Monday, November 12, 2018

Rest In Peace, Stan Lee (1922-2018)...

Stan Lee addresses the crowd at his Comikaze Expo in downtown Los Angeles, on November 2, 2013.

This month marks five years since I saw Stan Lee in person at his Comikaze Expo in Los Angeles. While the Marvel Universe and comic book fandom as a whole won't be the same without the legendary Lee to look up to after he passed away today, this is both a sad and joyous moment. It's a joyous moment because we can forever remember the Marvel visionary as a person whose amazing superhero creations—ranging from Fantastic Four, Iron Man and Spider-Man to Black Panther and The Avengers—are popular icons that millions of fans around the world can continue to be inspired by...both on paper and on the big screen. At 95 years-old, Stan Lee lived a full life that had a positive impact on dreamers around the globe. So I won't end this entry by saying 'Rest In Peace' again, but by exclaiming Excelsior!

Miniature movie maquettes of IRON MAN—one of Stan Lee's iconic comic book creations—on display at his Comikaze Expo in downtown Los Angeles, on November 2, 2013.

Saturday, November 10, 2018

Photo of the Day: An Orange Half-Moon in the Sky...

A snapshot I took of the Waxing Crescent Moon...which was tinted orange by smoke coming from the Woolsey Fire near Malibu, California, on November 10, 2018.

Just thought I'd share this pic (shot with my Nikon D3300 DSLR camera) that I took of tonight's Waxing Crescent Moon...which is tinted orange from all of the smoke coming from the Woolsey Fire still burning near Malibu (about 74 miles from where I live in Pomona), California. The last time I took photos of the Moon, it was back in late January...when it had a crimson hue due to the fact that it was a Super Blue Blood Moon (a.k.a. a Supermoon that was also a Blue Moon which occurred during a lunar eclipse, also called a Blood Moon). Like that winter snapshot, I wish today's image was also taken in less dire circumstances.

My sympathies to those who lost their loved ones and homes during the tragic wildfires currently raging in northern and southern California.

Tuesday, November 06, 2018

America Is Slowly Regaining Its Soul...

Even though the Republicans retained control of the Senate, Russian patsy Donald Trump will STILL be screwed by the House Democrats.

I have to get things ready for work tomorrow, so I'll just leave these images here for your enjoyment. Do your research online, and you'll know why a Democrat-led House of Representatives is good for the United States, and bad for Donald Trump.

Speaking of Trump, looks like he'll have to find another Cox-sucker to do his bidding here in California. Congrats to Gavin Newsom, who will soon become my state's next governor! Carry on.

Can't wait for you to release Trump's tax returns, House Democrats!

Thursday, November 01, 2018

The Sun Has Set on Dawn's Mission...

Enhanced color images of asteroid Vesta and dwarf planet Ceres...which were explored by NASA's Dawn spacecraft in 2011 and 2015, respectively.
NASA / JPL - Caltech

NASA’s Dawn Mission to Asteroid Belt Comes to End (Press Release)

NASA’s Dawn spacecraft has gone silent, ending a historic mission that studied time capsules from the solar system’s earliest chapter.

Dawn missed scheduled communications sessions with NASA's Deep Space Network on Wednesday, Oct. 31, and Thursday, Nov. 1. After the flight team eliminated other possible causes for the missed communications, mission managers concluded that the spacecraft finally ran out of hydrazine, the fuel that enables the spacecraft to control its pointing. Dawn can no longer keep its antennae trained on Earth to communicate with mission control or turn its solar panels to the Sun to recharge.

The Dawn spacecraft launched 11 years ago to visit the two largest objects in the main asteroid belt. Currently, it’s in orbit around the dwarf planet Ceres, where it will remain for decades.

“Today, we celebrate the end of our Dawn mission – its incredible technical achievements, the vital science it gave us, and the entire team who enabled the spacecraft to make these discoveries,” said Thomas Zurbuchen, associate administrator of NASA’s Science Mission Directorate in Washington. “The astounding images and data that Dawn collected from Vesta and Ceres are critical to understanding the history and evolution of our solar system.”

Dawn launched in 2007 on a journey that put about 4.3 billion miles (6.9 billion kilometers) on its odometer. Propelled by ion engines, the spacecraft achieved many firsts along the way. In 2011, when Dawn arrived at Vesta, the second largest world in the main asteroid belt, the spacecraft became the first to orbit a body in the region between Mars and Jupiter. In 2015, when Dawn went into orbit around Ceres, a dwarf planet that is also the largest world in the asteroid belt, the mission became the first to visit a dwarf planet and go into orbit around two destinations beyond Earth.

