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Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Photos of the Day: My New Ride and the Night Sky...

My 1998 Toyota Corolla.

Just thought I'd end this month by posting that after more than 16 years of driving my trusty ol' 1998 Toyota Corolla (above), I finally replaced it with a new car! It is a 2015 Honda Civic, as you can see from the photos below. Overlooking the fact that I only got $300 for the Corolla after trading it in at the local Honda dealership (having about 240,000 miles on my odometer obviously brought down the value quite a bit; obviously) and it's gonna take me um, 72 months to pay off the Civic unless I get a better job and upgrade the payment plan, I'm so stoked to be able to drive around more often again without worrying that my car will break down on the road. Which my Corolla never did...however, over the past two weeks or so, the engine was acting in a way where that crappy scenario was soon inevitable. Crisis. Averted.

My new 2015 Honda Civic.

My new 2015 Honda Civic.

I'd also like to share this pic that I took a few hours ago of Venus and Jupiter doing their cosmic dance in the skies above Los Angeles County. Click here to see a pic of them with the Moon joining in the celestial light show. Carry on.

A photo of Jupiter and Venus that I took with my Android smartphone in Los Angeles County...on June 30, 2015.

Sunday, June 21, 2015

Photos of the Day: Three Celestial Bodies Converge...

A photo of the Moon, Jupiter and Venus that I took with my Android smartphone in Los Angeles County...on June 20, 2015.

Just thought I'd share these pics that I took of the Moon, Jupiter and Venus with my Android smartphone last night. Now if only I owned a telescope... Happy Father's Day!

A photo of the Moon, Jupiter and Venus that I took with my Android smartphone in Los Angeles County...on June 20, 2015.

Friday, June 19, 2015

Parman's Review: Bad Jews

A poster for BAD JEWS that's outside the Geffen Playhouse in Los Angeles...on June 10, 2015.

On Wednesday, June 10, I drove down to the Geffen Playhouse in Los Angeles to attend a play written by Joshua Harmon that's titled Bad Jews. The name of the production speaks for itself...with four characters (played by talented actors Raviv Ullman, Molly Ephraim, Ari Brand and Lili Fuller) embroiled in a 90-minute-long conflict about what it means to live like a true Hebrew during the 21st Century (in New York City, to be exact). I myself am Catholic, so I basically watched this play to see a darkly comical/dramatic take on modern Judaism without really getting the nuances of it. (Okay, I'll confess— I mostly watched Bad Jews because I'm a huge fan of Tim Allen's ABC sitcom Last Man Standing, and Molly Ephraim's hilarious character Mandy Baxter, in particular.) But this didn't take away from the fact that the four actors gave fine performances in the show, and I enjoyed it a lot.

As stated in the last sentence above, the four performers who breathed life into Bad Jews were very commendable...though I reckon that Raviv Ullman (who played Jonah Haber) preferred that he had more to do than just lean against the side of a wall or constantly pulling something to eat or drink out of the fridge while Daphna Feygenbaum (Ephraim) engaged in numerous diatribes about their family's devotion, or lack thereof, to Judaism (more on this later). Ari Brand, as Liam Haber, did a nice job conveying extreme frustration and annoyance as Daphna called him out (and almost ruined certain plans of his) on his life decisions when he arrived at the family apartment with his girlfriend Melody (a Christian character who Lili Fuller portrayed in a performance that was a mixture of sweetness, empathy and naïveté). Now in terms of Daphna Feygenbaum...

Whereas in Last Man Standing, Molly Ephraim got to act amusingly ditzy as Mike Baxter's (played by Tim Allen) second oldest daughter Mandy on the show, in Bad Jews Ephraim gets the best (and most intellectual) lines during the production as she plays Daphna—a well-educated and opinionated girl who planned to move to Israel to serve in the military after graduating from college (Daphna attended Vassar, I think). Ephraim did a very terrific job reciting lines that dealt with Delaware and genocide (yes, both were mentioned in the same sentences)...as well as tattoos and stardust (again, she also mentioned these in the same sentences). By the end of the play (well okay, several minutes into it), it's clearly obvious that Daphna is the antagonist of the show. But like Anakin Skywalker in the Star Wars prequels (nice analogy, eh?), her intentions were for the best as she tried to obtain a prized heirloom known as a 'Chai' that her family had in its possession since World War II. But by the conclusion of Bad Jews, Daphna tried so hard to do what's best for her family that she almost ended up tearing it apart instead. While Anakin ultimately failed in his attempt to save his family, Daphna succeeded in retrieving that heirloom...but in a way that most likely obliterated her relationship with her relatives; Liam, in particular.

