Friday, June 02, 2023

Send Your Name to Jupiter Next Year!

An artist's concept of NASA's Europa Clipper spacecraft flying high above Jupiter's icy moon Europa.

NASA Invites Public to Sign Poem That Will Fly Aboard Europa Clipper (News Release - June 1)

Stenciled onto microchips, the names will join a poem written for the mission by U.S. Poet Laureate Ada Limón.

Members of the public are invited to add their names to an original poem dedicated to NASA’s Europa Clipper mission before the spacecraft begins its journey to Jupiter’s moon Europa in October 2024. The poem and the names will be like a message in a bottle, traveling billions of miles as the mission investigates whether the ocean thought to lie beneath Europa’s icy crust could support life.

As part of the “Message in a Bottle” campaign, names received before 11:59 p.m. EST, December 31, 2023, will be stenciled onto a microchip, along with the poem, written by U.S. Poet Laureate Ada Limón and titled In Praise of Mystery: A Poem for Europa.

To sign, read the poem, and hear Limón recite the poem in an animated video, go to:

The site also enables participants to create and download a customizable souvenir – an illustration of your name on a message in a bottle against a rendering of Europa and Jupiter – to commemorate the experience. Participants are encouraged to share their enthusiasm on social media using the hashtag #SendYourName.

“‘Message in a Bottle’ is the perfect convergence of science, art and technology, and we are excited to share with the world the opportunity to be a part of Europa Clipper’s journey,” said Nicola Fox, associate administrator for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate in Washington. “I just love the thought that our names will be traveling across our solar system aboard the radiation-tolerant spacecraft that seeks to unlock the secrets of Jupiter’s frozen moon.”

The “Message in a Bottle” campaign is similar to other NASA projects that have enabled tens of millions of people to send their names to ride along with Artemis I and several Mars spacecraft. It draws from the agency’s long tradition of shipping inspirational messages on spacecraft that have explored our solar system and beyond.

In the vein of NASA’s Voyagers’ Golden Record, which sent a time capsule of sounds and images to communicate the diversity of life and culture on Earth, the program aims to spark the imagination of people around the world.

“Inspiration is what fueled the people who developed this flagship mission and who hand-crafted the largest spacecraft NASA has sent to explore the solar system. It’s what drives humanity to ask the big questions that this mission will contribute to,” said Laurie Leshin, director of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Southern California, which leads the development of Europa Clipper. “Inspiration is riding along with every single name that will be making the journey to Europa.”

Europa Clipper is currently being assembled, on camera, at JPL. Set to launch from Cape Canaveral, Florida, the spacecraft will travel 1.8 billion miles (2.6 billion kilometers) to reach the Jupiter system, where it will arrive in 2030.

As it orbits Jupiter and flies by Europa about 50 times, Europa Clipper will log another half-billion miles (800,000 kilometers) while a suite of science instruments gathers data on the subsurface ocean, the ice crust and the moon’s atmosphere.

In January, Limón visited JPL to see the spacecraft and learn more about the mission. She was appointed 24th Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry by Librarian of Congress Carla Hayden in 2022 and reappointed for a second, two-year term in April 2023.

Limón was born in Sonoma, California, and is of Mexican ancestry. She is the author of several poetry collections, including The Hurting Kind and The Carrying, which won the National Book Critics Circle Award for Poetry.

The Library of Congress Poetry and Literature Center is the home of the nation’s official poet, the Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry – a position that has existed since 1937. The Library of Congress is the world’s largest library, offering access to the creative record of the United States – and extensive materials from around the world – both on site and online.

It is the main research arm of the U.S. Congress and home of the U.S. Copyright Office.

Source: Jet Propulsion Laboratory


My 'Message in a Bottle' certificate for NASA's Europa Clipper mission.

Thursday, June 01, 2023

The Latest Update on NASA's Robotic Rover for the Artemis Program...

A snapshot of NASA's VIPER lunar rover prototype, known as MGRU3 (Moon Gravitation Representative Unit 3), at the Ames Research Center's Roverscape in California's Silicon Valley.
NASA / Arno Rogg

Engineers Test VIPER’s Very Nimble Gimbal (News Release)

As VIPER, NASA’s next Moon rover, wheels about atop Mons Mouton – a large flat-topped mountain on the Moon’s South Pole – one small but mighty piece of hardware will be critical for the team of rover drivers and scientists to send it commands, know where it is going, and receive valuable science data: a gimbal-pointed high-gain antenna.

