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Thursday, November 30, 2017

A Random Thought To End This Month With...

Futuristic cars fly through the city of Los Angeles in BLADE RUNNER 2049.

Why are flying cars a DUMB IDEA? If people are generally too stupid or incapable of using their turn signals when changing lanes on the ground, what makes you think they'll be capable of safely flying a 2-ton machine hundreds to thousands of feet in the air?

That's my random thought for November. And no, I didn't type this entry as an excuse to post the cool screenshot from Blade Runner 2049 above, or an image of the Star Wars planet Coruscant below. I actually mean it. Speaking of Star Wars, The Last Jedi arrives in theaters two weeks from today! Can't wait to go to an advance screening of Episode VIII at 7 PM on December 14. Carry on.

The STAR WARS world of Coruscant...with rows of speeder traffic filling the skies above the planet-wide city.

Tuesday, November 28, 2017

Mars 2020 Update: America's Next Red Planet Rover Is Taking Shape At JPL...

An artist's concept of NASA's Mars 2020 rover studying the surface of the Red Planet.
NASA / JPL - Caltech

NASA Builds its Next Mars Rover Mission (News Release)

In just a few years, NASA's next Mars rover mission will be flying to the Red Planet.

At a glance, it looks a lot like its predecessor, the Curiosity Mars rover. But there's no doubt it's a souped-up science machine: It has seven new instruments, redesigned wheels and more autonomy. A drill will capture rock cores, while a caching system with a miniature robotic arm will seal up these samples. Then, they'll be deposited on the Martian surface for possible pickup by a future mission.

This new hardware is being developed at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, California, which manages the mission for the agency. It includes the Mars 2020 mission's cruise stage, which will fly the rover through space, and the descent stage, a rocket-powered "sky crane" that will lower it to the planet's surface. Both of these stages have recently moved into JPL's Spacecraft Assembly Facility.

Mars 2020 relies heavily on the system designs and spare hardware previously created for Mars Science Laboratory's Curiosity rover, which landed in 2012. Roughly 85 percent of the new rover's mass is based on this "heritage hardware."

"The fact that so much of the hardware has already been designed -- or even already exists -- is a major advantage for this mission," said Jim Watzin, director of NASA's Mars Exploration Program. "It saves us money, time and most of all, reduces risk."

Despite its similarities to Mars Science Laboratory, the new mission has very different goals. Mars 2020's instruments will seek signs of ancient life by studying terrain that is now inhospitable, but once held flowing rivers and lakes, more than 3.5 billion years ago.

To achieve these new goals, the rover has a suite of cutting-edge science instruments. It will seek out biosignatures on a microbial scale: An X-ray spectrometer will target spots as small as a grain of table salt, while an ultraviolet laser will detect the "glow" from excited rings of carbon atoms. A ground-penetrating radar will be the first instrument to look under the surface of Mars, mapping layers of rock, water and ice up to 30 feet (10 meters) deep, depending on the material.

The rover is getting some upgraded Curiosity hardware, including color cameras, a zoom lens and a laser that can vaporize rocks and soil to analyze their chemistry.

"Our next instruments will build on the success of MSL, which was a proving ground for new technology," said George Tahu, NASA's Mars 2020 program executive. "These will gather science data in ways that weren't possible before."

The mission will also undertake a marathon sample hunt: The rover team will try to drill at least 20 rock cores, and possibly as many as 30 or 40, for possible future return to Earth.

"Whether life ever existed beyond Earth is one of the grand questions humans seek to answer," said Ken Farley of JPL, Mars 2020's project scientist. "What we learn from the samples collected during this mission has the potential to address whether we're alone in the universe."

JPL is also developing a crucial new landing technology called terrain-relative navigation. As the descent stage approaches the Martian surface, it will use computer vision to compare the landscape with pre-loaded terrain maps. This technology will guide the descent stage to safe landing sites, correcting its course along the way.

A related technology called the range trigger will use location and velocity to determine when to fire the spacecraft's parachute. That change will narrow the landing ellipse by more than 50 percent.

"Terrain-relative navigation enables us to go to sites that were ruled too risky for Curiosity to explore," said Al Chen of JPL, the Mars 2020 entry, descent and landing lead. "The range trigger lets us land closer to areas of scientific interest, shaving miles -- potentially as much as a year -- off a rover's journey."