I obviously won't spoil the ending of Bad Jews, but there is a silver lining with the conclusion of the show in that Daphna finds out that she isn't the only one trying to preserve her family's Hebriew heritage. Bad Jews is being shown in theaters across the country [New York, Florida, Texas (Yes, Texas. Houston, to be exact) and Memphis, Tennessee] as well as London, England—so check it out now! Bad Jews is directed by Matt Shakman...who helmed episodes on a lot of big TV shows like It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia, Revenge, The Good Wife, Mad Men and the upcoming mini-series, Heroes Reborn. That's pretty cool! Carry on.

As Jonah Haber (Raviv Ullman) and his brother Liam (Ari Brand) look on, Daphna Feygenbaum (Molly Ephraim) has a deceptively calm conversation with Liam's girlfriend Melody (Lili Fuller) in BAD JEWS.
Michael Lamont - Hollywood Reporter

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

The Europa Clipper Mission (Not Its Official Name) Has Become Official!

An artist's concept showing NASA's proposed Europa Clipper spacecraft flying above Jupiter's moon Europa and analyzing it.
NASA / JPL - Caltech

All Systems Go for NASA's Mission to Jupiter Moon Europa (Press Release)

Beyond Earth, Jupiter’s moon Europa is considered one of the most promising places in the solar system to search for signs of present-day life, and a new NASA mission to explore this potential is moving forward from concept review to development.

NASA’s mission concept -- to conduct a detailed survey of Europa and investigate its habitability -- has successfully completed its first major review by the agency and now is entering the development phase known as formulation.

“Today we’re taking an exciting step from concept to mission, in our quest to find signs of life beyond Earth,” said John Grunsfeld, associate administrator for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate in Washington. “Observations of Europa have provided us with tantalizing clues over the last two decades, and the time has come to seek answers to one of humanity’s most profound questions.”

NASA’s Galileo mission to Jupiter in the late 1990s produced strong evidence that Europa, about the size of Earth’s moon, has an ocean beneath its frozen crust. If proven to exist, this global ocean could hold more than twice as much water as Earth. With abundant salt water, a rocky sea floor, and the energy and chemistry provided by tidal heating, Europa may have the ingredients needed to support simple organisms.

The mission plan calls for a spacecraft to be launched to Jupiter in the 2020s, arriving in the distant planet’s orbit after a journey of several years. The spacecraft would orbit the giant planet about every two weeks, providing many opportunities for close flybys of Europa. The mission plan includes 45 flybys, during which the spacecraft would image the moon's icy surface at high resolution and investigate its composition and the structure of its interior and icy shell.

NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena, California, has been assigned the responsibility of managing the project. JPL has been studying the multiple-flyby mission concept, in collaboration with the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory (APL) in Laurel, Maryland, since 2011.

Instruments selected for the Europa mission's scientific payload were announced by NASA on May 26. Institutions supplying instruments include APL; JPL; Arizona State University, Tempe; the University of Texas at Austin; Southwest Research Institute, San Antonio and the University of Colorado, Boulder.

“It’s a great day for science,” said Joan Salute, Europa program executive at NASA Headquarters in Washington. “We are thrilled to pass the first major milestone in the lifecycle of a mission that will ultimately inform us on the habitability of Europa.”

NASA's Science Mission Directorate in Washington conducts a wide variety of research and scientific exploration programs for Earth studies, space weather, the solar system and the universe.

Source: NASA.Gov

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Tuesday, June 16, 2015

New Horizons Update: Less Than One Month to Go!

An artist's concept of NASA's New Horizons spacecraft traveling past the dwarf planet Pluto and its largest moon, Charon.
NASA / JHU APL / SwRI / Steve Gribben

One Month from Pluto: New Horizons on Track, All Clear, and Ready for Action (Press Release - June 15)

Now within one month of the historic Pluto flyby, NASA’s New Horizons team has executed a small but important course correction for the spacecraft, completed updated analyses of possible hazards in the Pluto system, and is picking up the pace of science-data collection.

