Saturday, October 31, 2015

Comikaze Expo 2015...

Posing with Danielle Panabaker at Stan Lee's Comikaze Expo in downtown Los Angeles, on October 31, 2015.

Happy Halloween, Everyone! Earlier today, I drove down to the Los Angeles Convention Center to attend the annual comic book expo that's created and hosted by none other than Stan Lee himself. Like my last visit two years ago (when I met and got an autograph by Alyssa Milano), I went to this year's Comikaze specifically to meet two lovely actresses from various sci-fi and comic book TV shows over the years: Danielle Panabaker and Summer Glau. I last saw Ms. Glau at an event back in 2008, when she was promoting the now-defunct FOX TV show Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles. Since then, she's appeared on such TV programs as the hit sitcom The Big Bang Theory and the CW Network's Arrow. Danielle Panabaker herself is one of the main stars on CW Network's The Flash.

Posing with Summer Glau at Stan Lee's Comikaze Expo in downtown Los Angeles, on October 31, 2015.

After I attended the photo ops for Ms. Panabaker and Ms. Glau, I went to Stan Lee's museum exhibit inside the West Hall of the convention center (all of the celebrity photo ops took place inside the South Hall)...mostly to see if it had the suit worn by Paul Rudd in last July's Ant-Man (my favorite Marvel flick this year— Sorry Avengers: Age of Ultron). It didn't...but it did have the cool life-size statue of the new shrinkable member of the Avengers shown directly below. In regards to Age of Ultron, I definitely needed to take a pic with the Hulkbuster statue shown in the last image at the bottom of this entry. Of course, this statue isn't full-scale; otherwise, the Hulkbuster suit would've probably been too tall to fit under the ceiling of the West Hall. That is all.

A life-size statue of ANT-MAN on display at Stan Lee's Comikaze Expo in downtown Los Angeles, on October 31, 2015.

Posing with a Hulkbuster replica at Stan Lee's Comikaze Expo in downtown Los Angeles, on October 31, 2015.

Thursday, October 29, 2015

New Horizons Update: Three Burns Down, One to Go...for Now

An artist's concept of NASA's New Horizons spacecraft flying past a Kuiper Belt Object.
NASA / Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory / Southwest Research Institute

On Track: New Horizons Carries Out Third KBO Targeting Maneuver (Press Release)

NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft has successfully completed the third in a series of four maneuvers propelling it toward an encounter with the ancient Kuiper Belt object 2014 MU69, a billion miles farther from the sun than Pluto.

The targeting maneuver, performed with the spacecraft’s hydrazine-fueled thrusters, started at approximately 1:15 p.m. EDT on Wednesday, Oct. 28, and lasted about 30 minutes – surpassing the Oct. 25 propulsive maneuver as the largest ever conducted by New Horizons. Spacecraft operators at the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory in Laurel, Maryland, began receiving data through NASA’s Deep Space Network at approximately 8:15 p.m. EDT on Wednesday that indicated a successful maneuver.

The four maneuvers are designed to alter New Horizons’ path to send it toward a close encounter with MU69 on Jan. 1, 2019. The flyby would be part of an extended mission that NASA still must approve; the New Horizons team will submit a formal proposal to NASA for that mission in early 2016. The science team hopes to bring the spacecraft even closer to MU69 than it came to Pluto on July 14, which was approximately 7,750 miles (12,500 kilometers).

Capping the series, the fourth and final KBO targeting maneuver is scheduled for Nov. 4. As the New Horizons team learns more about the orbit and location of MU69 – the KBO was only discovered in summer 2014 – it will plan additional maneuvers to refine the path toward the prospective flyby in 2016 and beyond.

At the time of yesterday’s maneuver, New Horizons, speeding toward deeper space at more than 32,000 miles per hour, was approximately 79 million miles (127 million kilometers) beyond Pluto and 3.17 billion miles (5.1 billion kilometers) from Earth. The spacecraft is currently 900 million miles (1.45 billion kilometers) from 2014 MU69. All systems remain healthy and the spacecraft continues to transmit data stored on its digital recorders from its flight through the Pluto system in July.

New Horizons is part of NASA’s New Frontiers Program, managed by the agency’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama. APL designed, built, and operates the New Horizons spacecraft and manages the mission for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate. The Southwest Research Institute leads the science mission, payload operations, and encounter science planning.

Source: New Horizons Website


An artist's concept of a Kuiper Belt Object with the distant Sun and the outer planets in the background.
NASA, ESA, and G. Bacon (STScI)

Monday, October 26, 2015

DARN IT— I Should've Removed My Sunglasses!

