Monday, August 13, 2018

Back in the Day: Remembering My First Trip to Florida...

About to land at Fort Lauderdale in Florida...on August 13, 2008.

Ten years ago today, I arrived at Fort Lauderdale in Florida to embark on a 7-day trip that involved taking a cruise to New Providence Island in the Bahamas. But before I headed to one of America's closest Caribbean neighbors, I spent the previous two days taking road trips across the southern part of the Sunshine State. I drove through Miami (which I would visit again almost a decade later) en route to Key West on August 14. I visited an Everglades park (where I saw many alligators on exhibit), and the actual Everglades (where I didn't see any gators, ironically) after that on August 15. Fun times! No seriously. Despite the fact that Florida is full of conservative nut jobs if you wanna discuss politics for a moment, I never get tired of visiting this state!

In regards to my cruise to the Bahamas, I'll talk about it next week. Until then, Happy International Left-Handers Day, fellow lefties!

LINK: Photos I took in Florida and the Bahamas

At Los Angeles International Airport, waiting for my flight to Fort Lauderdale to begin...on August 13, 2008.

Driving through the city of Miami as I took a road trip to Key West in the Florida Keys...on August 14, 2008.

Enjoying the scenery as I drove through the Florida Keys...on August 14, 2008.

Chillin' at a beach in the Florida Keys...on August 14, 2008.

Checkin' out two alligators at Everglades Holiday Park in Florida...on August 15, 2008.

Gettin' ready to take an airboat ride at Everglades Holiday Park in Florida...on August 15, 2008.

Takin' a snapshot of another airboat during my tour at Everglades Holiday Park in Florida...on August 15, 2008.

Sunday, August 12, 2018

SOLAR PROBE PLUS Update: The Parker Spacecraft Is Now Headed To Our Parent Star!

A Delta IV Heavy rocket carrying NASA's Parker Solar Probe launches from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida...on August 12, 2018.
NASA / Bill Ingalls

NASA, ULA Launch Parker Solar Probe on Historic Journey to Touch Sun (Press Release)

Hours before the rise of the very star it will study, NASA’s Parker Solar Probe launched from Florida Sunday to begin its journey to the Sun, where it will undertake a landmark mission. The spacecraft will transmit its first science observations in December, beginning a revolution in our understanding of the star that makes life on Earth possible.

Roughly the size of a small car, the spacecraft lifted off at 3:31 a.m. EDT on a United Launch Alliance Delta IV Heavy rocket from Space Launch Complex-37 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station. At 5:33 a.m., the mission operations manager reported that the spacecraft was healthy and operating normally.

The mission’s findings will help researchers improve their forecasts of space weather events, which have the potential to damage satellites and harm astronauts on orbit, disrupt radio communications and, at their most severe, overwhelm power grids.

“This mission truly marks humanity’s first visit to a star that will have implications not just here on Earth, but how we better understand our universe,” said Thomas Zurbuchen, associate administrator of NASA’s Science Mission Directorate. “We’ve accomplished something that decades ago, lived solely in the realm of science fiction.”

During the first week of its journey, the spacecraft will deploy its high-gain antenna and magnetometer boom. It also will perform the first of a two-part deployment of its electric field antennas. Instrument testing will begin in early September and last approximately four weeks, after which Parker Solar Probe can begin science operations.

“Today’s launch was the culmination of six decades of scientific study and millions of hours of effort,” said project manager Andy Driesman, of the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory (APL) in Laurel, Maryland. “Now, Parker Solar Probe is operating normally and on its way to begin a seven-year mission of extreme science.”

Over the next two months, Parker Solar Probe will fly towards Venus, performing its first Venus gravity assist in early October – a maneuver a bit like a handbrake turn – that whips the spacecraft around the planet, using Venus’s gravity to trim the spacecraft’s orbit tighter around the Sun. This first flyby will place Parker Solar Probe in position in early November to fly as close as 15 million miles from the Sun – within the blazing solar atmosphere, known as the corona – closer than anything made by humanity has ever gone before.