Homing in on Pluto

A 45-second thruster burst on June 14 refined New Horizons’ trajectory toward Pluto, targeting the optimal aim point for the spacecraft’s flight through the Pluto system.

This was only the second targeting maneuver of New Horizons’ approach to Pluto; Sunday’s burst adjusted the spacecraft’s velocity by just 52 centimeters per second, aiming it toward the desired close-approach target point approximately 7,750 miles above Pluto’s surface.

The maneuver was based on the latest radio tracking data on the spacecraft and range-to-Pluto measurements made by optical-navigation imaging of the Pluto system taken by New Horizons in recent weeks.

Using commands transmitted to the spacecraft on June 12-13, the thrusters began firing at 12:05 a.m. EDT and stopped 45 seconds later. Telemetry indicating the spacecraft was healthy and that the maneuver was performed accurately reached the New Horizons Mission Operations Center at the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory in Laurel, Maryland, through NASA’s Deep Space Network at 6:23 a.m. EDT. With the spacecraft about 2.95 billion miles from home, the radio transmissions from its communications system need nearly 4.5 hours to reach Earth.

Mark Holdridge, New Horizons encounter mission manager at APL, said that without the maneuver, the spacecraft was on a line to arrive about 470 miles (755 kilometers) away from the aim point at Pluto, some 84 seconds earlier than desired. The New Horizons team will continue to analyze spacecraft navigation and tracking data with an eye on June 24, which would be the next opportunity for them to adjust course.

New Horizons is now less than 22 million miles from the Pluto system, or less than 100 times as far from Pluto as the moon is from Earth. The spacecraft is healthy and all systems are operating normally. Approach science operations resume today.

Latest Hazard Search Complete; All Still Clear

Planning for a daring close approach that will take its spacecraft inside the orbits of all five of Pluto’s known moons, the New Horizons team has completed its analysis of the second and third sets of hazard-search observations of the Pluto system.

The data were taken May 29-30 and June 5, using the telescopic Long-Range Reconnaissance Imager (LORRI) camera on New Horizons. For these observations, LORRI is commanded to take hundreds of long-exposure (10-second) images, which are combined to enable a highly sensitive search for faint satellites, rings or dust-sheets in the system.

All elements of the process went well, including the observations, the downlink of the images, the resulting data reductions, and the search for new moons or rings that might present hazards to the fast-moving New Horizons spacecraft when it flies through the Pluto system on July 14.

The latest hazard observations easily detected Pluto and all five known moons, but no rings, new moons, or hazards of any kind were found. The New Horizons hazard detection team determined that satellites as faint as about four times dimmer than Pluto’s faintest known moon, Styx, would have been seen if they existed beyond the orbit of Pluto’s largest and closest moon, Charon. Limits on possible rings are unchanged since the first hazard observations in May: any undiscovered rings must be very faint or narrow – less than 1,000 miles wide or reflecting less than one 5-millionth of the incoming sunlight.

The next New Horizons hazard search will start June 15, and the team will report on the results on approximately June 25, after completing a detailed analysis of the new and still more sensitive data.

What’s Next?

In the last week of June, the Pluto approach enters its third and final far encounter science phase — called Approach Phase 3, which runs until seven days before Pluto close approach.

“AP3” highlights include taking additional images of the Pluto system for final navigation purposes; mapping Pluto and Charon in increasing detail and watching for variability in color, surface composition and atmospheric patterns as the small planets rotate; and searching for new moon and rings with even greater sensitivity. New Horizons will also continue sampling of the interplanetary environment – measuring both solar wind and high-energy particles, as well as dust-particle concentrations – approaching Pluto and its moons.

“Every day we break a new distance record to Pluto, and every day our data get better,” says mission Principal Investigator Alan Stern, of the Southwest Research Institute, Boulder, Colorado. “Nothing like this kind of frontier, outer solar system exploration has happened since Voyager 2 was at Neptune way back in 1989. It’s exciting--come and watch as New Horizons turns points of light into a newly explored planetary system and its moons!”

The Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory in Laurel, Maryland, designed, built, and operates the New Horizons spacecraft, and manages the mission for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate. The Southwest Research Institute, based in San Antonio, leads the science team, payload operations and encounter science planning. New Horizons is part of the New Frontiers Program managed by NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama.

