MAIN / INDEX / GAMES / JOURNAL ENTRIES & UPDATES / ASK PARMAN! / VIDEOS / FRIENDS' GALLERY / GALLERY 2 / FAVORITES / FICTION / DRAWINGS / LINKS / AUTOGRAPHS / FILM NOTES / NAME IN SPACE / HUMAN SPACEFLIGHT BLOG / CREDITS


Thursday, October 19, 2017

The Los Doyers Are Goin' Back to the World Series...

The Los Angeles Dodgers celebrate after defeating the Chicago Cubs, 11-1, in Game 5 of the National League Championship Series (NLCS)...on October 19, 2017.
Getty Images

29 years after winning their last championship at the expense of the Oakland A's, the Los Angeles Dodgers are headed back to the Fall Classic after laying a smackdown on the Chicago Cubs, 11-1, in Game 5 of the National League Championship Series at Wrigley Field tonight. Game 1 of the World Series takes place at Dodger Stadium next Tuesday, October 24, against the winner of the American League Championship Series. So by either tomorrow night or Saturday evening, the Los Doyers will be prepping to play the Houston Astros or the New York Yankees in the final round. Chances are, the head honchos at Major League Baseball's main office are hoping it's the latter. Gotta make that dough and the high TV ratings, ya know...

I'm an Angels fan, but being a proud California native who's attended every Lakers parade since 2000 and both parades for the L.A. Kings in 2012 and 2014, respectively, I'll root for any team that continues to make SoCal—and Los Angeles in general—the championship capital of this nation. Keep in mind that the Los Angeles Sparks were so close to winning a WNBA title against the Minnesota Lynx a little over two weeks ago (the Lynx clinched the championship in Game 5 of the WNBA Finals...which took place on my birthday, October 4).

Assuming that the Dodgers win it all by November 1st (which is when a Game 7 would be played—in Los Angeles), the Clippers will be the only team in the City of Angels to not win a championship since the start of this century (the Rams and the Chargers are excluded...for now). I'll wait till the outcome of the World Series to pour haterade on the only title-less team to currently play inside STAPLES Center in downtown Los Angeles. That is all.

The Los Angeles Dodgers take a group photo after defeating the Chicago Cubs, 11-1, in Game 5 of the NLCS...on October 19, 2017.
Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times

Monday, October 16, 2017

Spotting a KILONOVA: An Awesome Discovery in the Cosmos...

A kilonova (box) as seen by NASA's Hubble Space Telescope and Chandra X-ray Observatory in optical and infrared light, as well as in X-ray.
NASA / CXC / E. Troja

NASA Missions Catch First Light from a Gravitational-Wave Event (Press Release)

For the first time, NASA scientists have detected light tied to a gravitational-wave event, thanks to two merging neutron stars in the galaxy NGC 4993, located about 130 million light-years from Earth in the constellation Hydra.

Shortly after 8:41 a.m. EDT on Aug. 17, NASA's Fermi Gamma-ray Space Telescope picked up a pulse of high-energy light from a powerful explosion, which was immediately reported to astronomers around the globe as a short gamma-ray burst. The scientists at the National Science Foundation’s Laser Interferometer Gravitational-wave Observatory (LIGO) detected gravitational waves dubbed GW170817 from a pair of smashing stars tied to the gamma-ray burst, encouraging astronomers to look for the aftermath of the explosion. Shortly thereafter, the burst was detected as part of a follow-up analysis by ESA’s (European Space Agency’s) INTEGRAL satellite.

NASA's Swift, Hubble, Chandra and Spitzer missions, along with dozens of ground-based observatories, including the NASA-funded Pan-STARRS survey, later captured the fading glow of the blast's expanding debris.

"This is extremely exciting science," said Paul Hertz, director of NASA’s Astrophysics Division at the agency’s headquarters in Washington. "Now, for the first time, we've seen light and gravitational waves produced by the same event. The detection of a gravitational-wave source’s light has revealed details of the event that cannot be determined from gravitational waves alone. The multiplier effect of study with many observatories is incredible."

