Wednesday, July 18, 2018

A Quick Lakers Update...Sort of

So online reports this morning have stated that 2014 NBA Finals MVP Kawhi Leonard has been traded to the Toronto Raptors from the San Antonio Spurs...in exchange for Toronto's 4-time NBA All-Star DeMar DeRozan going to Texas. Assuming that Kawhi Leonard keeps true to his word and joins the Los Angeles Lakers as a free agent in summer 2019 (or before the trade deadline next February?), the Spurs clearly emerged as the winners of this deal. And Toronto? Have fun watching your newly-acquired one-year (or less?) rental potentially phoning it in during the 2018-'19 NBA season! Again, this is assuming that Leonard doesn't change his mind and decide to stay with the Raptors after next year. (Considering the fact that Kawhi wanted to move back to his home city of Los Angeles, and San Antonio decided to send him to a team that's over 2,500 miles from L.A. and located out of country instead, I don't see this as likely. Hopefully.) I'm lookin' at you, Paul George... For those of you non-NBA folks reading this, Google the reference.

Happy Hump Day!

Could Kawhi Leonard join forces with LeBron James on the L.A. Lakers as soon as February, 2019? We'll see. Guess who I cropped out of this pic...

Tuesday, July 17, 2018

A New Look for AIR FORCE ONE?

Donald Trump's version of Air Force One? This satirical artwork isn't so far-fetched.
Alex Gonzalez

So according to this article in The Washington Post, Donald Trump wants to give the next version of Air Force One a makeover. He wants to give the next presidential jet a red, white and blue color theme. Just as an FYI, the Russian flag—like America's Old Glory—is also red, white and blue.

The Russian flag.

Thursday, July 12, 2018

TESS Update: The Spacecraft's Search for New Alien Worlds Should Begin by Month's End...

An artist's concept of NASA's TESS satellite searching for exoplanets in deep space.
NASA GSFC

NASA’s TESS Spacecraft Continues Testing Prior to First Observations (News Release - July 11)

After a successful launch on April 18, 2018, NASA’s newest planet hunter, the Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite, is currently undergoing a series of commissioning tests before it begins searching for planets. The TESS team has reported that the spacecraft and cameras are in good health, and the spacecraft has successfully reached its final science orbit. The team continues to conduct tests in order to optimize spacecraft performance with a goal of beginning science at the end of July.

Every new mission goes through a commissioning period of testing and adjustments before beginning science operations. This serves to test how the spacecraft and its instruments are performing and determines whether any changes need to be made before the mission starts observations.

TESS is a NASA Astrophysics Explorer mission led and operated by MIT in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and managed by NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland. Dr. George Ricker of MIT’s Kavli Institute for Astrophysics and Space Research serves as principal investigator for the mission. Additional partners include Northrop Grumman, based in Falls Church, Virginia; NASA’s Ames Research Center in California’s Silicon Valley; the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics in Cambridge, Massachusetts; MIT’s Lincoln Laboratory in Lexington, Massachusetts; and the Space Telescope Science Institute in Baltimore. More than a dozen universities, research institutes and observatories worldwide are participants in the mission.

Source: NASA.Gov

****

Wednesday, July 11, 2018

Images of the Day: Israel's Lunar Lander...

An image of SpaceIL's lunar lander at its assembly facility in Israel.
SpaceIL

Just thought I'd share these photos and artwork depicting the SpaceIL lunar lander...which is scheduled to launch aboard a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida this December, and touch down on the surface of the Moon on February 13, 2019. Instead of taking a direct route to the Moon and do a standard orbit insertion maneuver using a lengthy engine burn, the SpaceIL lander will settle into Earth's orbit, and gradually raise its orbit (using smaller thruster burns) until it takes the spacecraft near the lunar surface...where it will make its landing attempt. Israel's spacecraft was one of many participants to compete for the Google Lunar XPrize that began almost a decade ago. The XPrize competition ended last March without awarding any winners (the participants were originally supposed to send a spacecraft to the Moon by 2014 to win the grand prize of $20 million USD, but that date was extended to this year after 2014 turned out to be an unfeasible launch date for the competitors), but that didn't stop the Israeli team from continuing the project and being only 5 months away from making this mission a reality.


As shown in the tweet above, I sent a message to SpaceIL mentioning that it would be awesome if it allowed folks around the world to submit their names via the Web to fly aboard the lander when it heads to the Moon. SpaceIL liked my tweet, but didn't respond to my suggestion. However, it did have a previous PR campaign where SpaceIL announced that anyone who took a photo with a model of its lander at Ben Gurion Airport (in Israel) would have it placed aboard the spacecraft if the person posted the pic on Facebook and Instagram with the #SpaceIL hashtag included. Lucky airport patrons! If someone at SpaceIL is reading this Blog entry: You still have two to three months (technically it's about five months, but those last two months would be spent on prepping the lander for launch at the SpaceX facility in Florida) to make a quick "Send Your Name to the Moon's Surface" campaign to happen online! Happy Hump Day.

