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Tuesday, December 31, 2013

New Horizons Update...

A New Horizons LEGO® toy.

Just thought I'd end 2013 by posting this link supporting the effort to get a miniature New Horizons model made by LEGO®. LEGO will consider making this collectible once the petition reaches 10,000 supporters. Speaking of supporters, visit this other petition to get the New Horizons Message Initiative approved by NASA. The first 10,000 signers will get their names transmitted along with this digital time capsule to the spacecraft in 2016 (after all of the data from the previous year's Pluto flyby has been sent back to Earth). And to make you even more excited about this deep space mission, Pluto encounter operations will begin about a year from now...in January of 2015! Can't wait.

A New Horizons Message Initiative poster.

A New Horizons Message Initiative poster in Spanish.

A New Horizons Message Initiative poster in Russian.

A New Horizons Message Initiative poster in German.

A New Horizons Message Initiative poster in Hebrew.

A New Horizons Message Initiative poster in Arabic.

A New Horizons Message Initiative poster in Japanese.

A New Horizons Message Initiative poster in Afrikaan.

A New Horizons Message Initiative poster in Chinese.

NEW HORIZONS Blog Entries Archive:

September 26, 2005
December 19, 2005
January 7, 2006
January 17, 2006
January 19, 2006
April 12, 2006
June 15, 2006
February 27, 2007
October 22, 2007
June 8, 2008
October 23, 2008
March 18, 2011
January 20, 2012
July 13, 2012
January 19, 2013
October 31, 2013
December 31, 2013

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Merry Christmas, Everyone!

A baby squirrel and its new best friend.
imgur.com

For all of you animal lovers out there, just thought I'd post these pics that were included in a feel-good article about a guy who found a sick baby squirrel out in the cold...and made it a new member of his family after nursing the squirrel back to health. You'd have to click on the aforementioned link to get that nice cuddly feeling seeing this little guy recover—and make some new furry friends in the process. Don't worry, I'll be back to blogging about space exploration, the USS Iowa, the Freedom Tower and other stuff in no time. Happy Holidays, y'all!

This baby squirrel was rescued after being found freezing out in the cold.
imgur.com

The baby squirrel and its two new best friends.
imgur.com

The story of the baby squirrel has went viral on the Web.
imgur.com

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Photo of the Day...

Despite my utter disdain for China (hey, I AM Filipino), just thought I'd share this cool image of the Yutu rover that was taken by the Chang'e 3 lander after the joint spacecraft touched down on the Moon's surface yesterday. Had Beijing allowed the public (Chinese and otherwise) to submit names to be flown aboard the probes a la Japan with the Kaguya mission in 2007 and NASA with the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter in 2009, I probably wouldn't feel as much contempt for China as I do now. But that's not the case...so up yours, Beijing. But congrats on this latest accomplishment!

An image of China's Yutu rover that was taken by the country's Chang'e 3 lander after the joint spacecraft touched down on the Moon's surface on December 14, 2013.

Thursday, December 12, 2013

(About Europa...) Hubble Does It Again!

An artist's concept of a plume of water vapor ejecting from the surface of Europa, one of Jupiter's moons.
NASA / ESA / K. Retherford / SWRI

Hubble Space Telescope Sees Evidence of Water Vapor Venting off Jovian Moon (Press Release)

NASA's Hubble Space Telescope has observed water vapor above the frigid south polar region of Jupiter's moon Europa, providing the first strong evidence of water plumes erupting off the moon's surface.

Previous scientific findings from other sources already point to the existence of an ocean located under Europa's icy crust. Researchers are not yet certain whether the detected water vapor is generated by water plumes erupting on the surface, but they are confident this is the most likely explanation.

Should further observations support the finding, it would make Europa the second moon in the solar system known to have water vapor plumes. The findings were published in the Thursday, Dec. 12, online issue of Science Express, and reported at the meeting of the American Geophysical Union in San Francisco.

"By far the simplest explanation for this water vapor is that it erupted from plumes on the surface of Europa," said lead author Lorenz Roth of Southwest Research Institute in San Antonio. "If those plumes are connected with the subsurface water ocean we are confident exists under Europa's crust, then this means that future investigations can directly investigate the chemical makeup of Europa's potentially habitable environment without drilling through layers of ice. And that is tremendously exciting,"

In 2005, NASA's Cassini orbiter detected jets of water vapor and dust spewing off the surface of Saturn's moon Enceladus. Although ice and dust particles subsequently have been found in the Enceladus plumes, only water vapor gases have been measured at Europa so far.

Hubble spectroscopic observations provided the evidence for Europa plumes in December 2012. Time sampling of Europa’s aurora emissions measured by Hubble's imaging spectrograph enabled the researchers to distinguish between features created by charged particles from Jupiter's magnetic bubble and plumes from Europa’s surface, and to also rule out more exotic explanations such as serendipitously observing a rare meteorite impact.

The imaging spectrograph detected faint ultraviolet light from an aurora, powered by Jupiter's intense magnetic field, near the moon's south pole. Excited atomic oxygen and hydrogen produce a variable aurora glow and leave a telltale sign that they are products of water molecules being broken apart by electrons along magnetic field lines.

"We pushed Hubble to its limits to see this very faint emission. These could be stealth plumes, because they might be tenuous and difficult to observe in the visible light." said Joachim Saur of the University of Cologne in Germany. Saur, who is principal investigator of the Hubble observation campaign, co-wrote the paper with Roth.

Roth suggested long cracks on Europa's surface, known as lineae, might be venting water vapor into space. Cassini has seen similar fissures that host Enceladus' jets.