Neutron stars are the crushed, leftover cores of massive stars that previously exploded as supernovas long ago. The merging stars likely had masses between 10 and 60 percent greater than that of our Sun, but they were no wider than Washington, D.C. The pair whirled around each other hundreds of times a second, producing gravitational waves at the same frequency. As they drew closer and orbited faster, the stars eventually broke apart and merged, producing both a gamma-ray burst and a rarely seen flare-up called a "kilonova."

"This is the one we've all been waiting for," said David Reitze, executive director of the LIGO Laboratory at Caltech in Pasadena, California. "Neutron star mergers produce a wide variety of light because the objects form a maelstrom of hot debris when they collide. Merging black holes -- the types of events LIGO and its European counterpart, Virgo, have previously seen -- very likely consume any matter around them long before they crash, so we don't expect the same kind of light show."

"The favored explanation for short gamma-ray bursts is that they're caused by a jet of debris moving near the speed of light produced in the merger of neutron stars or a neutron star and a black hole," said Eric Burns, a member of Fermi's Gamma-ray Burst Monitor team at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland. "LIGO tells us there was a merger of compact objects, and Fermi tells us there was a short gamma-ray burst. Together, we know that what we observed was the merging of two neutron stars, dramatically confirming the relationship."

Within hours of the initial Fermi detection, LIGO and the Virgo detector at the European Gravitational Observatory near Pisa, Italy, greatly refined the event's position in the sky with additional analysis of gravitational wave data. Ground-based observatories then quickly located a new optical and infrared source -- the kilonova -- in NGC 4993.

To Fermi, this appeared to be a typical short gamma-ray burst, but it occurred less than one-tenth as far away as any other short burst with a known distance, making it among the faintest known. Astronomers are still trying to figure out why this burst is so odd, and how this event relates to the more luminous gamma-ray bursts seen at much greater distances.

NASA’s Swift, Hubble and Spitzer missions followed the evolution of the kilonova to better understand the composition of this slower-moving material, while Chandra searched for X-rays associated with the remains of the ultra-fast jet.

When Swift turned to the galaxy shortly after Fermi’s gamma-ray burst detection, it found a bright and quickly fading ultraviolet (UV) source.

"We did not expect a kilonova to produce bright UV emission," said Goddard’s S. Bradley Cenko, principal investigator for Swift. "We think this was produced by the short-lived disk of debris that powered the gamma-ray burst."

Over time, material hurled out by the jet slows and widens as it sweeps up and heats interstellar material, producing so-called afterglow emission that includes X-rays.

But the spacecraft saw no X-rays -- a surprise for an event that produced higher-energy gamma rays.

NASA’s Chandra X-ray Observatory clearly detected X-rays nine days after the source was discovered. Scientists think the delay was a result of our viewing angle, and it took time for the jet directed toward Earth to expand into our line of sight.

"The detection of X-rays demonstrates that neutron star mergers can form powerful jets streaming out at near light speed," said Goddard's Eleonora Troja, who led one of the Chandra teams and found the X-ray emission. "We had to wait for nine days to detect it because we viewed it from the side, unlike anything we had seen before."

On Aug. 22, NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope began imaging the kilonova and capturing its near-infrared spectrum, which revealed the motion and chemical composition of the expanding debris.

"The spectrum looked exactly like how theoretical physicists had predicted the outcome of the merger of two neutron stars would appear," said Andrew Levan at the University of Warwick in Coventry, England, who led one of the proposals for Hubble spectral observations. "It tied this object to the gravitational wave source beyond all reasonable doubt."

Astronomers think a kilonova's visible and infrared light primarily arises through heating from the decay of radioactive elements formed in the neutron-rich debris. Crashing neutron stars may be the universe's dominant source for many of the heaviest elements, including platinum and gold.