VIPER has both a low-gain and high-gain antenna to transmit data to and receive data from the Deep Space Network (DSN) antennas on Earth. Its low-gain antenna sends radio waves at a low data rate, while its high-gain antenna transfers much more information (over 100 times more).

Data is then transferred from the DSN to the Multi-Mission Operations and Control Center at NASA’s Ames Research Center in California’s Silicon Valley, where rover operations are based.

“Pointing VIPER’s high-gain antenna in the correct orientation is one of the most critical functions the rover has,” said Arno Rogg, rover systems engineer at Ames. “Without its antenna, the rover cannot receive commands while in motion on the Moon and cannot transmit any of its data back to Earth for scientists to achieve their mission goals.”

Why it Matters

VIPER is designed to use distributed computing, which allows engineers to download images and other data from the rover for fast processing, rather than having to rely only on the rover’s slower on-board computing.

“This opens up a process for off-planet science operations that enables us to be super-responsive to the situation on the Moon as it is revealed,” said Dr. Zara Mirmalek, VIPER deputy science operations and integration lead at Ames. “The science team can react in near real-time and influence where the rover moves to meet the mission’s science objectives.”

In order to transmit large amounts of data across the 240,000 miles that separate Earth and the Moon, VIPER will be equipped with an antenna that can send information along a very focused, narrow beam. With the exception of planned stops to take panoramas of its lunar surroundings, to use its drill, wait out occasional communication blackouts or periods of shadow at safe havens, VIPER will constantly be on the move.

The rover will spend most of its time driving and using its suite of spectrometers and cameras to map the location and concentration of lunar water and other volatiles at the surface of areas of scientific interest –– which means it is essential for the rover to be able to constantly and precisely point its antenna while it moves.

“The rover is equipped with different sensors that work together and allow it to know where to point and tell the gimbal to adjust the antenna’s direction as many as 10 times every second, even while the rover might be bouncing over boulders and crater slopes,” said Rogg. “But knowing where to point is extremely complex.”

VIPER uses its onboard computer and a few different sensors to accurately and very frequently calculate its position on the Moon. One sensor is its star tracker – a sensitive camera that takes pictures of the star field above VIPER.

By comparing the pictures to its built-in map of stars, the star tracker can determine which way VIPER is oriented. VIPER also uses a set of gyroscopes to track how quickly the rover is turning.

Using the combined data, the rover commands the gimbal to make fine adjustments to compensate for the rover’s motion in order to keep the antenna always pointed at the Earth.

Flipping the Problem Around

But engineers were faced with a problem: How can such a system be tested on Earth? Their solution? Flip the problem around – and drive a prototype rover in California with an antenna pointed at the Moon.

They recently completed the nighttime tests at the Roverscape at Ames using the latest prototype of the rover, known as Moon Gravitation Representative Unit 3 (MGRU3), and found both antenna and gimbal performed well.

“We found that the Moon stayed dead center even while the prototype performed a sprint drive over the largest rock in our Roverscape, which is one of the most challenging cases,” said Terry Fong, deputy manager of the VIPER rover. “We’re now even more confident the system will work on the Moon.”

Source: NASA.Gov


An artist's concept of NASA's VIPER rover on the surface of the Moon.
NASA Ames / Daniel Rutter

Tuesday, May 30, 2023

Hubble's Successor Captures Saturn's Most Enigmatic Moon Spewing Water Over 6,000 Miles Into Space...

NASA's James Webb Space Telescope captured an image of a 6,000-mile-long water plume spewing from Saturn's moon Enceladus...which the Cassini spacecraft discovered to contain a subsurface ocean in early 2006.
NASA, ESA, CSA, STScI, and G. Villanueva (NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center). Image Processing: A. Pagan (STScI)

Webb Maps Surprisingly Large Plume Jetting From Saturn’s Moon Enceladus (News Release)

A water vapor plume from Saturn’s moon Enceladus spanning more than 6,000 miles – nearly the distance from Los Angeles, California to Buenos Aires, Argentina – has been detected by researchers using NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope. Not only is this the first time such a water emission has been seen over such an expansive distance, but Webb is also giving scientists a direct look, for the first time, at how this emission feeds the water supply for the entire system of Saturn and its rings.

