Friday, March 24, 2017
Despite having seven years to craft an alternative healthcare bill that wouldn't suck, the GOP dropped the ball anyway when it couldn't muster enough votes needed to pass the American Health Care Act (AHCA) earlier today. I would like to thank the Freedom Caucus (an ultra-conservative group of Republicans in the House of Representatives) for being so heartless in their attempt to strip away components of AHCA that would provide basic medical needs to pregnant women and sick individuals that sensible Republicans (yes, I too can't believe that such a group exists in the U.S. government) couldn't support the legislation if the Freedom Caucus had its way. I would also like to thank Donald Trump for undermining his presidency by not being able to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act (a.k.a. Obamacare) 64 days after he was sworn into the White House...despite saying during his presidential campaign that he would accomplish the feat on Day One of his first (and only?) term in office. And House Speaker Paul Ryan showed that he is as ineffective a leader in his party as he is a spineless patsy to Trump.
NASA / Bill Ingalls
But if I'm gonna say some nice things about Trump, it's that at least he signed the NASA Transition Authorization Act of 2017 last Tuesday. This bill calls for a $19.5 billion budget for NASA in 2018...which supports the Europa Clipper mission to Jupiter, the Mars 2020 rover that is Curiosity's successor, and a manned mission to the Red Planet by 2033. So thanks to Obamacare being left intact (and in Paul Ryan's words, remaining "the law of the land"), 24 million Americans who would've lost their health coverage under AHCA by 2026 will (hopefully) be alive to see humans set foot on (or at least orbit) the Red Planet in a little over 15 years! Awesome.
And of course, thanks to the demise of AHCA, I'll still be able to take medication without any issues for the illness, known as Valley Fever (or Coccidioidomycosis), that I contracted five years ago. To the Republican Party: Your utter incompetence saved the lives of many Americans today...including possibly mine. Thank you.
Sunday, March 12, 2017
Yesterday, I went to The Grove near Beverly Hills to attend a discussion and book signing by Lily Collins...the daughter of music legend Phil Collins and an up-and-coming actress who appeared in such films as last year's Rules Don't Apply, 2013's The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones and the 2009 Oscar-nominated movie The Blind Side. Ms. Collins was totally awesome in person. She read an excerpt from her new book Unfiltered before giving her take on it and talking about what motivated her to write her first publication. Afterwards, she spent the next two hours signing copies of her book and taking pics with around 300 fans who drove to Barnes & Noble to see her in person. Some attendees even flew 2,000 miles to see Ms. Collins in Los Angeles... Pretty cool!
There are two other book signings that I plan to attend this May—but I won't mention the people appearing since I don't want to jinx these events. Carry on!
Friday, March 10, 2017
NASA / JPL - Caltech / Space Science Institute
Cassini Reveals Strange Shape of Saturn's Moon Pan (Press Release - March 9)
These raw, unprocessed images of Saturn's tiny moon, Pan, were taken on March 7, 2017, by NASA's Cassini spacecraft. The flyby had a close-approach distance of 24,572 kilometers (15,268 miles).
These images are the closest images ever taken of Pan and will help to characterize its shape and geology.
Additional raw images from Cassini are available at:
The Cassini-Huygens mission is a cooperative project of NASA, ESA (European Space Agency) and the Italian Space Agency. NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, manages the mission for the agency's Science Mission Directorate in Washington. The Cassini imaging operations center is based at the Space Science Institute in Boulder, Colorado. Caltech in Pasadena manages JPL for NASA.
Source: Jet Propulsion Laboratory
NASA / JPL - Caltech / Space Science Institute
Thursday, March 09, 2017
NASA / JPL - Caltech
NASA Mission Named 'Europa Clipper' (News Release)
NASA's upcoming mission to investigate the habitability of Jupiter's icy moon Europa now has a formal name: Europa Clipper.