Also like Enceladus, the Hubble team found the intensity of the plumes varies with Europa's orbital position. Active jets have been seen only when Europa is farthest from Jupiter. But the researchers could not detect any sign of venting when Europa is closer to Jupiter.

One explanation for the variability is these lineae experience more stress as gravitational tidal forces push and pull on the moon and open vents at larger distances from Jupiter. The vents are narrowed or closed when the moon is closest to the gas giant planet.

"The apparent plume variability supports a key prediction that Europa should tidally flex by a significant amount if it has a subsurface ocean," said Kurt Retherford, also of Southwest Research Institute.

Europa's and Enceladus' plumes have remarkably similar abundances of water vapor. Because Europa has roughly 12 times more gravitational pull than Enceladus, the vapor, whose temperature is measured at minus 40 degrees Celsius, does not escape into space as it does at Enceladus. Instead, it falls back onto the surface after reaching an altitude of 125 miles, according to the Hubble measurements. This could leave bright surface features near the moon's south polar region, the researchers hypothesize.

"If confirmed, this new observation once again shows the power of the Hubble Space Telescope to explore and opens a new chapter in our search for potentially habitable environments in our solar system" said John Grunsfeld, an astronaut who participated in Hubble servicing missions and now serves as NASA's associate administrator for science in Washington. "The effort and risk we took to upgrade and repair Hubble becomes all the more worthwhile when we learn about exciting discoveries like this one from Europa."

The Hubble Space Telescope is a project of international cooperation between NASA and the European Space Agency. NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md., manages the telescope. The Space Telescope Science Institute (STScI) conducts Hubble science operations. The Association of Universities for Research in Astronomy Inc. in Washington operates STScI for NASA.

Source: NASA.Gov

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This image shows the location of water vapor detected over the south pole of Europa in observations taken by NASA's Hubble Space Telescope...in December of 2012.
NASA / ESA / L. Roth / SWRI / University of Cologne

Monday, December 09, 2013

Cool News From The Red Planet...

An illustration depicting the concept of a possible ancient lake inside Gale Crater on Mars.
NASA / JPL - Caltech / MSSS

NASA Curiosity: First Mars Age Measurement and Human Exploration Help (Press Release)

NASA's Curiosity rover is providing vital insight about Mars' past and current environments that will aid plans for future robotic and human missions.

In a little more than a year on the Red Planet, the mobile Mars Science Laboratory has determined the age of a Martian rock, found evidence the planet could have sustained microbial life, taken the first readings of radiation on the surface, and shown how natural erosion could reveal the building blocks of life. Curiosity team members presented these results and more from Curiosity in six papers published online today by Science Express and in talks at the Fall Meeting of the American Geophysical Union in San Francisco.

The Age of 'Cumberland'

The second rock Curiosity drilled for a sample on Mars, which scientists nicknamed "Cumberland," is the first ever to be dated from an analysis of its mineral ingredients while it sits on another planet. A report by Kenneth Farley of the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena, and co-authors, estimates the age of Cumberland at 3.86 billion to 4.56 billion years old. This is in the range of earlier estimates for rocks in Gale Crater, where Curiosity is working.

"The age is not surprising, but what is surprising is that this method worked using measurements performed on Mars," said Farley. "When you're confirming a new methodology, you don't want the first result to be something unexpected. Our understanding of the antiquity of the Martian surface seems to be right."

The analysis of Cumberland from a sample drilled by Curiosity was a fundamental and unprecedented measurement considered unlikely when the rover landed in 2012. Farley and his co-authors adapted a 60-year-old radiometric method for dating Earth rocks that measures the decay of an isotope of potassium as it slowly changes into argon, an inert gas. Argon escapes when a rock is melted. This dating method measures the amount of argon that accumulates when the rock hardens again.

Before they could measure rocks directly on Mars, scientists estimated their ages by counting and comparing the numbers of impact craters on various areas of the planet. The crater densities are correlated with ages based on comparisons with crater densities on the moon, which were tied to absolute dates after the Apollo lunar missions returned rocks to Earth.

Farley and co-authors also assessed how long Cumberland has been within about an arm's reach of the Martian surface, where cosmic rays that hit atoms in the rock produce gas buildups that Curiosity can measure.

Analyses of three different gases yielded exposure ages in the range of 60 million to 100 million years. This suggests shielding layers above the rock were stripped away relatively recently. Combined with clues of wind erosion Curiosity observed, the exposure-age discovery points to a pattern of windblown sand chewing away at relatively thick layers of rock. The eroding layer forms a retreating vertical face, or scarp.

"The exposure rate is surprisingly fast," Farley said. "The place where you'll find the rocks with the youngest exposure age will be right next to the downwind scarps."

From Rocks to Building Blocks?

Finding rocks with the youngest exposure age is important in the mission's investigations of whether organic chemicals are preserved from ancient environments. Organic chemicals are building blocks for life, although they also can be produced without any biology.

"We're making progress on the path to determining whether there are Martian organics in there," Doug Ming, of NASA's Johnson Space Center, Houston, said of the Cumberland rock sample. "We detect organics but can't rule out that they might be brought along from Earth." Curiosity detected higher amounts in Cumberland than it did in in either test runs with Martian soil samples or analysis of empty sample cups. Increasing the amount of rock powder in the test cup increased the amount of organic content detected.