Because of its Earth-trailing orbit, Spitzer was uniquely situated to observe the kilonova long after the Sun moved too close to the galaxy for other telescopes to see it. Spitzer's Sept. 30 observation captured the longest-wavelength infrared light from the kilonova, which unveils the quantity of heavy elements forged.

"Spitzer was the last to join the party, but it will have the final word on how much gold was forged," says Mansi Kasliwal, Caltech assistant professor and principal investigator of the Spitzer observing program.

Numerous scientific papers describing and interpreting these observations have been published in Science, Nature, Physical Review Letters and The Astrophysical Journal.

Gravitational waves were directly detected for the first time in 2015 by LIGO, whose architects were awarded the 2017 Nobel Prize in physics for the discovery.

****

A kilonova (box), located within the galaxy NGC 4993, as seen by NASA's Hubble Space Telescope.
NASA and ESA

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Wise Words By Kylo Ren (Or Rian Johnson)...

Kylo Ren wants to eliminate his past in STAR WARS: THE LAST JEDI.

"Let the past die. Kill it...if you have to. That's the only way to become who you're meant to be."

So are the words spoken by Kylo Ren (Adam Driver) in the newest trailer for this December's Star Wars: The Last Jedi. Overlooking the fact that the preview hints at the aspiring Sith Lord performing matricide (right after committing patricide in 2015's The Force Awakens), this quote applies to the real world as well. As the meme below also shows, sometimes we need to do drastic things to eliminate the past in order to focus on the future. I've been working on this since earlier this year—getting rid of things that I've had since my childhood to be able to look to the present and what lies ahead. I've been a little successful at this so far, hah. But yea, methinks I'm gonna have to try a bit harder in stop dwelling on events that have come and gone and realize that I can't reach my full potential until I concentrate on the here and now.

Oh, Star Wars...always featuring memorable quotes to help guide fans like me as we try to, in the words of Supreme Leader Snoke (and um, Emperor Palpatine before him), fulfill our destiny. Credit The Last Jedi director Rian Johnson for coming up with that noteworthy line at the beginning of this Blog entry. Happy Tuesday!

Let it go.

Friday, October 06, 2017

Farewell, AIM...

Farewell, AOL Instant Messenger.

Just read the sad news that after 20 years, AOL Instant Messenger (AIM) will be shut down permanently on December 15. Despite the fact that I haven't used this program in years, I'm bummed to see it go. As stated in this article, one of my fondest memories after obtaining access to the Internet for the first time was using AIM to talk to my high school friends while living at a dorm during my first year in college (Go Beach! That would be Cal State Long Beach). Not just my high school friends, but a couple of girls that I met on the Web as well! Yup, this was back when I was still social—Internet-wise, that is—and cared about having online conversations with my buddies instead of spending time nowadays reading a bunch of news pertaining to NASA, Star Wars and other movies, and how Donald Trump continues to prove that he's a moronic dotard day after day. But that's beside the point. Farewell AIM... Thanks for the online memories from over a decade ago. 1998 to 2005, to be exact.

My screenname on AIM was CoRollaPnOy and thugman77. Or was it thugman_77? Naw, it was thugman77. TGIF!

Tuesday, October 03, 2017

InSight Update: Send Your Name to the Red Planet!

An artist's concept of NASA's InSight lander on the surface of Mars.
NASA / JPL

Another Chance to Put Your Name on Mars (Press Release)

When it lands on Mars in November of 2018, NASA's InSight lander will be carrying several science instruments -- along with hundreds of thousands of names from members of the public.

In 2015, nearly 827,000 people signed up to add their names to a silicon microchip onboard the robotic spacecraft. NASA is now adding a second microchip, giving the public another chance to send their names to Mars.

New submissions will be accepted from Oct. 2 to Nov. 1, 2017, at the following link:

https://mars.nasa.gov/syn/insight

"Mars continues to excite space enthusiasts of all ages," said Bruce Banerdt, the InSight mission's principal investigator at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California. "This opportunity lets them become a part of the spacecraft that will study the inside of the Red Planet."