The moniker harkens back to the clipper ships that sailed across the oceans of Earth in the 19th century. Clipper ships were streamlined, three-masted sailing vessels renowned for their grace and swiftness. These ships rapidly shuttled tea and other goods back and forth across the Atlantic Ocean and around globe.
In the grand tradition of these classic ships, the Europa Clipper spacecraft would sail past Europa at a rapid cadence, as frequently as every two weeks, providing many opportunities to investigate the moon up close. The prime mission plan includes 40 to 45 flybys, during which the spacecraft would image the moon's icy surface at high resolution and investigate its composition and the structure of its interior and icy shell.
Europa has long been a high priority for exploration because it holds a salty liquid water ocean beneath its icy crust. The ultimate aim of Europa Clipper is to determine if Europa is habitable, possessing all three of the ingredients necessary for life: liquid water, chemical ingredients, and energy sources sufficient to enable biology.
"During each orbit, the spacecraft spends only a short time within the challenging radiation environment near Europa. It speeds past, gathers a huge amount of science data, then sails on out of there," said Robert Pappalardo, Europa Clipper project scientist at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California.
Previously, when the mission was still in the conceptual phase, it was sometimes informally called Europa Clipper, but NASA has now adopted that name as the former title for the mission.
The mission is being planned for launch in the 2020s, arriving in the Jupiter system after a journey of several years.
JPL manages the mission for the agency's Science Mission Directorate in Washington.
Tuesday, February 28, 2017
NASA / Goddard Space Flight Center
Just thought I'd end this month by pointing out that NASA is currently inviting the public to submit artwork (via e-mail) that will fly aboard the Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS)...which is scheduled to launch aboard SpaceX's Falcon 9 rocket from Florida in March of 2018. Click on this page for more details. Right now, there is no limit as to how many artwork you can submit to fly aboard TESS; this campaign either ends on November 20, 2017, or when the drive (Hard drive? Flash drive? The site doesn't say—though it's most likely the latter) that will carry the submissions reaches full capacity. The artwork below are the ones that I myself sent in as of today. I created a couple of more illustrations that I plan to submit over the next few weeks... I'll post them in a future Blog entry. If you have your own drawings to send into the cosmos, submit now!
Thursday, February 23, 2017
Lakers Name Earvin "Magic" Johnson President of Basketball Operations (Press Release - February 21)
Magic to run Lakers Basketball Front Office as part of restructuring.
LOS ANGELES -- Los Angeles Lakers Governor Jeanie Buss announced today that the team has named Earvin "Magic" Johnson as President of Basketball Operations. In addition, General Manager Mitch Kupchak has been relieved of his duties, effective immediately. Furthermore, Jim Buss will no longer hold his role as Lakers Executive Vice President of Basketball Operations.
"Today I took a series of actions I believe will return the Lakers to the heights Dr. Jerry Buss demanded and our fans rightly expect," Jeanie Buss said. "Effective immediately, Earvin Johnson will be in charge of all basketball operations and will report directly to me. Our search for a new General Manager to work with Earvin and Coach Luke Walton is well underway and we hope to announce a new General Manager in short order. Together, Earvin, Luke and our new General Manager will establish the foundation for the next generation of Los Angeles Lakers greatness."
"It's a dream come true to return to the Lakers as President of Basketball Operations working closely with Jeanie Buss and the Buss family," said Earvin "Magic" Johnson. "Since 1979, I've been a part of the Laker Nation and I'm passionate about this organization. I will do everything I can to build a winning culture on and off the court. We have a great coach in Luke Walton and good young players. We will work tirelessly to return our Los Angeles Lakers to NBA champions."
Jeanie Buss added, "I took these actions today to achieve one goal: Everyone associated with the Lakers will now be pulling in the same direction, the direction established by Earvin and myself. We are determined to get back to competing to win NBA championships again."
Regarding Mitch Kupchak, Jeanie Buss stated, "We are grateful for the many contributions Mitch has made to the Lakers over the years and we wish him all the best."