"The fact that my car's license plate frame proclaims, 'My other vehicle is in the main asteroid belt,' shows how much pride I take in Dawn," said Mission Director and Chief Engineer Marc Rayman at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL). "The demands we put on Dawn were tremendous, but it met the challenge every time. It's hard to say goodbye to this amazing spaceship, but it’s time."

The data Dawn beamed back to Earth from its four science experiments enabled scientists to compare two planet-like worlds that evolved very differently. Among its accomplishments, Dawn showed how important location was to the way objects in the early solar system formed and evolved. Dawn also reinforced the idea that dwarf planets could have hosted oceans over a significant part of their history – and potentially still do.

“In many ways, Dawn’s legacy i­s just beginning,” said Princ­­ipal Investigator Carol Raymond at JPL. “Dawn’s data sets will be deeply mined by scientists working on how planets grow and differentiate, and when and where life could have formed in our solar system. Ceres and Vesta are important to the study of distant planetary systems, too, as they provide a glimpse of the conditions that may exist around young stars.”

Because Ceres has conditions of interest to scientists who study chemistry that leads to the development of life, NASA follows strict planetary protection protocols for the disposal of the Dawn spacecraft. Dawn will remain in orbit for at least 20 years, and engineers have more than 99 percent confidence the orbit will last for at least 50 years.

So, while the mission plan doesn't provide the closure of a final, fiery plunge – the way NASA’s Cassini spacecraft ended last year, for example – at least this is certain: Dawn spent every last drop of hydrazine making science observations of Ceres and radioing them back so we could learn more about the solar system we call home.

The Dawn mission is managed by JPL 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. JPL is responsible for overall Dawn mission science. Northrop Grumman in Dulles, Virginia, designed and built the spacecraft. The German Aerospace Center, Max Planck Institute for Solar System Research, Italian Space Agency and Italian National Astrophysical Institute are international partners on the mission team.

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A Delta II rocket carrying 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

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.

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

Wednesday, October 31, 2018

New Horizons Update: Only Two Months Till the Ultima Thule Flyby!

An artist's concept of NASA's New Horizons spacecraft flying past the Kuiper Belt Object nicknamed 'Ultima Thule.'
NASA / Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory / Southwest Research Institute

So I just realized that NASA's New Horizons spacecraft makes its closest approach to Kuiper Belt Object (KBO) 2014 MU69—also nicknamed Ultima Thule—exactly two months from today! New Horizons flies past the KBO at 9:33 PM, Pacific Standard Time, on December 31...or 12:33 AM, Eastern Standard Time, on January 1, 2019.

I hope all of you are having a safe and fun Halloween! No trick-or-treaters stopped by my house for candy tonight, fortunately. Of course, trick-or-treaters haven't been stopping by my house for over half a decade now... Thank you, snooty Los Angeles County neighborhood that I live in! That was a compliment.

The green line marks the path traveled by the New Horizons spacecraft as of 9:00 PM, Pacific Daylight Time, on October 31, 2018. It is 4 billion miles from Earth.
ABOVE: The green line marks the path traveled by the New Horizons spacecraft as of 9:00 PM,
Pacific Daylight Time, on October 31, 2018. It is 4 billion miles from Earth. Click
here to view the
official webpage showing where New Horizons is in space. (AU stands for Astronomical Units, in case you're wondering.)

Tuesday, October 30, 2018

Farewell, Kepler, and We Thank You...

An illustration depicting NASA's Kepler spacecraft and the multitude of exoplanets that it discovered since its mission began in early 2009.
NASA / Wendy Stenzel / Daniel Rutter

NASA Retires Kepler Space Telescope, Passes Planet-Hunting Torch (Press Release)

After nine years in deep space collecting data that indicate our sky to be filled with billions of hidden planets – more planets even than stars – NASA’s Kepler space telescope has run out of fuel needed for further science operations. NASA has decided to retire the spacecraft within its current, safe orbit, away from Earth. Kepler leaves a legacy of more than 2,600 planet discoveries from outside our solar system, many of which could be promising places for life.