Enceladus, an ocean world about four percent the size of Earth, just 313 miles across, is one of the most exciting scientific targets in our solar system in the search for life beyond Earth. Sandwiched between the moon’s icy outer crust and its rocky core is a global reservoir of salty water.

Geyser-like volcanoes spew jets of ice particles, water vapor and organic chemicals out of crevices in the moon’s surface informally called ‘tiger stripes.’

Previously, observatories have mapped jets hundreds of miles from the moon’s surface, but Webb’s exquisite sensitivity reveals a new story.

“When I was looking at the data, at first, I was thinking I had to be wrong. It was just so shocking to detect a water plume more than 20 times the size of the moon,” said lead author Geronimo Villanueva of NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland. “The water plume extends far beyond its release region at the southern pole.”

The length of the plume was not the only characteristic that intrigued researchers. The rate at which the water vapor is gushing out, about 79 gallons per second, is also particularly impressive.

At this rate, you could fill an Olympic-sized swimming pool in just a couple of hours. In comparison, doing so with a garden hose on Earth would take more than 2 weeks.

The Cassini orbiter spent over a decade exploring the Saturnian system, and not only imaged the plumes of Enceladus for the first time but flew directly through them and sampled what they were made of. While Cassini’s position within the Saturnian system provided invaluable insights into this distant moon, Webb’s unique view from the Sun-Earth Lagrange Point 2 one million miles from Earth, along with the remarkable sensitivity of its Integral Field Unit aboard the NIRSpec (Near-Infrared Spectrograph) Instrument, is offering new context.

“The orbit of Enceladus around Saturn is relatively quick, just 33 hours. As it whips around Saturn, the moon and its jets are basically spitting off water, leaving a halo, almost like a donut, in its wake,” said Villanueva. “In the Webb observations, not only was the plume huge, but there was just water absolutely everywhere.”

This fuzzy donut of water that appeared ‘everywhere,’ described as a torus, is co-located with Saturn’s outermost and widest ring – the dense “E-ring.

” The Webb observations directly demonstrate how the moon’s water vapor plumes feed the torus. By analyzing the Webb data, astronomers have determined roughly 30 percent of the water stays within this torus, and the other 70 percent escapes to supply the rest of the Saturnian system with water.

In the coming years, Webb will serve as the primary observation tool for the ocean moon Enceladus, and discoveries from Webb will help inform future solar system satellite missions that will look to explore the subsurface ocean’s depth, how thick the ice crust is, and more.

“Right now, Webb provides a unique way to directly measure how water evolves and changes over time across Enceladus' immense plume, and as we see here, we will even make new discoveries and learn more about the composition of the underlying ocean,” added co-author Stefanie Milam at NASA Goddard. “Because of Webb’s wavelength coverage and sensitivity, and what we’ve learned from previous missions, we have an entire new window of opportunity in front of us.”

Webb’s observations of Enceladus were completed under Guaranteed Time Observation (GTO) program 1250. The initial goal of this program is to demonstrate the capabilities of Webb in a particular area of science and set the stage for future studies.

“This program was essentially a proof of concept after many years of developing the observatory, and it’s just thrilling that all this science has already come out of quite a short amount of observation time,” said Heidi Hammel of the Association of Universities for Research in Astronomy, Webb interdisciplinary scientist and leader of the GTO program.

The team’s results were recently accepted for publication in Nature Astronomy on May 17, and a pre-print is available here.

Source: NASA.Gov

Friday, May 26, 2023

Nova-C Will Touch Down at a New Region on the Moon...

Intuitive Machines' Nova-C lander successfully completed launch vibration tests in preparation for its flight to the Moon...scheduled to lift off from Cape Canaveral Space Force Station in Florida during the late summer of this year.
Intuitive Machines

Intuitive Machines Lunar Landing Site Moves to South Pole (News Release - May 25)

NASA, in cooperation with Intuitive Machines, is moving the landing site for the first Commercial Lunar Payload Services (CLPS) mission to the Moon’s South Pole as an important first step in managing risks for future Artemis landings.

One of the first lunar payload deliveries under NASA’s CLPS initiative was awarded to Intuitive Machines in May 2019. The company’s first flight, Intuitive Machines-1 (IM-1) will carry six NASA payloads on its Nova-C lunar lander to a site near the Malapert A crater.

This relatively flat and safe region is within the heavily-cratered southern highlands on the side of the Moon visible from Earth.

