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


Monday, October 16, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

****

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

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

Let it go.

Friday, October 06, 2017

Farewell, AIM...

Farewell, AOL Instant Messenger.

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

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

Tuesday, October 03, 2017

InSight Update: Send Your Name to the Red Planet!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Source: NASA.Gov

****

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

Monday, October 02, 2017

Tragedy in Las Vegas...

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

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

Another dark and disgraceful day for this country.

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

Sunday, October 01, 2017

A Weird Dream to Save the World...

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

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

Saturday, September 30, 2017

Developing an Ion Engine for the Psyche Spacecraft...

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Source: Jet Propulsion Laboratory

****

Thursday, September 28, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Source: NASA.Gov

****

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

Wednesday, September 27, 2017

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

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

Dawn Mission Celebrates 10 Years in Space (Press Release)

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

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

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

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

Vesta Highlights

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

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

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

Ceres Highlights

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

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

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

Dawn Science Continues

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

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

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

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

Source: Jet Propulsion Laboratory

****

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

Tuesday, September 26, 2017

Photo of the Day: OSIRIS-REx Takes a Snapshot of Earth...

An image of Earth that was taken by NASA's OSIRIS-REx spacecraft from a distance of 106,000 miles (170,000 kilometers)...on September 22, 2017.
NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center / University of Arizona

OSIRIS-REx Views the Earth During Flyby (News Release)

A color composite image of Earth taken on Sept. 22 by the MapCam camera on NASA’s OSIRIS-REx spacecraft. This image was taken just hours after the spacecraft completed its Earth Gravity Assist at a range of approximately 106,000 miles (170,000 kilometers). MapCam is part of the OSIRIS-REx Camera Suite (OCAMS) operated by the University of Arizona.

Visible in this image are the Pacific Ocean and several familiar landmasses, including Australia in the lower left, and Baja California and the southwestern United States in the upper right. The dark vertical streaks at the top of the image are caused by short exposure times (less than three milliseconds). Short exposure times are required for imaging an object as bright as Earth, but are not anticipated for an object as dark as the asteroid Bennu, which the camera was designed to image.

Source: NASA.Gov

Monday, September 25, 2017

Snapshots of the Canyon Fire...

The Canyon Fire strikes a hillside in Corona, California...on September 25, 2017.

Just thought I'd share these photos that I took of the Canyon Fire about two hours ago. This brush fire struck the Anaheim-Corona area (near the 91 freeway) here in Southern California earlier today...and is still raging in this part of Riverside County. Much props to the hundreds of firefighters still battling this blaze as I type this.

The Canyon Fire strikes a hillside in Corona, California...on September 25, 2017.

The Canyon Fire strikes a hillside in Corona, California...on September 25, 2017.

The Canyon Fire strikes a hillside in Corona, California...on September 25, 2017.

Friday, September 22, 2017

OSIRIS-REx Briefly Flies Past Home on Its Way to Asteroid Bennu...

An artist's concept of NASA's OSIRIS-REx spacecraft flying past Earth on its way to asteroid Bennu...on September 22, 2017.
NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center / University of Arizona

NASA’s OSIRIS-REx Spacecraft Slingshots Past Earth (News Release)

NASA’s asteroid sample return spacecraft successfully used Earth’s gravity on Friday to slingshot itself on a path toward the asteroid Bennu, for a rendezvous next August.

At 12:52 p.m. EDT on Sept. 22, the OSIRIS-REx (Origins, Spectral Interpretation, Resource Identification, and Security – Regolith Explorer) spacecraft came within 10,711 miles (17,237 km) of Antarctica, just south of Cape Horn, Chile, before following a route north over the Pacific Ocean.

OSIRIS-REx launched from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida on Sept. 8, 2016, on an Atlas V 411 rocket. Although the rocket provided the spacecraft with all the momentum required to propel it forward to Bennu, OSIRIS-REx needed an extra boost from the Earth’s gravity to change its orbital plane. Bennu’s orbit around the Sun is tilted six degrees from Earth’s orbit, and this maneuver changed the spacecraft’s direction to put it on the path toward Bennu.

As a result of the flyby, the velocity change to the spacecraft was 8,451 miles per hour (3.778 kilometers per second).

“The encounter with Earth is fundamental to our rendezvous with Bennu,” said Rich Burns, OSIRIS-REx project manager at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland. “The total velocity change from Earth’s gravity far exceeds the total fuel load of the OSIRIS-REx propulsion system, so we are really leveraging our Earth flyby to make a massive change to the OSIRIS-REx trajectory, specifically changing the tilt of the orbit to match Bennu.”

The mission team also is using OSIRIS-REx’s Earth flyby as an opportunity to test and calibrate the spacecraft’s instrument suite. Approximately four hours after the point of closest approach, and on three subsequent days over the next two weeks, the spacecraft’s instruments will be turned on to scan Earth and the Moon. These data will be used to calibrate the spacecraft’s science instruments in preparation for OSIRIS-REx’s arrival at Bennu in late 2018.

“The opportunity to collect science data over the next two weeks provides the OSIRIS-REx mission team with an excellent opportunity to practice for operations at Bennu,” said Dante Lauretta, OSIRIS-REx principal investigator at the University of Arizona, Tucson. “During the Earth flyby, the science and operations teams are co-located, performing daily activities together as they will during the asteroid encounter.”