Source: New Horizons Website

Monday, June 15, 2015

Photos of the Day: The '24: Live Another Day' Q&A Screening...

Kiefer Sutherland and Mary Lynn Rajskub attend a special screening of 24: LIVE ANOTHER DAY at Landmark Theatres in west Los Angeles...on June 11, 2015.

Last Thursday, I drove down to the Landmark Theatres in west Los Angeles to attend a special screening of the hit FOX TV show 24: Live Another Day. After the screening ended, there was a Q&A session featuring the show's two main stars, Kiefer Sutherland (who played Jack Bauer) and Mary Lynn Rajskub (who portrayed Chloe O'Brian)! They obviously talked about what it was like to work on Live Another Day as well as the show's eight previous seasons (though Rajskub joined the show in 'Day 3'). The bombshell that was dropped during the Q&A, however, was that Sutherland doesn't intend to return as Jack Bauer should there be another season (or a spin-off series)...except maybe for a cameo. To quote Kiefer, "There are only so many bad days a guy can have" without it "turning into a Mad comic." That's unfortunate to hear, but it's all good. I'm just glad that I had the opportunity to see the ass-kicking Jack Bauer and his trusty sidekick Chloe in person! Carry on.

Kiefer Sutherland and Mary Lynn Rajskub attend a special screening of 24: LIVE ANOTHER DAY at Landmark Theatres in west Los Angeles...on June 11, 2015.

Series producer Howard Gordon addresses the audience after the special screening of 24: LIVE ANOTHER DAY at Landmark Theatres in west Los Angeles...on June 11, 2015.

Can you spot me in this selfie? I'm holding my black Android phone in my left hand!
Dominic Patten - Twitter.com

Sunday, June 14, 2015

Europe's Comet Lander Emerges From Its Sleep!

Philae floats in the darkness of space after being deployed by the European Space Agency's (ESA) Rosetta orbiter for a 7-hour journey to comet 67P/Churyumov–Gerasimenko's surface, on November 12, 2014.
ESA / Rosetta / MPS for OSIRIS Team MPS / UPD / LAM / IAA / SSO / INTA / UPM / DASP / IDA

Rosetta's Lander Philae Wakes Up From Hibernation (Press Release)

Rosetta's lander Philae has woken up after seven months in hibernation on the surface of Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko.

The signals were received at ESA's European Space Operations Centre in Darmstadt at 22:28 CEST on 13 June. More than 300 data packets have been analysed by the teams at the Lander Control Center at the German Aerospace Center (DLR).

"Philae is doing very well: It has an operating temperature of -35ºC and has 24 Watts available," explains DLR Philae Project Manager Dr. Stephan Ulamec. "The lander is ready for operations."

For 85 seconds Philae "spoke" with its team on ground, via Rosetta, in the first contact since going into hibernation in November.

When analysing the status data it became clear that Philae also must have been awake earlier: "We have also received historical data – so far, however, the lander had not been able to contact us earlier."

Now the scientists are waiting for the next contact. There are still more than 8000 data packets in Philae’s mass memory which will give the DLR team information on what happened to the lander in the past few days on Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko.

Philae shut down on 15 November 2014 at 1:15 CET after being in operation on the comet for about 60 hours. Since 12 March 2015 the communication unit on orbiter Rosetta was turned on to listen out for the lander.

Source: European Space Agency

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Comet 67P/Churyumov–Gerasimenko as seen by ESA's Philae spacecraft while it heads in for a landing on the icy celestial body, on November 12, 2014.
ESA / Rosetta / Philae / ROLIS / DLR

Friday, June 12, 2015

Hitchhikers Will Ride Aboard NASA's InSight Mission to the Red Planet...

An artist's concept of the MarCO Cubesats relaying data to Earth while the InSight lander approaches the surface of Mars.
NASA / JPL - Caltech

NASA Prepares for First Interplanetary CubeSats on Agency’s Next Mission to Mars (Press Release)

When NASA launches its next mission on the journey to Mars – a stationary lander in 2016 – the flight will include two CubeSats. This will be the first time CubeSats have flown in deep space. If this flyby demonstration is successful, the technology will provide NASA the ability to quickly transmit status information about the main spacecraft after it lands on Mars.

