to believe it. Again the foam was not as what is depectied in the video seems to be so I bet the system will work great, even though I hope it never has to.


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New Horizons News Conference

Here is a replay of the news conference held Friday 17 July 2015. The first half (about) of the video are the updates and the second half contains questions.

One item of note, they mentioned that only about 2 percent of the data has been downloaded so far so we are in the very beginning stages. I believe they said we might be at 5 percent by next Friday. LOTS more to come.


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Pluto Seen from Cassini


As New Horizons made its close approach, the Cassini spacecraft in orbit around Saturn was able to take this image showing Pluto.  Hard to tell which is Pluto?  Yes I agree, it is just about centered in the frame, click the image for an annotated version.

The distance to Pluto at the time was 3.9 billion km / 2.4 billion miles and the resolution of the image is too low to be able to see other members of the Pluto family.

You will note in the annotated version there are four stars labeled too. Those stars have a magnitude of between 11 and 12.

New Pluto pictures starting later today.

Image Credit:  NASA/JPL-Caltech/Space Science Institute

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Mountain in a Moat


A nice close up of a portion of terrain on Pluto’s moon Charon.

Look in upper left of the inset (click the image to enlarge as always). Almost looks like a mountain sized boulder just got stuck in surface and depressing the local area from weight and/or some sort of latent heat. It is cold enough for methane and nitrogen ice, I’d think the surface would be pretty solid. It will be interesting to hear what the experts think.
Later today there will be new pictures from Pluto after a news conference – can’t wait.

Go here for the New Horizons caption and a full screen version of the image.

Credit: NASA/Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory/Southwest Research Institute

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Amazing Charon


The comparative lack of cratering and large scale geologic features make Charon simply amazing and gives the moon a youthful appearance.

New Horizons description (the link has a larger version of the image as a “tif” file – so worth the look):

Remarkable new details of Pluto’s largest moon Charon are revealed in this image from New Horizons’ Long Range Reconnaissance Imager (LORRI), taken late on July 13, 2015 from a distance of 289,000 miles (466,000 kilometers).

A swath of cliffs and troughs stretches about 600 miles (1,000 kilometers) from left to right, suggesting widespread fracturing of Charon’s crust, likely a result of internal processes. At upper right, along the moon’s curving edge, is a canyon estimated to be 4 to 6 miles (7 to 9 kilometers) deep.

Mission scientists are surprised by the apparent lack of craters on Charon. South of the moon’s equator, at the bottom of this image, terrain is lit by the slanting rays of the sun, creating shadows that make it easier to distinguish topography. Even here, however, relatively few craters are visible, indicating a relatively young surface that has been reshaped by geologic activity.

In Charon’s north polar region, a dark marking prominent in New Horizons’ approach images is now seen to have a diffuse boundary, suggesting it is a thin deposit of dark material. Underlying it is a distinct, sharply bounded, angular feature; higher resolution images still to come are expected to shed more light on this enigmatic region.

The image has been compressed to reduce its file size for transmission to Earth. In high-contrast areas of the image, features as small as 3 miles (5 kilometers) across can be seen. Some lower-contrast detail is obscured by the compression of the image, which may make some areas appear smoother than they really are. The uncompressed version still resides in New Horizons’ computer memory and is scheduled to be transmitted at a later date.

The image has been combined with color information obtained by New Horizons’ Ralph instrument on July 13.

New Horizons traveled more than three billion miles over nine-and-a-half years to reach the Pluto system.

The Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory in Laurel, Maryland, designed, built, and operates the New Horizons spacecraft, and manages the mission for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate. The Southwest Research Institute, based in San Antonio, leads the science team, payload operations and encounter science planning. New Horizons is part of the New Frontiers Program managed by NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama.

Image Credit:  NASA/Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory/Southwest Research Institute

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All Clear


The International Space Station crew moved into the Soyuz spacecraft docked to the station as a precautionary move. There was a bit of space debris in the vicinity. The debris, reportedly a piece of an old Russian weather observation satellite passed safely by the station and just minutes ago (about 12:05) was given the “All Clear”.

The crew is now in the process of opening hatches and getting back to work.

Image ESA / NASA

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