The OSIRIS-REx spacecraft is currently on a seven-year journey to rendezvous with, study, and return a sample of Bennu to Earth. This sample of a primitive asteroid will help scientists understand the formation of our solar system more than 4.5 billion years ago.

NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center provides overall mission management, systems engineering and the safety and mission assurance for OSIRIS-REx. Dante Lauretta of the University of Arizona, Tucson, is the principal investigator, and the University of Arizona also leads the science team and the mission’s science observation planning and data processing. Lockheed Martin Space Systems in Denver built the spacecraft and is providing flight operations. Goddard and KinetX Aerospace are responsible for navigating the OSIRIS-REx spacecraft. OSIRIS-REx is the third mission in NASA’s New Frontiers Program. NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama, manages the agency’s New Frontiers Program for the Science Mission Directorate in Washington.

Source: NASA.Gov

****

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Photo of the Day: Bringing Home WONDER WOMAN...

Earlier today, I went to the CVS Pharmacy inside the local Target store to receive my annual flu shot (which I've been getting since 2012...thank you very much, Coccidioidomycosis). This time around though, folks who got their shots at Target received a $5 coupon as a reward. So guess what I used my coupon for? Heh, rhetorical question. Instead of spending almost $20 (which includes tax) for the Wonder Woman DVD at Target, I paid less than $15 (which includes tax) for it. Not bad considering the fact that Wonder Woman may be the only installment of the DC Cinematic Universe that I'll own on home video (unless I get the DVDs for Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice and Man of Steel as Christmas gifts or something). Then again, Wonder Woman 2 does come out in theaters on December 13, 2019. However, that's exactly one week before Star Wars: Episode IX bows in cinemas nationwide. Yikes.

We'll have to wait to see how Justice League turns out this November—even though none other than the amazing Joss Whedon of The Avengers is completing post-production on that highly-anticipated film. Carry on.

The WONDER WOMAN DVD that I bought at the local Target store.

Friday, September 15, 2017

CASSINI IS NO MORE...

An image of the ocean-bearing moon Enceladus disappearing behind Saturn...as seen by NASA's Cassini spacecraft on September 13, 2017.
NASA / JPL - Caltech / Space Science Institute

More than 13 years ago, I sat at my computer watching NASA TV coverage of Cassini as it entered orbit around Saturn on July 1, 2004. It only made sense to be on my computer again [after waking up at 4:30 AM (Pacific Daylight Time) today] to watch NASA TV coverage of Cassini as it ended its historic mission at Saturn (at 3:32 AM, PDT) as well...

****

NASA’s Cassini Spacecraft Ends Its Historic Exploration of Saturn (Press Release)

A thrilling epoch in the exploration of our solar system came to a close today, as NASA's Cassini spacecraft made a fateful plunge into the atmosphere of Saturn, ending its 13-year tour of the ringed planet.

"This is the final chapter of an amazing mission, but it’s also a new beginning,” said Thomas Zurbuchen, associate administrator for NASA's Science Mission Directorate at NASA Headquarters in Washington. “Cassini’s discovery of ocean worlds at Titan and Enceladus changed everything, shaking our views to the core about surprising places to search for potential life beyond Earth."

Telemetry received during the plunge indicates that, as expected, Cassini entered Saturn's atmosphere with its thrusters firing to maintain stability, as it sent back a unique final set of science observations. Loss of contact with the Cassini spacecraft occurred at 7:55 AM EDT (4:55 AM PDT), with the signal received by NASA's Deep Space Network antenna complex in Canberra, Australia.

"It's a bittersweet, but fond, farewell to a mission that leaves behind an incredible wealth of discoveries that have changed our view of Saturn and our solar system, and will continue to shape future missions and research," said Michael Watkins, director of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena, California, which manages the Cassini mission for the agency. JPL also designed, developed and assembled the spacecraft.

Cassini's plunge brings to a close a series of 22 weekly "Grand Finale" dives between Saturn and its rings, a feat never before attempted by any spacecraft.

"The Cassini operations team did an absolutely stellar job guiding the spacecraft to its noble end," said Earl Maize, Cassini project manager at JPL. "From designing the trajectory seven years ago, to navigating through the 22 nail-biting plunges between Saturn and its rings, this is a crack shot group of scientists and engineers that scripted a fitting end to a great mission. What a way to go. Truly a blaze of glory."

As planned, data from eight of Cassini's science instruments was beamed back to Earth. Mission scientists will examine the spacecraft's final observations in the coming weeks for new insights about Saturn, including hints about the planet's formation and evolution, and processes occurring in its atmosphere.

"Things never will be quite the same for those of us on the Cassini team now that the spacecraft is no longer flying," said Linda Spilker, Cassini project scientist at JPL. "But, we take comfort knowing that every time we look up at Saturn in the night sky, part of Cassini will be there, too."

Cassini launched in 1997 from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida and arrived at Saturn in 2004. NASA extended its mission twice – first for two years, and then for seven more. The second mission extension provided dozens of flybys of the planet's icy moons, using the spacecraft's remaining rocket propellant along the way. Cassini finished its tour of the Saturn system with its Grand Finale, capped by Friday's intentional plunge into the planet to ensure Saturn's moons – particularly Enceladus, with its subsurface ocean and signs of hydrothermal activity – remain pristine for future exploration.

While the Cassini spacecraft is gone, its enormous collection of data about Saturn – the giant planet, its magnetosphere, rings and moons – will continue to yield new discoveries for decades to come.