Another image of SpaceIL's lunar lander at its assembly facility in Israel.
SpaceIL

A computer-generated image of SpaceIL's lunar lander approaching the surface of the Moon.
SpaceIL

An artist's concept of SpaceIL's lunar lander approaching the surface of the Moon.An artist's concept of SpaceIL's lunar lander approaching the surface of the Moon.
SpaceIL

Monday, July 09, 2018

Welcome to Los Angeles, LeBron! The King Is Officially a Laker...

LeBron James officially became a Los Angeles Laker on July 9, 2018.

Lakers Sign LeBron James (Press Release)

EL SEGUNDO – The Los Angeles Lakers have signed forward LeBron James, it was announced today. Per team policy, terms of the deal were not released.

“Today is a great day for the Lakers organization and Lakers fans all over the world to welcome LeBron James, a three-time NBA Champion and four-time NBA MVP,” said Lakers President of Basketball Operations Earvin “Magic” Johnson. “LeBron is special. He is the best player in the world. He loves to compete and is an awesome leader who is about winning and making sure that his teammates are successful. The Lakers players are excited to have a teammate who has been to nine NBA Finals. It’s a huge step closer to returning the Lakers to the playoffs and to the NBA Finals.”

James played in all 82 games last season, tallying a team-high 27.5 points (third in the NBA), a career-high-tying 8.6 rebounds and a career-high 9.1 assists (second in the NBA), while shooting 54.2 percent from the field. He finished the season with a league-high 2,251 total points scored and became the first player in NBA history to accumulate at least 30,000 career points, 8,000 rebounds and 8,000 assists. In addition, the 15-year NBA veteran currently holds the longest-ever double-digit scoring streak at 873 games.

“This is a historic moment for the Lakers, and we could not feel more grateful and honored,” Lakers General Manager Rob Pelinka said. “When LeBron James – a perennial NBA MVP and champion who is playing at the most astonishing levels of his career – chooses to join the Lakers, it serves as the ultimate validation for what we are building here. However, we all know that the work is not yet done. We will continue forward and do all that is necessary to achieve our shared obsession of bringing banner No. 17 to the world’s best fans – Lakers Nation.”

A four-time NBA MVP (2009, ’10, ’12, ’13), James has played in 1,143 career regular season games (1,142 starts) for Cleveland and Miami, holding averages of 27.2 points, 7.4 rebounds, 7.2 assists and 1.6 steals per game. With one of the most storied careers in NBA history, he currently ranks seventh in total points scored (31,038), 11th in all-time assists (8,208) and 16th in career steals (1,865).

James, a three-time NBA Champion and three-time Finals MVP, has made nine trips to the NBA Finals, playing in 239 career playoff games with averages of 28.9 points (.491 FG%), 8.9 rebounds, 7.1 assists, 1.8 steals and 1.0 block in 42.0 minutes. He is the only player in NBA history to play more than 10,000 postseason minutes and is the league’s all-time leader in total playoff points (6,911) and steals (419), also ranking third in assists (1,687) and sixth in rebounds (2,212).

The Akron, OH, native has been named an NBA All-Star in each of the last 14 seasons, earning First Team All-NBA honors on 12 occasions, including the last 11 consecutive seasons. The 2003-04 Rookie of the Year is a five-time First Team All-Defensive Team member, a two-time Olympic Gold Medalist for Team USA (2008, ’12) and the 2016-17 J. Walter Kennedy Citizenship Award winner.

In 2004, LeBron started the LeBron James Family Foundation that now serves more than 1,300 Akron-area students and their families with the programs, support and mentors they need for success in school and beyond. Turning its attention to the life-changing power of education with its “I PROMISE” program in 2011, LJFF has committed four-year college scholarships to all of its eligible students and also provides a program for parents to earn their high school GED’s. In July of 2018, all of his Foundation’s interventions and research-based incentives – along with its “We Are Family” philosophy – will be implemented into a brand new public school, the I PROMISE School, dedicated to giving Akron’s most challenged students and their families the resources and wraparound supports needed on the path to a better future.

Source: Lakers.com

****

LeBron James officially became a Los Angeles Laker on July 9, 2018.

Saturday, July 07, 2018

A Major Milestone for the Parker Solar Probe as It Gears Up for Launch on August 4...

Engineers are about to install the Parker Solar Probe's heat shield inside the Astrotech Space Operations facility in Titusville, Florida...on June 27, 2018.
NASA / Johns Hopkins APL / Ed Whitman

Cutting-Edge Heat Shield Installed on NASA’s Parker Solar Probe (News Release - July 5)

The launch of Parker Solar Probe, the mission that will get closer to the Sun than any human-made object has ever gone, is quickly approaching, and on June 27, 2018, Parker Solar Probe’s heat shield — called the Thermal Protection System, or TPS — was installed on the spacecraft.