Favorable for Life

Ming is the lead author of a new report about a site called "Yellowknife Bay." The team reported 10 months ago that the first rock Curiosity drilled there, nicknamed "John Klein," yielded evidence that met the mission's goal of identifying a Martian environment favorable for microbial life long ago. Yellowknife Bay's clay-rich lakebed habitat offers the key chemical elements for life, plus water not too acidic or salty, and an energy source. The energy source is a type used by many rock-eating microbes on Earth: a mix of sulfur- and iron-containing minerals that are ready acceptors of electrons, and others that are ready electron donors, like the two poles of a battery.

Not only has Curiosity accomplished its primary goal of finding evidence for an ancient environment that could have supported life, but it also has provided evidence habitable conditions existed more recently than expected and likely persisted for millions of years.

Additional new results from Curiosity are providing the first readings of radiation hazards at Mars' surface, which will aid planning of human missions to Mars. Other findings will guide the search for evidence of life on Mars by improving insight about how erosion may expose buried clues of molecular building blocks of life.

New estimates of when habitable conditions existed at Yellowknife Bay and how long they persisted come from details of rocks' composition and layering. It is thought that Mars had enough fresh water to generate clay minerals -- and possibly support life -- more than 4 billion years ago, but that the planet underwent drying that left any remaining liquid water acidic and briny. A key question was whether the clay minerals at Yellowknife Bay formed earlier, upstream on the rim of Gale Crater where the bits of rock originated, or later, downstream where the rock particles were carried by water and deposited.

Scott McLennan of Stony Brook University in Stony Brook, N.Y., and co-authors found that chemical elements in the rocks indicate the particles were carried from their upstream source area to Yellowknife Bay and that most chemical weathering occurred after they were deposited. The loss of elements that leach easily, such as calcium and sodium, would be noticeable if the weathering that turns some volcanic minerals into clay minerals had happened upstream. Scientists did not notice such leaching.

David Vaniman of the Planetary Science Institute in Tucson, Ariz., and co-authors found supporting evidence in a separate mineral analysis of sedimentary rocks at Yellowknife Bay. They noticed a lack of olivine and an abundance of magnetite, which suggests the rocks turned to clay after they washed downstream. The presence of smectite tells about conditions where the clay formed.

"Smectite is the typical clay mineral in lake deposits," Vaniman said. "It is commonly called a swelling clay -- the kind that sticks to your boot when you step in it. You find biologically rich environments where you find smectites on Earth."

John Grotzinger of Caltech and co-authors examined physical characteristics of rock layers in and near Yellowknife Bay and concluded the habitable environment there existed at a time "relatively young by Martian standards." It was a part of Martian history called the Hesperian Era, when parts of the planet were already becoming drier and more acidic, less than 4 billion years ago and roughly the same time as the oldest evidence for life on Earth.

"This habitable environment existed later than many people thought there would be one," Grotzinger said. "This has global implications. It's from a time when there were deltas, alluvial fans and other signs of surface water at many places on Mars, but those were considered too young, or too short-lived, to have formed clay minerals. The thinking was, if they had clay minerals, those must have washed in from older deposits. Now, we know the clay minerals could be produced later, and that gives us many locations that may have had habitable environments, too."

Research suggests habitable conditions in the Yellowknife Bay area may have persisted for millions to tens of millions of years. During that time rivers and lakes probably appeared and disappeared. Even when the surface was dry, the subsurface likely was wet, as indicated by mineral veins deposited by underground water into fractures in the rock. The thickness of observed and inferred tiers of rock layers provides the basis for estimating long duration, and the discovery of a mineral energy source for underground microbes favors habitability throughout.

Implications for Human Explorers

Today's reports include the first measurements of the natural radiation environment on the surface of Mars. Cosmic rays from outside our solar system and energetic particles from the sun bombarded the surface at Gale Crater with an average of 0.67 millisieverts per day from August 2012 to June 2013, according to a report by Don Hassler of Southwest Research Institute in Boulder, Colo., and co-authors. For comparison, radiation exposure from a typical chest X-ray is about 0.02 millisievert. That 10-month measurement period did not include any major solar storms affecting Mars, and more than 95 percent of the total came from cosmic rays.

Results from the surface-radiation monitoring provide an additional piece of the puzzle for projecting the total round-trip radiation dose for a future human mission to Mars. Added to dose rates Curiosity measured during its flight to Mars, the Mars surface results project a total round-trip dose rate for a future human mission at the same period in the solar cycle to be on the order of 1,000 millisieverts.

Long-term population studies have shown exposure to radiation increases a person's lifetime cancer risk. Exposure to a dose of 1,000 millisieverts is associated with a 5 percent increase in risk for developing fatal cancer. NASA's current career limit for increased risk for its astronauts currently operating in low-Earth orbit is 3 percent. The agency is working with the Institute of Medicine of the National Academies to address the ethics, principles and guidelines for health standards for long duration and exploration spaceflight missions.

The radiation detected by Curiosity is consistent with earlier predictions. The new data will help NASA scientists and engineers create better models to anticipate the radiation environment human explorers will face, as the agency develops new technologies to protect astronauts in deep space.

"Our measurements provide crucial information for human missions to Mars," Hassler said. "We're continuing to monitor the radiation environment and seeing the effects of major solar storms on the surface at different times in the solar cycle, will give additional important data. Our measurements also tie into Curiosity's investigations about habitability. The radiation sources that are concerns for human health also affect microbial survival as well as preservation of organic chemicals."