"Cassini may be gone, but its scientific bounty will keep us occupied for many years,” Spilker said. “We've only scratched the surface of what we can learn from the mountain of data it has sent back over its lifetime."

An online toolkit with information and resources for Cassini's Grand Finale is available at:

https://saturn.jpl.nasa.gov/grandfinale

The Cassini-Huygens mission is a cooperative project of NASA, ESA (European Space Agency) and the Italian Space Agency. JPL, a division of Caltech in Pasadena, manages the mission for NASA's Science Mission Directorate in Washington.

****

A computer graphic showing the Cassini spacecraft approaching Saturn's atmosphere in real-time...on September 15, 2017.
NASA TV

Another computer graphic showing NASA's Deep Space Network antenna in Canberra, Australia, communicating with the Cassini probe for the final time...on September 15, 2017.
NASA TV

A 1988 art concept of the Mariner Mark II spacecraft...which would later evolve into the Cassini probe.
NASA / JPL

Aboard Cassini was this DVD that bore the signatures of 616,420 people...including mine (presumably).
NASA

Former Cassini-Huygens mission team members Charley Kohlhase (left) and Richard Spehalski pose with the DVD at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida...prior to Cassini's launch on October 15, 1997.
NASA

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Images of the Day: The 2028 Summer Olympic Games Are Officially Coming to Los Angeles!

The official logo for the 2028 Summer Olympic Games in Los Angeles.

A few hours ago, the International Olympic Committee officially announced in Lima, Peru that the 2028 Summer Olympic Games (a.k.a. the Games of the 34th Olympiad) will be heading to Los Angeles...while the 2024 Games (which mark the 33rd Olympiad) will be hosted in Paris. L.A. originally intended to bring the Games back to American soil in '24, but ultimately deferred to the French capital. The 2024 Olympics will mark 100 years since the multi-sporting event was last played in France (the 1924 Games were the 8th Olympiad), while the 2028 Olympics will take place 32 years after the 1996 Olympic Games (the 26th Olympiad) in Atlanta—the last U.S. city to host this event.

On a different note, the 2028 Games will also mark 20 years since swimming legend Michael Phelps started his quest to becoming the greatest Olympian of all-time by winning 8 gold medals during the 2008 Games (the 29th Olympiad) in Beijing. Oh, and Kobe Bryant helped LeBron James lead the U.S. men's basketball team to a gold medal that same year after the Kobe-less team earned a "measly" bronze medal during the 2004 Olympics (the 28th Olympiad) in Greece. It's obviously too early to say, but we'll see how the Dream Team plays 11 years from now...since LeBron will no doubt join Kobe as retired NBA legends by then.

Anyways, I can't wait for the Summer Olympics to return to the City of Angels! Here are some art concepts depicting proposed sporting venues throughout SoCal for the 2028 Games...courtesy of the LA2028 Facebook page. Happy Hump Day.

The Honda Center is the proposed venue for volleyball during the 2028 Los Angeles Games.
The Honda Center in Anaheim - Volleyball

The Los Angeles Stadium at Hollywood Park, future home of the Rams and Chargers, is the proposed venue for paralympic archery in 2028.
The Los Angeles Stadium at Hollywood Park - Paralympic Archery

Lake Perris in Riverside County (where I went skydiving in 2006) is the proposed venue for rowing and the canoe sprint during the 2028 Los Angeles Games.
Lake Perris in Riverside County - Rowing and Canoe Sprint

The Rose Bowl in Pasadena is the proposed venue for the soccer finals during the 2028 Los Angeles Games.
The Rose Bowl in Pasadena - Soccer Finals

Santa Monica Pier is the proposed venue for beach volleyball during the 2028 Los Angeles Games.
The Santa Monica Pier - Beach Volleyball

STAPLES Center is the proposed venue for wheelchair basketball during the 2028 Paralympic Games.
STAPLES Center in Downtown Los Angeles - Wheelchair Basketball

The Forum in Inglewood is the proposed venue for gymnastics during the 2028 Los Angeles Games.
The Forum in Inglewood - Gymnastics

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

#8 and #24: The Black Mamba's Jerseys Will Be Immortalized!

Kobe Bryant's two jersey numbers, 8 and 24, will be retired by the Los Angeles Lakers at STAPLES Center on December 18, 2017.

Lakers to Retire Kobe Bryant's Jerseys (Press Release)

EL SEGUNDO – The Los Angeles Lakers will retire Kobe Bryant's jersey numbers 8 and 24 in a halftime ceremony to be held on December 18 when the Lakers host the Golden State Warriors at the STAPLES Center, it was announced today.

"As a kid growing up in Italy, I always dreamed of my jersey hanging in the Lakers rafters, but I certainly never imagined two of them," said Bryant. "The Lakers have bestowed a huge honor on me and I'm grateful for the fans' enthusiasm around this game."

Bryant will become the 10th player in Los Angeles Lakers history to earn this distinction, joining Wilt Chamberlain (13), Elgin Baylor (22), Gail Goodrich (25), Earvin "Magic" Johnson (32), Kareem Abdul- Jabbar (33), Shaquille O'Neal (34), James Worthy (42), Jerry West (44) and Jamaal Wilkes (52).

"Kobe's jerseys are taking their rightful home next to the greatest Lakers of all time," said Lakers CEO and Controlling Owner Jeanie Buss. "There was never any doubt this day would come, the only question was when. Once again, Lakers fans will celebrate our hero, and once again, our foes will envy the legendary Kobe Bryant."