With regard to fellow owner and brother, Jim Buss, Ms. Buss said, "Jim loves the Lakers. Although he will no longer be responsible for basketball personnel decisions, he is an owner of this team and we share the same goal: returning the Lakers to the level of greatness our father demanded. Our fans deserve no less."
In addition to the changes made within the basketball department, the Lakers also announced they have parted ways with John Black who had been the Lakers Vice President of Public Relations. Chief Operating Officer Tim Harris will immediately begin a search for a replacement. Jeanie Buss added, "We thank John for his many years of service."
Wednesday, February 22, 2017
(Three Earth-Like Worlds with Liquid Water on Them? Yes, Please!) NASA Announces a Stellar Exoplanet Discovery...
NASA / JPL - Caltech
NASA Telescope Reveals Largest Batch of Earth-Size, Habitable-Zone Planets Around Single Star (Press Release)
NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope has revealed the first known system of seven Earth-size planets around a single star. Three of these planets are firmly located in the habitable zone, the area around the parent star where a rocky planet is most likely to have liquid water.
The discovery sets a new record for greatest number of habitable-zone planets found around a single star outside our solar system. All of these seven planets could have liquid water – key to life as we know it – under the right atmospheric conditions, but the chances are highest with the three in the habitable zone.
“This discovery could be a significant piece in the puzzle of finding habitable environments, places that are conducive to life,” said Thomas Zurbuchen, associate administrator of the agency’s Science Mission Directorate in Washington. “Answering the question ‘are we alone’ is a top science priority and finding so many planets like these for the first time in the habitable zone is a remarkable step forward toward that goal.”
At about 40 light-years (235 trillion miles) from Earth, the system of planets is relatively close to us, in the constellation Aquarius. Because they are located outside of our solar system, these planets are scientifically known as exoplanets.
This exoplanet system is called TRAPPIST-1, named for The Transiting Planets and Planetesimals Small Telescope (TRAPPIST) in Chile. In May 2016, researchers using TRAPPIST announced they had discovered three planets in the system. Assisted by several ground-based telescopes, including the European Southern Observatory's Very Large Telescope, Spitzer confirmed the existence of two of these planets and discovered five additional ones, increasing the number of known planets in the system to seven.
The new results were published Wednesday in the journal Nature, and announced at a news briefing at NASA Headquarters in Washington.
Using Spitzer data, the team precisely measured the sizes of the seven planets and developed first estimates of the masses of six of them, allowing their density to be estimated.
Based on their densities, all of the TRAPPIST-1 planets are likely to be rocky. Further observations will not only help determine whether they are rich in water, but also possibly reveal whether any could have liquid water on their surfaces. The mass of the seventh and farthest exoplanet has not yet been estimated – scientists believe it could be an icy, "snowball-like" world, but further observations are needed.
"The seven wonders of TRAPPIST-1 are the first Earth-size planets that have been found orbiting this kind of star," said Michael Gillon, lead author of the paper and the principal investigator of the TRAPPIST exoplanet survey at the University of Liege, Belgium. "It is also the best target yet for studying the atmospheres of potentially habitable, Earth-size worlds."
In contrast to our sun, the TRAPPIST-1 star – classified as an ultra-cool dwarf – is so cool that liquid water could survive on planets orbiting very close to it, closer than is possible on planets in our solar system. All seven of the TRAPPIST-1 planetary orbits are closer to their host star than Mercury is to our sun. The planets also are very close to each other. If a person was standing on one of the planet’s surface, they could gaze up and potentially see geological features or clouds of neighboring worlds, which would sometimes appear larger than the moon in Earth's sky.
The planets may also be tidally locked to their star, which means the same side of the planet is always facing the star, therefore each side is either perpetual day or night. This could mean they have weather patterns totally unlike those on Earth, such as strong winds blowing from the day side to the night side, and extreme temperature changes.