The NASA payloads will focus on demonstrating communication, navigation and precision landing technologies, and gathering scientific data about rocket plume and lunar surface interactions, as well as space weather and lunar surface interactions affecting radio astronomy. Through the CLPS initiative, NASA is supporting the development of a lunar economy by working with American companies to deliver scientific, exploration and technology payloads to the Moon’s surface and lunar orbit.

The decision to move from the original landing site in Oceanus Procellarum was based on a need to learn more about terrain and communications near the lunar South Pole, which is expected to be one of the best locations for a sustained human presence on the Moon. Landing near Malapert A will also help mission planners understand how to communicate and send data back to Earth from a location that is low on the lunar horizon.

The landing date is expected in the third quarter of 2023.

While NASA is the primary customer purchasing lunar delivery services, CLPS vendors also work with other customers to send non-NASA payloads to the Moon. CLPS providers are responsible for managing their activities to ensure they are compliant with NASA schedule requirements.

Intuitive Machines will confirm the launch date, lunar landing date and duration of lunar surface operations, as well as updates on the thermal environment that the payloads will experience, given the temperature extremes for lunar transit and at the lunar South Pole.

Source: NASA.Gov


The Malapert A region, which is where Intuitive Machine's Nova-C lander will hopefully touch down later this summer, is seen near the top of this topographical map of the Moon's South Pole...using data collected by NASA's Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter.
Lunar and Planetary Institute Regional Planetary Image Facility

Thursday, May 25, 2023

On This Day in 2008: The Phoenix Spacecraft Successfully Lands on Mars...

The Phoenix lander with the Martian Northern Plains in the backdrop.
James Canvin / NASA / JPL - Caltech / University of Arizona / Texas A&M University

15 years ago today, NASA's Phoenix Mars lander safely touched down on the Northern Plains of the Red Planet...successfully carrying out a mission that resulted in the confirmation of water ice beneath the soil of the Martian arctic.

Phoenix's mission lasted for almost six months—until NASA received a final radio signal from the spacecraft on November 2, 2008.

Sitting on Phoenix's flight deck as a legacy to this exciting endeavor is the Phoenix DVD.

Fabricated by The Planetary Society—a non-profit space advocacy group based in the California city of Pasadena (a few miles away from NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory)—the Phoenix DVD is a silicate disc designed to last for up to 500 years on the Martian surface!

The Phoenix DVD contains the names of 250,000 people who submitted them online between late 2006 and early 2007, as well as the literary works of such sci-fi authors as Isaac Asimov. This collection aboard the disc has been called the Visions of Mars by The Planetary Society.

It is a tremendous feeling to be a part of this time capsule on Mars' Northern Plains... Hail, Phoenix!

One of the first images to be beamed back from Phoenix in May of 2008 is this photo of the spacecraft's flight deck.  The inner pic shows the Phoenix DVD that was installed on the deck prior to launch in August of 2007.
Richard Par / NASA / JPL - Caltech / University of Arizona / The Planetary Society

Artwork of NASA's Phoenix Mars lander and a photo of the Phoenix DVD.
NASA / The Planetary Society

My certificate for NASA's Phoenix Mars mission.

Saturday, May 20, 2023

Photos of the Day: Snapshots from Comic Con Revolution...

Posing with Mercedes Varnado (who played Koska Reeves on THE MANDALORIAN) at Comic Con Revolution in Ontario, CA...on May 20, 2023.

Earlier today, I went to the Ontario Convention Center in San Bernardino County, CA, to attend Comic Con Revolution. As shown above, the highlight of this visit was meeting Mercedes Varnado...who played Koska Reeves on The Mandalorian and wrestled as Sasha Banks for World Wrestling Entertainment!

While the main goal of my trip to the city of Ontario was to get a photo op with Ms. Varnado, that didn't stop me from taking pictures of all the cosplayers who attended Comic Con Revolution. Lots of fans showed up as Mandalorians—not just Din Djarin and Boba Fett, but also as their own customized Star Wars commandos.

And of course, there were other comic book geeks who dressed as Deadpool, Batman, Nightwing, Robin as well as other Marvel and DC superheroes. And replicas of the Chevy Camaro used in the 2007 Transformers movie and the DeLorean that was immortalized in the Back to the Future trilogy also made appearances at the expo.

From Long Beach Comic Con in 2015 to Comic Con Revolution, it's amusing that I've been to comic cons other than San Diego Comic-Con itself! Well, that's not entirely true— I went to San Diego back in 2014 to check out most of the activities that took place outside of Comic-Con, but I never went into the convention center itself.