This approach to minimizing landing errors will be critical in guiding any future mission dedicated to retrieving the Mars 2020 samples, Chen said.

Site selection has been another milestone for the mission. In February, the science community narrowed the list of potential landing sites from eight to three. Those three remaining sites represent fundamentally different environments that could have harbored primitive life: an ancient lakebed called Jezero Crater; Northeast Syrtis, where warm waters may have chemically interacted with subsurface rocks; and a possible hot springs at Columbia Hills.

All three sites have rich geology and may potentially harbor signs of past microbial life. A final landing site decision is still more than a year away.

"In the coming years, the 2020 science team will be weighing the advantages and disadvantages of each of these sites," Farley said. "It is by far the most important decision we have ahead of us."

Source: Jet Propulsion Laboratory

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Another art concept of NASA's Mars 2020 rover studying the surface of the Red Planet.
NASA / JPL - Caltech

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Hubble's Successor Achieves a Major Milestone on the Path to Launch in 2019...

The large door of the Johnson Space Center's Chamber A is opened...revealing NASA's James Webb Space Telescope after it completed cryogenic testing on November 18, 2017.
NASA / Chris Gunn

NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope Completes Final Cryogenic Testing (News Release - November 20)

The vault-like, 40-foot diameter, 40-ton door of Chamber A at NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston was unsealed on November 18, signaling the end of cryogenic testing for NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope.

The historic chamber’s massive door opening brings to a close about 100 days of testing for Webb, a significant milestone in the telescope’s journey to the launch pad. The cryogenic vacuum test began when the chamber was sealed shut on July 10, 2017. Scientists and engineers at Johnson put Webb’s optical telescope and integrated science instrument module (OTIS) through a series of tests designed to ensure the telescope functioned as expected in an extremely cold, airless environment akin to that of space.

“After 15 years of planning, chamber refurbishment, hundreds of hours of risk-reduction testing, the dedication of more than 100 individuals through more than 90 days of testing, and surviving Hurricane Harvey, the OTIS cryogenic test has been an outstanding success,” said Bill Ochs, project manager for the James Webb Space Telescope at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland. “The completion of the test is one of the most significant steps in the march to launching Webb.”

These tests included an important alignment check of Webb’s 18 primary mirror segments, to make sure all of the gold-plated, hexagonal segments acted like a single, monolithic mirror. This was the first time the telescope’s optics and its instruments were tested together, though the instruments had previously undergone cryogenic testing in a smaller chamber at Goddard. Engineers from Harris Space and Intelligence Systems, headquartered in Melbourne, Florida, worked alongside NASA personnel for the test at Johnson.

“The Harris team integrated Webb’s 18 mirror segments at Goddard and designed, built, and helped operate the advanced ground support and optical test equipment at Johnson,” said Rob Mitrevski, vice president and general manager of intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance at Harris. “They were a key, enabling part of the successful Webb telescope testing team.”

The Webb telescope team persisted with the testing even when Hurricane Harvey slammed into the coast of Texas on Aug. 25 as a category 4 hurricane before stalling over eastern Texas and weakening to a tropical storm, where it dropped as much as 50 inches of rain in and around Houston. Many Webb telescope team members at Johnson endured the historic storm, working tirelessly through overnight shifts to make sure Webb’s cryogenic testing was not interrupted. In the wake of the storm, some Webb team members, including team members from Harris, volunteered their time to help clean up and repair homes around the city, and distribute food and water to those in need.

“The individuals and organizations that have led us to this most significant milestone represent the very best of the best. Their knowledge, dedication, and execution to successfully complete the testing as planned, even while enduring Hurricane Harvey, cannot be overstated,” said Mark Voyton, James Webb Space Telescope optical telescope element and integrated science instrument manager at Goddard. “Every team member delivered critical knowledge and insight into the strategic and tactical planning and execution required to complete all of the test objectives, and I am honored to have experienced this phase of our testing with every one of them.”