Spitzer, an infrared telescope that trails Earth as it orbits the sun, was well-suited for studying TRAPPIST-1 because the star glows brightest in infrared light, whose wavelengths are longer than the eye can see. In the fall of 2016, Spitzer observed TRAPPIST-1 nearly continuously for 500 hours. Spitzer is uniquely positioned in its orbit to observe enough crossing – transits – of the planets in front of the host star to reveal the complex architecture of the system. Engineers optimized Spitzer’s ability to observe transiting planets during Spitzer’s “warm mission,” which began after the spacecraft’s coolant ran out as planned after the first five years of operations.
"This is the most exciting result I have seen in the 14 years of Spitzer operations," said Sean Carey, manager of NASA's Spitzer Science Center at Caltech/IPAC in Pasadena, California. "Spitzer will follow up in the fall to further refine our understanding of these planets so that the James Webb Space Telescope can follow up. More observations of the system are sure to reveal more secrets.”
Following up on the Spitzer discovery, NASA's Hubble Space Telescope has initiated the screening of four of the planets, including the three inside the habitable zone. These observations aim at assessing the presence of puffy, hydrogen-dominated atmospheres, typical for gaseous worlds like Neptune, around these planets.
In May 2016, the Hubble team observed the two innermost planets, and found no evidence for such puffy atmospheres. This strengthened the case that the planets closest to the star are rocky in nature.
"The TRAPPIST-1 system provides one of the best opportunities in the next decade to study the atmospheres around Earth-size planets," said Nikole Lewis, co-leader of the Hubble study and astronomer at the Space Telescope Science Institute in Baltimore, Maryland. NASA's planet-hunting Kepler space telescope also is studying the TRAPPIST-1 system, making measurements of the star's minuscule changes in brightness due to transiting planets. Operating as the K2 mission, the spacecraft's observations will allow astronomers to refine the properties of the known planets, as well as search for additional planets in the system. The K2 observations conclude in early March and will be made available on the public archive.
Spitzer, Hubble, and Kepler will help astronomers plan for follow-up studies using NASA's upcoming James Webb Space Telescope, launching in 2018. With much greater sensitivity, Webb will be able to detect the chemical fingerprints of water, methane, oxygen, ozone, and other components of a planet's atmosphere. Webb also will analyze planets' temperatures and surface pressures – key factors in assessing their habitability.
NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena, California, manages the Spitzer Space Telescope mission for NASA's Science Mission Directorate. Science operations are conducted at the Spitzer Science Center, at Caltech, in Pasadena, California. Spacecraft operations are based at Lockheed Martin Space Systems Company, Littleton, Colorado. Data are archived at the Infrared Science Archive housed at Caltech/IPAC. Caltech manages JPL for NASA.
NASA / JPL - Caltech
Tuesday, February 21, 2017
NASA / JPL - Caltech
NASA's Europa Flyby Mission Moves into Design Phase (News Release)
A mission to examine the habitability of Jupiter's ocean-bearing moon Europa is taking one step closer to the launch pad, with the recent completion of a major NASA review.
On Feb. 15, NASA's Europa multiple-flyby mission successfully completed its Key Decision Point-B review. This NASA decision permits the mission to move forward into its preliminary design phase, known as "Phase B," beginning on Feb. 27.
A highlight of Phase A was the selection and accommodation of 10 instruments being developed to study the scientific mysteries of Europa. The new mission phase is planned to continue through September 2018, and will result in the completion of a preliminary design for the mission's systems and subsystems. Some testing of spacecraft components, including solar cells and science instrument detectors, has already been underway during Phase A, and this work is planned to continue into Phase B.
In addition, during Phase B subsystem vendors will be selected, as well as prototype hardware elements for the science instruments. Spacecraft subassemblies will be built and tested as well.
The Europa mission spacecraft is being planned for launch in the 2020s, arriving in the Jupiter system after a journey of several years. The spacecraft would orbit Jupiter as frequently as every two weeks, providing many opportunities for close flybys of Europa. The mission plan includes 40 to 45 flybys in the prime mission, during which the spacecraft would image the moon's icy surface at high resolution and investigate its composition and the structure of its interior and icy shell.