So earlier today, I was working at a TV studio in Studio City when I finally ran into a cute actress who I've had a crush on for almost three years. Won't mention her name (though you'd probably figure out who she was if you browsed through my journal entries for June and July of this year), but I will point out that every time I work at this particular lot, I pass by the soundstage her show tapes in just to see if she's loitering nearby. Of course, I probably wouldn't say 'hi' to her—as I either run the risk of her shrugging me off (as the saying goes: You should never meet your idol), and her alerting me to security—just because. I do background acting work; it's definitely a 'no-no' to approach principal actors unless they approach you first. However, methinks that this only applies to the specific show I'm working in that day. I haven't worked on the show this actress is on since November of 2012, so it might not have been as risky just to give her a quick 'hello' (and to tell her that I'm a big fan of her sitcom—hint, hint) before walking away. Didn't want to bug her as she was too busy browsing on her smartphone...which is what she was doing while sitting outside of her soundstage during a quick break this afternoon.

Even though approaching this actress to say hi was out of the question, I should've at least removed my sunglasses so we could make direct eye contact. The upside of this: She would've remembered me for a couple of more (milli)seconds as I walked away to head back to my car (this encounter took place right after I finished my job assignment inside another stage). The downside: The fact that she knows how I looked like might compel me not to stroll past her soundstage as much anymore. If I did run into her again, she'd recognize me, wonder why I keep passing by her area, and of course, probably alert security. I'm really not making myself look good in this story. But yea— I wish this actress could get a stint on a comic book TV series like Marvel's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. (which is on ABC, the same channel that her sitcom is on...hint, hint), CW's The Flash, FOX's Gotham or CBS' Supergirl (which premieres tonight) just so she could do an autograph signing or photo op at an expo like Stan Lee's Comikaze...which I'm attending on Halloween (next Saturday)!

Anyways, that's all I have to say about today's quick but memorable moment. And in case you're still wondering who I'm talking about, just click on the keyword at the very bottom of this entry. I saw her in person two previous times this year. Carry on.

Saturday, October 24, 2015

Photos of the Day: Painting & Vino!

Painting a spooky tree at a restaurant in Huntington Beach...on October 23, 2015.

Yesterday, a couple of friends and I went to a restaurant in Huntington Beach to partake in a painting class in celebration of one of my friends' birthday. As you can see from the pics posted with this entry, we painted a spooky tree to commemorate Halloween. I think I could've done a better job if the class didn't have a time limit (it lasted from 6:30 PM to almost 10 PM...but that still wasn't enough time), but it's all good. As for the vino part, we only drank Mai Tai last night. My friend Susie texted earlier that we should have tequila shots at the restaurant, but no one responded. Might have to do with the fact that none of us were interested in possibly getting a DUI after learning how to paint a freaky-looking tree, heh. Plus— We went to The Cheesecake Factory a couple of miles away to get some grub afterwards. I ordered the Classic Burger. And no, there wasn't a waitress who looked like Penny from The Big Bang Theory.

My friends and I paint spooky trees at a restaurant in Huntington Beach...on October 23, 2015.

Posing for a group photo after the painting class ended at the restaurant in Huntington Beach...on October 23, 2015.

My painting of a spooky tree...on October 23, 2015.

Friday, October 23, 2015

New Horizons Update: Setting Course for the Kuiper Belt!

An artist's concept of NASA's New Horizons spacecraft flying past a Kuiper Belt Object.
NASA / Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory / Southwest Research Institute

Maneuver Moves New Horizons Spacecraft toward Next Potential Target (Press Release)

Success in First of Four Such Maneuvers over the Next Two Weeks

NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft has carried out the first in a series of four initial targeting maneuvers designed to send it toward 2014 MU69 – a small Kuiper Belt object about a billion miles beyond Pluto, which the spacecraft historically explored in July.

The maneuver, which started at approximately 1:50 p.m. EDT on Oct. 22, used two of the spacecraft’s small hydrazine-fueled thrusters, lasted approximately 16 minutes and changed the spacecraft’s trajectory by about 10 meters per second. Spacecraft operators at the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory in Laurel, Maryland, began receiving data through NASA’s Deep Space Network at approximately 8:30 p.m. EDT that indicated a successful maneuver.

All told, the four maneuvers will change New Horizons’ trajectory by approximately 57 meters per second, nudging it toward a prospective close encounter with MU69 on Jan. 1, 2019. That flyby would be part of an extended mission that NASA still must approve; the New Horizons team will submit a formal proposal to NASA for that mission in early 2016.