If any organic chemicals that are potential signs of life did exist within rocks at about 2 inches (5 centimeters), the depth of Curiosity's drill, Hassler estimated they would be depleted up to 1,000-fold in about 650 million years by radiation at the exposure rate measured in Curiosity's first 10 months. However, the Cumberland rock that Curiosity sampled with its drill at Yellowknife Bay had been exposed to cosmic rays' effects for only about 60 million to 100 million years, by Farley's estimate. Researchers calculate that, with such a young exposure age, enough organic material could still be present in Cumberland to be detectable. Even if Mars has never supported life, the planet receives organic molecules delivered by meteorites, which should leave a detectable trace.

NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory built Curiosity and manages the mission for NASA's Science Mission Directorate, Washington.

Source: Jet Propulsion Laboratory

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An image of Yellowknife Bay at Gale Crater on Mars, taken by NASA's Curiosity rover on December 24, 2012.
NASA / JPL - Caltech / MSSS

Saturday, December 07, 2013

Quote of the Day...

"You may not be her first, her last, or her only. She loved before she may love again. But if she loves you now, what else matters? She's not perfect—you aren't either, and the two of you may never be perfect together but if she can make you laugh, cause you to think twice, and admit to being human and making mistakes, hold onto her and give her the most you can. She may not be thinking about you every second of the day, but she will give you a part of her that she knows you can break—her heart. So don't hurt her, don't change her, don't analyze and don't expect more than she can give. Smile when she makes you happy, let her know when she makes you mad, and miss her when she's not there."

-― Bob Marley

Thursday, December 05, 2013

Nelson Mandela (1918-2013)

Rest In Peace, Mr. Mandela... Less than a week after the car accident that took actor Paul Walker's life left us in mourning, another good man passed away today. But as one of my relatives pointed out through Facebook this evening, one influential person departed from us too soon...and the other departed from us with a legacy. Mandela was 95.

Nelson Mandela was responsible for ending apartheid in his homeland of South Africa.

Tuesday, December 03, 2013

A Random Public Service Announcement...

This world is filled with crazy people. Watch out for them.

I stumbled upon this article on Facebook. Cut-and-pasted here for your benefit...

WRITTEN BY A COP: Everyone should take 5 minutes to read this. It may save your life or a loved one's life. In daylight hours, refresh yourself of these things to do in an emergency situation... This is for you, and for you to share with your wife, your children, and everyone you know. After reading these 9 crucial tips, forward them to someone you care about. It never hurts to be careful in this crazy world we live in.

1.) A tip from Taekwondo: The elbow is the strongest point on your body. If you are close enough to use it, do!

2.) Learned this from a tourist guide: If a robber asks for your wallet and/or purse, DO NOT HAND IT TO HIM. Toss it away from you... Chances are that he is more interested in your wallet and/or purse than you, and he will go for the wallet/purse instead. RUN LIKE MAD IN THE OTHER DIRECTION!

3.) If you are ever thrown into the trunk of a car, kick out the back tail lights and stick your arm out of the hole and start waving like crazy. The driver won't see you, but everybody else will. This has saved lives.

4.) Women have a tendency to get into their cars after shopping, eating, working, etc., and just sit there (doing their checkbook, texting on their smartphone, or making a list, etc. DON'T DO THIS!). The predator will be watching you, and this is the perfect opportunity for him to get in on the passenger side, put a gun to your head, and tell you where to go. AS SOON AS YOU GET INTO YOUR CAR, LOCK THE DOORS AND LEAVE...

If someone is in the car with a gun to your head, DO NOT DRIVE OFF. Repeat: DO NOT DRIVE OFF! Instead gun the engine and speed into anything, wrecking the car. Your airbag will save you. If the person is in the back seat they will get the worst of it. As soon as the car crashes, bail out and run. It is better than having them find your body in a remote location.

5.) A few notes about getting into your car in a parking lot, or parking garage:

A. BE AWARE: Look around you, look into your car, at the passenger side floor, and in the back seat.

B. If you are parked next to a big van, enter your car from the passenger door. Most serial killers attack their victims by pulling them into their vans while the women are attempting to get into their cars.

C. Look at the car parked on the driver's side of your vehicle, and the passenger side... If a male is sitting alone in the seat nearest your car, you may want to walk back into the mall, or work, and get a guard/policeman to escort you back out. IT IS ALWAYS BETTER TO BE SAFE THAN SORRY. (And better paranoid than dead.)

6.) ALWAYS take the elevator instead of the stairs. Stairwells are horrible places to be alone and the perfect crime spot. This is especially true at NIGHT!

7.) If the predator has a gun and you are not under his control, ALWAYS RUN! The predator will only hit you (a running target) 4 in 100 times; and even then, it most likely WILL NOT be a vital organ. RUN, preferably in a zig-zag pattern!

8.) As women, we are always trying to be sympathetic: STOP. It may get you raped, or killed. Ted Bundy, the serial killer, was a good-looking, well-educated man, who ALWAYS played on the sympathies of unsuspecting women. He walked with a cane, or a limp, and often asked 'for help' into his vehicle or with his vehicle, which is when he abducted his next victim.

9.) Another Safety Point: Someone just told me that her friend heard a crying baby on her porch the night before last, and she called the police because it was late and she thought it was weird. The police told her 'Whatever you do, DO NOT open the door...' The lady then said that it sounded like the baby had crawled near a window, and she was worried that it would crawl to the street and get run over. The policeman said, 'We already have a unit on the way, whatever you do, DO NOT open the door.' He told her that they think a serial killer has a baby's cry recorded and uses it to coax women out of their homes thinking that someone dropped off a baby... He said they have not verified it, but have had several calls by women saying that they hear a baby's cries outside their doors when they're home alone at night.