A mission 60 years in the making, Parker Solar Probe will make a historic journey to the Sun’s corona, a region of the solar atmosphere. With the help of its revolutionary heat shield, now permanently attached to the spacecraft in preparation for its August 2018 launch, the spacecraft’s orbit will carry it to within 4 million miles of the Sun's fiercely hot surface, where it will collect unprecedented data about the inner workings of the corona.

The eight-foot-diameter heat shield will safeguard everything within its umbra, the shadow it casts on the spacecraft. At Parker Solar Probe’s closest approach to the Sun, temperatures on the heat shield will reach nearly 2,500 degrees Fahrenheit, but the spacecraft and its instruments will be kept at a relatively comfortable temperature of about 85 degrees Fahrenheit.

The heat shield is made of two panels of superheated carbon-carbon composite sandwiching a lightweight 4.5-inch-thick carbon foam core. The Sun-facing side of the heat shield is also sprayed with a specially formulated white coating to reflect as much of the Sun’s energy away from the spacecraft as possible.

The heat shield itself weighs only about 160 pounds — here on Earth, the foam core is 97 percent air. Because Parker Solar Probe travels so fast — 430,000 miles per hour at its closest approach to the Sun, fast enough to travel from Philadelphia to Washington, D.C., in about one second — the shield and spacecraft have to be light to achieve the needed orbit.

The reinstallation of the Thermal Protection System — which was briefly attached to the spacecraft during testing at the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Lab in Laurel, Maryland, in fall 2017 — marks the first time in months that Parker Solar Probe has been fully integrated. The heat shield and spacecraft underwent testing and evaluation separately at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, before shipping out to Astrotech Space Operations in Titusville, Florida, in April 2018. With the recent reunification, Parker Solar Probe inches closer to launch and toward the Sun.

Parker Solar Probe is part of NASA’s Living with a Star Program, or LWS, to explore aspects of the Sun-Earth system that directly affect life and society. LWS is managed by Goddard for the Heliophysics Division of NASA’s Science Mission Directorate in Washington, D.C. The Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory manages the Parker Solar Probe mission for NASA. APL designed and built the spacecraft and will also operate it.

Source: NASA.Gov

****

Engineers install the Parker Solar Probe's heat shield inside the Astrotech Space Operations facility in Titusville, Florida...on June 27, 2018.
NASA / Johns Hopkins APL / Ed Whitman

Thursday, July 05, 2018

Photos of the Day: An F-15 Flies Above Orange County, CA...

An F-15 Eagle flies over a BBQ party that I attended in Stanton, California...on July 4, 2018.

Happy Fifth of July, everyone! Just thought I'd share these pics and video of an F-15 Eagle that flew over a BBQ party I attended in Stanton, California yesterday. The U.S. Air Force fighter jet most likely came from Joint Forces Training Base—which is based in Los Alamitos several miles away. Such a cool sight... Though it would've been much cooler if it was an F-22 Raptor or F-35 Lightning II that created noise above Orange County! It's all good. Hope all of my fellow Yanks reading this had a fun and safe Fourth of July!

An F-15 Eagle flies over a BBQ party that I attended in Stanton, California...on July 4, 2018.

An F-15 Eagle flies over a BBQ party that I attended in Stanton, California...on July 4, 2018.

An F-15 Eagle flies over a BBQ party that I attended in Stanton, California...on July 4, 2018.

An F-15 Eagle flies over a BBQ party that I attended in Stanton, California...on July 4, 2018.

An F-15 Eagle flies over a BBQ party that I attended in Stanton, California...on July 4, 2018.

Tuesday, July 03, 2018

NASA's Dawn Mission Enters the Endgame...

An animated GIF depicting NASA's Dawn spacecraft moving through deep space on the thrust of its ion engine.
NASA / JPL - Caltech

Dawn's Engines Complete Firing, Science Continues (News Release - June 28)

Mission controllers have turned off the industrious ion engines on NASA's Dawn spacecraft for the last time and do not expect to turn them back on again, if everything goes as planned for the rest of Dawn's mission in orbit around Ceres, the largest body in the main asteroid belt. Engineers led by Dawn Project Manager Marc Rayman of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, California, drew this conclusion on Tuesday, June 26, after analyzing data from Dawn's last thrusting session on Thursday, June 21, and verifying plans for the rest of the mission. Mission managers expect Dawn to continue gathering science data and transmitting it to Earth for another few months.