"This honor is very well deserved," said Lakers President of Basketball Operations Earvin "Magic" Johnson. "Kobe was one of the greatest Lakers and NBA players of all-time and he's definitely on my Mount Rushmore. I look forward to seeing BOTH of his jerseys be retired and celebrating this special day with Kobe and his family."

"Kobe's impact on this franchise is immeasurable," said General Manager Rob Pelinka. "Kobe carried the torch for the Lakers for 20 seasons, keeping the franchise at the forefront of the NBA following the ‘Showtime' Era. Beyond the championship banners and individual accolades, Kobe's ‘Mamba Mentality' is something the Lakers will always try to emulate. It alone daily inspires all of us to strive for greatness. Kobe's loyalty and dedication to his craft make him one of the most iconic superstars in sports history. The full impact he has on this game and on future generations will not be fully recognized for a long, long time."

The 18-time All-Star retired as the first player in NBA history to play at least 20 seasons with a single franchise, capping off his illustrious career with a 60-point performance vs. Utah on April 13, 2016. Bryant helped lead the Lakers to five NBA Championships (2000, 2001, 2002, 2009, 2010), earning Finals MVP honors in 2009 and 2010. Voted the NBA's Most Valuable Player in 2008, Bryant earned First Team All- NBA honors 11 times and was a member of the All-Defensive First Team on nine occasions.

Bryant sits as the Lakers all-time leader in regular season games played (1,346), points (33,643), three-pointers made (1,827), steals (1,944) and free throws made (8,378), while owning franchise playoff records for games played (220), points (5,640), three-pointers made (292) and free throws made (1,320).

Source: Lakers.com

****

Kobe Bryant was an NBA champion from 2000 to 2002, as well as 2009 and 2010, respectively.

Monday, September 11, 2017

The Cassini Mission's Friday Finale Is Officially Set...

An artist's concept of NASA's Cassini spacecraft making one last flyby of Saturn's moon Titan on September 11, 2017.
NASA / JPL - Caltech

Cassini Makes its 'Goodbye Kiss' Flyby of Titan (News Release)

NASA's Cassini spacecraft is headed toward its Sept. 15 plunge into Saturn, following a final, distant flyby of the planet's giant moon Titan.

The spacecraft made its closest approach to Titan today at 12:04 p.m. PDT (3:04 p.m. EDT), at an altitude of 73,974 miles (119,049 kilometers) above the moon's surface. The spacecraft is scheduled to make contact with Earth on Sept. 12 at about 6:19 p.m. PDT (9:19 p.m. EDT). Images and other science data taken during the encounter are expected to begin streaming to Earth soon after. Navigators will analyze the spacecraft's trajectory following this downlink to confirm that Cassini is precisely on course to dive into Saturn at the planned time, location and altitude.

This distant encounter is referred to informally as "the goodbye kiss" by mission engineers, because it provides a gravitational nudge that sends the spacecraft toward its dramatic ending in Saturn's upper atmosphere. The geometry of the flyby causes Cassini to slow down slightly in its orbit around Saturn. This lowers the altitude of its flight over the planet so that the spacecraft goes too deep into Saturn's atmosphere to survive, because friction with the atmosphere will cause Cassini to burn up.

Cassini has made hundreds of passes over Titan during its 13-year tour of the Saturn system -- including 127 precisely targeted encounters -- some at close range and some, like this one, more distant.

"Cassini has been in a long-term relationship with Titan, with a new rendezvous nearly every month for more than a decade," said Cassini Project Manager Earl Maize at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California. "This final encounter is something of a bittersweet goodbye, but as it has done throughout the mission, Titan's gravity is once again sending Cassini where we need it to go."

Cassini is ending its 13-year tour of the Saturn system with an intentional plunge into the planet to ensure Saturn's moons -- in particular Enceladus, with its subsurface ocean and signs of hydrothermal activity -- remain pristine for future exploration. The spacecraft's fateful dive is the final beat in the mission's Grand Finale, 22 weekly dives (begun in late April) through the gap between Saturn and its rings. No spacecraft has ever ventured so close to the planet before.

An online toolkit of information and resources about Cassini's Grand Finale and final plunge into Saturn is available at:

https://saturn.jpl.nasa.gov/grandfinale

The Cassini spacecraft was launched in 1997 and arrived at Saturn in 2004. During its time there, Cassini has made numerous dramatic discoveries, including a global ocean with indications of hydrothermal activity within the icy moon Enceladus, and liquid methane seas on another moon, Titan.

The Cassini-Huygens mission is a cooperative project of NASA, ESA (European Space Agency) and the Italian Space Agency. NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, a division of Caltech in Pasadena, manages the mission for NASA's Science Mission Directorate, Washington. JPL designed, developed and assembled the Cassini orbiter.

Source: Jet Propulsion Laboratory

Thursday, September 07, 2017

New Horizons Update #2: Pluto's Terrain Gets an Official Set of Names...

An infographic of Pluto with names denoting various geological features on its surface.
NASA / JHUAPL / SwRI / Ross Beyer

Pluto Features Given First Official Names (News Release)

It’s official: Pluto’s “heart” now bears the name of pioneering American astronomer Clyde Tombaugh, who discovered Pluto in 1930. And a crater on Pluto is now officially named after Venetia Burney, the British schoolgirl who in 1930 suggested the name “Pluto,” Roman god of the underworld, for Tombaugh’s newly-discovered planet.

