Thursday, October 11, 2018

Meeting the 'Unbreakable' Erin Hannon...

Ellie Kemper and Paul Lieberstein take a group photo with everyone who showed up at The Grove's Barnes & Noble bookstore in Los Angeles to attend a Q&A and signing of Kemper's new publication MY SQUIRREL DAYS...on October 10, 2018.

Last night, I went to The Grove near Beverly Hills to attend a Q&A and book signing by Ellie Kemper...who starred in the former Netflix web series Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, and played receptionist Erin Hannon on NBC's The Office. Kemper was promoting her new book My Squirrel Days, and discussed it with Paul Lieberstein—who portrayed Toby Flenderson on The Office, and was also the TV comedy's director and showrunner. Kemper and Lieberstein talked about many things, ranging from The Office (her role as Erin was Kemper's first big break on television) and the title of her new publication (Ellie likes the name 'Squirrel,' and jokingly remarked that people tend to compare her to Jerry Seinfeld), to whether or not she'll play more dramatic roles on TV and elsewhere (Kemper thought about it, even though she said that the abrupt change in acting choices could be 'jarring' to people). Ellie also said that she began recording dialogue for her character (Katie) on The Secret Life of Pets 2...which arrives in movie theaters nationwide next June. Well actually, Kemper only mentioned that to me—while she was signing my book when it was my turn to walk up to her table and say hi, heheh.

Ellie Kemper and Paul Lieberstein discuss Kemper's new book MY SQUIRREL DAYS at The Grove's Barnes & Noble bookstore in Los Angeles...on October 10, 2018.

While it was cool meeting Ellie Kemper, who's so delightful and funny in person, I gained crucial info from a fellow patron at yesterday's Q&A who told me about a very big appearance that will be made at the Barnes & Noble bookstore (where Kemper did her signing) on October 23. I am definitely not telling you about it yet since I absolutely do not want to jinx the opportunity to finally get a photo with this person! I went to so many events to do so more than 10 years ago, and came away empty-handed each time. So yea— I'm keeping mum and quietly plotting out the details of when I'm going to drive to The Grove (it will definitely be on the evening of October 22) and what I'll need to bring with me from my house (as I'll possibly wait in line overnight because of the huge amount of folks who'll be showing up early). But yea— I don't want to tell you who I'm talking about yet, heheh. Happy Thursday!

Posing with Ellie Kemper at The Grove's Barnes & Noble bookstore in Los Angeles...on October 10, 2018.

My autographed copy of Ellie Kemper's book MY SQUIRREL DAYS.

Wednesday, October 10, 2018

A New Development for SpaceIL as Israel's First Moon Mission Marches on Towards Launch...

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

NASA, Israel Space Agency Sign Agreement for Commercial Lunar Cooperation (Press Release - October 3)

NASA has signed an agreement with the Israel Space Agency (ISA) to cooperatively utilize the Israeli nonprofit SpaceIL’s commercial lunar mission, expected to land on the Moon in 2019.

NASA will contribute a laser retroreflector array to aid with ground tracking and Deep Space Network support to aid in mission communication. ISA and SpaceIL will share data with NASA from the SpaceIL lunar magnetometer installed aboard the spacecraft. The instrument, which was developed in collaboration with the Weizmann Institute of Science, will measure the magnetic field on and above the landing site. The data will be made publicly available through NASA’s Planetary Data System. In addition, NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter will attempt to take scientific measurements of the SpaceIL lander as it lands on the Moon.

The agreement was signed by NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine and Avi Blasberger, Director of the Israel Space Agency. Dr. Ido Anteby, CEO of SpaceIL, was also present.

“I’m thrilled to extend progress in commercial cooperation we’ve made in low-Earth orbit to the lunar environment with this new agreement with the Israel Space Agency and SpaceIL,” said NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine. “Innovative partnerships like this are going to be essential as we go forward to the Moon and create new opportunities there.”

SpaceIL competed in the Google Lunar X Prize, and continues to work toward landing the first Israeli spacecraft on the Moon. Together, NASA and SpaceIL will collaborate on analyzing the scientific data returned from the mission.