Dawn turned on its innovative ion engines for the first time on Oct. 6, 2007. That technology has allowed Dawn to become the first mission to orbit two solar system destinations outside of the Earth-Moon system -- first Vesta and then Ceres - and to do groundbreaking science at these two bodies. During more than a decade in space, Dawn's ion engines have set records for total firing time of 5.87 years and total effective velocity change by a spacecraft of 25,700 mph (41,360 kph). Because of the nature of orbital motion, that is not Dawn's actual velocity. Spacecraft slow down relative to the Sun as they go outward in the solar system, Rayman explained. Read more about orbital velocity here.

"Dawn's remarkable ion engines have taken us on an exciting extraterrestrial expedition that would have been impossible without them," said Rayman. "The engines are healthy and ready in case we ever need them again, but they have taken Dawn exactly where we want it to be. We will remember the engines and their cool blue glow with fondness and gratitude."

Dawn launched on Sept. 27, 2007.

Source: Jet Propulsion Laboratory

****

A close-up image of Ceres' surface that was taken by NASA's Dawn spacecraft from an altitude of 21 miles (34 kilometers)...on June 22, 2018.
NASA / JPL - Caltech / UCLA / MPS / DLR / IDA

Sunday, July 01, 2018

WELCOME TO THE LOS ANGELES LAKERS, LEBRON!

Amazing fan art of LeBron James in the purple and gold.

Earlier today, it was revealed that LeBron James agreed to a 4-year, $153-million deal to play with the Los Angeles Lakers (which will most likely be made official this Friday...when NBA free agents can begin signing new contracts)—after spending four years with the Cleveland Cavaliers and winning the 2016 championship with them. While the Golden State Warriors (who swept the Cavaliers in the NBA Finals last month) will still be the favorite to win their fourth championship next season, LeBron's presence on the Lakers instantly brings the team back to the greatness of Kobe-Shaq and Kobe-Pau before him. Lakers fans (including Yours Truly) haven't felt this type of excitement for five years (despite the brief additions of Dwight Howard and Steve Nash to the team during that time). If the Lakers manage to get Kawhi Leonard traded to them from the San Antonio Spurs sometime this summer, then the 2018-'19 NBA regular season will definitely be a joy to watch as the Lakers bring Showtime back to STAPLES Center.

LeBron James will soon be in the company of Laker legends.

Congrats on a job well done, Magic Johnson, Rob Pelinka and Jeanie Buss! You guys are awesome. And to Paul George (who could've been part of a Lakers super team next season): Have fun playing in Oklahoma and losing in the first round of the playoffs again, you punkass bitch. Happy Sunday!

Kyrie Irving vs. LeBron James: Will the Celtic-Laker rivalry renew itself in the coming years?

Saturday, June 30, 2018

"'Oumuamua" Update: New Signs That the Interstellar Interloper May Have Been a Comet...

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

Our Solar System's First Known Interstellar Object Gets Unexpected Speed Boost (News Release - June 27)

Using observations from NASA's Hubble Space Telescope and ground-based observatories, an international team of scientists has confirmed 'Oumuamua (oh-MOO-ah-MOO-ah), the first known interstellar object to travel through our solar system, got an unexpected boost in speed and shift in trajectory as it passed through the inner solar system last year.

"Our high-precision measurements of 'Oumuamua's position revealed that there was something affecting its motion other than the gravitational forces of the Sun and planets," said Marco Micheli of ESA's (European Space Agency) Space Situational Awareness Near-Earth Object Coordination Centre in Frascati, Italy, and lead author of a paper describing the team's findings.

Analyzing the trajectory of the interstellar visitor, co-author Davide Farnocchia of the Center for Near Earth Object Studies (CNEOS) at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, California, found that the speed boost was consistent with the behavior of a comet.

"This additional subtle force on 'Oumuamua likely is caused by jets of gaseous material expelled from its surface," said Farnocchia. "This same kind of outgassing affects the motion of many comets in our solar system."

Comets normally eject large amounts of dust and gas when warmed by the Sun. But according to team scientist Olivier Hainaut of the European Southern Observatory, "There were no visible signs of outgassing from 'Oumuamua, so these forces were not expected."

The team estimates that 'Oumuamua's outgassing may have produced a very small amount of dust particles -- enough to give the object a little kick in speed, but not enough to be detected.

Karen Meech, an astronomer at the University of Hawaii's Institute of Astronomy and co-author of the study, speculated that small dust grains, present on the surface of most comets, eroded away during 'Oumuamua's long journey through interstellar space.

"The more we study 'Oumuamua, the more exciting it gets," Meech said. "I'm amazed at how much we have learned from a short, intense observing campaign. I can hardly wait for the next interstellar object!"

'Oumuamua, less than half a mile in length, now is farther away from our Sun than Jupiter and traveling away from the Sun at about 70,000 mph as it heads toward the outskirts of the solar system. In only another four years, it will pass Neptune's orbit on its way back into interstellar space.