Before cooling the chamber, engineers removed the air from it, which took about a week. On July 20, engineers began to bring the chamber, the telescope, and the telescope’s science instruments down to cryogenic temperatures — a process that took about 30 days. During cool down, Webb and its instruments transferred their heat to surrounding liquid nitrogen and cold gaseous helium shrouds in Chamber A. Webb remained at “cryo-stable” temperatures for about another 30 days, and on Sept. 27, the engineers began to warm the chamber back to ambient conditions (near room temperature), before pumping the air back into it and unsealing the door.

“With an integrated team from all corners of the country, we were able to create deep space in our chamber and confirm that Webb can perform flawlessly as it observes the coldest corners of the universe,” said Jonathan Homan, project manager for Webb’s cryogenic testing at Johnson. “I expect [Webb] to be successful, as it journeys to Lagrange point 2 [after launch] and explores the origins of solar systems, galaxies, and has the chance to change our understanding of our universe.”

While Webb was inside the chamber, insulated from both outside visible and infrared light, engineers monitored it using thermal sensors and specialized camera systems. The thermal sensors kept tabs on the temperature of the telescope, while the camera systems tracked the physical position of Webb to see how its components very minutely moved during the cooldown process. Monitoring the telescope throughout the testing required the coordinated effort of every Webb team member at Johnson.

“This test team spanned nearly every engineering discipline we have on Webb,” said Lee Feinberg, optical telescope element manager for the Webb telescope at Goddard. “In every area there was incredible attention to detail and great teamwork, to make sure we understand everything that happened during the test and to make sure we can confidently say Webb will work as planned in space.”

In space, the telescope must be kept extremely cold, in order to be able to detect the infrared light from very faint, distant objects. Webb and its instruments have an operating temperature of about 40 Kelvin (or about minus 387 Fahrenheit / minus 233 Celsius). Because the Webb telescope’s mid-infrared instrument (MIRI) must be kept colder than the other research instruments, it relies on a cryocooler to lower its temperature to less than 7 Kelvin (minus 447 degrees Fahrenheit / minus 266 degrees Celsius).

To protect the telescope from external sources of light and heat (like the Sun, Earth and Moon), as well as from heat emitted by the observatory, a five-layer, tennis court-sized sunshield acts like a parasol that provides shade. The sunshield separates the observatory into a warm, sun-facing side (reaching temperatures close to 185 degrees Fahrenheit / 85 degrees Celsius) and a cold side (minus 400 degrees Fahrenheit / minus 240 degrees Celsius). The sunshield blocks sunlight from interfering with the sensitive telescope instruments.

Webb’s combined science instruments and optics next journey to Northrop Grumman Aerospace Systems in Redondo Beach, California, where they will be integrated with the spacecraft element, which is the combined sunshield and spacecraft bus. Together, the pieces form the complete James Webb Space Telescope observatory. Once fully integrated, the entire observatory will undergo more tests during what is called "observatory-level testing." This testing is the last exposure to a simulated launch environment before flight and deployment testing on the whole observatory.

Webb is expected to launch from Kourou, French Guiana, in the spring of 2019.

The James Webb Space Telescope, the scientific complement to NASA's Hubble Space Telescope, will be the premier space observatory of the next decade. Webb is an international project led by NASA with its partners, ESA (European Space Agency) and CSA (Canadian Space Agency).

Source: NASA.Gov

Monday, November 20, 2017

More Details On Last Month's Interstellar Interloper Are Revealed...

An artist's concept of 1I/2017 U1 (‘Oumuamua) traveling through deep space.
European Southern Observatory / M. Kornmesser

Solar System’s First Interstellar Visitor Dazzles Scientists (News Release)

Astronomers recently scrambled to observe an intriguing asteroid that zipped through the solar system on a steep trajectory from interstellar space—the first confirmed object from another star.

Now, new data reveal the interstellar interloper to be a rocky, cigar-shaped object with a somewhat reddish hue. The asteroid, named ‘Oumuamua by its discoverers, is up to one-quarter mile (400 meters) long and highly-elongated—perhaps 10 times as long as it is wide. That aspect ratio is greater than that of any asteroid or comet observed in our solar system to date. While its elongated shape is quite surprising, and unlike asteroids seen in our solar system, it may provide new clues into how other solar systems formed.

The observations and analyses were funded in part by NASA and appear in the Nov. 20 issue of the journal Nature. They suggest this unusual object had been wandering through the Milky Way, unattached to any star system, for hundreds of millions of years before its chance encounter with our star system.