10.) Water scam! If you wake up in the middle of the night to hear all your taps outside running or what you think is a burst pipe, DO NOT GO OUT TO INVESTIGATE! These people turn on all your outside taps full-blast so that you will go out to investigate, and then they attack.

Stay alert, keep safe, and look out for your neighbors! Please pass this on. This e-mail should probably be taken seriously because the Crying Baby Theory was mentioned on America's Most Wanted when they profiled the serial killer in Louisiana.

I'd like you to forward this to all the women you know. It may save a life. A candle is not dimmed by lighting another candle... I was going to send this to the ladies only, but guys, if you love your mothers, wives, sisters, daughters, etc., you may want to pass it onto them, as well.

Send this to any woman you know that may need to be reminded that the world we live in has a lot of crazies in it, and it's better to be safe than sorry... Everyone should take 5 minutes to read this. It may save your life or a loved one's life.

Sunday, December 01, 2013

Mighty Morphin Power Rangers...

The White Ranger strikes a pose in MIGHTY MORPHIN POWER RANGERS.

In an unofficial tradition that started when I was bored enough to reminisce about the old Disney animated series Darkwing Duck three years ago today, I'd like to post a quick entry talking about another show that I enjoyed watching when I was a wee little...adolescent. The Mighty Morphin Power Rangers grew in popularity in mid-1994, and was even watched by some people I knew in the 'cool crowd' back in high school. (I was a 9th grader in the fall of '94... No comments). The Power Rangers were really awesome once the White Ranger (formerly known as the Green Ranger) showed up on scene, and I'll quickly point out that I was geeky enough (moreso than now) to um, have a Tigerzord toy collecting dust in my closet. Now if only they do another Power Rangers movie—and the Zords looked like the ass-kicking Jaegers featured in Guillermo del Toro's latest flick, Pacific Rim. I have just one question about that, though: Which actress would replace Amy Jo Johnson as the Pink Ranger? Facetious question... Look at the tag words below to get a hint of who I have in mind. Oh, and here are two last words on why the Power Rangers were bad-ass: Lord Zedd. That is all.

An illustration depicting the Green Ranger welding the Dragon Dagger.

Lord Zedd was the coolest villain in MIGHTY MORPHIN POWER RANGERS.

The original Rangers of MIGHTY MORPHIN POWER RANGERS.

Saturday, November 30, 2013

MOM Is Headed to Mars!

Twelve days after NASA's MAVEN spacecraft launched from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida and immediately embarked on a 10-month journey to the Red Planet, India's Mars Orbiter Mission (MOM) probe finally left Earth's orbit today (despite launching to space almost two weeks before MAVEN did...on November 5) and is also headed for the cold, crimson-colored world as well. In case you're wondering why it took so long for MOM to enter an interplanetary trajectory, it's because India didn't have the luxury of having their Mars-bound craft lift off on a powerful Atlas V rocket like MAVEN did (just so I won't completely sound like an arrogant American, the Atlas V depends on Russian-built RD-180 engines to soar off the pad)...and instead have to rely on several engine burns throughout this month to boost MOM's orbit to the point where it would finally be freed from Earth's gravity. Despite the fact that MAVEN had a considerable head start on MOM, both will reach Mars next September; MOM entering Martian orbit on September 14 and MAVEN following suit eight days later. Either way, the Russians must be pouting over other nations knowing how to get Martian spacecraft out of Earth's orbit and not them (which is ironic if you want me to mention the RD-180 again). I kid.

EDIT (December 3): Based on a tweet from MAVEN's Twitter feed, MOM will arrive at Mars two days (on September 24) after MAVEN does. My bad.

An artist's concept of India's Mars Orbiter Mission spacecraft.
Indian Space Research Organisation / Astro0

Thursday, November 28, 2013

Happy Thanksgiving (Fellow Yanks)!

Just thought I'd mark this holiday by pointing out that you and yours have a great time feasting on stuffed turkey and shrimp cocktails today...and have fun either watching the Detroit Lions lose to the Green Bay Packers or the Oakland Raiders duke it out with the Dallas Cowboys later this afternoon. On another note, it was announced earlier this month that the 1 World Trade Center will officially be called the tallest skyscraper in the Western Hemisphere—courtesy of the Council on Tall Buildings and Urban Habitat. Yet another reason to give thanks...and to be proud to be an American. Wait what?

EDIT (2:06 PM, PST): The Packers fell to the Lions, 40-10, about an hour ago. Leave it to me to jinx Detroit into winning its first Thanksgiving Day game since 2003. Of course, Detroit now has former USC running back/Heisman Trophy winner Reggie Bush on its team. Go Trojans.

The 1 World Trade Center as of November 27, 2013.

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Kepler To Get A New Lease on Life?

This infographic shows how solar pressure can be used to balance NASA's Kepler spacecraft in orbit, keeping the telescope stable enough to continue searching for transiting exoplanets around other stars.
NASA Ames / W Stenzel

A Sunny Outlook for NASA Kepler's Second Light (Press Release - November 25)

You may have thought that NASA's Kepler spacecraft was finished. Well, think again. A repurposed Kepler space telescope may soon start searching the sky again.

A new mission concept, dubbed K2, would continue Kepler's search for other worlds, and introduce new opportunities to observe star clusters, young and old stars, active galaxies and supernovae.

In May, the Kepler spacecraft lost the second of four gyroscope-like reaction wheels, which are used to precisely point the spacecraft, ending new data collection for the original mission. The spacecraft required three functioning wheels to maintain the precision pointing necessary to detect the signal of small Earth-sized exoplanets, which are planets outside our solar system, orbiting stars like our sun in what's known as the habitable zone -- the range of distances from a star where the surface temperature of a planet might be suitable for liquid water.