Throughout its seven-year mission, Parker Solar Probe will make six more Venus flybys and 24 total passes by the Sun, journeying steadily closer to the Sun until it makes its closest approach at 3.8 million miles. At this point, the probe will be moving at roughly 430,000 miles per hour, setting the record for the fastest-moving object made by humanity.

Parker Solar Probe will set its sights on the corona to solve long-standing, foundational mysteries of our Sun. What is the secret of the scorching corona, which is more than 300 times hotter than the Sun’s surface, thousands of miles below? What drives the supersonic solar wind – the constant stream of solar material that blows through the entire solar system? And finally, what accelerates solar energetic particles, which can reach speeds up to more than half the speed of light as they rocket away from the Sun?

Scientists have sought these answers for more than 60 years, but the investigation requires sending a probe right through the unrelenting heat of the corona. Today, this is finally possible with cutting-edge thermal engineering advances that can protect the mission on its daring journey.

“Exploring the Sun’s corona with a spacecraft has been one of the hardest challenges for space exploration,” said Nicola Fox, project scientist at APL. “We’re finally going to be able to answer questions about the corona and solar wind raised by Gene Parker in 1958 – using a spacecraft that bears his name – and I can’t wait to find out what discoveries we make. The science will be remarkable.”

Parker Solar Probe carries four instrument suites designed to study magnetic fields, plasma and energetic particles, and capture images of the solar wind. The University of California, Berkeley, U.S. Naval Research Laboratory in Washington, University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, and Princeton University in New Jersey lead these investigations.

Parker Solar Probe is part of NASA’s Living with a Star program to explore aspects of the Sun-Earth system that directly affect life and society. The Living with a Star program is managed by the agency’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate in Washington. APL designed and built, and operates the spacecraft.

The mission is named for Eugene Parker, the physicist who first theorized the existence of the solar wind in 1958. It’s the first NASA mission to be named for a living researcher.

A plaque dedicating the mission to Parker was attached to the spacecraft in May. It includes a quote from the renowned physicist – “Let’s see what lies ahead.” It also holds a memory card containing more than 1.1 million names submitted by the public to travel with the spacecraft to the Sun.

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A plaque containing a microchip that bears the names of over 1.1 million people (including Yours Truly) is attached to NASA's Parker Solar Probe at Astrotech Space Operations in Titusville, Florida...on May 18, 2018.
NASA / Johns Hopkins APL / Ed Whitman

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

My participation certificate for the Parker Solar Probe mission.

Thursday, August 09, 2018

Photo of the Day: An F-35 Soars Through Death Valley in SoCal...

Just thought I'd share this cool image I found on Instagram showing an F-35A Lightning II zooming past a group of photographers taking snapshots of the stealth jet while standing atop a canyon ledge. This pic was most likely taken at Star Wars Canyon (officially known as Rainbow Canyon)...which is located at Death Valley National Park in Southern California. This rocky terrain is used by combat pilots from the U.S. Air Force and Navy to hone their flying skills—and essentially impersonate Luke Skywalker when the Tatooine farm boy made the Death Star trench run in Star Wars: A New Hope.

This amazing photo makes me want to drive all the way to this popular locale (which is 160 miles north of Los Angeles and 260 miles west of Las Vegas) in the SoCal desert to capture my own images of combat aircraft zooming through the canyon below me at near-Mach speed! Of course, I'd have to wait a few months to do this... I have no intention of dealing with the 118-degree weather in Death Valley right now! Happy Thursday.

A group of photographers take snapshots of an F-35A Lightning II zooming past them...most likely at 'Star Wars Canyon' in Death Valley, California.

Monday, August 06, 2018

TESS Has Caught a Comet on Camera!

An animated GIF showing comet C/2018 N1 moving across the field of view of the Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite's cameras.
Massachusetts Institute of Technology / NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center

NASA’s Planet-Hunting TESS Catches a Comet Before Starting Science (News Release)

Before NASA’s Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS) started science operations on July 25, 2018, the planet hunter sent back a stunning sequence of serendipitous images showing the motion of a comet. Taken over the course of 17 hours on July 25, these TESS images helped demonstrate the satellite’s ability to collect a prolonged set of stable periodic images covering a broad region of the sky — all critical factors in finding transiting planets orbiting nearby stars.