Because 'Oumuamua is the first interstellar object ever observed in our solar system, researchers caution that it's difficult to draw general conclusions about this newly-discovered class of celestial bodies. However, observations point to the possibility that other star systems regularly eject small comet-like objects, and there should be more of them drifting among the stars. Future ground- and space-based surveys could detect more of these interstellar vagabonds, providing a larger sample for scientists to analyze.

The international team of astronomers used observations from Hubble, the Canada-France-Hawaii Telescope in Hawaii, and the Gemini South Telescope and European Southern Observatory's Very Large Telescope in Chile.

The paper with the team's findings appears in the June 27 issue of the journal Nature.

JPL hosts CNEOS for the agency's Near-Earth Object Observations Program, an element of the Planetary Defense Coordination Office within the agency's Science Mission Directorate. Hubble is a project of international cooperation between NASA and ESA. NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, manages Hubble. The Space Telescope Science Institute (STScI) in Baltimore conducts Hubble science operations.

Source: Jet Propulsion Laboratory

****

Friday, June 29, 2018

NASA's Latest X-Plane Gets a New Name...

An artist's concept of NASA's X-59 QueSST aircraft flying over a rural community in the United States.
NASA

NASA’s Experimental Supersonic Aircraft Now Known as X-59 QueSST (News Release - June 27)

NASA’s newest experimental aircraft, designed with quiet supersonic technology and intended to help open a new era in faster-than-sound air travel over land, will forever be known in the history books as the X-59 QueSST.

The U.S. Air Force, which is the government entity responsible for assigning X-number designations and the popular name associated with the aircraft, officially informed NASA of their decision on June 26.

“For everyone working on this important project, this is great news and we’re thrilled with the designation,” said Jaiwon Shin, NASA’s associate administrator for aeronautics.

“I’m confident that the contributions the X-59 QueSST will make to our nation and the world will ensure its place among the greatest NASA X-planes ever flown,” Shin said.

The X-plane number designation continues a tradition of naming important experimental aircraft and rockets that dates back to 1947 and the X-1, the rocket-powered airplane that Chuck Yeager flew to become the first human to fly faster than the speed of sound.

And while that famous X-1 was nicknamed the Glamourous Glennis, for Yeager’s wife, today’s X-59 takes its QueSST nickname from the quiet supersonic technology the aircraft will be equipped with.

Now under construction by Lockheed Martin Aeronautics Company at its famed Skunk Works plant in Palmdale, Calif., the X-59 QueSST is designed so that when flying supersonic, people on the ground will hear nothing more than a sonic thump – if anything at all.

Once fully tested and pronounced safe to fly within the National Airspace, the X-59 in late 2022 will begin making supersonic flights over select communities to measure residents’ reactions to any noise they might hear.

The scientifically valid data gathered from these community overflights will be presented to U.S. and international regulators, who will use the information to help them come up with rules based on noise levels that enable new commercial markets for supersonic flight over land.

Source: NASA.Gov

****

An artist's concept of NASA's X-59 QueSST aircraft soaring high in the sky.
NASA / Lockheed Martin

Thursday, June 28, 2018

ANOTHER Launch Delay for the James Webb Space Telescope...

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 Completes Webb Telescope Review, Commits to Launch in Early 2021 (Press Release - June 27)

The Independent Review Board (IRB) established by NASA to assess progress on its James Webb Space Telescope has unanimously recommended that development on the world’s premier science observatory should continue; NASA has established a new launch date for Webb of March 30, 2021.

A report issued by the review board addresses a range of factors influencing Webb’s schedule and performance, including the technical challenges and tasks remaining by primary contractor Northrop Grumman before launch.

“Webb should continue based on its extraordinary scientific potential and critical role in maintaining U.S. leadership in astronomy and astrophysics,” said Tom Young, the chair of the review board. “Ensuring every element of Webb functions properly before it gets to space is critical to its success.”

The board also reaffirmed Webb’s significant complexity, incredible scientific potential, and importance to astrophysics. The report includes several recommendations for moving forward, some of which NASA has already initiated. The agency agrees with the review board’s expert guidance on decisive steps necessary to safeguard and complete the telescope’s development.

NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine sent a message to the NASA workforce Wednesday about the report. “Webb is vital to the next generation of research beyond NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope. It’s going to do amazing things – things we’ve never been able to do before – as we peer into other galaxies and see light from the very dawn of time,” said Administrator Bridenstine. “Despite major challenges, the board and NASA unanimously agree that Webb will achieve mission success with the implementation of the board’s recommendations, many of which already are underway.”