This fly-your-name opportunity comes with "frequent flier" points reflecting an individual's personal participation in NASA's exploration of Mars. These points span multiple missions and multiple decades. Participants who sent their names on the previous InSight opportunity in 2015 can download a "boarding pass" and see their "frequent flier" miles.

As part of this frequent flier program, a chip carrying the names of 1.38 million people also flew aboard the first flight of NASA's Orion spacecraft in 2014. NASA is building Orion to carry astronauts to deep space destinations that will enable future missions to Mars.

After InSight, the next opportunity to earn frequent flier points will be NASA's Exploration Mission-1, the first flight bringing together the Space Launch System rocket and Orion spacecraft to travel thousands of miles beyond the Moon in preparation for human missions to Mars and beyond.

InSight will be the first mission to explore Mars' deep interior. The spacecraft will set down a seismometer to detect marsquakes and meteor strikes, using the seismic energy of these phenomena to study material far below the Martian surface. It also will deploy a self-hammering heat probe that will burrow deeper into the ground than any previous device on the Red Planet. These and other InSight investigations will improve our understanding about the formation and evolution of all rocky planets, including Earth.

InSight is scheduled to launch from Vandenberg Air Force Base, California, in May of 2018.

Source: NASA.Gov

****

Lockheed Martin engineers take the InSight Mars lander out of temporary storage in June of 2017...to begin testing the spacecraft prior to its launch in May of 2018.
NASA / JPL - Caltech / Lockheed Martin

Monday, October 02, 2017

Tragedy in Las Vegas...

Police officers and regular citizens take cover behind a cop car after a gunman opened fire on a country music concert in Las Vegas...on October 1, 2017.

My heartfelt condolences to the families of the 50+ individuals who lost their lives yesterday...and to the 500+ other people who were injured in last night's horrific shooting outside the Mandalay Bay Resort and Casino in Las Vegas. The white domestic terrorist who committed this atrocious act took his own life before he could be apprehended and answer for his crimes—so may he rot in hell instead. The topic of gun control must once again be brought up, but if the meme below is any indication, the death of dozens of concertgoers last night won't prompt Republicans to grow a pair and stand up to the National Rifle Association by enacting tougher gun laws in our nation. 'Cause you know, as far as the GOP is concerned Americans need their guns but don't deserve to have universal healthcare. Yes, I'm politicizing this.

Another dark and disgraceful day for this country.

Police officers escort children to safety after the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting on December 14, 2012.

Sunday, October 01, 2017

A Weird Dream to Save the World...

So last night, I had an odd but memorable dream where I was part of a ragtag team that had to save the world from...a giant chicken (much bigger than the one that Peter Griffin occasionally scraps with on FOX TV's Family Guy). The team consisted of ex-coworkers, random ladies that I may or may not have met in real life, Jayma Mays from the new film American Made (which I saw at the theater yesterday; great movie) and Sheldon Cooper from The Big Bang Theory. The last thing we did before I woke up (darn it) was dive into a giant underground chasm while riding inside large garbage bags. Again, this was a weird dream. That giant chicken still lurks since we weren't able to complete our adventure... Maybe I'll dream this journey again tonight!

Oh, and the beautiful and talented Milana Vayntrub was in another dream I had last night. No— Nothing creepy; we were on the same team for some math competition or something. Would've been cool if she helped us take on that chicken...fighting as none other than Squirrel Girl. Anyways, Happy October!

Saturday, September 30, 2017

Developing an Ion Engine for the Psyche Spacecraft...

An artist's concept of NASA's Psyche spacecraft studying a metal asteroid with the same name.
NASA / JPL - Caltech / Arizona State Univ. / Space Systems Loral / Peter Rubin

NASA Glenn Tests Thruster Bound for Metal World (News Release - September 28)

As NASA looks to explore deeper into our solar system, one of the key areas of interest is studying worlds that can help researchers better understand our solar system and the universe around us. One of the next destinations in this knowledge-gathering campaign is a rare world called Psyche, located in the asteroid belt.