With the failure of a second reaction wheel, the spacecraft can no longer precisely point at the mission's original field of view. The culprit is none other than our own sun.

The very body that provides Kepler with its energy needs also pushes the spacecraft around by the pressure exerted when the photons of sunlight strike the spacecraft. Without a third wheel to help counteract the solar pressure, the spacecraft's ultra-precise pointing capability cannot be controlled in all directions.

However, Kepler mission and Ball Aerospace engineers have developed an innovative way of recovering pointing stability by maneuvering the spacecraft so that the solar pressure is evenly distributed across the surfaces of the spacecraft.

To achieve this level of stability, the orientation of the spacecraft must be nearly parallel to its orbital path around the sun, which is slightly offset from the ecliptic, the orbital plane of Earth. The ecliptic plane defines the band of sky in which lie the constellations of the zodiac.

This technique of using the sun as the 'third wheel' to control pointing is currently being tested on the spacecraft and early results are already coming in. During a pointing performance test in late October, a full frame image of the space telescope's full field of view was captured showing part of the constellation Sagittarius.

Photons of light from a distant star field were collected over a 30-minute period and produced an image quality within five percent of the primary mission image quality, which used four reaction wheels to control pointing stability. Additional testing is underway to demonstrate the ability to maintain this level of pointing control for days and weeks.

To capture the telltale signature of a distant planet as it crosses the face of its host star and temporarily blocks the amount of starlight collected by Kepler, the spacecraft must maintain pointing stability over these longer periods.

"This 'second light' image provides a successful first step in a process that may yet result in new observations and continued discoveries from the Kepler space telescope," said Charlie Sobeck, Kepler deputy project manager at NASA Ames Research Center in Moffett Field, CA.

The K2 mission concept has been presented to NASA Headquarters. A decision to proceed to the 2014 Senior Review – a biannual assessment of operating missions – and propose for budget to fly K2 is expected by the end of 2013.

Kepler's original mission, which is still in progress to fully process the wealth of data collected, is to determine what percentage of stars like the sun harbor small planets the approximate size and surface temperature of Earth. For four years, the space telescope simultaneously and continuously monitored the brightness of more than 150,000 stars, recording a measurement every 30 minutes.

More than a year of the data collected by Kepler remains to be fully reviewed and analyzed.

Source: NASA.Gov

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This image by NASA's Kepler telescope shows the spacecraft's full field of view taken in a new demonstration mode in late October of 2013.
NASA Ames

Monday, November 25, 2013

Kobe Bryant To Be A Laker for Two More Years...

With his current contract expiring at the end of this season, Kobe Bryant just signed an extension with the Los Angeles Lakers that will last two additional years and be worth a total of $48.5 million. It's nice to know that KB24 is essentially retiring as a Laker; here's hoping that he won't be sidelined by another injury after he's soon set to return to the NBA court upon recovering from that Achilles tear he suffered earlier this year. No need for another Derrick Rose situation... Look up the Chicago Bulls point guard on Google to know what I'm talking about.

Kobe Bryant hoists up the NBA championship trophy after he leads the Lakers to its 15th title, on June 14, 2009.
Getty Images

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Vanish: The Roller Coaster

The Vanish roller coaster is about to enter a large pool of water at Yokohama Cosmo World in Japan.

Photos of the Day: Just thought I'd share these two images showing a roller coaster that goes underneath a large water pool at Yokohama Cosmo World in Japan. Despite the fact the ride has no loops despite its nearly 5-minute length, and the cars are underground for only about 2 seconds (this assessment is based on videos I watched online... Google 'em), these are cool pics of Vanish—and looks like something that Six Flags Magic Mountain and Knotts Berry Farm should emulate here in SoCal...but with loops and cars moving along the track at a much greater speed. I miss Magic Mountain; haven't been there in more than 13 years. Hope you're having a good day, everyone!

The Vanish roller coaster is about to enter a large pool of water at Yokohama Cosmo World in Japan.
Yokohama Cosmo World

Friday, November 22, 2013

The USS Zumwalt: America's New Stealth Destroyer

The USS Zumwalt sails through the waters off the coast of Maine in November of 2013.
U.S. Navy / General Dynamics Bath Iron Works

Just thought I'd share these photos of the U.S. Navy's newest warship, the USS Zumwalt (named after the late Admiral Elmo Zumwalt), which is scheduled to enter service sometime in 2015. Although only three vessels will be constructed due to budget and technical issues (the Zumwalt, Michael Monsoor and Lyndon B. Johnson), the Zumwalt and her sister ships introduce a new class of destroyers whose radar signature will be comparable to that of a mere fishing boat, and may introduce such high-tech weaponry as the Advanced Gun System...also known as a railgun (which is what took down Devastator in 2009's Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen if you want to bring up random movie references). Although the Navy will continue to rely on its Arleigh Burke-class destroyers (featured in the 2012 film Battleship and this year's Captain Phillips) for the foreseeable future, the Zumwalt's capabilities should hopefully be called upon if American forces see more combat years from now. Unless, of course, the Zumwalt becomes the naval version of the F-22 Raptor (which has yet to fire a missile at an enemy aircraft or drop a bomb on a foreign bunker). That would be unfortunate.

The USS Zumwalt undergoes construction at the Bath Iron Works shipyard in Maine.
Michael C. Nutter - U.S. Navy / General Dynamics Bath Iron Works

The USS Zumwalt floats off a submerged dry dock in the Kennebec River in Maine, on October 28, 2013.
Associated Press

The USS Zumwalt is floated out of dry dock at the Bath Iron Works shipyard in Maine, on October 28, 2013.
U.S. Navy / General Dynamics Bath Iron Works

Monday, November 18, 2013

MAVEN Is Headed to Mars!

