Category Archives: Cool Stuff

Aurora From Above

A beautiful image from the International Space Station. Here at mid- latitude the aurora is pretty rare these days; it is solar minimum after all.

If you happen to listen to short wave radio or are an amateur radio operator as I am, one of the hallmarks of an active aurora is the radio transmissions (notably the 20 meter ham band or in the area of 14 MHz) sound like they are in a bottom of a barrel. Really, check it out sometime. So I wonder how things are different from the other side of the aurora.

There are a number of sites to find out what is going on with space weather here’s one: Space Weather Prediction Center.

About the image from NASA: Aboard the International Space Station, NASA astronaut Christina Koch snapped this image of an aurora, saying: “Years ago at the South Pole, I looked up to the aurora for inspiration through the 6-month winter night. Now I know they’re just as awe inspiring from above.

Image Credit: NASA

ISS Transit During Eclipse

One of my favorite websites is “Smarter Every Day“. Destin always puts up interesting videos so you may want to pay the site a visit if you’ve not been there before.

This particular video includes a transit of the Sun by the ISS and a look at the Solar Eclipse of 2017. I totally “get” the excitement of catching the transit. Opportunities don’t come along very often and it has been my experience something always goes wrong. One of these days I will be successful.

ESA’s New Rides

It’s the Vega-C an updated version of the tried and true Vega offering more capacity with more power and the Ariane-6. I can’t wait to watch the Ariane-6 take off, it’s the predecessor to the powerhouse Ariane-5 heavy lift rocket.

Way to go ESA!!

#MoonTunes

Do you have any favorite music scores you listen to while traveling about? NASA has a long tradition of using music on their missions, notably to awaken space-fairing travelers.

They are looking for suggestions to add to the old eight-track player. Ok no eight-track player, some readers may not even know what that is. Just as well, but if you must know, go here.

You can still buy them (used of course).

So here you go, BE SURE TO READ THE RULES at the end!

NASA: Music has been interwoven throughout spaceflight history, from pre-launch songs to shuttle wake-up calls to crewmembers playing instruments on the International Space Station. As we celebrate the 50th anniversary of Apollo 11, we’re also preparing to go back to the Moon by 2024, which means astronauts will have a non-stop journey of approximately 3 days each way – the ultimate long-distance travel. Just like any road trip needs a soundtrack, so does a spaceflight! If you were making the journey, what favorite song would you be sure to include on your playlist? Let us add it to ours! Tell us on Twitter with the hashtag #NASAMoonTunes or submit via this form

Submit your suggestion from June 3-June 28 — the same time frame in which Apollo 11 astronauts were making final preparations for their mission 50 years ago. Liftoff of our playlist will be on July 13 and 14 and will air during a live show on NASA’s Third Rock Radio, just a few days prior to the Apollo 11 launch anniversary!

Third Rock Radio

Website: www.thirdrockradio.net

Facebook: @thirdrockradionasa

Twitter: @ThirdRockRadio

NASA’s Johnson Space Center

Facebook: @NASAJSC

Twitter: @NASA_Johnson

The rules:

1. Songs with explicit titles, lyrics and themes will not be accepted for addition to the playlist. NASA is for everyone – let’s make sure our playlist is too.

2. Only songs published on official music streaming services at the time of the acceptance period will be added to the playlist. A user may not submit song lyrics or unpublished music from sites such as SoundCloud, YouTube, Bandcamp, MixCloud or other user-uploaded content websites.

3. Only songs with the hashtag #NASAMoonTunes on Twitter and submissions via the above form will be accepted.

4. Third Rock Radio has the flexibility to select which songs will air from the proposed list. There is no requirement or obligation to play any specific song from the playlist, and there is no guarantee that each song submitted will be aired live. Want to know if your submission made the cut? Don’t miss the live show!

To Light Speed (Almost)

NASA: One hundred years ago, on May 29, 1919, measurements of a solar eclipse offered proof for Einstein’s theory of general relativity. Even before that, Einstein had developed the theory of special relativity, which revolutionized the way we understand light. To this day, it provides guidance on understanding how particles move through space — a key area of research to keep spacecraft and astronauts safe from radiation.