That trip from almost 9 years ago was still fun, nonetheless. Have a nice weekend!

Taking a selfie at Comic Con Revolution in Ontario, CA...on May 20, 2023.

Cosplayers dressed as Boba Fett and Din Djarin from THE MANDALORIAN at Comic Con Revolution in Ontario, CA...on May 20, 2023.

A cosplayer dressed as a customized Mandalorian at Comic Con Revolution in Ontario, CA...on May 20, 2023.

Cosplayers dressed as DC Comics (and miscellaneous) characters at Comic Con Revolution in Ontario, CA...on May 20, 2023.

A DEADPOOL cosplayer flirts by showing a magic trick to another fan at Comic Con Revolution in Ontario, CA...on May 20, 2023.

A replica of the Chevy Camaro used in the 2007 TRANSFORMERS film...on display at Comic Con Revolution in Ontario, CA, on May 20, 2023.

A replica of BACK TO THE FUTURE's DeLorean on display at Comic Con Revolution in Ontario, CA...on May 20, 2023.

Wednesday, May 17, 2023

A Real-Life Mustafar from STAR WARS Has Been Found Orbiting a Red Dwarf 90 Light-Years Away...

An artist's concept of the exoplanet LP 791-18 d.
NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center / Chris Smith (KRBwyle)

NASA’s Spitzer, TESS Find Potentially Volcano-Covered Earth-Size World (News Release)

Astronomers have discovered an Earth-size exoplanet, or world beyond our solar system, that may be carpeted with volcanoes. Called LP 791-18 d, the planet could undergo volcanic outbursts as often as Jupiter’s moon Io, the most volcanically-active body in our solar system.

They found and studied the planet using data from NASA’s TESS (Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite) and retired Spitzer Space Telescope, as well as a suite of ground-based observatories.

A paper about the planet – led by Merrin Peterson, a graduate of the Trottier Institute for Research on Exoplanets (iREx) based at the University of Montreal – appears in the May 17 edition of the scientific journal Nature.

“LP 791-18 d is tidally locked, which means the same side constantly faces its star,” said Björn Benneke, a co-author and astronomy professor at iREx who planned and supervised the study. “The day side would probably be too hot for liquid water to exist on the surface. But the amount of volcanic activity we suspect occurs all over the planet could sustain an atmosphere, which may allow water to condense on the night side.”

LP 791-18 d orbits a small red dwarf star about 90 light-years away in the southern constellation Crater. The team estimates it’s only slightly larger and more massive than Earth.

Astronomers already knew about two other worlds in the system before this discovery, called LP 791-18 b and c. The inner planet b is about 20% bigger than Earth.

The outer planet c is about 2.5 times Earth’s size and more than seven times its mass.

During each orbit, planets d and c pass very close to each other. Each close pass by the more massive planet c produces a gravitational tug on planet d, making its orbit somewhat elliptical.

On this elliptical path, planet d is slightly deformed every time it goes around the star. These deformations can create enough internal friction to substantially heat the planet’s interior and produce volcanic activity at its surface.

Jupiter and some of its moons affect Io in a similar way.

Planet d sits on the inner edge of the habitable zone, the traditional range of distances from a star where scientists hypothesize liquid water could exist on a planet’s surface. If the planet is as geologically active as the research team suspects, it could maintain an atmosphere.

Temperatures could drop enough on the planet’s night side for water to condense on the surface.

Planet c has already been approved for observing time on the James Webb Space Telescope, and the team thinks planet d is also an exceptional candidate for atmospheric studies by the mission.

“A big question in astrobiology, the field that broadly studies the origins of life on Earth and beyond, is if tectonic or volcanic activity is necessary for life,” said co-author Jessie Christiansen, a research scientist at NASA’s Exoplanet Science Institute at the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena. “In addition to potentially providing an atmosphere, these processes could churn up materials that would otherwise sink down and get trapped in the crust, including those we think are important for life, like carbon.”

Spitzer’s observations of the system were among the last the satellite collected before it was decommissioned in January 2020.

“It is incredible to read about the continuation of discoveries and publications years beyond Spitzer’s end of mission,” said Joseph Hunt, Spitzer project manager at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Southern California. “That really shows the success of our first-class engineers and scientists. Together they built not only a spacecraft but also a data set that continues to be an asset for the astrophysics community.”