The remaining three KBO targeting maneuvers are scheduled for Oct. 25, Oct. 28 and Nov. 4.

New Horizons is approximately 74 million miles (119 million kilometers) beyond Pluto and 3.16 billion miles (5.08 billion kilometers) from Earth. The spacecraft is healthy and continues to return data stored on its digital recorders from its flight through the Pluto system on July 14, 2015.

New Horizons is part of NASA’s New Frontiers Program, managed by the agency’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama. APL designed, built, and operates the New Horizons spacecraft and manages the mission for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate. The Southwest Research Institute leads the science mission, payload operations, and encounter science planning.

Source: New Horizons Website


An artist's concept of a Kuiper Belt Object with the distant Sun and the outer planets in the background.
NASA, ESA, and G. Bacon (STScI)

Thursday, October 22, 2015

Kepler Update: Discovering a Real-Life 'Alderaan' (Sort Of)...

An artist's concept of a rocky object, discovered by NASA's Kepler spacecraft, being torn to pieces by a white dwarf star.
CfA / Mark A. Garlick

NASA’s K2 Finds Dead Star Vaporizing a Mini “Planet” (Press Release - October 21)

Scientists using NASA’s re-purposed Kepler space telescope, known as the K2 mission, have uncovered strong evidence of a tiny, rocky object being torn apart as it spirals around a white dwarf star. This discovery validates a long-held theory that white dwarfs are capable of cannibalizing possible remnant planets that have survived within its solar system.

“We are for the first time witnessing a miniature “planet” ripped apart by intense gravity, being vaporized by starlight and raining rocky material onto its star,” said Andrew Vanderburg, graduate student from the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and lead author of the paper published in Nature.

As stars like our sun age, they puff up into red giants and then gradually lose about half their mass, shrinking down to 1/100th of their original size to roughly the size of Earth. This dead, dense star remnant is called a white dwarf.

The devastated planetesimal, or cosmic object formed from dust, rock, and other materials, is estimated to be the size of a large asteroid, and is the first planetary object to be confirmed transiting a white dwarf. It orbits its white dwarf, WD 1145+017, once every 4.5 hours. This orbital period places it extremely close to the white dwarf and its searing heat and shearing gravitational force.

During its first observing campaign from May 30, 2014 to Aug. 21, 2014, K2 trained its gaze on a patch of sky in the constellation Virgo, measuring the minuscule change in brightness of the distant white dwarf. When an object transits or passes in front of a star from the vantage point of the space telescope, a dip in starlight is recorded. The periodic dimming of starlight indicates the presence of an object in orbit about the star.

A research team led by Vanderburg found an unusual, but vaguely familiar pattern in the data. While there was a prominent dip in brightness occurring every 4.5 hours, blocking up to 40 percent of the white dwarf's light, the transit signal of the tiny planet did not exhibit the typical symmetric U-shaped pattern. It showed an asymmetric elongated slope pattern that would indicate the presence of a comet-like tail. Together these features indicated a ring of dusty debris circling the white dwarf, and what could be the signature of a small planet being vaporized.

“The eureka moment of discovery came on the last night of observation with a sudden realization of what was going around the white dwarf. The shape and changing depth of the transit were undeniable signatures,” said Vanderburg.

In addition to the strangely shaped transits, Vanderburg and his team found signs of heavier elements polluting the atmosphere of WD 1145+017, as predicted by theory.

Due to intense gravity, white dwarfs are expected to have chemically pure surfaces, covered only with light elements of helium and hydrogen. For years, researchers have found evidence that some white dwarf atmospheres are polluted with traces of heavier elements such as calcium, silicon, magnesium and iron. Scientists have long suspected that the source of this pollution was an asteroid or a small planet being torn apart by the white dwarf's intense gravity.

Analysis of the star's atmospheric composition was conducted using observations made by the University of Arizona's MMT Observatory.

“For the last decade we’ve suspected that white dwarf stars were feeding on the remains of rocky objects, and this result may be the smoking gun we’re looking for,” said Fergal Mullally, staff scientist of K2 at SETI and NASA’s Ames Research Center in Moffett Field, California. “However, there's still a lot more work to be done figuring out the history of this system.”

“This discovery highlights the power and serendipitous nature of K2. The science community has full access to K2 observations and is using these data to make a wide range of unique discoveries across the full range of astrophysics phenomena,” said Steve Howell, K2 project scientist at Ames.

Ames manages the Kepler and K2 missions for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate. NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, managed Kepler mission development. Ball Aerospace & Technologies Corporation operates the flight system with support from the Laboratory for Atmospheric and Space Physics at the University of Colorado in Boulder.