"As NASA's first planet-hunting mission, Kepler has wildly exceeded all our expectations and paved the way for our exploration and search for life in the solar system and beyond," said Thomas Zurbuchen, associate administrator of NASA's Science Mission Directorate in Washington. "Not only did it show us how many planets could be out there, it sparked an entirely new and robust field of research that has taken the science community by storm. Its discoveries have shed a new light on our place in the universe, and illuminated the tantalizing mysteries and possibilities among the stars.”

Kepler has opened our eyes to the diversity of planets that exist in our galaxy. The most recent analysis of Kepler’s discoveries concludes that 20 to 50 percent of the stars visible in the night sky are likely to have small, possibly rocky, planets similar in size to Earth, and located within the habitable zone of their parent stars. That means they’re located at distances from their parent stars where liquid water – a vital ingredient to life as we know it – might pool on the planet surface.

The most common size of planet Kepler found doesn’t exist in our solar system – a world between the size of Earth and Neptune – and we have much to learn about these planets. Kepler also found nature often produces jam-packed planetary systems, in some cases with so many planets orbiting close to their parent stars that our own inner solar system looks sparse by comparison.

"When we started conceiving this mission 35 years ago we didn't know of a single planet outside our solar system," said the Kepler mission's founding principal investigator, William Borucki, now retired from NASA’s Ames Research Center in California’s Silicon Valley. "Now that we know planets are everywhere, Kepler has set us on a new course that's full of promise for future generations to explore our galaxy."

Launched on March 6, 2009, the Kepler space telescope combined cutting-edge techniques in measuring stellar brightness with the largest digital camera outfitted for outer space observations at that time. Originally positioned to stare continuously at 150,000 stars in one star-studded patch of the sky in the constellation Cygnus, Kepler took the first survey of planets in our galaxy and became the agency's first mission to detect Earth-size planets in the habitable zones of their stars.

"The Kepler mission was based on a very innovative design. It was an extremely clever approach to doing this kind of science," said Leslie Livesay, director for astronomy and physics at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, who served as Kepler project manager during mission development. "There were definitely challenges, but Kepler had an extremely talented team of scientists and engineers who overcame them.”

Four years into the mission, after the primary mission objectives had been met, mechanical failures temporarily halted observations. The mission team was able to devise a fix, switching the spacecraft’s field of view roughly every three months. This enabled an extended mission for the spacecraft, dubbed K2, which lasted as long as the first mission and bumped Kepler's count of surveyed stars up to more than 500,000.

The observation of so many stars has allowed scientists to better understand stellar behaviors and properties, which is critical information in studying the planets that orbit them. New research into stars with Kepler data also is furthering other areas of astronomy, such as the history of our Milky Way galaxy and the beginning stages of exploding stars called supernovae that are used to study how fast the universe is expanding. The data from the extended mission were also made available to the public and science community immediately, allowing discoveries to be made at an incredible pace and setting a high bar for other missions. Scientists are expected to spend a decade or more in search of new discoveries in the treasure trove of data Kepler provided.

"We know the spacecraft's retirement isn't the end of Kepler's discoveries," said Jessie Dotson, Kepler's project scientist at NASA’s Ames Research Center in California’s Silicon Valley. "I'm excited about the diverse discoveries that are yet to come from our data and how future missions will build upon Kepler's results."

Before retiring the spacecraft, scientists pushed Kepler to its full potential, successfully completing multiple observation campaigns and downloading valuable science data even after initial warnings of low fuel. The latest data, from Campaign 19, will complement the data from NASA’s newest planet hunter, the Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite, launched in April. TESS builds on Kepler's foundation with fresh batches of data in its search of planets orbiting some 200,000 of the brightest and nearest stars to the Earth, worlds that can later be explored for signs of life by missions, such as NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope.

NASA's Ames Research Center in California's Silicon Valley manages the Kepler and K2 missions for NASA's Science Mission Directorate. NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, managed Kepler mission development. Ball Aerospace & Technologies Corporation in Boulder, Colorado, operates the flight system with support from the Laboratory for Atmospheric and Space Physics at the University of Colorado in Boulder.

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Kepler mission Deputy Principal Investigator Dave Koch points to the 'Name in Space' DVD that is about to be attached to the Kepler spacecraft prior to its launch on March 6, 2009.
Ball Aerospace & Technologies Corp.

My 'Name in Space' certificate.