The twin communications-relay CubeSats, being built by NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL), Pasadena, California, constitute a technology demonstration called Mars Cube One (MarCO). CubeSats are a class of spacecraft based on a standardized small size and modular use of off-the-shelf technologies. Many have been made by university students, and dozens have been launched into Earth orbit using extra payload mass available on launches of larger spacecraft.

The basic CubeSat unit is a box roughly 4 inches (10 centimeters) square. Larger CubeSats are multiples of that unit. MarCO's design is a six-unit CubeSat – about the size of a briefcase -- with a stowed size of about 14.4 inches (36.6 centimeters) by 9.5 inches (24.3 centimeters) by 4.6 inches (11.8 centimeters).

MarCO will launch in March 2016 from Vandenberg Air Force Base, California on the same United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket as NASA’s Interior Exploration using Seismic Investigations, Geodesy and Heat Transport (InSight) lander. Insight is NASA’s first mission to understand the interior structure of the Red Planet. MarCO will fly by Mars while InSight is landing, in September 2016.

“MarCO is an experimental capability that has been added to the InSight mission, but is not needed for mission success,” said Jim Green, director of NASA’s planetary science division at the agency’s headquarters in Washington. “MarCO will fly independently to Mars."

During InSight’s entry, descent and landing (EDL) operations on Sept. 28, 2016, the lander will transmit information in the UHF radio band to NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) flying overhead. MRO will forward EDL information to Earth using a radio frequency in the X band, but cannot simultaneously receive information over one band while transmitting on another. Confirmation of a successful landing could be received by the orbiter more than an hour before it’s relayed to Earth.

MarCO’s radio is about softball-size and provides both UHF (receive only) and X-band (receive and transmit) functions capable of immediately relaying information received over UHF.

The two CubeSats will separate from the Atlas V booster after launch and travel along their own trajectories to the Red Planet. After release from the launch vehicle, MarCO's first challenges are to deploy two radio antennas and two solar panels. The high-gain, X-band antenna is a flat panel engineered to direct radio waves the way a parabolic dish antenna does. MarCO will be navigated to Mars independently of the InSight spacecraft, with its own course adjustments on the way.

Ultimately, if the MarCO demonstration mission succeeds, it could allow for a “bring-your-own” communications relay option for use by future Mars missions in the critical few minutes between Martian atmospheric entry and touchdown.

By verifying CubeSats are a viable technology for interplanetary missions, and feasible on a short development timeline, this technology demonstration could lead to many other applications to explore and study our solar system.

JPL manages MarCO, InSight and MRO for NASA's Science Mission Directorate in Washington. Technology suppliers for MarCO include: Blue Canyon Technologies of Boulder, Colorado, for the attitude-control system; VACCO Industries of South El Monte, California, for the propulsion system; AstroDev of Ann Arbor, Michigan, for electronics; MMA Design LLC, also of Boulder, for solar arrays; and Tyvak Nano-Satellite Systems Inc., a Terran Orbital Company in San Luis Obispo, California, for the CubeSat dispenser system.

Source: NASA.Gov

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Engineers work on NASA's InSight Mars lander at the Lockheed Martin facility in Denver, Colorado...on April 30, 2015.
NASA / JPL - Caltech / Lockheed Martin

Tuesday, June 09, 2015

LightSail Finally Spreads Its Wings!

An image that was taken of the LightSail spacecraft's solar sail one day after it was successfully deployed...on June 7, 2015.
The Planetary Society

Bill Nye & Planetary Society Celebrate LightSail™ Test Mission Landmark (Press Release - June 7)

Data indicate citizen-funded spacecraft deploys solar sail, milestone for test path toward 2016 mission

Pasadena, CA (June 7, 2015) -- After 19 days on orbit, data indicate that The Planetary Society’s LightSail™ spacecraft deployed its Mylar® solar sail in space. More information will be downloaded, analyzed and publicized in days to come, including possible images. A post-deployment press conference will occur following an initial data analysis period. Today’s deployment marked a milestone for the mission to test LightSail’s critical functions in low-Earth orbit, a precursor to a second mission set for 2016. Bill Nye (The Science Guy®), CEO at The Planetary Society, celebrated the landmark and stated:

“We couldn’t get signals to and from our LightSail on the first orbital pass, so we tried again on our next orbit— and it worked! We’ve learned a lot about perseverance on this test mission. Although it’s in inertial space, LightSail has had me on a rollercoaster. I want to thank the engineering team; they’ve done fantastic work. I especially want to thank our supporters and members, who made this success possible. We are advancing space science and exploration. This mission is part of our mission.”