Tombaugh Regio and Burney crater are among the first set of official Pluto feature names approved by the International Astronomical Union (IAU), the internationally recognized authority for naming celestial bodies and their surface features.

These and other names were proposed by NASA’s New Horizons team following the first reconnaissance of Pluto and its moons by the New Horizons spacecraft in 2015. The New Horizons science team had been using these and other place names informally to describe the many regions, mountain ranges, plains, valleys and craters discovered during the first close-up look at the surfaces of Pluto and its largest moon, Charon.

A total of 14 Pluto place names have now been made official by the IAU; many more will soon be proposed to the IAU, both on Pluto and on its moons. “The approved designations honor many people and space missions who paved the way for the historic exploration of Pluto and the Kuiper Belt, the farthest worlds ever explored,” said Alan Stern, New Horizons principal investigator from Southwest Research Institute, Boulder, Colorado.

“We’re very excited to approve names recognizing people of significance to Pluto and the pursuit of exploration as well as the mythology of the underworld. These names highlight the importance of pushing to the frontiers of discovery,” said Rita Schulz, chair of the IAU Working Group for Planetary System Nomenclature. “We appreciate the contribution of the general public in the form of their naming suggestions and the New Horizons team for proposing these names to us.”

Stern applauded the work of the New Horizons Nomenclature Working Group, which along with Stern included science team members Mark Showalter -- the group’s chairman and liaison to the IAU -- Ross Beyer, Will Grundy, William McKinnon, Jeff Moore, Cathy Olkin, Paul Schenk and Amanda Zangari.

The team gathered many ideas during the “Our Pluto” online naming campaign in 2015. Following on Venetia Burney’s original suggestion, several place names on Pluto come from underworld mythology. “I’m delighted that most of the approved names were originally recommended by members of the public,” said Showalter, of the SETI Institute, Mountain View, California.

The approved Pluto surface feature names are listed below. The names pay homage to the underworld mythology, pioneering space missions, historic pioneers who crossed new horizons in exploration, and scientists and engineers associated with Pluto and the Kuiper Belt.

Tombaugh Regio honors Clyde Tombaugh (1906–1997), the U.S. astronomer who discovered Pluto in 1930 from Lowell Observatory in Arizona.

Burney crater honors Venetia Burney (1918-2009), who as an 11-year-old schoolgirl suggested the name "Pluto" for Clyde Tombaugh’s newly discovered planet. Later in life she taught mathematics and economics.

Sputnik Planitia is a large plain named for Sputnik 1, the first space satellite, launched by the Soviet Union in 1957.

Tenzing Montes and Hillary Montes are mountain ranges honoring Tenzing Norgay (1914–1986) and Sir Edmund Hillary (1919–2008), the Indian/Nepali Sherpa and New Zealand mountaineer were the first to reach the summit of Mount Everest and return safely.

Al-Idrisi Montes honors Ash-Sharif al-Idrisi (1100–1165/66), a noted Arab mapmaker and geographer whose landmark work of medieval geography is sometimes translated as "The Pleasure of Him Who Longs to Cross the Horizons.”

Djanggawul Fossae defines a network of long, narrow depressions named for the Djanggawuls, three ancestral beings in indigenous Australian mythology who traveled between the island of the dead and Australia, creating the landscape and filling it with vegetation.

Sleipnir Fossa is named for the powerful, eight-legged horse of Norse mythology that carried the god Odin into the underworld.

Virgil Fossae honors Virgil, one of the greatest Roman poets and Dante's fictional guide through hell and purgatory in the Divine Comedy.

Adlivun Cavus is a deep depression named for Adlivun, the underworld in Inuit mythology.

Hayabusa Terra is a large land mass saluting the Japanese spacecraft and mission (2003-2010) that performed the first asteroid sample return.

Voyager Terra honors the pair of NASA spacecraft, launched in 1977, that performed the first "grand tour" of all four giant planets. The Voyager spacecraft are now probing the boundary between the Sun and interstellar space.

Tartarus Dorsa is a ridge named for Tartarus, the deepest, darkest pit of the underworld in Greek mythology.

Elliot crater recognizes James Elliot (1943-2011), an MIT researcher who pioneered the use of stellar occultations to study the solar system – leading to discoveries such as the rings of Uranus and the first detection of Pluto's thin atmosphere.

The New Horizons spacecraft – built and operated at the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory in Laurel, Maryland, with a payload and science investigation led by SwRI -- is speeding toward its next flyby, this one with the ancient Kuiper Belt Object 2014 MU69, a billion miles beyond Pluto, on Jan. 1, 2019.

Source: NASA.Gov

Wednesday, September 06, 2017

New Horizons Update: Only 481 Days Till the 2014 MU69 Flyby...

An artist's concept of NASA's New Horizons spacecraft flying past the binary objects that may comprise 2014 MU69...on January 1, 2019.
Carlos Hernandez

New Horizons Files Flight Plan for 2019 Flyby (News Release)

NASA’s New Horizons mission has set the distance for its New Year’s Day 2019 flyby of Kuiper Belt Object 2014 MU69, aiming to come three times closer to MU69 than it famously flew past Pluto in 2015.