Sunday, October 28, 2018

Dodgers, Dodgers, Dodgers (Part 2)...

The Boston Red Sox are the new World Series champions after defeating the Los Angeles Dodgers, 5-1, in Game 5 at Dodger Stadium...on October 28, 2018.
Major League Baseball

So this is the second year in a row that the opposing team celebrated on your home field, Dodgers. You're good enough to reach the World Series but clearly not smart enough to win a championship. But hey— I'm sure you'll return to the Fall Classic next year... Go Doyers!

On a less sarcastic note, the L.A. Rams are still undefeated (at 8-0)! Word.

Saturday, October 27, 2018

Dodgers, Dodgers, Dodgers...

If Los Angeles officially gets eliminated by the Boston Red Sox tomorrow night, only to return to the World Series next year, they'll most likely be the baseball equivalent of the NFL's Buffalo Bills. Or the NBA's Utah Jazz. Or the New Jersey Nets. Or the Oklahoma City Thunder. Or...

Good job, Dave Roberts. What is it with the Dodgers making absolutely terrible decisions regarding the pitching staff for the 2017 and 2018 World Series? First, Yu Darvish starts in Game 7 last year—to disastrous consequences—and now Rich Hill is replaced in the 7th inning tonight to equally disastrous consequences (L.A. had a 4-0 lead going into the 7th inning, only to finish the game losing 9-6)... Totally lame.

Come tomorrow night, Los Angeles Dodgers manager Dave Roberts should be the MVP for his former team/soon-to-be 2018 World Series champions: the Boston Red Sox.

Friday, October 26, 2018

Goin' Up to the Big Fish Tank in the Sky...

My 6-year-old goldfish went up to the Big Fish Tank in the Sky on October 26, 2018. Rest in peace, buddy.

Rest In Peace, Goldfish. You probably should've been given a proper name during the 6 years that you graced the aquarium in my family den...just floatin' around and eatin' PetSmart-bought food twice a day.

As you can see in the pic above, Fisher (I'll name the fish after former Laker and 5-time NBA champion Derek Fisher for this Blog entry) is so big that we couldn't flush him down the toilet. So he's inside a plastic bag in the freezer in my garage—waiting for a proper burial...which will be next Friday. 'Cause that's when the garbage truck shows up to pick up our trash. Have a great weekend!

This is the first time in almost 20 years that my aquarium was completely bereft of fish...

Thursday, October 25, 2018

Hayabusa2 Update: My Name Is On An Asteroid!

Hayabusa2's shadow is visible on the surface of Ryugu after a target marker (the white point inside the green circle) containing the names of 180,000 people successfully landed on the asteroid...on October 25, 2018 (Japan Time).
JAXA

Earlier today, Japan's Hayabusa2 spacecraft successfully conducted a third touchdown rehearsal at asteroid Ryugu in preparation for a sample retrieval attempt that will occur sometime early next year. During the rehearsal, Hayabusa2 got as close as 39 feet (12 meters) to the surface—before ascending to a home position more than 6 miles (10 kilometers) above Ryugu. During this third rehearsal, Hayabusa2 released a target marker (one of five that it is equipped with) that helped track the orbiter's distance from the asteroid's surface. While successfully being a vital navigation aid for Japan's robotic probe, the target marker served another awesome purpose.

A pre-launch snapshot of three of the five target markers that the Hayabusa2 spacecraft is equipped with for its mission at asteroid Ryugu.
JAXA

Inside each of the five target markers aboard Hayabusa2 is a film strip containing the names of 180,000 people...including me! These names were submitted online between April and August of 2013. Along with Mars (courtesy of the Phoenix lander, the Curiosity rover and hopefully InSight when it arrives at the Red Planet on November 26), Ryugu is now the second planetary body beyond Earth in our solar system that I have a virtual presence on. So cool! When Hayabusa2 departs from Ryugu in December of next year to return samples back to Earth (in December of 2020), at least two target markers will be left behind on the asteroid's surface. And Ryugu will continue its 475-day orbit around the Sun with 180,000 monikers gracing its soil. Okay, I'll stop waxing poetic for now. Happy Thursday!

A strip of film, containing around 180,000 names submitted through the Internet in 2013, that is one of five placed inside target markers to be used by Hayabusa2 at asteroid Ryugu.
JAXA My participation certificate for the Hayabusa2 mission.