The agreement exemplifies the innovative approach that NASA and its international partners are taking to team up with commercial partners to advance important science and exploration objectives on and around the Moon.

****

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

Tuesday, October 09, 2018

Awesome Space News of the Day: Is an Exoplanet Being Orbited by a Moon the Size of Neptune?

An artist's concept of a Neptune-size moon orbiting the giant exoplanet Kepler-1625b.
NASA / ESA / L. Hustak

Astronomers Find First Evidence of Possible Moon Outside Our Solar System (Press Release - October 3)

Using NASA’s Hubble and Kepler space telescopes, astronomers have uncovered tantalizing evidence of what could be the first discovery of a moon orbiting a planet outside our solar system.

This moon candidate, which is 8,000 light-years from Earth in the Cygnus constellation, orbits a gas-giant planet that, in turn, orbits a star called Kepler-1625. Researchers caution that the moon hypothesis is tentative and must be confirmed by follow-up Hubble observations.

“This intriguing finding shows how NASA’s missions work together to uncover incredible mysteries in our cosmos,” said Thomas Zurbuchen, associate administrator of NASA’s Science Mission Directorate at Headquarters, Washington. “If confirmed, this finding could completely shake up our understanding of how moons are formed and what they can be made of.”

Since moons outside our solar system – known as exomoons – cannot be imaged directly, their presence is inferred when they pass in front of a star, momentarily dimming its light. Such an event is called a transit, and has been used to detect many of the exoplanets cataloged to date.

However, exomoons are harder to detect than exoplanets because they are smaller than their companion planet, and so their transit signal is weaker when plotted on a light curve that measures the duration of the planet crossing and the amount of momentary dimming. Exomoons also shift position with each transit because the moon is orbiting the planet.

In search of exomoons, Alex Teachey and David Kipping, astronomers at Columbia University in New York, analyzed data from 284 Kepler-discovered planets that were in comparatively wide orbits, longer than 30 days, around their host star. The researchers found one instance in planet Kepler-1625b, of a transit signature with intriguing anomalies, suggesting the presence of a moon.

“We saw little deviations and wobbles in the light curve that caught our attention,” Kipping said.

Based upon their findings, the team spent 40 hours making observations with Hubble to study the planet intensively – also using the transit method – obtaining more precise data on the dips of light. Scientists monitored the planet before and during its 19-hour transit across the face of the star. After the transit ended, Hubble detected a second, and much smaller, decrease in the star’s brightness approximately 3.5 hours later. This small decrease is consistent with a gravitationally-bound moon trailing the planet, much like a dog following after its owner. Unfortunately, the scheduled Hubble observations ended before the complete transit of the candidate moon could be measured and its existence confirmed.

In addition to this dip in light, Hubble provided supporting evidence for the moon hypothesis by finding the planet transit occurring more than an hour earlier than predicted. This is consistent with a planet and moon orbiting a common center of gravity that would cause the planet to wobble from its predicted location, much the way Earth wobbles as our Moon orbits it.

The researchers note the planetary wobble could be caused by the gravitational pull of a hypothetical second planet in the system, rather than a moon. While Kepler has not detected a second planet in the system, it could be that the planet is there, but not detectable using Kepler’s techniques.

“A companion moon is the simplest and most natural explanation for the second dip in the light curve and the orbit-timing deviation,” Kipping explained. “It was definitely a shocking moment to see that Hubble light curve, my heart started beating a little faster as I kept looking at that signature. But we knew our job was to keep a level head and essentially assume it was bogus, testing every conceivable way in which the data could be tricking us.”

In a paper published in the journal Science Advances, the scientists report the candidate moon is unusually large – potentially comparable to Neptune. Such large moons do not exist in our own solar system. The researchers say this may yield new insights into the development of planetary systems and may cause experts to revisit theories of how moons form around planets.

The moon candidate is estimated to be only 1.5 percent the mass of its companion planet, and the planet is estimated to be several times the mass of Jupiter. This mass-ratio is similar to the one between Earth and the Moon. In the case of the Earth-Moon system and the Pluto-Charon system, the moons are thought to be created through dust leftover after rocky planetary collisions. However, Kepler-1625b and its possible satellite are gaseous and not rocky, so the moon may have formed through a different process.