That milestone will mark the farthest planetary encounter in history – some one billion miles (1.5 billion kilometers) beyond Pluto and more than four billion miles (6.5 billion kilometers) from Earth. If all goes as planned, New Horizons will come to within just 2,175 miles (3,500 kilometers) of MU69 at closest approach, peering down on it from celestial north. The alternate plan, to be employed in certain contingency situations such as the discovery of debris near MU69, would take New Horizons within 6,000 miles (10,000 kilometers)— still closer than the 7,800-mile (12,500-kilometer) flyby distance to Pluto.

“I couldn’t be more excited about this encore performance from New Horizons,” said NASA Planetary Science Director Jim Green at Headquarters in Washington. “This mission keeps pushing the limits of what’s possible, and I’m looking forward to the images and data of the most distant object any spacecraft has ever explored.”

If the closer approach is executed, the highest-resolution camera on New Horizons, the telescopic Long Range Reconnaissance Imager (LORRI) should be able to spot details as small as 230 feet (70 meters) across, for example, compared to nearly 600 feet (183 meters) on Pluto.

“We’re planning to fly closer to MU69 than Pluto to get even higher resolution imagery and other datasets,” said New Horizons Principal Investigator Alan Stern, of the Southwest Research Institute (SwRI), Boulder, Colorado. “The science should be spectacular.”

The team weighed numerous factors in making its choice, said science team member and flyby planning lead John Spencer, also of SwRI. “The considerations included what is known about MU69’s size, shape and the likelihood of hazards near it, the challenges of navigating close to MU69 while obtaining sharp and well-exposed images, and other spacecraft resources and capabilities,” he said.

Using all seven onboard science instruments, New Horizons will obtain extensive geological, geophysical, compositional, and other data on MU69; it will also search for an atmosphere and moons.

“Reaching 2014 MU69, and seeing it as an actual new world, will be another historic exploration achievement,” said Helene Winters, the New Horizons project manager from the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory in Laurel, Maryland. “We are truly going where no one has gone before. Our whole team is excited about the challenges and opportunities of a voyage to this faraway frontier.”

Source: NASA.Gov

Tuesday, September 05, 2017

Another POTUS Fail: A U.S. Senator's Response To Trump Kicking 'Dreamers' Out Of This Country...

U.S. Senator Kamala Harris held a DACA Roundtable with Dreamers at the Downtown UCLA Labor Center last week.

Just as an FYI, Senator Kamala Harris (Democrat - California) should also run for President in 2020. Just sayin'.

****

Senator Harris Statement on Trump's Decision to End DACA (Press Release)

WASHINGTON, D.C. - Following President Donald Trump's decision to end the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, U.S. Senator Kamala D. Harris, a member of the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee and co-sponsor of the DREAM Act and the Agricultural Worker Program Act, released the following statement:

"DACA recipients make our nation strong and represent the best of America. The President's decision undermines our nation’s values and is a cruel betrayal to the more than 800,000 young people, including more than 200,000 Californians, who have only ever known the United States of America as their home.

"Dreamers are Americans in every way except a piece of paper. With this decision, President Trump is telling classmates of our children they don't belong, employees of
Fortune 100 companies they aren't welcome, and saying to those who serve in our military and run small businesses that they should leave. These young people deserve better than that. They came out of the shadows and submitted every detail of their personal lives to prove that they were lawful, productive members of our society. By turning his back on our young Dreamers and their families, President Trump has once again sided with division and hate.

"The consequences of this decision will be devastating. It will split up families, force young people back to countries they never knew, and cost our economy billions of dollars. It is heartless.

“Now more than ever, it is time we roll up our sleeves and stand with these young people who contribute to our community and our economy. Republicans in Congress must immediately allow a vote on the DREAM Act, a bipartisan bill we introduced again this summer. We are better than this.”

****

Thursday, August 31, 2017

The ONE EARTH MESSAGE: Support Its Kickstarter Campaign!

Support the ONE EARTH MESSAGE on Kickstarter!
Click above to visit the One Earth Message Kickstarter site

Just thought I'd end this month by sharing the Kickstarter campaign link for the One Earth Message (OEM)...which aims to send a digital time capsule (akin to the Golden Records that have been flying on both Voyager probes for 40 years now) to the New Horizons spacecraft in 2020. Jon Lomberg, who was responsible for creating the Golden Records, is the architect behind this project. After New Horizons flies past its next target (Kuiper Belt Object 2014 MU69) on January 1, 2019, it will take at least another year for the spacecraft to transmit all of the data from that flyby back to Earth. Once every bit of the KBO info has been relayed to our home planet, the data recorders on New Horizons will be erased...thus clearing up space for something such as OEM to be installed in the robotic probe's computer.

An artist's concept of NASA's New Horizons spacecraft flying past 2014 MU69.
NASA / Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory / Southwest Research Institute

The campaign started last week...and ends on September 29, so donate now! The goal for this project is to make at least $72,000, but its Kickstarter campaign still has ways to go to reach it. If Mr. Lomberg or any other person on the OEM team is reading this, they need to add more rewards to the Kickstarter page to make this goal more attainable. OEM won't reach its $72,000 target based on $1 pledges ($5 should've been the lowest amount provided instead), and there should be a pledge amount between the $2,500 and $10,000 rewards to increase the chances of someone donating a large sum to this campaign (a pledge for $5,000 seems like the right amount to add). It would be awesome if there was a person or two (preferably five...the total number of $10,000 pledges that can be made to this project) to donate $10,000 each to OEM, but I wouldn't wait on that to happen! Prove me wrong, everyone.