Psyche is different from millions of other asteroids because it appears to have an exposed nickel-iron surface. Researchers at Arizona State University, Tempe, in partnership with NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, believe the asteroid could actually be the leftover core of an early planet. And, since we can't directly explore any planet's core, including our own, Psyche offers a rare look into the violent history of our solar system.

"Psyche is a unique body because it is, by far, the largest metal asteroid out there; it's about the size of Massachusetts," said David Oh, the mission's lead project systems engineer at JPL. "By exploring Psyche, we'll learn about the formation of the planets, how planetary cores are formed and, just as important, we'll be exploring a new type of world. We've looked at worlds made of rock, ice and of gas, but we've never had an opportunity to look at a metal world, so this is brand new exploration in the classic style of NASA."

But getting to Psyche won't be easy. It requires a cutting-edge propulsion system with exceptional performance, which is also safe, reliable and cost-effective. That's why the mission team has turned to NASA Glenn Research Center in Cleveland, which has been advancing solar electric propulsion (SEP) for decades.

SEP thrusters use inert gases, like xenon, which are then energized by the electric power generated from onboard solar arrays to provide gentle, non-stop thrust.

"For deep space missions, the type and amount of fuel required to propel a spacecraft is an important factor for mission planners," said Carol Tolbert, project manager for Psyche thruster testing at NASA Glenn. "A SEP system, like the one used for this mission, operates more efficiently than a conventional chemical propulsion system, which would be impractical for this type of mission."

The reduced fuel mass allows the mission to enter orbit around Psyche and provides additional space for all of the mission's scientific payload. Psyche's payload includes a multispectral imager, magnetometer, and gamma-ray spectrometer. These instruments will help the science team better understand the asteroid's origin, composition and history.

Additional benefits of SEP are flexibility and robustness in the flight plan, which allow the spacecraft to arrive at Psyche much faster and more efficiently than it could using conventional propulsion.

For this mission, the spacecraft, which will be built jointly by JPL and Space Systems Loral (SSL), will use the SPT-140 Hall effect thruster. Because Psyche is three times farther away from the Sun than Earth, flying there required a unique test of the low-power operation of the thruster in the very low pressures that will be encountered in space.

The mission team called upon NASA Glenn, and its space power and propulsion expertise, to put the mission's thruster through its paces at the center's Electric Propulsion Laboratory.

"This mission will be the first to use a Hall effect thruster system beyond lunar orbit, so the tests here at Glenn, which had never been conducted before, were needed to ensure the thruster could perform and operate as expected in the deep space environment," said Tolbert.

The facility at NASA Glenn has been a premier destination for electric propulsion and power system testing for over 40 years and features a number of space environment chambers, which simulate the vacuum and temperatures of space.

"This was very important to the mission because we want to test-like-we-fly and fly-like-we-test," said Oh. "Glenn has a world-class facility that allowed us to go to very low pressures to simulate the environment the spacecraft will operate in and better understand how our thrusters will perform around Psyche.

"At first glance, the results confirm our predictions regarding how the thruster will perform, and it looks like everything is working as expected. But, we will continue to refine our models by doing more analysis."

As the team works toward an anticipated August 2022 launch, they will use the data collected at NASA Glenn to update their thruster modeling and incorporate it into mission trajectories.

The scientific goals of the Psyche mission are to understand the building blocks of planet formation and explore firsthand a wholly new and unexplored type of world. The mission team seeks to determine whether Psyche is the core of an early planet, how old it is, whether it formed in similar ways to Earth's core, and what its surface is like.

Source: Jet Propulsion Laboratory

****

Thursday, September 28, 2017

Hubble's Successor Will Now Launch in 2019...

NASA's James Webb Space Telescope is about to be placed inside Chamber A at the Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas...on June 21, 2017.
NASA / Chris Gunn

NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope to be Launched Spring 2019 (News Release)

NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope now is planning to launch between March and June 2019 from French Guiana, following a schedule assessment of the remaining integration and test activities. Previously Webb was targeted to launch in October 2018.