Researchers note that if this is indeed a moon, both it and its host planet lie within their star’s habitable zone, where moderate temperatures allow for the existence of liquid water on any solid planetary surface. However, both bodies are considered to be gaseous and, therefore, unsuitable for life as we know it.

Future searches for exomoons, in general, will target Jupiter-size planets that are farther from their star than Earth is from the Sun. The ideal candidate planets hosting moons are in wide orbits, with long and infrequent transit times. In this search, a moon would have been among the easiest to detect because of its large size. Currently, there are just a handful of such planets in the Kepler database. Whether future observations confirm the existence of the Kepler-1625b moon, NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope will be used to find candidate moons around other planets, with much greater detail than Kepler.

“We can expect to see really tiny moons with Webb,” Teachey said.

****

Monday, October 08, 2018

Photos of the Day: The Falcon 9's Exhaust Plumes As Seen from Los Angeles County...

A snapshot I took of SpaceX's Falcon 9 upper stage booster making its way across the night sky...as seen from my backyard in Pomona, California on October 7, 2018.

Happy Indigenous Peoples' Day! Just thought I'd mark this holiday by sharing these two snapshots I took of SpaceX's Falcon 9 upper stage booster as it made its way towards low-Earth orbit last night. Being carried aboard the upper stage was SAOCOM 1A...a radar imaging satellite built and managed by Argentina. These images were shot with my smartphone from my backyard—almost 10 minutes after the Falcon 9 rocket lifted off from (and landed at) Vandenberg Air Force Base about 190 miles away in Ventura County.

Being able to see the latest SpaceX rocket soar in the night sky from my residence kinda makes up for the fact that I couldn't go to Ventura County last month to witness the final launch of a Delta II rocket from Vandenberg due to financial reasons. It's all good. At the bottom of this entry is the video tweeted by SpaceX that shows yesterday's liftoff and historic landing on the West Coast. That is all.

Another snapshot I took of SpaceX's Falcon 9 upper stage booster making its way across the night sky...as seen from my backyard in Pomona, California on October 7, 2018.

Sunday, October 07, 2018

Snapshots of the Day #2: My 20-Year High School Reunion!

The Endless Dreams in Newport Beach, CA...where my Bishop Amat classmates celebrated our 20-year high school reunion on October 6, 2018.

Last night, I drove down to Newport Beach (in Orange County, CA) to attend a dinner cruise that celebrated 20 years since I graduated from high school, and needless to say, it was awesome! I'm totally glad that I went. Originally, I was unsure about whether or not I should go since none of my close friends from school were showing up...but the reunion had such a festive atmosphere that almost every classmate in attendance was willing to approach and touch base with fellow students who they didn't really talk to when we were at Bishop Amat (our alma mater) from 1994 through '98.

A sign welcoming me and my fellow Class of '98 alumni to the Endless Dreams yacht in Newport Beach...where we celebrated our 20-year high school reunion on October 6, 2018.

The dinner cruise was aboard a charter yacht known as Endless Dreams, courtesy of Hornblower Cruises & Events. Personally-speaking, what made this reunion more enjoyable than our 10-year reunion in 2008 was that the cruise around Newport Beach Harbor lasted about 4 hours and we obviously couldn't leave till it ended! (We boarded the ship at 5:30 PM, set sail from the dock around 6:30 PM and didn't return to the pier till after 10 PM.) Since we were all stuck on the Endless Dreams together, my classmates and I had no choice but to talk to as many people onboard as possible...making us bond even more. We had so much fun on this cruise that after we returned to the dock, we literally walked across the street to attend a post-reunion gathering at On the Rocks Bar & Grill. The last 3 photos at the bottom of this entry shows just how many Amat folks stuck around to continue the festiveness that began when we gathered together at the Hornblower dock before 5:30 PM.

A sign aboard the Endless Dreams that honored my classmates who passed away before our 20-year high school reunion.