The Planetary Society's solar sailing involvement was started by Society co-founder Louis Friedman more than a decade ago. The spacecraft was designed by Stellar Exploration, Inc., in San Luis Obispo, Calif. LightSail's lead contractor for integration and testing is Pasadena, Calif.-based Ecliptic Enterprises Corporation, a space avionics and sensor systems firm best known for its popular RocketCam™ family of video systems used on rockets and spacecraft. The spacecraft has ground stations at California Polytechnic State University San Luis Obispo and Georgia Tech. The LightSail project is managed by Doug Stetson, founder and principal partner of the Space Science and Exploration Consulting Group. Boreal Space and Half-Band Technologies are contractors to Ecliptic.

Celebrating 35 years, The Planetary Society has inspired millions of people to explore other worlds and seek other life. With the mission to empower the world's citizens to advance space science and exploration, its international membership makes the non-governmental Planetary Society the largest space interest group in the world. Carl Sagan, Bruce Murray and Louis Friedman founded the Planetary Society in 1980. Bill Nye, a longtime member of the Planetary Society's Board, serves as CEO.

Source: The Planetary Society

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Wednesday, June 03, 2015

New Horizons Update: Heading Towards (Dwarf) Planetary Chaos!

An annotated illustration depicting the sizes and appearances of Pluto's five known moons, Styx, Nix, Kerberos, Hydra and Charon.
NASA / ESA / A. Feild (STScI)

NASA’s Hubble Finds Pluto’s Moons Tumbling in Absolute Chaos (Press Release)

If you lived on one of Pluto’s moons, you might have a hard time determining when, or from which direction, the sun will rise each day. Comprehensive analysis of data from NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope shows that two of Pluto’s moons, Nix and Hydra, wobble unpredictably.

“Hubble has provided a new view of Pluto and its moons revealing a cosmic dance with a chaotic rhythm,” said John Grunsfeld, associate administrator of NASA’s Science Mission Directorate in Washington. “When the New Horizons spacecraft flies through the Pluto system in July we’ll get a chance to see what these moons look like up close and personal.”

The moons wobble because they’re embedded in a gravitational field that shifts constantly. This shift is created by the double planet system of Pluto and Charon as they whirl about each other. Pluto and Charon are called a double planet because they share a common center of gravity located in the space between the bodies. Their variable gravitational field sends the smaller moons tumbling erratically. The effect is strengthened by the football-like, rather than spherical, shape of the moons. Scientists believe it’s likely Pluto’s other two moons, Kerberos and Styx, are in a similar situation.

The astonishing results, found by Mark Showalter of the SETI Institute in Mountain View, California and Doug Hamilton of the University of Maryland at College Park, will appear in the June 4 issue of the journal Nature.

"Prior to the Hubble observations, nobody appreciated the intricate dynamics of the Pluto system,” Showalter said. “Our research provides important new constraints on the sequence of events that led to the formation of the system.”

Showalter also found three of Pluto’s moons are presently locked together in resonance, meaning there is a precise ratio for their orbital periods.

“If you were sitting on Nix, you would see that Styx orbits Pluto twice for every three orbits made by Hydra,” noted Hamilton.

Hubble data also reveal the moon Kerberos is as dark as a charcoal briquette, while the other frozen moons are as bright as sand. It was predicted that dust blasted off the moons by meteorite impacts should coat all the moons, giving their surfaces a homogenous look, which makes Kerberos’ coloring very surprising.

NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft, which will fly by the Pluto system in July, may help settle the question of the asphalt-black moon, as well as the other oddities uncovered by Hubble. These new discoveries are being used to plan science observations for the New Horizons flyby.

The turmoil within the Pluto-Charon system offers insights into how planetary bodies orbiting a double star might behave. For example, NASA’s Kepler space observatory has found several planetary systems orbiting double stars.

“We are learning chaos may be a common trait of binary systems,” Hamilton said. “It might even have consequences for life on planets if found in such systems.”