Over the course of these tests, TESS took images of C/2018 N1, a comet discovered by NASA’s Near-Earth Object Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer (NEOWISE) satellite on June 29. The comet, located about 29 million miles (48 million kilometers) from Earth in the southern constellation Piscis Austrinus, is seen to move across the frame from right to left as it orbits the Sun. The comet’s tail, which consists of gases carried away from the comet by an outflow from the Sun called the solar wind, extends to the top of the frame and gradually pivots as the comet glides across the field of view.

In addition to the comet, the images reveal a treasure trove of other astronomical activity. The stars appear to shift between white and black as a result of image processing. The shift also highlights variable stars — which change brightness either as a result of pulsation, rapid rotation, or by eclipsing binary neighbors. Asteroids in our solar system appear as small white dots moving across the field of view. Towards the end of the video, one can see a faint broad arc of light moving across the middle section of the frame from left to right. This is stray light from Mars, which is located outside the frame. The images were taken when Mars was at its brightest near opposition, or its closest distance, to Earth.

These images were taken during a short period near the end of the mission’s commissioning phase, prior to the start of science operations. The movie presents just a small fraction of TESS’s active field of view. The team continues to fine-tune the spacecraft’s performance as it searches for distant worlds.

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

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Sunday, August 05, 2018

This Day In Space...

An artist's concept of NASA's Juno spacecraft (which launched from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida on August 5, 2011) orbiting Jupiter.
NASA / JPL - Caltech

Today marks a few milestones for NASA deep-space missions and the first human to set foot on the Moon:

- The Juno spacecraft launched from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida on a five-year journey to Jupiter seven years ago today...

- The Curiosity Mars rover touched down on Gale Crater at the Red Planet six years ago today...

- The InSight Mars lander, which launched from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California on May 5, reached the halfway point of its journey to the Red Planet (where it will touch down on Cyber Monday, November 26) as of today...

- Apollo 11 astronaut Neil Armstrong was born in Wapakoneta, Ohio, and would've turned 88 today.

Carry on!

A self-portrait of NASA's Curiosity Mars rover (which landed on the Red Planet on August 5, 2012), taken with a camera on her robotic arm on June 15, 2018.
NASA / JPL - Caltech / MSSS

An animated GIF depicting NASA's InSight Mars lander (which reached the halfway point of its journey to the Red Planet as of August 5, 2018) cruising through deep space.
NASA / JPL - CalTech

Neil Armstrong (who was born on August 5, 1930) poses for a photo by fellow Apollo 11 crew member Buzz Aldrin inside the Eagle Lunar Module, on July 20, 1969.
NASA / Edwin E. Aldrin, Jr.

Wednesday, August 01, 2018

SOLAR PROBE PLUS Update: T-Minus 10 Days Till Parker Lifts Off and Heads to the Sun!

NASA's Parker Solar Probe is about to be encapsulated within the large payload fairing of a Delta IV Heavy rocket...at Astrotech Space Operations in Titusville, Florida, on July 16, 2018.
NASA / Johns Hopkins APL / Ed Whitman

Prepping to Launch for the Sun (News Release - July 31)

NASA’s Parker Solar Probe has cleared the final procedures in the clean room before its move to the launch pad, where it will be integrated onto its launch vehicle, a United Launch Alliance Delta IV Heavy. This is an historic mission that will revolutionize our understanding of the Sun, where changing conditions can propagate out into the solar system, affecting Earth and other worlds. Parker Solar Probe will travel through the Sun’s atmosphere, closer to the surface than any spacecraft before it, facing brutal heat and radiation conditions — and ultimately providing humanity with the closest-ever observations of a star.

Seen here inside one half of its 62.7-foot tall fairing, the Parker Solar Probe was encapsulated on July 16, 2018, in preparation for the move from Astrotech Space Operations in Titusville, Florida, to Space Launch Complex 37 on Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, where it will be integrated onto its launch vehicle for its launch that is targeted for August 11, 2018.

Source: NASA.Gov