“For decades we’ve theorized that such interstellar objects are out there, and now – for the first time – we have direct evidence they exist,” said Thomas Zurbuchen, associate administrator for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate in Washington. “This history-making discovery is opening a new window to study formation of solar systems beyond our own.”

Immediately after its discovery, telescopes around the world, including ESO’s Very Large Telescope in Chile and other observatories around the world were called into action to measure the object’s orbit, brightness and color. Urgency for viewing from ground-based telescopes was vital to get the best data.

Combining the images from the FORS instrument on the ESO telescope using four different filters with those of other large telescopes, a team of astronomers led by Karen Meech of the Institute for Astronomy in Hawaii found that ‘Oumuamua varies in brightness by a factor of ten as it spins on its axis every 7.3 hours. No known asteroid or comet from our solar system varies so widely in brightness, with such a large ratio between length and width. The most elongated objects we have seen to date are no more than three times longer than they are wide.

“This unusually big variation in brightness means that the object is highly elongated: about ten times as long as it is wide, with a complex, convoluted shape,” said Meech. We also found that it had a reddish color, similar to objects in the outer solar system, and confirmed that it is completely inert, without the faintest hint of dust around it.”

These properties suggest that ‘Oumuamua is dense, comprised of rock and possibly metals, has no water or ice, and that its surface was reddened due to the effects of irradiation from cosmic rays over hundreds of millions of years.

A few large ground-based telescopes continue to track the asteroid, though it’s rapidly fading as it recedes from our planet. Two of NASA’s space telescopes (Hubble and Spitzer) are tracking the object the week of Nov. 20. As of Nov. 20, ‘Oumuamua is travelling about 85,700 miles per hour (38.3 kilometers per second) relative to the Sun. Its location is approximately 124 million miles (200 million kilometers) from Earth -- the distance between Mars and Jupiter – though its outbound path is about 20 degrees above the plane of planets that orbit the Sun. The object passed Mars’s orbit around Nov. 1 and will pass Jupiter’s orbit in May of 2018. It will travel beyond Saturn’s orbit in January 2019; as it leaves our solar system, ‘Oumuamua will head for the constellation Pegasus.

Observations from large ground-based telescopes will continue until the object becomes too faint to be detected, sometime after mid-December. NASA’s Center for Near-Earth Object Studies (CNEOS) continues to take all available tracking measurements to refine the trajectory of 1I/2017 U1 as it exits our solar system.

This remarkable object was discovered Oct. 19 by the University of Hawaii’s Pan-STARRS1 telescope, funded by NASA’s Near-Earth Object Observations (NEOO) Program, which finds and tracks asteroids and comets in Earth’s neighborhood. NASA Planetary Defense Officer Lindley Johnson said, “We are fortunate that our sky survey telescope was looking in the right place at the right time to capture this historic moment. This serendipitous discovery is bonus science enabled by NASA’s efforts to find, track and characterize near-Earth objects that could potentially pose a threat to our planet.”

Preliminary orbital calculations suggest that the object came from the approximate direction of the bright star Vega, in the northern constellation of Lyra. However, it took so long for the interstellar object to make the journey – even at the speed of about 59,000 miles per hour (26.4 kilometers per second) -- that Vega was not near that position when the asteroid was there about 300,000 years ago.

While originally classified as a comet, observations from ESO and elsewhere revealed no signs of cometary activity after it slingshotted past the Sun on Sept. 9 at a blistering speed of 196,000 miles per hour (87.3 kilometers per second).

The object has since been reclassified as interstellar asteroid 1I/2017 U1 by the International Astronomical Union (IAU), which is responsible for granting official names to bodies in the solar system and beyond. In addition to the technical name, the Pan-STARRS team dubbed it ‘Oumuamua (pronounced oh MOO-uh MOO-uh), which is Hawaiian for “a messenger from afar arriving first.”

Astronomers estimate that an interstellar asteroid similar to ‘Oumuamua passes through the inner solar system about once per year, but they are faint and hard to spot and have been missed until now. It is only recently that survey telescopes, such as Pan-STARRS, are powerful enough to have a chance to discover them.