Source: NASA.Gov

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

OSIRIS-REx Update: One Step Closer to Launch...

NASA's OSIRIS-REx spacecraft completes assembly after technicians install the probe's high-gain antenna and twin solar the Lockheed Martin facility near Denver, Colorado.
Lockheed Martin Corporation

NASA’s OSIRIS-REx Spacecraft Begins Environmental Testing (Press Release)

NASA’s Origins, Spectral Interpretation, Resource Identification, Security-Regolith Explorer (OSIRIS-REx) mission is undergoing environmental testing at Lockheed Martin Space Systems facilities, near Denver, Colorado. OSIRIS-REx will be the first U.S. mission to return samples from an asteroid to Earth for further study.

"OSIRIS-REx is entering environmental testing on schedule, on budget and with schedule reserves," said Mike Donnelly, OSIRIS-REx project manager at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland. "This allows us to have flexibility if any concerns arise during final launch preparations."

Over the next five months, the spacecraft will be subjected to a range of rigorous tests that simulate the vacuum, vibration and extreme temperatures it will experience throughout the life of its mission.

“This is an exciting time for the program as we now have a completed spacecraft and the team gets to test drive it, in a sense, before we actually fly it to asteroid Bennu,” said Rich Kuhns, OSIRIS-REx program manager at Lockheed Martin Space Systems. “The environmental test phase is an important time in the mission as it will reveal any issues with the spacecraft and instruments, while here on Earth, before we send it into deep space.”

Specifically, the OSIRIS-REx spacecraft will undergo tests to simulate the harsh environment of space, including acoustical, separation and deployment shock, vibration, and electromagnetic interference. The simulation concludes with a test in which the spacecraft and its instruments are placed in a vacuum chamber and cycled through the extreme hot and cold temperatures it will face during its journey to Bennu.

"This milestone marks the end of the design and assembly stage,” said Dante Lauretta, principal investigator for OSIRIS-REx at the University of Arizona, Tucson. “We now move on to test the entire flight system over the range of environmental conditions that will be experienced on the journey to Bennu and back. This phase is critical to mission success, and I am confident that we have built the right system for the job."

OSIRIS-REx is scheduled to ship from Lockheed Martin’s facility to NASA’s Kennedy Space Center next May, where it will undergo final preparations for launch.

After launch in September 2016, the spacecraft will travel to the near-Earth asteroid Bennu and bring at least a 60-gram (2.1-ounce) sample back to Earth for study. OSIRIS-REx will return the largest sample from space since the Soviet Union’s Luna 24 mission returned 170 grams (6 ounces) of lunar soil in 1976.

Scientists expect that the Bennu may hold clues to the origin of the solar system and the source of water and organic molecules that may have made their way to Earth. OSIRIS-REx’s investigation will inform future efforts to develop a mission to mitigate an impact, should one be required.

NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, provides overall mission management, systems engineering and safety and mission assurance for OSIRIS-REx. Dante Lauretta is the mission's principal investigator at the University of Arizona. Lockheed Martin Space Systems in Denver is building the spacecraft. OSIRIS-REx is the third mission in NASA's New Frontiers Program. NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama, manages New Frontiers for the agency's Science Mission Directorate in Washington.

Source: NASA.Gov

Monday, October 19, 2015

Photos of the Day: Election 2016 Memes...

NAPOLEON DYNAMITE can do no wrong.

Just thought I'd share these funny memes that I recently stumbled upon on Facebook. Well— Funny if you're a Democrat or Republican who despises Donald Trump. But mostly a Democrat...because it never gets old hatin' on George Dubya and his apprentice Darth Cheney as well.

Financially, do you realize how much this hypothetical wall would put our country into a deeper deficit?

Trump: The American version of Adolf Hitler?

It never gets tiring making fun of this Texan. And that Nebraskan goon sitting behind him as well.

Thursday, October 15, 2015

Cassini Update: Looking Back at the Start of Its Journey 18 Years Ago...

NASA's Cassini spacecraft launches from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida...on October 15, 1997.

Why this anniversary is meaningful: I first read about Cassini back when it was still in development in 1992... I was wondering if I was still gonna be a NASA geek by the time it launched five years later. (Based on the majority of entries that I posted on this Blog this year, that clearly wasn't the case.) I was only two months into my senior year in high school at the time of lift-off. In fact, I recall eating at a restaurant with my classmates from our school's yearbook staff (you heard me) on the day of its launch! This was right after school, of course.