I totally can't wait for the 30-year reunion in 2028! Some of my classmates joked last night that we should have a 21-year reunion next year, but that's a little too much. No need to make the same mistake that Disney did releasing Star Wars: The Last Jedi and Solo: A Star Wars Story within 5 months of each other! Heck— Even a 25-year reunion would be too soon. 2028 gives all of us Class of '98 folks enough time to experience more life events and changes that we can share three decades after our commencement ceremony was held at Bishop Amat High School (on June 5, 1998). Happy Sunday...and Go Lancers!

Regina, Emily, Carlos, Gina and I pose for a group photo aboard the Endless Dreams during our 20-year high school reunion...on October 6, 2018.

Glen, Jane, Alfred and I pose for a group photo aboard the Endless Dreams during our 20-year high school reunion...on October 6, 2018.

Glen, Robert, Peter, Alfred, Jay, Tonantzin and I pose for a group photo aboard the Endless Dreams during our 20-year high school reunion...on October 6, 2018.

Camille, Nisha, her husband Hector, Justyn and I pose for a group photo after we disembarked from the Endless Dreams at the official conclusion of our 20-year high school reunion...on October 6, 2018.

Taking a group photo at a post-reunion gathering at On the Rocks Bar & Grill in Newport Beach...on October 6, 2018.

Taking another group photo at the post-reunion gathering at On the Rocks Bar & Grill in Newport Beach...on October 6, 2018.

Taking one last group photo at the post-reunion gathering at On the Rocks Bar & Grill in Newport Beach...on October 6, 2018.

Saturday, October 06, 2018

Snapshots of the Day: The Blue Angels Make an Appearance at the Miramar Air Show...

Explosions rock the field behind the Blue Angels at Marine Corps Air Station (MCAS) Miramar in San Diego County, California...on September 29, 2018.

As I stated in my previous entry, I was going to share images of the Blue Angels that I took at the Miramar Air Show a week ago today. Before taking flight in the afternoon, the six blue and gold-painted F/A-18 Hornets were parked out on the tarmac in front of the viewing stands...providing a nice backdrop as different types of aircraft performed acrobatic demonstrations above them throughout the day. As shown in the pics above and directly below (and alluded to in my Blog entry yesterday), the Blue Angels also made for nice static displays as explosions rocked the field behind them during a combat demonstration known as the Marine Air-Ground Task Force (MAGTF) Demo. It was a few hours after MAGTF (and the F-35B Lightning II aerial demo that I wrote about in this entry) that the Blue Angels finally soared into the air. Thanks to my awesome Nikon D3300 DSLR camera, I was able to take these close snapshots of the Angels as they wowed the Miramar crowd for over 30 minutes that day.

The main reason why I went to the Miramar Air Show this year was to see a "heritage flight" take place between a modern F-22 Raptor and a World War II-era P-51 Mustang. Unfortunately, since the show was running behind schedule last Saturday, the flight was cancelled. And considering the fact that I didn't see any F-22/P-51 aerial pics from this year's air show on Instagram and other social media sites, it appears that the flight was scrapped for all three days (September 28 - 30) of the event. Bummer. But at least I saw the F-35B in all of its hovering glory again! Anyways, check out these Blue Angel photos that I took 7 days ago...

PS: Tonight is my 20-year high school reunion! Can't wait to attend.


Explosions rock the field behind the Blue Angels at MCAS Miramar in San Diego County, California...on September 29, 2018.

Explosions rock the field behind the Blue Angels at MCAS Miramar in San Diego County, California...on September 29, 2018.

A huge cloud of smoke rises into the air behind the Blue Angels at MCAS Miramar in San Diego County, California...on September 29, 2018.

The Blue Angels fly in formation at the Miramar Air Show in San Diego County, California...on September 29, 2018.

The Blue Angels perform an acrobatic maneuver during the Miramar Air Show in San Diego County, California...on September 29, 2018.

The Blue Angels perform an acrobatic maneuver during the Miramar Air Show in San Diego County, California...on September 29, 2018.

Two Blue Angels perform an acrobatic maneuver during the Miramar Air Show in San Diego County, California...on September 29, 2018.

The Blue Angels fly in formation at the Miramar Air Show in San Diego County, California...on September 29, 2018.

The Blue Angels fly in formation at the Miramar Air Show in San Diego County, California...on September 29, 2018.