“What a fascinating discovery this is!” said Paul Chodas, manager of the Center for Near-Earth Object Studies at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, California. “It’s a strange visitor from a faraway star system, shaped like nothing we’ve ever seen in our own solar system neighborhood.”

Source: NASA.Gov

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Saturday, November 18, 2017

Photos of the Day: Meeting Jessica Jones...

At The Grove's Barnes & Noble bookstore in Los Angeles to attend a signing by actress Krysten Ritter...on November 17, 2017.

A little over a week after I met Anna Faris there, I went back to the Barnes & Noble bookstore at L.A.'s The Grove to get an autograph by Krysten Ritter last night. As you know, Ms. Ritter appears in Marvel's Jessica Jones on Netflix and played Chloe on the short-lived ABC TV sitcom Don't Trust the B---- in Apartment 23. Like Anna Faris, Ms. Ritter skipped having a discussion of her new novel Bonfire and went straight to signing it for everyone in attendance. What was awesome was that each fan was also able to get two other pieces of memorabilia signed by Ritter to go with her book. Unsurprisingly, the memorabilia presented to her either involved Jessica Jones or Apartment 23. I only had my copy of Bonfire signed.

Posing with Krysten Ritter at The Grove's Barnes & Noble bookstore in Los Angeles...on November 17, 2017.

As of right now, this may be the last book signing that I attend at The Grove in 2017. There's another celebrity who's promoting a new publication at Barnes & Noble next month, but I'll only show up if I'm not booked for work that day. I don't plan to take that day off for the signing, nor do I intend to tell you who I'm talking about! I'll keep y'all in suspense... Happy Saturday.

My autographed copy of Krysten Ritter's novel BONFIRE.

Friday, November 10, 2017

Norway Gets Its First Set of Joint Strike Fighters...

One of the first three Norwegian F-35 fighter jets to be stationed at the country's Ørland Air Base lands on November 3, 2017.
Torbjørn Kjosvold / Norwegian Armed Forces

The F-35 Aircraft Marks the Start of a New Era for the Norwegian Armed Forces (Press Release)

"The F-35 remains crucial to the continued modernization of our Armed Forces and our ability to preserve Norwegian and allied security and interests." The Government marked the procurement with a ceremony at Ørland Air Base November 10th. "Today, we are marking an important milestone in the development of Norway’s defence capabilities: The arrival in Norway of the first F-35 Lightning II jets," says Prime Minister Erna Solberg.

"We mark the start of a new era for the Norwegian Armed Forces. The new combat aircraft will be a key factor in deterring any attack on Norway, as well as ensuring that we meet our obligations to the NATO alliance. The F-35 remains crucial to the continued modernization of our Armed Forces and our ability to preserve Norwegian and allied security and interests," says Minister of Defence Frank Bakke-Jensen.

The F-35 is a 5th generation multi-role combat aircraft. It is a key procurement that ensures stronger and more relevant Norwegian Armed Forces in the future. The F-35 provides the Norwegian Armed Forces with a significantly strengthened strategic capability, in terms of sensors, weapons and survivability. This helps ensure that Norway is able to present any future opponent with a credible threshold against military aggression or coercion.

"We live in a more and more uncertain world. NATO is undertaking the biggest strengthening of our collective defences in decades. The Norwegian F-35 aircraft are an important contribution to this modernization and make the world’s strongest Alliance even stronger," says NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg.

"The F-35 is a lot more than simply an F-16 replacement. It adds a wide range of capabilities to our Armed Forces that Norway have never had before. The F-35 is not just a new fighter. It is a completely new weapons system.

"Norway’s participation in this programme enhances our ability to cooperate with other NATO countries, and at the same time gives us additional capabilities that we could never have acquired on our own. This illustrates the value of the Alliance we are a part of. It also shows that we are shouldering our share of the responsibility for ensuring that NATO has modern and effective capabilities," says Prime Minister Erna Solberg.

Source: Norwegian Ministry of Defence

Tuesday, November 07, 2017

Photos of the Day: Another Book Signing at The Grove in LA...

At The Grove's Barnes & Noble bookstore in Los Angeles to attend a signing by actress Anna Faris...on November 6, 2017.