Oct. 15, 1997, Launch of Cassini Spacecraft to Saturn (Press Release)

On Oct. 15, 1997, a seven-year journey to the ringed planet Saturn began with the liftoff of a Titan IVB/Centaur carrying the Cassini orbiter and its attached Huygens probe. This spectacular streak shot was taken from Hangar AF on Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, with a solid rocket booster retrieval ship in the foreground. Launch occurred at 4:43 a.m. EDT from Launch Complex 40. After a nearly 2.2-billion mile journey, the spacecraft arrived in the Saturn system on June 30, 2004.

Cassini completed its four-year primary mission in 2008 and went on to perform dozens more flybys of Titan, Enceladus and Saturn's other icy moons, celebrating its 10th anniversary of arrival at Saturn in June 2014. The spacecraft has beamed back to Earth hundreds of gigabytes of scientific data, enabling the publication of more than 3,000 scientific reports. Cassini’s top accomplishments and discoveries include the Huygens probe making the first landing on a moon in the outer solar system (Titan); Saturn’s rings revealed as active and dynamic -- a laboratory for how planets form; the first complete view of the north polar hexagon and discovery of giant hurricanes at both of Saturn's poles, and the first imaging of vertical structures in Saturn's rings.

Cassini will wrap up its time in the region of Saturn's large, icy moons with a series of three close encounters with Enceladus, which started on Wednesday, Oct. 14, 2015. Images from the flyby will provide the first opportunity for a close-up look at the north polar region of Enceladus. Since Cassini's 2005 discovery of continually-erupting fountains of icy material on Enceladus, the Saturn moon has become one of the most promising places in the solar system to search for present-day habitable environments.

The Cassini-Huygens mission is a cooperative project of NASA, the European Space Agency and the Italian Space Agency. JPL, a division of the California Institute of Technology, Pasadena, manages the mission for NASA's Science Mission Directorate in Washington.

Source: NASA.Gov

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Red Rover, Red Rover: A Newer (and Dirtier) Selfie on Mars...

A self-portrait of NASA's Curiosity Mars rover, taken with a camera on her robotic arm on October 6, 2015.
NASA / JPL - Caltech / MSSS

Curiosity Self-Portrait at 'Big Sky' Drilling Site (Press Release)

This self-portrait of NASA's Curiosity Mars rover shows the vehicle at the "Big Sky" site, where its drill collected the mission's fifth taste of Mount Sharp.

The scene combines dozens of images taken during the 1,126th Martian day, or sol, of Curiosity's work on Mars (Oct. 6, 2015, PDT), by the Mars Hand Lens Imager (MAHLI) camera at the end of the rover's robotic arm. The rock drilled at this site is sandstone in the Stimson geological unit inside Gale Crater. The location is on cross-bedded sandstone in which the cross bedding is more evident in views from when the rover was approaching the area, such as

The view is centered toward the west-northwest. It does not include the rover's robotic arm, though the shadow of the arm is visible on the ground. Wrist motions and turret rotations on the arm allowed MAHLI to acquire the mosaic's component images. The arm was positioned out of the shot in the images, or portions of images, that were used in this mosaic. This process was used previously in acquiring and assembling Curiosity self-portraits taken at sample-collection sites "Rocknest", "John Klein" and "Windjana."

This portrait of the rover was designed to show the Chemistry and Camera (ChemCam) instrument atop the rover appearing level. This causes the horizon to appear to tilt toward the left, but in reality it is fairly flat.

For scale, the rover's wheels are 20 inches (50 centimeters) in diameter and about 16 inches (40 centimeters) wide. The drilled hole in the rock, appearing grey near the lower left corner of the image, is 0.63 inch (1.6 centimeters) in diameter.

MAHLI was built by Malin Space Science Systems, San Diego. NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, a division of the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena, manages the Mars Science Laboratory Project for the NASA Science Mission Directorate, Washington. JPL designed and built the project's Curiosity rover.

Source: NASA.Gov

Monday, October 12, 2015

"Thor and Dr. Jones... Thor and Dr. Jones..."

A screenshot from THE BIG BANG THEORY - Episode 9.4: 'The 2003 Approximation' (Original Air Date: October 12, 2015).