The theory of special relativity showed that particles of light, photons, travel through a vacuum at a constant pace of 670,616,629 miles per hour — a speed that’s immensely difficult to achieve and impossible to surpass in that environment. Yet all across space, from black holes to our near-Earth environment, particles are, in fact, being accelerated to incredible speeds, some even reaching 99.9% the speed of light.

Scientists suspect magnetic reconnection is one way that particles are accelerated to nearly light speed. This illustration depicts the magnetic fields around Earth, which snap and realign, causing charged particles to be flung away at high speeds. Find out all three ways that this acceleration happens.

Image Credit: NASA

Get Your Name On Mars2020

You can get your name on NASA’s Mars2020 rover. Super simple here’s the details:

NASA: Although it will be years before the first humans set foot on Mars, NASA is giving the public an opportunity to send their names — stenciled on chips — to the Red Planet with NASA’s Mars 2020 rover, which represents the initial leg of humanity’s first round trip to another planet. The rover is scheduled to launch as early as July 2020, with the spacecraft expected to touch down on Mars in February 2021.

The rover, a robotic scientist weighing more than 2,300 pounds (1,000 kilograms), will search for signs of past microbial life, characterize the planet’s climate and geology, collect samples for future return to Earth, and pave the way for human exploration of the Red Planet.

“As we get ready to launch this historic Mars mission, we want everyone to share in this journey of exploration,” said Thomas Zurbuchen, associate administrator for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate (SMD) in Washington. “It’s an exciting time for NASA, as we embark on this voyage to answer profound questions about our neighboring planet, and even the origins of life itself.”

The opportunity to send your name to Mars comes with a souvenir boarding pass and “frequent flyer” points. This is part of a public engagement campaign to highlight missions involved with NASA’s journey from the Moon to Mars. Miles (or kilometers) are awarded for each “flight,” with corresponding digital mission patches available for download. More than 2 million names flew on NASA’s InSight mission to Mars, giving each “flyer” about 300 million frequent flyer miles (nearly 500 million frequent flyer kilometers).

From now until Sept. 30, you can add your name to the list and obtain a souvenir boarding pass to Mars here: https://go.nasa.gov/Mars2020Pass

Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech

A Century of Gravity

More correctly titled: “One hundred years of gravity”.

In this video, Günther Hasinger, ESA Director of Science, reflects on this historic measurement that inaugurated a century of exciting experiments, investigating gravity on Earth and in space and proving general relativity in ever greater detail. — NASA

Want to Help NASA?

NASA: Citizen scientists assemble! NASA’s OSIRIS-REx mission to the asteroid Bennu needs extra pairs of eyes to help choose its sample collection site on the asteroid – and to look for anything else that might be scientifically interesting. 

The OSIRIS-REx spacecraft has been at Bennu since Dec. 3, 2018, mapping the asteroid in detail, while the mission team searches for a sample collection site that is safe, conducive to sample collection and worthy of closer study. One of the biggest challenges of this effort, which the team discovered after arriving at the asteroid five months ago, is that Bennu has an extremely rocky surface and each boulder presents a danger to the spacecraft’s safety. To expedite the sample selection process, the team is asking citizen scientist volunteers to develop a hazard map by counting boulders. 

“For the safety of the spacecraft, the mission team needs a comprehensive catalog of all the boulders near the potential sample collection sites, and I invite members of the public to assist the OSIRIS-REx mission team in accomplishing this essential task,” said Dante Lauretta, OSIRIS-REx principal investigator at the University of Arizona, Tucson.

For this effort, NASA is partnering with CosmoQuest, a project run out of the Planetary Science Institute that supports citizen science initiatives. Volunteers will perform the same tasks that planetary scientists do – measuring Bennu’s boulders and mapping its rocks and craters – through the use of a simple web interface. They will also mark other scientifically interesting features on the asteroid for further investigation.