Just thought I'd share these pics that I took when I met Anna Faris—who appeared in such films as Scary Movie and The House Bunny, as well as the CBS TV sitcom Mom—at The Grove in Los Angeles yesterday. Ms. Faris (formerly Mrs. Pratt...as she was married to Jurassic World's Chris Pratt up until this year) was promoting her new book Unqualified. Unfortunately, she didn't do a discussion of her book before the signing (like what 2 Broke Girls Beth Behrs and The Big Bang Theory's Mayim Bialik did last May), but at least she posed for the cool group photo below. Nice. This is the first of two book signings that I plan to attend at Barnes & Noble in The Grove this month. The other one will be on November 17, when Krysten Ritter of Marvel's Jessica Jones shows up at the bookstore to promote her new novel Bonfire. Happy Tuesday.

Anna Faris takes a group photo with everyone who attended her signing at The Grove's Barnes & Noble bookstore in Los Angeles...on November 6, 2017. That red arrow was added by me.

Anna Faris signs a copy of her new book UNQUALIFIED at The Grove's Barnes & Noble in Los Angeles...on November 6, 2017.

My autographed copy of Anna Faris' book UNQUALIFIED.

Monday, November 06, 2017

New Horizons Update: Help Give Its 2019 Kuiper Belt Target a Nickname! (I Prefer "Mjölnir" or "Camalor"...)

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

Help Nickname New Horizons’ Next Flyby Target (News Release)

NASA’s New Horizons mission to Pluto and the Kuiper Belt is looking for your ideas on what to informally name its next flyby destination, a billion miles (1.6 billion kilometers) past Pluto.

On New Year’s Day 2019, the New Horizons spacecraft will fly past a small, frozen world in the Kuiper Belt, at the outer edge of our solar system. The target Kuiper Belt Object (KBO) currently goes by the official designation "(486958) 2014 MU69." NASA and the New Horizons team are asking the public for help in giving “MU69” a nickname to use for this exploration target.

“New Horizons made history two years ago with the first close-up look at Pluto, and is now on course for the farthest planetary encounter in the history of spaceflight,” said Thomas Zurbuchen, associate administrator for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate in Washington. “We’re pleased to bring the public along on this exciting mission of discovery.”

After the flyby, NASA and the New Horizons project plan to choose a formal name to submit to the International Astronomical Union, based in part on whether MU69 is found to be a single body, a binary pair, or perhaps a system of multiple objects. The chosen nickname will be used in the interim.

“New Horizons has always been about pure exploration, shedding light on new worlds like we’ve never seen before,” said Alan Stern, New Horizons principal investigator from Southwest Research Institute in Boulder, Colorado. “Our close encounter with MU69 adds another chapter to this mission’s remarkable story. We’re excited for the public to help us pick a nickname for our target that captures the excitement of the flyby and awe and inspiration of exploring this new and record-distant body in space.”

The naming campaign is hosted by the SETI Institute of Mountain View, California, and led by Mark Showalter, an institute fellow and member of the New Horizons science team. The website includes names currently under consideration; site visitors can vote for their favorites or nominate names they think should be added to the ballot. “The campaign is open to everyone,” Showalter said. “We are hoping that somebody out there proposes the perfect, inspiring name for MU69.”

The campaign will close at 3 p.m. EST/noon PST on Dec. 1. NASA and the New Horizons team will review the top vote-getters and announce their selection in early January.

Telescopic observations of MU69, which is more than 4 billion miles (6.5 billion kilometers) from Earth, hint at the Kuiper Belt Object being either a binary orbiting pair or a contact (stuck together) pair of nearly like-sized bodies – meaning the team might actually need two or more temporary tags for its target.

“Many Kuiper Belt Objects have had informal names at first, before a formal name was proposed. After the flyby, once we know a lot more about this intriguing world, we and NASA will work with the International Astronomical Union to assign a formal name to MU69,” Showalter said. “Until then, we’re excited to bring people into the mission and share in what will be an amazing flyby on New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day, 2019!”

To submit your suggested names and to vote for your favorites, go to:

http://frontierworlds.seti.org

Source: NASA.Gov

Friday, November 03, 2017

SOLAR PROBE PLUS Update: The Spacecraft Continues Marching on Towards Its Summer 2018 Launch to the Sun...