Friday, October 05, 2018

Flight of the Hornet: Two F/A-18s Soar Above San Diego County, CA...

Two F/A-18 Hornets fly just below the speed of sound above Marine Corps Air Station (MCAS) Miramar in San Diego County, California...on September 29, 2018.

As mentioned in this earlier entry, I was going to share pics (which were shot with my Nikon D3300 DSLR camera) that I took of two F/A-18 Hornets in flight during the Miramar Air Show last Saturday. In the photo above, the Hornets are traveling just below the speed of sound as they soared above the air field at Marine Corps Air Station Miramar. Along with AV-8B Harriers and a C-130 Hercules, the pair of F/A-18s conducted a combat demo that simulated them attacking targets on the ground. Pretty cool... There were lots of explosions (not caused by actual bombs, of course) during this demonstration. You'll see that when I post images that I took of the Blue Angels in my next entry. Happy Friday!

Two F/A-18 Hornets fly just below the speed of sound above MCAS Miramar in San Diego County, California...on September 29, 2018.

A C-130 Hercules, two AV-8B Harriers and the F/A-18 Hornets fly in formation above the air field at MCAS Miramar in San Diego County, California...on September 29, 2018.

The C-130 Hercules, AV-8B Harriers and the F/A-18 Hornets fly in formation above MCAS Miramar in San Diego County, California...on September 29, 2018.

The two F/A-18 Hornets take off from the runway at MCAS Miramar in San Diego County, California...on September 29, 2018.

With a Blue Angel in the foreground, an F/A-18 Hornet prepares to land at MCAS Miramar in San Diego County, California...on September 29, 2018.

Thursday, October 04, 2018

Celebrating Birthday #39 with Skydive #5...

My tandem instructor and I exit the aircraft 13,000 feet above the city of Oceanside in California...on October 4, 2018.

Earlier today, I drove down to Oceanside in San Diego County, California to mark my 39th birthday by jumping out of an aircraft for the fifth time ever (courtesy of GoJump Oceanside)! As usual, it was awesome...despite the fact that I had to constantly turn my head to the side (and keep my mouth closed) during free fall because I felt like I couldn't breath with the continuous gust of air blasting upwards and hitting me directly in the face. (My tandem instructor and I descended towards the ground from an altitude of 13,000 feet at 120 MPH. The free fall lasted 60 seconds.) You can see this for yourself on my YouTube video—which is posted at the very bottom of this entry.

I plan on marking my 40th birthday next year by skydiving for the sixth time! I already know which jump zone I'm planning to drive to (Hint: It's still in California), but I won't divulge it here since I'm a big believer in not jinxing plans by talking about 'em (moreso, that is) before they take place. So yea— I'm gonna keep you guys out of the loop about that till next autumn, heheh. In the meantime, check out these photos and watch my skydive video below. Happy Thursday night! And a happy free-falling birthday to me once more!

Posing for the camera before boarding the aircraft for my tandem skydive above Oceanside, California...on October 4, 2018.

Falling away from the aircraft at 120 MPH above Oceanside, California...on October 4, 2018.

Skydiving 13,000 feet above Oceanside, California...on October 4, 2018.

My tandem instructor deploys the parachute more than 5,000 feet above the ground at Oceanside, California...on October 4, 2018.

My parachute continues to open thousands of feet above the ground at Oceanside, California...on October 4, 2018.

My videographer continues to film me and my tandem instructor as she falls away from us after our parachute deploys above the ground at Oceanside, California...on October 4, 2018.

My tandem instructor and I are about to touch down at the landing zone in Oceanside, California...safely completing my fifth skydive ever on October 4, 2018.

Wednesday, October 03, 2018

Hayabusa2 Update: A European Lander Is Deployed to the Surface of Asteroid Ryugu!

