Philae is AWAKE!!


The Philae lander is alive and well on Comet 67P/Churyumov–Gerasimenk and is sending data packets back to ESA’s European Space Operations Centre in Darmstadt.

The lander has 24 watts available and is “ready for operations” according to DLR Philae Project Manager Dr. Stephan Ulamec.

The transmissions lasted 85 seconds when Philae “spoke” via the Rosetta spacecraft for the first time since 15 November 2014 when Philae shut down after about 60 hours of operation. Rosetta has been listening for signals from Philae since 12 March 2015.

Check out the Rosetta blog for more information. THIS IS EXCELLENT!!!!

The image shows the journey of the Philae lander captured by the Rosetta OSIRIS camera for a 30 minute span. The lander was to have landed and stayed put but that didn’t work as planned and the actual location wasn’t immediately apparent. Link to ESA image description – it’s more complete.

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RS-25 Engine Test

The RS-25 engine was tested on 11 June 2015 when it was fired for 500 seconds at NASA’s Stennis Space Center.

Four of these engines will be combined to power the new rocket, the Space Launch System by NASA. Eventually the engines will send astronauts to Mars or at least that’s the current plan.

This engine will have to go four more tests in this phased of development. No word on how this test went.


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Welcome Home

ESA astronaut Samantha Cristoforetti, NASA astronaut Terry Virts and Russian commander Anton Shkaplerov landed in the Kazakh steppe after a three-hour ride in their Soyuz spacecraft 11 June 2015.

Welcome home to all!


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New Horizons and Pluto

Here’s the latest release from the New Horizons team and as the spacecraft closes in on Pluto we are getting tantalizing hints about the surface.


Click the image for a larger version. The moon Charon can be seen to the right and even there we can see light and dark areas.

There is an animated gif you can download too. The variation in the surface patches is very evident. The gif is only about 700 k or so, have a look. The moon Charon starts at the 3 OcClock position and orbits once. You will see the moon jump in towards Pluto at the transition between the start and stop of the animation. The jump is due to the range difference in the range to the pair between the start and end of the loop.

Loop start: 28 May distance to Pluto – 56,072,732 km
Loop end: 03 June distance to Pluto – 48,500,980 km

One other thing about the animation, in the “zoomed” version playing in the lower right it appears Pluto is somewhat irregular in shape. This is processing induced artifact, Pluto is nearly perfectly spherical. Processing can induce other artifacts into the image which will resolve over time as we get closer.

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LDSD Flight Replay

Here is the video of the LDSD flight last Monday (08 June).

I enjoy balloon launches as much as rocket launches. The video gives a great view of that too. The balloon took the saucer-like LDSD to an altitude of 36.5 km / 120,000 ft when a rocket propelled it to Mach 4 an altitude of 54.9 km / 180,000 feet so the tests could be made in the thin atmosphere where it would be similar to that of Mars.

The two technologies tested were the donut-shaped airbag and a parachute that can be deployed while the vehicle is traveling at several times the speed of sound. So far it sounds like the aribag worked pretty well but the parachute only partially opened and you can see that in the video.


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ESO’s New Gear


The SPHERE instrument was recently installed on the VLT at ESO’s Paranal Observatory. The Spectro-Polarimetric High-contrast Exoplanet REsearch instrument or SPHERE for short was installed on Unit Telescope 3 of the VLT.

SPHERE is a very sophisticated instrument designed to spot exo-planets by direct imaging. SHPERE will have the ability to block out the central part of a given star to reduce its contribution. To make this very basic, the light coming from stars (including our sun) is not polarized but when that light is reflected off an exo-planet it becomes at least partially polarized and SHPERE can pick out the polarized signal. For a bit more detailed explanation look here.

From ESO:
Some of the sharpest images ever made with ESO’s Very Large Telescope have for the first time revealed what appears to be an ageing star in the early stages of forming a butterfly-like planetary nebula. The observations of the red giant star L2 Puppis from the ZIMPOL mode of the newly installed SPHERE instrument are combined here with infrared data from NACO, also on the VLT, which shows a dust loop deployed on the far side of the upper part of the nebula. The dying stages of the lives of stars continue to pose many riddles for astronomers.

ESO/P. Kervella

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Rosetta Update


I know, it’s been a while.  Rosetta is still orbiting Comet 67P/Churymov-Gerasineko and the spacecraft is doing well.
It has to be, the distance between Rosetta and the comet is 200 km / 124 miles and the pair
are moving at 30.91 km/s / 69,143 mph!

The comet is a little over 310,344,000 km / 192,839,000 miles. The pair should be closing
in on the orbit of Mars, which it will do at a fairly shallow angle.

As the pair gets closer the expected increase in activity in terms of streamers coming off the comet is occurring.

The Rosetta blog shows an enhanced version and a nice description including topographical  features of the comet.


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Those Bright Spots


Here is the best picture yet from the Dawn spacecraft of two of the bright spots on Ceres.

The image was obtained on the second mapping run from just 4,400 km / 2,700 miles. The resolution is 410 meters/pixel.

I’ve been saying “ice” right along. Then after looking at the guesses listed on the Dawn website, I started thinking about one of the possibilities listed and that is salts. Could it be something like a salt, say something along the lines of Magnesium sulfate?

Some of the craters show rays of the “bright” material and the rotating animation on the “What’s the spot on World Ceres” page makes it look like there is thin layer over more of the “dwarf” planet than I thought although appearances can be deceiving.

If you haven’t already have a look at the Ceres page linked above and vote.

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