“The change in launch timing is not indicative of hardware or technical performance concerns,” said Thomas Zurbuchen, associate administrator for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate at Headquarters in Washington. “Rather, the integration of the various spacecraft elements is taking longer than expected.”

As part of an international agreement with the ESA (European Space Agency) to provide a desired launch window one year prior to launch, NASA recently performed a routine schedule assessment to ensure launch preparedness and determined a launch schedule change was necessary. The careful analysis took into account the remaining tasks that needed to be completed, the lessons learned from unique environmental testing of the telescope and science instruments at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, and the current performance rates of integrating the spacecraft element.

Testing of the telescope and science instruments continues to go well and on schedule at NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas. The spacecraft itself, comprised of the spacecraft bus and sunshield, has experienced delays during its integration and testing at Northrop Grumman in Redondo Beach, California.

The additional environmental testing time of the fully assembled observatory--the telescope and the spacecraft--will ensure that Webb will be fully tested before launching into space. All the rigorous tests of the telescope and the spacecraft to date show the mission is meeting its required performance levels.

Existing program budget accommodates the change in launch date, and the change will not affect planned science observations.

“Webb’s spacecraft and sunshield are larger and more complex than most spacecraft. The combination of some integration activities taking longer than initially planned, such as the installation of more than 100 sunshield membrane release devices, factoring in lessons learned from earlier testing, like longer time spans for vibration testing, has meant the integration and testing process is just taking longer,” said Eric Smith, program director for the James Webb Space Telescope at NASA Headquarters in Washington. “Considering the investment NASA has made, and the good performance to date, we want to proceed very systematically through these tests to be ready for a Spring 2019 launch.”

The launch window request has been coordinated with ESA, which is providing the Ariane 5 launch of Webb as part of its scientific collaboration with NASA.

The James Webb Space Telescope is NASA’s next great multi-purpose observatory and will be the world’s most powerful space telescope ever built, serving thousands of astronomers worldwide. The 21-foot (6.5-meter) diameter infrared-optimized telescope is designed to study an extremely wide range of astrophysical phenomena: the first stars and galaxies that formed; the atmospheres of nearby planets outside our solar system, known as exoplanets; and objects within our own solar system. Webb is an international project led by NASA with its partners ESA and the Canadian Space Agency.

Source: NASA.Gov

****

NASA's James Webb Space Telescope sits inside Chamber A at the Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas.
NASA / Chris Gunn

Wednesday, September 27, 2017

Dawn Update: Marking One Decade Since Its Launch to the Asteroid Belt...

The Dawn spacecraft is launched from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida on September 27, 2007.
Tony Gray and Robert Murray for NASA / Carleton Bailie for United Launch Alliance

Dawn Mission Celebrates 10 Years in Space (Press Release)

Ten years ago, NASA's Dawn spacecraft set sail for the two most massive bodies in the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter: giant asteroid Vesta and dwarf planet Ceres. The mission was designed to deliver new knowledge about these small but intricate worlds, which hold clues to the formation of planets in our solar system.

"Our interplanetary spaceship has exceeded all expectations in the last decade, delivering amazing insights about these two fascinating bodies," said Chris Russell, principal investigator of the Dawn mission, based at the University of California, Los Angeles.

Since its launch on Sept. 27, 2007, Dawn has achieved numerous technical and scientific feats while traveling 4 billion miles (6 billion kilometers). It is the only spacecraft to orbit two extraterrestrial solar system targets. It is also the only spacecraft to orbit a dwarf planet, a milestone it achieved when in entered orbit around Ceres on March 6, 2015. The spacecraft's ion propulsion system enabled Dawn to study each of these worlds from a variety of vantage points and altitudes, creating an impressive scrapbook of 88,000 photos. Additionally, Dawn's suite of instruments enabled it to take a variety of other measurements of Vesta and Ceres, revealing the contrasting compositions and internal structures of these two bodies.