The shadow of the German-made MASCOT (Mobile Asteroid Surface Scout) is visible on Ryugu's surface (at upper right) as the lander descended towards the asteroid on October 3, 2018 (Japan Time).
German Aerospace Center - DLR

Over ten days after it successfully deployed the two MINERVA-II rovers onto the surface of asteroid Ryugu, Japan's Hayabusa2 spacecraft repeated the feat again last night when it released the German-made MASCOT (Mobile Asteroid Surface Scout) lander...which touched down on the rocky body 186 million miles (300 million kilometers) from Earth. Due to the life span of its lithium primary battery, MASCOT will only operate for 16 hours—which amounts to two asteroid days on Ryugu—before its mission ends. With three landers now safely on its target's surface, Hayabusa2 will now shift to sample-gathering operations. The first attempt can occur as soon as this month.

The photo above was taken by MASCOT as it descended towards Ryugu yesterday. If you look to the upper right, you can spot the lander's shadow on the asteroid's surface. So amazing! Hayabusa2 will deploy the final rover, MINERVA-II-2, sometime next year.

Two illustrations depicting the MASCOT lander being released from the Hayabusa2 spacecraft and landing on asteroid Ryugu's surface.
JAXA

Tuesday, October 02, 2018

Photo of the Day: LeBron's First Home Game as a Laker...

LeBron James high-fives his teammates during the Lakers' exhibition game against the Denver Nuggets at STAPLES Center in Los Angeles...on October 2, 2018.
Los Angeles Lakers

Tonight's exhibition game was the second out of six contests for the Los Angeles Lakers before the regular season starts on October 18 (against the Portland Trailblazers in Oregon), while it also marked LeBron James' first home game as a Laker at STAPLES Center. The King scored 13 points, grabbed 3 rebounds, earned 3 assists and got 2 steals during his 15 minutes on the court tonight. The final score? 113-111, Denver Nuggets. All I can say is this: You're cut from the team, Isaac Bonga. That is all.

Monday, October 01, 2018

The M1A1 Abrams Tank: (Almost) 70 Tons of Armored Awesomeness...

Two M1A1 Abrams tanks roll down the tarmac at Marine Corps Air Station (MCAS) Miramar in San Diego, California...on September 29, 2018.

As stated in this previous entry from yesterday, I was going to post photos that I took of the M1A1 Abrams battle tanks that made an appearance at the Miramar Air Show this past weekend. As mentioned in my preceding post, I geeked out when this armored behemoth came rolling down the tarmac during a combat demo held on the airfield at Marine Corps Air Station Miramar in San Diego, California. I first heard about the M1A1 during Operation Desert Storm in January of 1991 (I was in 5th grade at the time, FYI)...and was in such awe of this badass piece of weaponry that I bought a book about it at my local mall—yes, I still have it—and played a video game titled Super Battle Tank for my Super Nintendo Entertainment System in 1992 (the game was fun to play...despite it having a crappy ending). It comes to show you how formidable the Abrams is that the U.S. military still uses it almost 30 years later. Of course, the U.S. Air Force has been flying the B-52 Stratofortress bomber for about 66 years now (and plan to utilize the aircraft for a full century), so that's probably not as noteworthy as I made it out to be.

Most of the photos in this entry were taken with my Nikon D3300 DSLR camera (the images of me posing with the Abrams were shot with my smartphone). I plan to share pics that I took of the Blue Angels and regular F/A-18 Hornets in San Diego next! Happy first day of October.

Two M1A1 Abrams tanks roll down the tarmac during a combat demo at MCAS Miramar in San Diego, California...on September 29, 2018.

Two M1A1 Abrams tanks roll down the tarmac at MCAS Miramar in San Diego, California...on September 29, 2018.

An M1A1 Abrams tank rolls down the tarmac at MCAS Miramar in San Diego, California...on September 29, 2018.

An M1A1 Abrams tank rolls down the tarmac at MCAS Miramar in San Diego, California...on September 29, 2018.

A close-up of the M1A1 Abrams' gun turret...on September 29, 2018.

Posing with the M1A1 Abrams at the Miramar Air Show...on September 29, 2018.

A crowd gathers around (and atop) an M1A1 Abrams on display at the Miramar Air Show...on September 29, 2018.

Taking another snapshot with the M1A1 Abrams at the Miramar Air Show...on September 29, 2018.

Another snapshot of the crowd gathered atop the M1A1 Abrams on display at the Miramar Air Show...on September 29, 2018.