Almost four hours ago, an episode of The Big Bang Theory that I was lucky enough to be an extra on finally aired on CBS. Titled "The 2003 Approximation," this episode featured Howard Wolowitz (Simon Helberg) and Raj Koothrappali (Kunal Nayyar) creating a band known as Footprints on the Moon after Stuart (Kevin Sussman) mentioned to the duo that he wanted live music for his comic book store to give it a "staying in business" vibe. As their first song, Howard and Raj came up with a power ballad known as "Hammer and Whip: The Untold Story of Thor vs. Indiana Jones." After Raj first previews the song to his girlfriend Emily Sweeney (played by Laura Spencer), he and Howard played it in front of a larger comic book store audience—which included Leonard Hofstadter (Johnny Galecki), his new wife Penny (Kaley Cuoco), Sheldon Cooper (Jim Parsons), Howard's wife Bernadette (Melissa Rauch) and Emily. While the chorus "Thor and Dr. Jones" was amusing enough to make even Penny grin, the song still wasn't catchy enough to prevent Stuart from asking Footprints on the Moon to "play something we can dance to."

Ever since I started doing background acting work four years ago, I've always wanted to work on The Big Bang Theory. Considering the fact that not only did I finally get booked on this show (this episode was filmed at Warner Bros. studio in early September), but I actually got to be in a scene that featured all but one of the main cast members (Mayim Bialik, who plays Amy Farrah Fowler, wasn't in this scene), made this opportunity even sweeter. And "Hammer and Whip" was much funnier to listen to in person ("Thor and Dr. Jones" was stuck in my head for the rest of that day); Kunal Nayyar and Simon Helberg are both very talented in playing a guitar and keyboard, respectively.

The Big Bang Theory is one of the coolest shows that I've ever worked on. Not only is the cast really nice and cool, but so is the crew as well (the fact that this sitcom will officially last at least one more season would put me in good spirits too). A worse-case scenario if I never got to step on set for this show would've been me signing up to be in the audience for a live taping in Burbank. Obviously, it didn't come down to that. After our scene (known as the tag, since it came right before the end credits) was filmed, the main cast took a group photo. Would've been cool if the background actors got to be close to the camera too, but it's all good. We just photobombed the pic instead! Bazinga.

The main cast of THE BIG BANG THEORY pose for a group photo after filming a scene for Episode 9.4: 'The 2003 Approximation' (Original Air Date: October 12, 2015).

Thursday, October 08, 2015

New Horizons Update: More Awesome Discoveries at the Dwarf Planet!

Pluto's haze layer shows its blue color in this picture taken by the New Horizons Ralph/Multispectral Visible Imaging Camera...on July 14, 2015.

New Horizons Finds Blue Skies and Water Ice on Pluto (Press Release)

The first color images of Pluto’s atmospheric hazes, returned by NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft last week, reveal that the hazes are blue.

“Who would have expected a blue sky in the Kuiper Belt? It’s gorgeous,” said Alan Stern, New Horizons principal investigator from Southwest Research Institute (SwRI), Boulder, Colorado.

The haze particles themselves are likely gray or red, but the way they scatter blue light has gotten the attention of the New Horizons science team. “That striking blue tint tells us about the size and composition of the haze particles,” said science team researcher Carly Howett, also of SwRI. “A blue sky often results from scattering of sunlight by very small particles. On Earth, those particles are very tiny nitrogen molecules. On Pluto they appear to be larger — but still relatively small — soot-like particles we call tholins.”

Scientists believe the tholin particles form high in the atmosphere, where ultraviolet sunlight breaks apart and ionizes nitrogen and methane molecules and allows them to react with one another to form more and more complex negatively and positively charged ions. When they recombine, they form very complex macromolecules, a process first found to occur in the upper atmosphere of Saturn’s moon Titan. The more complex molecules continue to combine and grow until they become small particles; volatile gases condense and coat their surfaces with ice frost before they have time to fall through the atmosphere to the surface, where they add to Pluto’s red coloring.

In a second significant finding, New Horizons has detected numerous small, exposed regions of water ice on Pluto. The discovery was made from data collected by the Ralph spectral composition mapper on New Horizons.

“Large expanses of Pluto don’t show exposed water ice,” said science team member Jason Cook, of SwRI, “because it’s apparently masked by other, more volatile ices across most of the planet. Understanding why water appears exactly where it does, and not in other places, is a challenge that we are digging into.”

A curious aspect of the detection is that the areas showing the most obvious water ice spectral signatures correspond to areas that are bright red in recently released color images. “I’m surprised that this water ice is so red,” says Silvia Protopapa, a science team member from the University of Maryland, College Park. “We don’t yet understand the relationship between water ice and the reddish tholin colorants on Pluto's surface.”

The New Horizons spacecraft is currently 3.1 billion miles (5 billion kilometers) from Earth, with all systems healthy and operating normally.

Source: NASA.Gov


Regions with exposed water ice are highlighted in blue in this composite image from New Horizons' Ralph instrument...taken during the spacecraft's flyby of Pluto on July 14, 2015.