“The more we learn more about our universe, the more we realize that Webb is critical to answering questions we didn’t even know how to ask when the spacecraft was first designed,” said Thomas Zurbuchen, associate administrator for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate. “Webb is poised to answer those questions, and is worth the wait. The valuable recommendations of the IRB support our efforts towards mission success; we expect spectacular scientific advances from NASA’s highest science priority.”

In its report, the IRB found that technical issues, including human errors, have greatly impacted the development schedule.

The agency previously had estimated an earlier launch date, but awaited findings from the IRB before making a final determination and considered data from Webb’s Standing Review Board. The agency established the new launch date estimate to accommodate changes in the schedule due to environmental testing and work performance challenges by Northrop Grumman on the spacecraft’s sunshield and propulsion system. The telescope’s new total lifecycle cost, to support the revised launch date, is estimated at $9.66 billion; its new development cost estimate is $8.8 billion.

From detecting the light of the first stars and galaxies in the distant universe, to probing the atmospheres of exoplanets for possible signs of habitability, Webb’s world-class science not only will shed light on the many mysteries of the universe, it also will complement and further enhance the discoveries of other astrophysics projects.

The first telescope of its kind, and an unprecedented feat of engineering, Webb is at the very leading edge of technological innovation and development. At its conception, challenges were anticipated for such a unique observatory of its size and magnitude. Webb was designed with highly sophisticated instruments to accomplish the ambitious scientific goals outlined in the National Academy of Sciences 2000 Decadal Survey – to answer the most fundamental questions about our cosmic origins.

Webb will be folded, origami-style, for launch inside Arianespace’s Ariane 5 launch vehicle fairing – about 16 feet (5 meters) wide. After its launch, the observatory will complete an intricate and technically-challenging series of deployments – one of the most critical parts of Webb’s journey to its final orbit, about one million miles from Earth. When completely unfurled, Webb’s primary mirror will span more than 21 feet (6.5 meters) and its sunshield will be about the size of a tennis court.

Because of its size and complexity, the process of integrating and testing parts is more complicated than that of an average science mission. Once the spacecraft element has completed its battery of testing, it will be integrated with the telescope and science instrument element, which passed its tests last year. The fully-assembled observatory then will undergo a series of challenging environmental tests and a final deployment test before it is shipped to the launch site in Kourou, French Guiana.

Webb is an international project led by NASA with its partners, the ESA (European Space Agency) and the Canadian Space Agency.

****

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

Wednesday, June 27, 2018

Welcome to Asteroid Ryugu, Hayabusa2!

A snapshot of Ryugu that was taken by Japan's Hayabusa 2 spacecraft prior to it entering orbit around the asteroid...on June 27, 2018 (Japan Time).
JAXA

Hayabusa 2 Rendezvous with Ryugu (Press Release)

JAXA confirmed Hayabusa 2—JAXA’s asteroid explorer—rendezvoused with Ryugu, the target asteroid.

On June 27, 2018, JAXA operated Hayabusa 2's chemical propulsion thrusters for the spacecraft's orbit control.*

The confirmation of the Hayabusa 2 rendezvous made at 9:35 a.m. (Japan Standard Time, JST) is based on the following data analyses:

・The thruster operation of Hayabusa 2 occurred nominally
・The distance between Hayabusa 2 and Ryugu is approximately 20 kilometers
・Hayabusa 2 is able to maintain a constant distance to asteroid Ryugu
・The status of Hayabusa 2 is normal

From this point, we are planning to conduct exploratory activities in the vicinity of the asteroid, including scientific observation of asteroid Ryugu and surveying the asteroid for sample collection.

* Hayabusa 2 operation hours: 7:00 a.m. (JST) through 3:00 p.m. (JST), June 27. The thruster operation was pre-programmed in the event sequence earlier on the day and the command was automatically executed.

Source: Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency

****

My participation certificate for Japan's Hayabusa 2 mission.

Saturday, June 23, 2018

Curiosity Update: A Selfie in a 'Global Dust Event'...

A self-portrait of NASA's Curiosity Mars rover (with dust obscuring the hills in the horizon), taken with a camera on her robotic arm on June 15, 2018.
NASA / JPL - Caltech / MSSS

Martian Dust Storm Grows Global; Curiosity Captures Photos of Thickening Haze (News Release - June 20)

A storm of tiny dust particles has engulfed much of Mars over the last two weeks and prompted NASA's Opportunity rover to suspend science operations. But across the planet, NASA's Curiosity rover, which has been studying Martian soil at Gale Crater, is expected to remain largely unaffected by the dust. While Opportunity is powered by sunlight, which is blotted out by dust at its current location, Curiosity has a nuclear-powered battery that runs day and night.

The Martian dust storm has grown in size and is now officially a "planet-encircling" (or "global") dust event, according to Bruce Cantor of Malin Space Science Systems, San Diego. He is deputy principal investigator of the Mars Color Imager camera (MARCI) on board NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter.