TESS is a NASA Astrophysics Explorer mission led and operated by MIT in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and managed by NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center. Additional partners include Northrop Grumman, based in Falls Church, Virginia; NASA’s Ames Research Center in California’s Silicon Valley; the Center for Astrophysics | Harvard & Smithsonian in Cambridge, Massachusetts; MIT’s Lincoln Laboratory; and the Space Telescope Science Institute in Baltimore.

More than a dozen universities, research institutes and observatories worldwide are participants in the mission.

The entire body of scientific data collected by Spitzer during its lifetime is available to the public via the Spitzer data archive, housed at the Infrared Science Archive at IPAC at Caltech in Pasadena, California. NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, a division of Caltech, managed Spitzer mission operations for the agency’s Science Mission Directorate in Washington.

Science operations were conducted at the Spitzer Science Center at IPAC at Caltech. Spacecraft operations were based at Lockheed Martin Space in Littleton, Colorado.

Source: NASA.Gov


The planet Mustafar from STAR WARS: REVENGE OF THE SITH.
Lucasfilm Ltd.

Tuesday, May 16, 2023

Hubble's Successor Observes a Watery Celestial Body Between the Orbits of Mars and Jupiter...

An artist's concept of Comet 238P/Read releasing water vapor into space.

NASA’s Webb Finds Water, and a New Mystery, in Rare Main Belt Comet (News Release - May 15)

NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope has enabled another long-sought scientific breakthrough, this time for solar system scientists studying the origins of Earth’s abundant water. Using Webb’s NIRSpec (Near-Infrared Spectrograph) instrument, astronomers have confirmed gas – specifically water vapor – around a comet in the main asteroid belt for the first time, indicating that water ice from the primordial solar system can be preserved in that region.

However, the successful detection of water comes with a new puzzle: unlike other comets, Comet 238P/Read had no detectable carbon dioxide.

“Our water-soaked world, teeming with life and unique in the universe as far as we know, is something of a mystery – we’re not sure how all this water got here,” said Stefanie Milam, Webb deputy project scientist for planetary science and a co-author on the study reporting the finding. “Understanding the history of water distribution in the solar system will help us to understand other planetary systems, and if they could be on their way to hosting an Earth-like planet,” she added.

Comet Read is a main belt comet – an object that resides in the main asteroid belt but which periodically displays a halo, or coma, and tail like a comet. Main belt comets themselves are a fairly new classification, and Comet Read was one of the original three comets used to establish the category.

Before that, comets were understood to reside in the Kuiper Belt and Oort Cloud, beyond the orbit of Neptune, where their ices could be preserved farther from the Sun. Frozen material that vaporizes as they approach the Sun is what gives comets their distinctive coma and streaming tail, differentiating them from asteroids.

Scientists have long speculated that water ice could be preserved in the warmer asteroid belt, inside the orbit of Jupiter, but definitive proof was elusive – until Webb.

“In the past, we’ve seen objects in the main belt with all the characteristics of comets, but only with this precise spectral data from Webb can we say yes, it’s definitely water ice that is creating that effect,” explained astronomer Michael Kelley of the University of Maryland, lead author of the study.

“With Webb’s observations of Comet Read, we can now demonstrate that water ice from the early solar system can be preserved in the asteroid belt,” Kelley said.

The missing carbon dioxide was a bigger surprise. Typically, carbon dioxide makes up about 10 percent of the volatile material in a comet that can be easily vaporized by the Sun’s heat.

The science team presents two possible explanations for the lack of carbon dioxide. One possibility is that Comet Read had carbon dioxide when it formed but has lost that because of warm temperatures.

“Being in the asteroid belt for a long time could do it – carbon dioxide vaporizes more easily than water ice, and could percolate out over billions of years,” Kelley said. Alternatively, he said, Comet Read may have formed in a particularly warm pocket of the solar system, where no carbon dioxide was available.

The next step is taking the research beyond Comet Read to see how other main belt comets compare, says astronomer Heidi Hammel of the Association of Universities for Research in Astronomy (AURA), lead for Webb’s Guaranteed Time Observations for solar system objects and co-author of the study. “These objects in the asteroid belt are small and faint, and with Webb we can finally see what is going on with them and draw some conclusions. Do other main belt comets also lack carbon dioxide? Either way it will be exciting to find out,” Hammel said.