The boulder mapping work involves a high degree of precision, but it is not difficult. The CosmoQuest mapping app requires a computer with a larger screen and a mouse or trackpad capable of making precise marks. To help volunteers get started, the CosmoQuest team provides an interactive tutorial, as well as additional user assistance through a Discord community and livestreaming sessions on Twitch. 

“We are very pleased and excited to make OSIRIS-REx images available for this important citizen science endeavor,” said Rich Burns, OSIRIS-REx project manager at NASA Goddard Space Flight Center. “Bennu has surprised us with an abundance of boulders. We ask for citizen scientists’ help to evaluate this rugged terrain so that we can keep our spacecraft safe during sample collection operations.”

Sample return isn’t new for NASA – this year, the agency is celebrating the 50th anniversary of the Apollo missions to the Moon, which allowed astronauts to bring back 842 pounds (382 kilograms) of rocks and lunar soil. Those samples helped scientists discover that the Moon has water locked in its rocks and even permanently frozen in craters. These findings and others inspired the agency to create the Artemis program to return humans to the Moon by 2024 and start preparing for human exploration on Mars.

“The OSIRIS-REx mission will continue the Apollo legacy by giving scientists precious samples of an asteroid,” said Lori Glaze, director of the Planetary Science Division at NASA Headquarters in Washington. “These samples will help scientists discover the secrets of planetary formation and the origins of our planet Earth.”

The Bennu mapping campaign continues through July 10, when the mission begins the sample site selection process. Once primary and secondary sites are selected, the spacecraft will begin closer reconnaissance to map the two sites to sub-centimeter resolution. The mission’s Touch-and-Go (TAG) sampling maneuver is scheduled for July 2020, and the spacecraft will return to Earth with its cargo in September 2023.

Goddard provides overall mission management, systems engineering, and the safety and mission assurance for OSIRIS-REx. Dante Lauretta of the University of Arizona, Tucson, is the principal investigator, and the University of Arizona also leads the science team and the mission’s science observation planning and data processing. Lockheed Martin Space in Denver built the spacecraft and is providing flight operations. Goddard and KinetX Aerospace are responsible for navigating the OSIRIS-REx spacecraft. OSIRIS-REx is the third mission in NASA’s New Frontiers Program, which is managed by NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama, for the agency’s Science Mission Directorate in Washington.

To volunteer as a Bennu mapper, visit: Bennu.cosmoquest.org

A View of Los Angeles

From a CubeSat! This particular CubeSat is a planet hunter too.

NASA: A small satellite designed to hunt for new planets beyond the solar system recently looked down at Earth to capture an image of California’s “City of Stars.”

The greater Los Angeles area stands out in these images from ASTERIA, the Arcsecond Space Telescope Enabling Research in Astrophysics, a satellite not much larger than a briefcase. ASTERIA is a CubeSat, or a small satellite composed of cubic units that measure 10 centimeters (4.5 inches) on each side. This particular CubeSat is made up of six units.

The images, taken March 29, reveal a massive grid of illuminated city streets and freeways. A bright spot near the center of the first image marks the location of Dodger Stadium. (The Dodgers played the Arizona Diamondbacks at home that night.) To the northeast, near the darkness of the San Gabriel Mountains, is NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, which built and operates ASTERIA, and the nearby Rose Bowl Stadium. The close-cropped image shows a region of about 43.5 square miles (70 square kilometers), with a resolution of about 100 feet (30 meters) per pixel.

Lots of orbiting small satellites can take higher-quality pictures of Earth than this one. But ASTERIA is the only CubeSat in orbit that can also look for exoplanets, or planets orbiting stars other than our Sun. Its primary mission objective was to demonstrate precision-pointing technology in a small satellite.


Electrical Test Engineer Esha Murty (left) and Integration and Test Lead Cody Colley (right) prepare the ASTERIA spacecraft for mass properties measurements in April 2017 prior to spacecraft delivery.
Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech

ASTERIA was developed under the Phaeton Program at JPL. Phaeton provided early-career hires, under the guidance of experienced mentors, with the challenges of a flight project. The mission is a collaboration with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in Cambridge. Sara Seager, a professor of planetary science and physics at MIT, is the mission’s principal investigator.