Monday, October 05, 2015

Hayabusa2 Update: En Route to Ryugu!

An artist's concept of the Hayabusa 2 spacecraft obtaining soil samples from the surface of asteroid Ryugu.

Name Selection of Asteroid 1999 JU3 Target of the Asteroid Explorer Hayabusa 2 (Press Release)

The asteroid 1999 JU3, a target of the Asteroid Explorer Hayabusa 2, was named “Ryugu”.

The Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) conducted a naming proposal campaign between July 22 and August 31, 2015. The result of the careful study of proposed names by the selection panel of pundits is as follows.

1. Selected name: Ryugu

2. Selection reasons:

In the Japanese ancient story Urashima Taro, the main character, Taro Urashima, brought back a casket from the Dragon’s palace, or the “Ryugu” Castle, at the bottom of the ocean. The Hayabusa 2 will also bring back a capsule with samples, thus the theme of “bringing back a treasure” is common.

Rocks containing water are expected to exist on asteroid 1999 JU3. The name “Ryugu” also reminds us of water, as “Ryugu Castle” is under the ocean.

The name is not similar or identical with any other already existing names of planets or asteroids, and there were many entries for this name among suggested names that are related to mythology.

According to the naming rule stipulated by the International Asteroid Astronomical Union (IAU), the name “is preferably from mythology” and the “Ryugu” fits that rule. Also, there is little concern of infringing the Trademark Law or any other third party trademarks.

3. Entries:

Total number of entries was 7,336. Among them, 30 were for “Ryugu”. Some similar ones are “Ryugujyo (meaning Ryugu Castle)(5 entries), “RyuuGuu” (5), “Ryuguu” “Ryugujyo” and “Ryugujou” (one entry each).

4. Selection panel members:

Yuichi Takayanagi - Director, Tamarokuto Science Center

Jun-ichi Watanabe - Vice-Director General, National Astronomical Observatory of Japan (NAOJ)

Yoshio Tsukio - Professor Emeritus, the University of Tokyo

Yuichi Tsuda - Hayabusa 2 Project Manager
Associate Professor, Department of Space Flight Systems, ISAS/JAXA

Makoto Yoshikawa - Hayabusa 2 Mission Manager
Associate Professor, Department of Spacecraft Engineering, ISAS/JAXA

5. Decision process after selection:

The selected name was proposed to the Lincoln Near Earth Asteroid Research (LINEAR) Team of the United States, which had the right to suggest the name for 1999 JU3. The LINEAR Team then proposed the name to the IAU, which had the final naming right.

The naming of an asteroid usually takes about three months to review. The review process for the “Ryugu” this time was unprecedentedly quick, and the name was already published on the Minor Planet Names: Alphabetical List of the IAU Minor Planet Center, which manages the names of asteroids in the solar system.

Source: Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency

Friday, October 02, 2015

New Horizons Just Keeps Delivering the Goods...

A high-resolution, enhanced-color global image of Charon that was taken by NASA's New Horizons spacecraft on July 14, 2015.

Pluto’s Big Moon Charon Reveals a Colorful and Violent History (Press Release - October 1)

NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft has returned the best color and the highest resolution images yet of Pluto’s largest moon, Charon – and these pictures show a surprisingly complex and violent history.

At half the diameter of Pluto, Charon is the largest satellite relative to its planet in the solar system. Many New Horizons scientists expected Charon to be a monotonous, crater-battered world; instead, they’re finding a landscape covered with mountains, canyons, landslides, surface-color variations and more.

“We thought the probability of seeing such interesting features on this satellite of a world at the far edge of our solar system was low,” said Ross Beyer, an affiliate of the New Horizons Geology, Geophysics and Imaging (GGI) team from the SETI Institute and NASA Ames Research Center in Mountain View, California, “but I couldn't be more delighted with what we see."

High-resolution images of the Pluto-facing hemisphere of Charon, taken by New Horizons as the spacecraft sped through the Pluto system on July 14 and transmitted to Earth on Sept. 21, reveal details of a belt of fractures and canyons just north of the moon’s equator. This great canyon system stretches more than 1,000 miles (1,600 kilometers) across the entire face of Charon and likely around onto Charon’s far side. Four times as long as the Grand Canyon, and twice as deep in places, these faults and canyons indicate a titanic geological upheaval in Charon’s past.

“It looks like the entire crust of Charon has been split open,” said John Spencer, deputy lead for GGI at the Southwest Research Institute in Boulder, Colorado. “With respect to its size relative to Charon, this feature is much like the vast Valles Marineris canyon system on Mars.”