The ONE EARTH MESSAGE would only take up space on a single microchip in New Horizon's computer.

So anyways folks, donate to the One Earth Message now! I keep repeating that because I totally want to see this project become a reality! Should the Kickstarter campaign succeed, then 2018 will be spent on developing the OEM website where people can suggest (or submit) what Earth-representative photo, message, etc. should be included with this digital time capsule. And sometime in 2019—should NASA hopefully approve the final product that Mr. Lomberg and his team churns out—the OEM will be tested and converted into the format necessary for a Deep Space Network radio antenna to transmit billions of miles to New Horizons in 2020. But all of this won't be possible without your help, folks, so donate now!

Help send a digital time capsule to the New Horizons spacecraft by supporting the ONE EARTH MESSAGE on Kickstarter!

PS: Your name will also be included in the One Earth Message if you donate to its Kickstarter campaign, so donate now! Thanks.

Tuesday, August 29, 2017

T-Minus 18 Days Till Cassini Meets Its Fate...

An artist's concept of NASA's Cassini spacecraft approaching the inner gap between Saturn and its rings...as Cassini concludes the 'Grand Finale' of its 13-year-long mission at the ringed planet.
NASA / JPL - Caltech

Saturn Plunge Nears for Cassini Spacecraft (Press Release)

NASA's Cassini spacecraft is 18 days from its mission-ending dive into the atmosphere of Saturn. Its fateful plunge on Sept. 15 is a foregone conclusion -- an April 22 gravitational kick from Saturn's moon Titan placed the two-and-a-half ton vehicle on its path for impending destruction. Yet several mission milestones have to occur over the coming two-plus weeks to prepare the vehicle for one last burst of trailblazing science.

"The Cassini mission has been packed full of scientific firsts, and our unique planetary revelations will continue to the very end of the mission as Cassini becomes Saturn's first planetary probe, sampling Saturn's atmosphere up until the last second," said Linda Spilker, Cassini project scientist from NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California. "We'll be sending data in near real time as we rush headlong into the atmosphere -- it's truly a first-of-its-kind event at Saturn."

The spacecraft is expected to lose radio contact with Earth within about one to two minutes after beginning its descent into Saturn's upper atmosphere. But on the way down, before contact is lost, eight of Cassini's 12 science instruments will be operating. In particular, the spacecraft's ion and neutral mass spectrometer (INMS), which will be directly sampling the atmosphere's composition, potentially returning insights into the giant planet's formation and evolution. On the day before the plunge, other Cassini instruments will make detailed, high-resolution observations of Saturn's auroras, temperature, and the vortices at the planet's poles. Cassini's imaging camera will be off during this final descent, having taken a last look at the Saturn system the previous day (Sept. 14).

In its final week, Cassini will pass several milestones en route to its science-rich Saturn plunge. (Times below are predicted and may change slightly; see https://go.nasa.gov/2wbaCBT for updated times.)

Sept. 9 -- Cassini will make the last of 22 passes between Saturn itself and its rings. Closest approach is 1,044 miles (1,680 kilometers) above the cloud tops.

Sept. 11 -- Cassini will make a distant flyby of Saturn's largest moon, Titan. Even though the spacecraft will be at 73,974 miles (119,049 kilometers) away, the gravitational influence of the moon will slow down the spacecraft slightly as it speeds past. A few days later, instead of passing through the outermost fringes of Saturn's atmosphere, Cassini will dive in too deep to survive the friction and heating.

Sept. 14 -- Cassini's imaging cameras take their last look around the Saturn system, sending back pictures of moons Titan and Enceladus, the hexagon-shaped jet stream around the planet's north pole, and features in the rings.

Sept. 14 (5:45 p.m. EDT / 2:45 p.m. PDT) -- Cassini turns its antenna to point at Earth, begins a communications link that will continue until end of mission, and sends back its final images and other data collected along the way.

Sept. 15 (4:37 a.m. EDT / 1:37 a.m. PDT) -- The "final plunge" begins. The spacecraft starts a 5-minute roll to position INMS for optimal sampling of the atmosphere, transmitting data in near real time from now to end of mission.

Sept. 15 (7:53 a.m. EDT / 4:53 a.m. PDT) -- Cassini enters Saturn's atmosphere. Its thrusters fire at 10 percent of their capacity to maintain directional stability, enabling the spacecraft's high-gain antenna to remain pointed at Earth and allowing continued transmission of data.

Sept. 15 (7:54 a.m. EDT / 4:54 a.m. PDT) -- Cassini's thrusters are at 100 percent of capacity. Atmospheric forces overwhelm the thrusters' capacity to maintain control of the spacecraft's orientation, and the high-gain antenna loses its lock on Earth. At this moment, expected to occur about 940 miles (1,510 kilometers) above Saturn's cloud tops, communication from the spacecraft will cease, and Cassini's mission of exploration will have concluded. The spacecraft will break up like a meteor moments later.

As Cassini completes its 13-year tour of Saturn, its Grand Finale -- which began in April -- and final plunge are just the last beat. Following a four-year primary mission and a two-year extension, NASA approved an ambitious plan to extend Cassini's service by an additional seven years. Called the Cassini Solstice Mission, the extension saw Cassini perform dozens more flybys of Saturn's moons as the spacecraft observed seasonal changes in the atmospheres of Saturn and Titan. From the outset, the planned endgame for the Solstice Mission was to expend all of Cassini's maneuvering propellant exploring, then eventually arriving in the ultra-close Grand Finale orbits, ending with safe disposal of the spacecraft in Saturn's atmosphere.