The life cycle of a NASA science mission includes several key phases. At each step, missions must successfully demonstrate that they have met the agency's requirements in order to indicate readiness to move forward into the next phase. Phase B includes preliminary design work, while phases C and D include final design, spacecraft fabrication, assembly and testing, and launch.
Sunday, February 19, 2017
USAF / R. Nial Bradshaw
F-35A Stealth Brings Flexibility to Battlespace (News Release - February 13)
NELLIS AIR FORCE BASE, Nev. (AFNS) -- Stealth isn’t new in the Air Force; but, stealth combined with the multirole capabilities of the F-35A Lightning II is proving to be a game changer in the Nevada desert.
Units from across the Air Force have converged here for Red Flag 17-1, the Air Force’s premier air combat exercise, which pits a friendly force against an aggressor force in scenarios designed to give pilots true-to-life experiences before heading into actual combat.
Military strategists have long noted that while the United States has invested heavily in combat aircraft technology, potential adversaries have pushed their capital toward advanced surface-to-air missiles in integrated air defense systems. Planners say any realistic large-force exercise must test the Air Force’s ability to survive and suppress these sophisticated systems.
That is what the Airmen of the 388th and 419th Fighter Wings from Hill Air Force Base, Utah, bring to the fight with the combat-capable F-35A.
“During this Red Flag we’re training against the highest level threats we know exist,” said Lt. Col. George Watkins, the 34th Fighter Squadron commander. “Just as we’re getting new systems and technology, the adversary’s threats are becoming more sophisticated and capable.”
Fourth-generation aircraft, such as the F-16 Fighting Falcon, F-15 Eagle, F/A-18 Hornet, A-10 Thunderbolt II and others, cannot operate in an environment where they are targeted by advanced anti-air systems with sophisticated radar and infrared capabilities.
Red Flag planners are tasking the F-35A with taking out these threats and the aircraft’s stealth capability is proving pilots can survive and operate effectively where others cannot.
“I flew a mission the other day where our four-ship formation of F-35As destroyed five surface-to-air threats in a 15-minute period without being targeted once,” said Maj. James Schmidt, a former A-10 pilot. “It’s pretty cool to come back from a mission where we flew right over threats knowing they could never see us.”
In past Red Flags, the friendly force did not have the capability to directly target advanced surface-to-air missile threats with an aircraft like the F-35A. Exercise planners would engage the targets with long range “standoff” weapons – like Tomahawk missiles – before sending aircraft in to the fight.
“We would shoot everything we had at that one threat just to take it out. Now between us and the (F-22) Raptor, we are able to geo-locate them and precision target them.” Watkins said. “With the stealth capability of the F-35A we can get close enough to put a bomb right on them. That would be impossible with a fourth-generation aircraft.”
After taking out the ground threats, the multirole F-35A is able to “pitch back into the fight” with air-to-air missiles, taking out aircraft that don’t even know they’re there, Schmidt said.
This is the largest exercise to date for the combat pilots of Hill’s 34th Fighter Squadron and they’re learning to believe in what the multirole fighter can do in combat, said Maj. Shad Stromberg, a 419th FW Reserve F-35 pilot.
“After almost every mission, we shake our heads and smile, saying 'We can't believe we just did that',” Schmidt said. “We flew right into the heart of the threat and were able to bring all of our jets back out with successful strikes. It's like we hit the 'I Believe' button again after every sortie.”
Source: Nellis Air Force Base
Friday, February 17, 2017
Juno Update: Engine Issues Will Prompt The Spacecraft To Stay At Its Current Altitude Above Jupiter...