The MAVEN spacecraft is launched from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida on November 18, 2013.
NASA

At 10:28 AM, Pacific Standard Time today, an Atlas V rocket carrying NASA's Mars-bound MAVEN orbiter was launched from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida. After a near-flawless flight where the only issue was weather conditions that could've caused the Atlas V to trigger lightning as it flew through a cloud layer right after lift-off (violating a so-called Field Mill Rule that NASA and the U.S. Air Force have in their 'launch commit criteria' list), MAVEN separated from the Atlas almost an hour after departing from its Florida pad...and is now on a 10-month interplanetary journey that will culminate with the orbiter arriving at the Red Planet on September 22, 2014.

Attached to one of MAVEN's twin solar arrays is a DVD bearing the names of 100,000 people, as well as artwork and Japanese haiku that were submitted online earlier this year.
NASA

Although MAVEN does not have any cameras with which to photograph Mars during its mission, it has a suite of instruments that will hopefully determine what caused the Red Planet to lose much of its atmosphere over the past millions of years or so. Just as integral to this flight is the fact that MAVEN carries a telecommunication system that will allow it to relay data from the Curiosity and Opportunity rovers (as well as future landers) on the Martian surface. It was actually this crucial capability that MAVEN possessed which allowed it to proceed with launch preparations during the U.S. government shutdown last month.

My participation certificate for the MAVEN mission.

Just like the now-silent Phoenix Mars lander, aboard MAVEN is a DVD bearing the names of scores of Earthlings (including mine) who wanted to hitch along for yet another ride to the Red Planet. In fact, the DVD contains 100,000 monikers as well as artwork and space-related Japanese haiku that were submitted through the Internet earlier this year. Even though MAVEN's orbit will gradually decay and the probe will burn up in Mars' atmosphere after its mission has long come to an end, I'm glad that NASA provided another public relations opportunity with this project. Since no images will come from MAVEN, the space agency has to find some other way (excluding the promising science) to capture people's imagination with this latest Martian endeavor...before we get to see black and white photos that will be taken by the InSight lander (set to launch to the Red Planet in 2016) and gorgeous high-resolution pictures taken by Curiosity's twin rover—set to take off in 2020. Carry on.

The MAVEN spacecraft undergoes testing at the Lockheed Martin Space Systems facility in Littleton, Colorado earlier this year.
NASA / Lockheed Martin

Sunday, November 17, 2013

T-Minus 15 Hours and Counting...

Here's hoping that 24 hours from now, the MAVEN spacecraft will be bathed in raw sunlight [as opposed to the xenon lights that are illuminating the Atlas V rocket at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station tonight (shown below)] as it heads to Mars following what will hopefully be a flawless launch come tomorrow morning (in terms of Pacific Time). I said it before and I'll say it again: Godspeed, MAVEN!

The Atlas V rocket carrying NASA's Mars-bound MAVEN orbiter is illuminated by xenon lights at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida, on November 17, 2013.
NASA / Bill Ingalls

Saturday, November 16, 2013

MAVEN Is At The Pad!

Earlier today, the Atlas V rocket carrying NASA's Mars-bound MAVEN orbiter was rolled out to its launch pad at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida. Official forecast for the area predicts a 60% chance of good weather allowing the Atlas to depart from its pad at Space Launch Complex 41 this Monday; here's hoping this prediction remains true or improves by the time of lift-off at 10:28 AM, Pacific Standard Time on November 18. Godspeed, MAVEN!

The Atlas V rocket carrying NASA's Mars-bound MAVEN orbiter sits at its Space Launch Complex 41 pad at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida, on November 16, 2013.
NASA / Kim Shiflett

Friday, November 15, 2013

New York Shows Solidarity for the Philippines

Just thought I'd share this great photo of the Empire State Building as it was recently lit up in the colors of the Philippine flag to show New York's support for the survivors of Typhoon Haiyan. I would think that the 1 World Trade Center (towering in the background) would be the one that displays a red, blue, yellow and white lighting scheme in solidarity—seeing as how this skyscraper symbolizes Manhattan's own ability to rise up from the tragedy that struck it more than 12 years ago—but it's all good. Let's just keep having the aid flow into the embattled island nation to help it recover from last week's disaster.

The Empire State Building is lit up in the colors of the Philippine flag in New York City, on November 15, 2013.
Photo courtesy of Instagram

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Another Amazing Photo by Cassini...

A natural-color image of Saturn that was taken by NASA's Cassini spacecraft on July 19, 2013.
NASA / JPL - Caltech / SSI

NASA Cassini Spacecraft Provides New View of Saturn and Earth (Press Release - November 12)

• Natural-color portrait that is first to show Saturn, its moons and rings, plus Earth, Venus and Mars

• Sweeps nearly 405,000 miles across Saturn and its inner rings

NASA has released a natural-color image of Saturn from space, the first in which Saturn, its moons and rings, and Earth, Venus and Mars, all are visible.

The new panoramic mosaic of the majestic Saturn system taken by NASA's Cassini spacecraft, which shows the view as it would be seen by human eyes, was unveiled at the Newseum in Washington on Tuesday.

Cassini's imaging team processed 141 wide-angle images to create the panorama. The image sweeps 404,880 miles (651,591 kilometers) across Saturn and its inner ring system, including all of Saturn's rings out to the E ring, which is Saturn's second outermost ring. For perspective, the distance between Earth and our moon would fit comfortably inside the span of the E ring.