Co-author Milam imagines the possibilities of bringing the research even closer to home. “Now that Webb has confirmed there is water preserved as close as the asteroid belt, it would be fascinating to follow up on this discovery with a sample-collection mission, and learn what else the main belt comets can tell us.”

Source: NASA.Gov


A photo of Comet 238P/Read that was taken by NASA's James Webb Space Telescope on September 8, 2022.
NASA, ESA, CSA, M. Kelley (University of Maryland). Image processing: H. Hsieh (Planetary Science Institute), A. Pagan (STScI)

Monday, May 15, 2023

Astrobotic Has Begun Work on Its Next Lunar Lander!

A computer-generated image showing NASA's VIPER rover sitting atop Astrobotic's Griffin lander on the surface of the Moon.

Over the past two weeks, Astrobotic has begun sharing photos of its next Moon lander, Griffin, as it began assembly inside a cleanroom at Astrobotic's headquarters in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

While only two pics of components—Griffin's flight deck and two 'wings' attached to a central cone—have been revealed, this clearly indicates that Astrobotic is on track to fabricate the lander that NASA's VIPER Moon rover will be attached to when they launch aboard SpaceX's Falcon Heavy rocket in late 2024.

Meanwhile, Astrobotic's first lander, Peregrine, continues to share the same cleanroom as Griffin. The company is still waiting for United Launch Alliance (ULA) to give the greenlight to ship Peregrine to Cape Canaveral Space Force Station (CCSFS) in Florida so that it can finally be mated to ULA's Vulcan Centaur rocket.

While the Vulcan Centaur enjoyed a successful Flight Tanking Test last week, the rocket was rolled back to the Vertical Integration Facility at CCSFS' Space Launch Complex (SLC)-41 earlier today so that ULA can make some adjustments to testing procedures before the vehicle rolls back out to its pad at SLC-41 to undergo a Flight Readiness Firing of its two BE-4 main engines. This engine test is scheduled to take place later this week.

Stay tuned!

An image showing Astrobotic engineers working on a component that will form the flight deck of the Griffin lunar seen on May 2, 2023.

An image showing two 'wings' and a central cone for the Griffin lunar seen on May 15, 2023.

Friday, May 12, 2023

Photos of the Day: Peregrine's Rocket Resumes Testing in Preparation for a Hopeful Summer Launch to the Moon...

United Launch Alliance's (ULA) Vulcan Centaur rocket sits on the pad at Cape Canaveral Space Force Station's Space Launch Complex (SLC)-41 in Florida...on May 12, 2023.
United Launch Alliance

Over one month after an anomaly occurred with a Centaur V structural article during a ground test at Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama (delaying a May 4 launch), United Launch Alliance's (ULA) Vulcan Centaur rocket has resumed testing on its pad at Cape Canaveral Space Force Station's Space Launch Complex (SLC)-41 in Florida.

The Vulcan rocket rolled back to its pad at SLC-41 yesterday, with a cryogenic fueling test now being conducted on the first stage booster and Centaur V upper stage motor as of this Blog entry. Should everything go well with today's wet dress rehearsal, ULA will perform a Flight Readiness Firing of Vulcan's two BE-4 main engines sometime next week.

Even though the investigation into the March anomaly is still ongoing, a successful hot fire of Vulcan's engines will pave the way for a hopeful launch of the new vehicle—with Astrobotic's Peregrine lunar lander and a few other payloads onboard—on ULA's Cert-1 mission this summer. Stay tuned!

ULA's Vulcan Centaur rocket begins rolling out of the Vertical Integration Facility and onward to its pad at Cape Canaveral Space Force Station's SLC-41 in Florida...on May 11, 2023.
United Launch Alliance

ULA's Vulcan Centaur rocket approaches its pad at Cape Canaveral Space Force Station's SLC-41 in Florida (with SpaceX's launch facilities at LC-39A visible in the distance)...on May 11, 2023.
United Launch Alliance

ULA's Vulcan Centaur rocket reaches its pad at Cape Canaveral Space Force Station's SLC-41 in Florida...on May 11, 2023.
United Launch Alliance

The Sun begins to set on ULA's Vulcan Centaur rocket at Cape Canaveral Space Force Station's SLC-41 in Florida...on May 11, 2023.
United Launch Alliance

Dusk falls upon ULA's Vulcan Centaur rocket and the flare stack at Cape Canaveral Space Force Station's SLC-41 in Florida...on May 11, 2023.
United Launch Alliance