NASA / JPL - Caltech / SwRI / MSSS / John Landino
NASA’s Juno Mission to Remain in Current Orbit at Jupiter (Press Release)
NASA’s Juno mission to Jupiter, which has been in orbit around the gas giant since July 4, 2016, will remain in its current 53-day orbit for the remainder of the mission. This will allow Juno to accomplish its science goals, while avoiding the risk of a previously-planned engine firing that would have reduced the spacecraft’s orbital period to 14 days.
“Juno is healthy, its science instruments are fully operational, and the data and images we’ve received are nothing short of amazing,” said Thomas Zurbuchen, associate administrator for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate in Washington. “The decision to forego the burn is the right thing to do – preserving a valuable asset so that Juno can continue its exciting journey of discovery.”
Juno has successfully orbited Jupiter four times since arriving at the giant planet, with the most recent orbit completed on Feb. 2. Its next close flyby of Jupiter will be March 27.
The orbital period does not affect the quality of the science collected by Juno on each flyby, since the altitude over Jupiter will be the same at the time of closest approach. In fact, the longer orbit provides new opportunities that allow further exploration of the far reaches of space dominated by Jupiter’s magnetic field, increasing the value of Juno’s research.
During each orbit, Juno soars low over Jupiter’s cloud tops – as close as about 2,600 miles (4,100 kilometers). During these flybys, Juno probes beneath the obscuring cloud cover and studies Jupiter’s auroras to learn more about the planet's origins, structure, atmosphere and magnetosphere.
The original Juno flight plan envisioned the spacecraft looping around Jupiter twice in 53-day orbits, then reducing its orbital period to 14 days for the remainder of the mission. However, two helium check valves that are part of the plumbing for the spacecraft’s main engine did not operate as expected when the propulsion system was pressurized in October. Telemetry from the spacecraft indicated that it took several minutes for the valves to open, while it took only a few seconds during past main engine firings.
“During a thorough review, we looked at multiple scenarios that would place Juno in a shorter-period orbit, but there was concern that another main engine burn could result in a less-than-desirable orbit,” said Rick Nybakken, Juno project manager at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena, California. “The bottom line is a burn represented a risk to completion of Juno’s science objectives.”
Juno’s larger 53-day orbit allows for “bonus science” that wasn’t part of the original mission design. Juno will further explore the far reaches of the Jovian magnetosphere – the region of space dominated by Jupiter’s magnetic field – including the far magnetotail, the southern magnetosphere, and the magnetospheric boundary region called the magnetopause. Understanding magnetospheres and how they interact with the solar wind are key science goals of NASA’s Heliophysics Science Division.
"Another key advantage of the longer orbit is that Juno will spend less time within the strong radiation belts on each orbit,” said Scott Bolton, Juno principal investigator from Southwest Research Institute in San Antonio. “This is significant because radiation has been the main life-limiting factor for Juno.”
Juno will continue to operate within the current budget plan through July 2018, for a total of 12 science orbits. The team can then propose to extend the mission during the next science review cycle. The review process evaluates proposed mission extensions on the merit and value of previous and anticipated science returns.
The Juno science team continues to analyze returns from previous flybys. Revelations include that Jupiter's magnetic fields and aurora are bigger and more powerful than originally thought and that the belts and zones that give the gas giant’s cloud top its distinctive look extend deep into the planet’s interior. Peer-reviewed papers with more in-depth science results from Juno’s first three flybys are expected to be published within the next few months. In addition, the mission's JunoCam – the first interplanetary outreach camera – is now being guided with assistance from the public. People can participate by voting on which features on Jupiter should be imaged during each flyby.
“Juno is providing spectacular results, and we are rewriting our ideas of how giant planets work,” said Bolton. “The science will be just as spectacular as with our original plan.”
JPL manages the Juno mission for NASA. The mission’s principal investigator is Scott Bolton at Southwest Research Institute in San Antonio. The Juno mission is part of the New Frontiers Program managed by NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama, for the Science Mission Directorate. Lockheed Martin Space Systems, Denver, built the spacecraft. JPL is managed for NASA by Caltech in Pasadena, California.