An image of asteroid Vesta that was taken by the Dawn spacecraft on July 24, 2011.
NASA / JPL - Caltech / UCLA / MPS / DLR / IDA

Vesta Highlights

Scientists learned a great deal about Vesta's geological features and composition during Dawn's 14 months of exploration there. A notable discovery was that Rheasilvia, a giant basin in Vesta's southern hemisphere, was even deeper and wider than scientists expected based on telescopic observations from Earth. It spans more than 310 miles (500 kilometers) and pierces about 12 miles (19 kilometers) into Vesta. The center of the crater also hosts a mountain twice the height of Mt. Everest -- the tallest feature seen in Dawn's 1,298 orbits of Vesta.

The massive punch into Vesta that carved out this crater happened about 1 billion years ago and caused huge amounts of material to rain down on the surface. The net result is that the surface of the southern hemisphere of Vesta is younger than the northern hemisphere, which retains a hefty record of craters. The Rheasilvia impact also created dozens of gorges circling Vesta's equator. Canyons there, some of which formed from an earlier impact, measure up to 290 miles (465 kilometers) in length.

Using data from the Dawn spacecraft's first science orbit in 2015, this image of Ceres approximates how the dwarf planet's colors would appear to the human eye.
NASA / JPL - Caltech / UCLA / MPS / DLR / IDA

Ceres Highlights

One of Dawn's biggest revelations at Ceres is the extremely bright, salty material in Occator Crater that gleams amid an otherwise dark area. What appeared to be a single white blob at a distance turned out to be a smattering of many bright areas called faculae. The central bright area, Cerealia Facula, has a dome at its center with radial fractures across it that appears reddish in enhanced color images. This "bright spot" suggests Ceres was geologically active in the very recent past, when briny water rose to the surface and deposited salts. Just to the east are the Vinalia Faculae, a constellation of less-bright spots distributed along fractures that also intrigue scientists. Ceres hosts more than 300 small bright areas, with some thought to host ice at northern latitudes.

Another huge surprise at Ceres was Ahuna Mons, which scientists believe formed as a cryovolcano, a volcano that erupted with salty water in the past. This "lonely mountain," 3 miles (5 kilometers) high on its steepest side, is unlike anything else on Ceres and remains a thriving research topic. Though both Ahuna Mons and Occator appear dormant, they suggest that liquid water flowed once beneath the surface of Ceres, and may even still be there today, if it is enriched in salts that would lower its freezing point.

A certificate commemorating my participation in the 'Send Your Name to the Asteroid Belt' project.

Dawn Science Continues

"The science team is still actively exploring the troves of data that Dawn has delivered so far, comparing these two fossils of the early solar system," said Carol Raymond, Dawn deputy principal investigator, based at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, California.

Since March 2015, Dawn has orbited Ceres 1,595 times. It remains healthy, currently in a 30-day elliptical orbit collecting data on cosmic rays in the vicinity of Ceres.

"This continues to be a mission for everyone who yearns for new knowledge, everyone who is curious about the cosmos, and everyone who is exhilarated by bold adventures into the unknown," said Marc Rayman, mission director and chief engineer, based at JPL.

Dawn's mission is managed by the Jet Propulsion Laboratory for NASA's Science Mission Directorate in Washington. Dawn is a project of the directorate's Discovery Program, managed by NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama. UCLA is responsible for overall Dawn mission science. Orbital ATK, Inc., in Dulles, Virginia, designed and built the spacecraft. The German Aerospace Center, the Max Planck Institute for Solar System Research, the Italian Space Agency and the Italian National Astrophysical Institute are international partners on the mission team.

Source: Jet Propulsion Laboratory

****

IMAGE 1: A photo taken by me of a microchip on display during the 2007 Open House at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory near Pasadena, California.  IMAGE 2: A technician installs the Dawn microchip onto the spacecraft.  IMAGE 3: The Dawn microchip now secured on the spacecraft.