Engineers watch as NASA's Parker Solar Probe spacecraft undergoes vibration testing inside a clean room at the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory.
NASA / Johns Hopkins APL / Ed Whitman

Parker Solar Probe Completes Launch Simulation Vibration Testing (News Release)

To ensure that NASA's Parker Solar Probe will be able to withstand the physical stresses of launch, engineers at the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory – where the probe was designed and is being integrated and tested – used a special device called a shaker table to simulate the forces of being hurled into space. The spacecraft successfully passed vibration testing, or "vibe," as the engineers call it, in late October.

"Our vibration testing uses our 40,000-pound force shaker to simulate many of the dynamic events that occur during launch and powered flight," said APL's Dave Persons, Parker Solar Probe lead structural engineer. "By safely simulating that process here in the clean room, we're able to fully monitor the spacecraft and make sure it's cleared for flight. During the test, we actively monitored over 300 channels of data."

During and after launch aboard a Delta IV Heavy—the world's largest launch vehicle—from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida, in summer 2018, Parker Solar Probe will undergo immense shaking and vibration. These Earth-bound tests are designed to make sure all of the systems and instruments on the spacecraft are up to those stresses.

"The predicted responses for major loading events – derived from studying and analyzing how payloads like spacecraft that are attached to the launch vehicle behave – establishes just how much force and vibration that Parker Solar Probe will be subjected to," said Shelly Conkey of APL, Parker Solar Probe structural analyst. "We load that information into our simulation, and the shaker table subjects the probe to that force and vibration. This testing lets us know that the probe is adequately designed to survive launch, and is ready to move on to further environmental testing, which we'll continue at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center."

The Parker Solar Probe spacecraft will explore the Sun's outer atmosphere and make critical observations that will answer decades-old questions about the physics of stars. The resulting data will also improve forecasts of major eruptions on the Sun and subsequent space weather events that impact life on Earth, as well as satellites and astronauts in space. The mission is named for Eugene N. Parker, whose profound insights into solar physics and processes have guided the discipline.

Source: Parker Solar Probe Website

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An artist's concept of NASA's Parker Solar Probe spacecraft approaching the Sun.
JHU / APL

Wednesday, November 01, 2017

Better Luck Next Year, Dodgers...

The Houston Astros celebrate after defeating the Los Angeles Dodgers, 5-1, in Game 7 of the World Series...on November 1, 2017.
Matt Slocum / Associated Press

A note to the Los Angeles Doyers: If you need motivation to return to the Fall Classic next year, look no further than to the 2015 Kansas City Royals. The Royals lost to the San Francisco Giants in the 2014 World Series, only to return the following year and defeat the New York Mets in five games. But if the Dodgers do make it back to the championship round in late 2018, here's a bit of advice: DO NOT start a World Series game with Yu Darvish at the pitching mound (assuming that he'll still be part of the team next April). Even if he wasn't bothered by the racist gesture of the Houston Astros' Yuli Gurriel in Game 3 (which he clearly was), Darvish would've still faltered like he did in the first few innings of Game 7 tonight. Asians don't generally do well in high-pressure situations (otherwise, I would be sleeping right now before I wake up for that 9-to-5 fast-paced corporate office job tomorrow, as opposed to being a freelance blogger and photographer who took the week off from my freelance background acting job due to medical reasons—and hoping that there would've been a Dodgers parade to attend in downtown L.A. this Friday), particularly in American professional sports. It didn't help that the Dodgers started an Asian during the most important game of the American pastime!

Anyways, congrats to the Astros. Like the New Orleans Saints—who won the Super Bowl almost five years after their city was ravaged by Hurricane Katrina in 2005—Justin Verlander and Co. had the city of Houston rally behind them two months after it was devastated by Hurricane Harvey. What a great way to lift up the spirits of those who went through this devastating natural disaster. And speaking of Verlander, not only is he now a World Series champ, but he's set to marry supermodel Kate Upton in Italy this weekend. I despise him more than Gurriel... I kid. I despise him as much as I do that Cuban (insert any insult here). Carry on.

Supermodel Kate Upton and her fiancé/Astros pitcher Justin Verlander share a moment after Houston won the World Series at Dodgers Stadium...on November 1, 2017.
Ezra Shaw / Getty Images, 2017 Getty Images