Though Curiosity is on the other side of Mars from Opportunity, dust has steadily increased over it, more than doubling over the weekend. The sunlight-blocking haze, called "tau," is now above 8.0 at Gale Crater -- the highest tau the mission has ever recorded. Tau was last measured near 11 over Opportunity, thick enough that accurate measurements are no longer possible for Mars' oldest active rover.

For NASA's human scientists watching from the ground, Curiosity offers an unprecedented window to answer some questions. One of the biggest is: why do some Martian dust storms last for months and grow massive, while others stay small and last only a week?

"We don't have any good idea," says Scott D. Guzewich, an atmospheric scientist at NASA Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, leading Curiosity's dust storm investigation.

Curiosity, he points out, plus a fleet of spacecraft in the orbit of Mars, will allow scientists for the first time to collect a wealth of dust information both from the surface and from space. The last storm of global magnitude that enveloped Mars was in 2007, five years before Curiosity landed there.

Curiosity's engineers at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, have studied the potential for the growing dust storm to affect the rover's instruments, and say it poses little risk. The largest impact is to the rover's cameras, which require extra exposure time due to the low lighting. The rover already routinely points its Mastcam down at the ground after each use to reduce the amount of dust blowing at its optics. JPL leads the Mars Science Laboratory/Curiosity mission.

Martian dust storms are common, especially during southern hemisphere spring and summer, when the planet is closest to the Sun. As the atmosphere warms, winds generated by larger contrasts in surface temperature at different locations mobilize dust particles the size of individual talcum powder grains. Carbon dioxide frozen on the winter polar cap evaporates, thickening the atmosphere and increasing the surface pressure. This enhances the process by helping suspend the dust particles in the air. In some cases, the dust clouds reach up to 40 miles (60 kilometers) or more in elevation.

Though they are common, Martian dust storms typically stay contained to a local area. By contrast, the current storm, if it were happening on Earth, is bigger than North America and Russia combined, says Guzewich.

The dust storm may seem exotic to some Earthlings, but it's not unique to Mars. Earth has dust storms, too, in desert regions such as North Africa, the Middle East, and the southwest United States.

But conditions here prevent them from spreading globally, said Ralph A. Kahn, a Goddard senior research scientist who studies the atmospheres of Earth and Mars. These include the structure of our thicker atmosphere and stronger gravity that helps settle dust. Earth also has vegetation cover on land that binds the soil with its roots and helps block the wind and rain that wash the particles out of the atmosphere.

****

Source: Jet Propulsion Laboratory

Friday, June 22, 2018

Hayabusa2 Update: Snapshots of Ryugu...

Images of asteroid Ryugu that were taken from distances ranging from 100 to 220 kilometers...by JAXA's Hayabusa 2 spacecraft on June 18-20, 2018 (Japan Time).
JAXA

Ryugu Seen From a Distance of 220-100km (News Release - June 21)

The onboard ONC-T (Optical Navigation Camera - Telescopic) imaged Ryugu from June 18, 2018 at around 12:00 JST to June 20 at around 19:00 JST. At 12:00 JST on June 18, the distance between the spacecraft and asteroid was about 220km, and this decreased to about 100km by June 20, 19:00 JST.

The following image in Figure 1 (above) is the original photograph without any pixel smoothing. The order of the images is the chronological order in which they were captured. The size of the asteroid remains proportional to the distance (no size correction; the asteroid appears smaller when more distant.)

In the following Figure 2 (below), the image has been smoothed and the brightness adjusted to emphasize light and dark regions.

Source: Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency

****

Enhanced images of asteroid Ryugu that were taken from distances ranging from 220 to 100 kilometers...by JAXA's Hayabusa 2 spacecraft on June 18-20, 2018 (Japan Time).
JAXA

Thursday, June 21, 2018

A Q&A Screening for SANTA CLARITA DIET...

At a Q&A screening for SANTA CLARITA DIET at Landmark Theatres in west Los Angeles...on June 14, 2018.

One week ago today, I went to the Landmark Theatres in west Los Angeles to attend a screening for two episodes of the Netflix web series Santa Clarita Diet. What a very funny and twisted show! If you love dark comedy, then you definitely need to check this out. Afterwards, a Q&A session was held with main stars Drew Barrymore and Timothy Olyphant...as well as series creator Victor Fresco (who wrote for the 1980s TV sitcom ALF. Remember ALF?). Very interesting panel.

Here are some pics that I took during the Q&A. I apologize for the blurriness of these photos... I used my smartphone to take 'em instead of a digital still camera—which I intend to bring when I go back to The Landmark this Saturday (June 23) to attend a Q&A by another well-known actress! Won't reveal who it is till after the event takes place. Happy Summer Solstice!