Clues to the Pluto commotion first came when astronomers measured variations in the light reflected off Nix and Hydra. Analyzing Hubble images of Pluto taken from 2005 to 2012, scientists compared the unpredictable changes in the moons’ brightness to models of spinning bodies in complex gravitational fields.

Pluto's moons are believed to have been formed by a collision between the dwarf planet and a similar-sized body early in the history of our solar system. The smashup flung material that consolidated into the family of moons observed around Pluto today. Its binary companion, Charon, is almost half the size of Pluto and was discovered in 1978. Hubble discovered Nix and Hydra in 2005, Kerberos in 2011, and Styx in 2012. These little moons, measuring just tens of miles in diameter, were found during a Hubble search for objects that could be hazards to the New Horizons spacecraft as it passes the dwarf planet in July.

Researchers say a combination of Hubble data monitoring and New Horizon’s brief close-up look, as well as future observations with NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope will help settle many mysteries of the Pluto system. No ground-based telescopes have yet been able to detect the smallest moons.

“Pluto will continue to surprise us when New Horizons flies past it in July,” Showalter said. “Our work with the Hubble telescope just gives us a foretaste of what’s in store.”

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, Maryland, manages the telescope. The Space Telescope Science Institute (STScI) in Baltimore conducts Hubble science operations. STScI is operated for NASA by the Association of Universities for Research in Astronomy, Inc., in Washington.

Source: NASA.Gov

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Tuesday, June 02, 2015

Video of the Day: OTHER SPACE Fan Trailer!



For those of you who watched and enjoyed the Yahoo! web series Other Space, check out this cool preview that a fan posted on Twitter earlier today. Kris WatchesOn, who created this clip, managed to gather most of the memorable moments from the 8-episode series and feature them in this trailer. The official promo for Other Space (which was shown during the First Look segment at AMC Theatres when I watched Avengers: Age of Ultron there a month ago) is shown below; the unofficial version above looks like it would've done a more effective job in enticing moviegoers to check this web series out. It's all good.

Monday, June 01, 2015

JPL's 'Flying Saucer' Will Soar Once Again...

A full mission dress rehearsal is conducted with NASA's Low-Density Supersonic Decelerator at the U.S. Navy's Pacific Missile Range Facility in Kauai, Hawaii...on May 29, 2015.
NASA / Bill Ingalls

Low-Density Supersonic Decelerator Prepared For Second Flight Test (Press Release)

The second flight test of NASA's Low-Density Supersonic Decelerator (LDSD) will be attempted on Tuesday, June 2 at no earlier than 1:30 p.m. EDT (7:30 a.m. HST), launching a rocket-powered, saucer-shaped test vehicle into near-space from the Pacific Missile Range Facility on the island of Kauai in Hawaii. The test launch window is from June 2-12. At launch time, a giant balloon will carry the test vehicle to an altitude of 120,000 feet (37,000 meters). After release from the balloon, a booster rocket will lift the disk-shaped vehicle to 180,000 feet (55,000 meters), during which it will accelerate to supersonic speeds. Traveling at about three times the speed of sound, the vehicle’s inner-tube-shaped decelerator, called a supersonic inflatable aerodynamic decelerator, will inflate and slow the vehicle. Then, at Mach 2.35, its parachute will inflate and gently carry the vehicle to the ocean's surface.

The LDSD project, led by the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, and sponsored by NASA’s Space Technology Mission Directorate in Washington, is conducting this full-scale flight test of two breakthrough technologies: a supersonic inflatable aerodynamic decelerator, or SIAD, and an innovative new parachute. These devices potentially will help us deliver double the current amount of payload — 1.5 metric tons — to the surface of Mars. They also will greatly increase the accessible surface area we can explore, and will improve landing accuracy from a margin of approximately 6.5 miles to a little more than 1 mile. All these factors will dramatically increase the success of future missions on Mars. The LDSD project's successful first flight test was launched on June 28, 2014.

In this photograph (above), a full mission dress rehearsal is held for the LDSD project, Friday, May 29, 2015, at the U.S. Navy Pacific Missile Range Facility (PMRF) in Kauai, HI.

Source: NASA.Gov

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A photo I took of components for NASA's Low-Density Supersonic Decelerator being worked on inside the Spacecraft Assembly Facility at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory near Pasadena, California...on December 3, 2014.