"In this one magnificent view, Cassini has delivered to us a universe of marvels," said Carolyn Porco, Cassini's imaging team lead at the Space Science Institute in Boulder, Colo. "And it did so on a day people all over the world, in unison, smiled in celebration at the sheer joy of being alive on a pale blue dot." The mosaic is part of Cassini's "Wave at Saturn" campaign, where on July 19, people for the first time had advance notice a spacecraft was taking their picture from planetary distances. NASA invited the public to celebrate by finding Saturn in their part of the sky, waving at the ringed planet and sharing pictures over the Internet.

An annotated version of the Saturn system mosaic labels points of interest. Earth is a bright blue dot to the lower right of Saturn. Venus is a bright dot to Saturn's upper left. Mars also appears, as a faint red dot, above and to the left of Venus. Seven Saturnian moons are visible, including Enceladus on the left side of the image. Zooming into the image reveals the moon and the icy plume emanating from its south pole, supplying fine, powder-sized icy particles that make up the E ring.

The E ring shines like a halo around Saturn and the inner rings. Because it is so tenuous, it is best seen with light shining from behind it, when the tiny particles are outlined with light because of the phenomenon of diffraction. Scientists who focus on Saturn's rings look for patterns in optical bonanzas like these. They use computers to increase dramatically the contrast of the images and change the color balance, for example, to see evidence for material tracing out the full orbits of the tiny moons Anthe and Methone for the first time.

"This mosaic provides a remarkable amount of high-quality data on Saturn's diffuse rings, revealing all sorts of intriguing structures we are currently trying to understand," said Matt Hedman, a Cassini participating scientist at the University of Idaho in Moscow. "The E ring in particular shows patterns that likely reflect disturbances from such diverse sources as sunlight and Enceladus' gravity."

Cassini does not attempt many images of Earth because the sun is so close to our planet that an unobstructed view would damage the spacecraft's sensitive detectors. Cassini team members looked for an opportunity when the sun would slip behind Saturn from Cassini's point of view. A good opportunity came on July 19, when Cassini was able to capture a picture of Earth and its moon, and this multi-image, backlit panorama of the Saturn system.

"With a long, intricate dance around the Saturn system, Cassini aims to study the Saturn system from as many angles as possible," said Linda Spilker, Cassini project scientist based at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif. "Beyond showing us the beauty of the Ringed Planet, data like these also improve our understanding of the history of the faint rings around Saturn and the way disks around planets form -- clues to how our own solar system formed around the sun."

Launched in 1997, Cassini has explored the Saturn system for more than nine years. NASA plans to continue the mission through 2017, with the anticipation of many more images of Saturn, its rings and moons, as well as other scientific data.

The Cassini-Huygens mission is a cooperative project of NASA, the European Space Agency and the Italian Space Agency. JPL, a division of the California Institute of Technology, Pasadena, manages the mission for NASA's Science Mission Directorate in Washington. JPL designed, developed and assembled the Cassini orbiter and its two onboard cameras. The imaging team is based at the Space Science Institute, Boulder, Colo.

To view the image, visit: http://www.jpl.nasa.gov/spaceimages/details.php?id=PIA17172.

Source: Jet Propulsion Laboratory

****

An annotated version of the Saturn image that was taken by NASA's Cassini spacecraft on July 19, 2013...with Venus, Earth, its Moon and Mars pinpointed in the photo.
NASA / JPL - Caltech

Monday, November 11, 2013

One Week Till Launch...

The payload fairing containing NASA's MAVEN spacecraft is mated to its Atlas V launch vehicle at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida, on November 8, 2013.
NASA / Kim Shiflett

Barring any unforeseen technical problems or weather issues, NASA's MAVEN spacecraft should be on its way to Mars at this very moment seven days from now. Still deciding on whether or not I should take a day off from work to watch this launch on NASA TV! Hmm.

NASA's MAVEN spacecraft undergoes testing at the Lockheed Martin Space Systems facility in Littleton, Colorado earlier this year.
NASA / Lockheed Martin

Friday, November 08, 2013

MAVEN Boards Its Launch Vehicle...

The payload fairing containing NASA's MAVEN spacecraft is about to be mated to its Atlas V launch vehicle at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida, on November 8, 2013.
NASA

With launch only 10 days away, expect me to post more and more entries about the impending flight of NASA's next Mars-bound orbiter. Yes— I know, I know... You're totally looking forward to nonstop coverage of this deep space mission over the next week or so. And so am I. Here are photos of MAVEN before and after it was placed within the payload fairing of the Atlas V rocket that will send this probe to the Red Planet. Did I mention that MAVEN's launch is only 10 days away? Word.

At NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida, the MAVEN spacecraft is about to be encapsulated within its Atlas V payload fairing...on November 2, 2013.
NASA / Kim Shiflett

At NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida, the MAVEN spacecraft is about to be encapsulated within its Atlas V payload fairing...on November 2, 2013.
NASA / Kim Shiflett

At NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida, the MAVEN spacecraft is about to be encapsulated within its Atlas V payload fairing...on November 2, 2013.
NASA / Kim Shiflett

At NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida, the MAVEN spacecraft is about to be encapsulated within its Atlas V payload fairing...on November 2, 2013.
NASA / Kim Shiflett

On November 6, 2013, the MAVEN spacecraft is ready to be mated to its Atlas V launch vehicle after being encapsulated within the rocket's payload fairing.
NASA / Kim Shiflett