Drew Barrymore, Timothy Olyphant and series creator Victor Fresco do a Q&A panel for SANTA CLARITA DIET in west Los Angeles...on June 14, 2018.

Drew Barrymore, Timothy Olyphant and series creator Victor Fresco do a Q&A panel for SANTA CLARITA DIET in west Los Angeles...on June 14, 2018.

Drew Barrymore, Timothy Olyphant and series creator Victor Fresco do a Q&A panel for SANTA CLARITA DIET in west Los Angeles...on June 14, 2018.

EDIT (June 24): The well-known actress who I'm referring to in the last paragraph above is none other than Natalie Portman herself! She did a Q&A for a documentary that she co-produced and narrated, titled Eating Animals. Click on this link to read my brief review of it.

Natalie Portman takes part in a Q&A panel for EATING ANIMALS at Landmark Theatres in west Los Angeles...on June 23, 2018.

Wednesday, June 20, 2018

Photo of the Day: Become Pen Pals with Trump Lackey PAUL MANAFORT! Sort of...

Send mail to that Trump-supporting American traitor Paul Manafort!

I saw this image on Twitter earlier today. I gotta remember to stop by the local Walmart later to buy a postcard! I actually wanted to go to the nearby Barnes & Noble bookstore to collect as many magazine subscription cards that I could carry, but sadly, this county jail doesn't allow publications to be delivered to prisoners. (Read the rules for mailing letters to Northern Neck Regional inmates here.) Oh well. And yes, this address is real.

But in case you can't read the writing on the postcard above, here it is below:

Paul Manafort
c/o Northern Neck Regional Jail
P.O. Box 1060
Warsaw, Virginia 22572


Happy Hump Day!

Tuesday, June 19, 2018

Happy 40th Birthday, GARFIELD!

So today marks four decades since Indiana-born cartoonist Jim Davis created Garfield. I started reading this comic strip over 25 years ago—when I was in elementary school—and continue to do so since. I no longer subscribe to a newspaper (I used to get the Los Angeles Times delivered to my doorstep), so I now go to the official Garfield website to read up on the latest exploits of the lasagna-cravin', Monday-hatin' fat cat as well as his dorky, polka music-loving owner Jon Arbuckle, and the lovable but dimwitted canine Odie. Oh, and Liz, Garfield's veterinarian and Jon's long-time girlfriend...who tolerates the trio's tomfoolery on a weekly basis. Here's hoping the wacky shenanigans of Garfield and company will continue for years to come!

And no, I never saw the two live-action Garfield movies starring Bill Murray and Jennifer Love Hewitt. That is all.

Happy 40th birthday, Garfield! Did any of those candles singe Jon Arbuckle's face?

Monday, June 18, 2018

Donald Trump Wants to Create the UNITED STATES SPACE FORCE...

T-65 starfighters...also known as X-Wings.

Note to the Dotard, the Outer Space Treaty of 1967 bars any signatory nation from deploying nuclear warheads and other weapons of mass destruction beyond Earth's atmosphere. Keep that in mind while you contemplate the idea of having a new branch in the American military: the Space Force.

But if you want to make the T-65, RZ-1, A/SF-01 and Delta-7 fighters a reality, be my guest! Star Wars geeks everywhere will be grateful...maybe.

An RZ-1 starfighter...also known as the A-Wing.

An A/SF-01 starfighter...also known as the B-Wing.

A Delta-7 starfighter...also known as the Jedi Starfighter.

Saturday, June 16, 2018

Photos of the Day #2: Explore JPL...

Posing with the Mars 2020 descent stage behind me inside the Spacecraft Assembly Facility...at Explore JPL on June 9, 2018.

One week ago today, I went back to the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) near Pasadena, California, to attend its annual open house...which was renamed Explore JPL a few years ago. There was nothing new to see at the lab since I last visited the NASA field center on May 30, but it's all good. It never gets old visiting the historic Space Flight Operations Facility, as well as checking out flight hardware for the Mars 2020 rover inside the Spacecraft Assembly Facility. And even though it was extremely crowded (like it's been for the past six years or so), it's always a thrill to see the amount of people in the general public who take an interest in space exploration. Happy Father's Day weekend!

LINK: Additional photos that I took at the June 2018 Explore JPL event

The Mars 2020 descent and cruise stages (the latter is visible towards the right edge of this photo) on display inside the Spacecraft Assembly Facility...at Explore JPL on June 9, 2018.

A snapshot inside the historic Space Flight Operations Facility at Explore JPL...on June 9, 2018.

A full-size replica of NASA's Mars-bound InSight lander...on display at Explore JPL on June 9, 2018.

A full-size replica of NASA's Red Planet-bound Mars Cube One spacecraft...on display at Explore JPL on June 9, 2018.

A clear and sunny day to visit NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory near Pasadena, California...during Explore JPL on June 9, 2018.