"The end of Cassini's mission will be a poignant moment, but a fitting and very necessary completion of an astonishing journey," said Earl Maize, Cassini project manager at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California. "The Grand Finale represents the culmination of a seven-year plan to use the spacecraft's remaining resources in the most scientifically productive way possible. By safely disposing of the spacecraft in Saturn's atmosphere, we avoid any possibility Cassini could impact one of Saturn's moons somewhere down the road, keeping them pristine for future exploration."

Since its launch in 1997, the findings of the Cassini mission have revolutionized our understanding of Saturn, its complex rings, the amazing assortment of moons and the planet's dynamic magnetic environment. The most distant planetary orbiter ever launched, Cassini started making astonishing discoveries immediately upon arrival and continues today. Icy jets shoot from the tiny moon Enceladus, providing samples of an underground ocean with evidence of hydrothermal activity. Titan's hydrocarbon lakes and seas are dominated by liquid ethane and methane, and complex pre-biotic chemicals form in the atmosphere and rain to the surface. Three-dimensional structures tower above Saturn's rings, and a giant Saturn storm circled the entire planet for most of a year. Cassini's findings at Saturn have also buttressed scientists' understanding of processes involved in the formation of planets.

The Cassini-Huygens mission is a cooperative project of NASA, ESA (European Space Agency) and the Italian Space Agency. NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, a division of Caltech in Pasadena, manages the mission for NASA's Science Mission Directorate, Washington. JPL designed, developed and assembled the Cassini orbiter.

Source: Jet Propulsion Laboratory

****

Monday, August 28, 2017

InSight Update: The Mars Lander Is Still On-Track for a May 2018 Launch...

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

NASA's Next Mars Mission to Investigate Interior of Red Planet (Press Release)

Preparation of NASA's next spacecraft to Mars, InSight, has ramped up this summer, on course for launch next May from Vandenberg Air Force Base in central California -- the first interplanetary launch in history from America's West Coast.

Lockheed Martin Space Systems is assembling and testing the InSight spacecraft in a clean room facility near Denver. "Our team resumed system-level integration and test activities last month," said Stu Spath, spacecraft program manager at Lockheed Martin. "The lander is completed and instruments have been integrated onto it so that we can complete the final spacecraft testing including acoustics, instrument deployments and thermal balance tests."

InSight is the first mission to focus on examining the deep interior of Mars. Information gathered will boost understanding of how all rocky planets formed, including Earth.

"Because the interior of Mars has churned much less than Earth's in the past three billion years, Mars likely preserves evidence about rocky planets' infancy better than our home planet does," said InSight Principal Investigator Bruce Banerdt of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, California. He leads the international team that proposed the mission and won NASA selection in a competition with 27 other proposals for missions throughout the solar system. The long form of InSight's name is Interior Exploration using Seismic Investigations, Geodesy and Heat Transport.

Whichever day the mission launches during a five-week period beginning May 5, 2018, navigators have charted the flight to reach Mars the Monday after Thanksgiving in 2018.

The mission will place a stationary lander near Mars' equator. With two solar panels that unfold like paper fans, the lander spans about 20 feet (6 meters). Within weeks after the landing -- always a dramatic challenge on Mars -- InSight will use a robotic arm to place its two main instruments directly and permanently onto the Martian ground, an unprecedented set of activities on Mars. These two instruments are:

-- A seismometer, supplied by France's space agency, CNES, with collaboration from the United States, the United Kingdom, Switzerland and Germany. Shielded from wind and with sensitivity fine enough to detect ground movements half the diameter of a hydrogen atom, it will record seismic waves from "marsquakes" or meteor impacts that reveal information about the planet's interior layers.

-- A heat probe, designed to hammer itself to a depth of 10 feet (3 meters) or more and measure the amount of energy coming from the planet's deep interior. The heat probe is supplied by the German Aerospace Center, DLR, with the self-hammering mechanism from Poland.

A third experiment will use radio transmissions between Mars and Earth to assess perturbations in how Mars rotates on its axis, which are clues about the size of the planet's core.

The spacecraft's science payload also is on track for next year's launch. The mission's launch was originally planned for March 2016, but was called off due to a leak into a metal container designed to maintain near-vacuum conditions around the seismometer's main sensors. A redesigned vacuum vessel for the instrument has been built and tested, then combined with the instrument's other components and tested again. The full seismometer instrument was delivered to the Lockheed Martin spacecraft assembly facility in Colorado in July and has been installed on the lander.

"We have fixed the problem we had two years ago, and we are eagerly preparing for launch," said InSight Project Manager Tom Hoffman, of JPL.

The best planetary geometry for launches to Mars occurs during opportunities about 26 months apart and lasting only a few weeks.

JPL, a division of Caltech in Pasadena, California, manages the InSight Project for NASA's Science Mission Directorate, Washington. Lockheed Martin Space Systems, Denver, built the spacecraft. InSight is part of NASA's Discovery Program, which is managed by NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama.

Together with two active NASA Mars rovers, three NASA Mars orbiters and a Mars rover being built for launch in 2020, InSight is part of a legacy of robotic exploration that is helping to lay the groundwork for sending humans to Mars in the 2030s.

Source: Jet Propulsion Laboratory

****

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