The team has also discovered that the plains south of the Charon’s canyon -- informally referred to as Vulcan Planum -- have fewer large craters than the regions to the north, indicating that they are noticeably younger. The smoothness of the plains, as well as their grooves and faint ridges, are clear signs of wide-scale resurfacing.

One possibility for the smooth surface is a kind of cold volcanic activity, called cryovolcanism. “The team is discussing the possibility that an internal water ocean could have frozen long ago, and the resulting volume change could have led to Charon cracking open, allowing water-based lavas to reach the surface at that time,” said Paul Schenk, a New Horizons team member from the Lunar and Planetary Institute in Houston.

Even higher-resolution Charon images and composition data are still to come as New Horizons transmits data, stored on its digital recorders, over the next year – and as that happens, “I predict Charon’s story will become even more amazing!” said mission Project Scientist Hal Weaver, of the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory in Laurel, Maryland.

The New Horizons spacecraft is currently 3.1 billion miles (5 billion kilometers) from Earth, with all systems healthy and operating normally.

New Horizons is part of NASA’s New Frontiers Program, managed by the agency’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama. APL designed, built, and operates the New Horizons spacecraft and manages the mission for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate. SwRI leads the science mission, payload operations, and encounter science planning.

Source: NASA.Gov


A high-resolution, enhanced-color composite image of Pluto and Charon that was taken by NASA's New Horizons spacecraft on July 14, 2015.

Thursday, October 01, 2015

NASA Seeks to Make New Discoveries with More Discovery-Class Missions...

An artist's concept of the Psyche spacecraft orbiting a metallic asteroid named Psyche.
NASA / JPL - Caltech

NASA Selects Investigations for Future Key Planetary Mission (Press Release - September 30)

NASA has selected five science investigations for refinement during the next year as a first step in choosing one or two missions for flight opportunities as early as 2020. The submitted proposals would study Venus, near-Earth objects and a variety of asteroids.

Each investigation team will receive $3 million to conduct concept design studies and analyses. After a detailed review and evaluation of the concept studies, NASA will make the final selections by September 2016 for continued development leading up to launch. Any selected mission will cost approximately $500 million, not including launch vehicle funding or the cost of post-launch operations.

"The selected investigations have the potential to reveal much about the formation of our solar system and its dynamic processes,” said John Grunsfeld, astronaut and associate administrator for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate in Washington. “Dynamic and exciting missions like these hold promise to unravel the mysteries of our solar system and inspire future generations of explorers. It’s an incredible time for science, and NASA is leading the way.”

NASA's Discovery Program requested proposals for spaceflight investigations in November 2014. A panel of NASA and other scientists and engineers reviewed 27 submissions.

The planetary missions selected to pursue concept design studies are:

Deep Atmosphere Venus Investigation of Noble gases, Chemistry, and Imaging (DAVINCI):
DAVINCI would study the chemical composition of Venus’ atmosphere during a 63-minute descent. It would answer scientific questions that have been considered high priorities for many years, such as whether there are volcanoes active today on the surface of Venus and how the surface interacts with the atmosphere of the planet. Lori Glaze of NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, is the principal investigator. Goddard would manage the project.

The Venus Emissivity, Radio Science, InSAR, Topography, and Spectroscopy mission (VERITAS):
VERITAS would produce global, high-resolution topography and imaging of Venus’ surface and produce the first maps of deformation and global surface composition. Suzanne Smrekar of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena, California is the principal investigator. JPL would manage the project.

Psyche would explore the origin of planetary cores by studying the metallic asteroid Psyche. This asteroid is likely the survivor of a violent hit-and-run with another object that stripped off the outer, rocky layers of a protoplanet. Linda Elkins-Tanton of Arizona State University in Tempe, Arizona is the principal investigator. JPL would manage the project.

Near Earth Object Camera (NEOCam):
NEOCAM would discover ten times more near-Earth objects than all NEOs discovered to date. It would also begin to characterize them. Amy Mainzer of JPL is the principal investigator, and JPL would manage the project.

Lucy would perform the first reconnaissance of the Jupiter Trojan asteroids, objects thought to hold vital clues to deciphering the history of the solar system. Harold Levison of the Southwest Research Institute in Boulder, Colorado is the principal investigator. Goddard would manage the project.

Created in 1992, the Discovery Program sponsors frequent, cost-capped solar system exploration missions with highly focused scientific goals. The program has funded and developed 12 missions to date, including MESSENGER, Dawn, Stardust, Deep Impact, Genesis and GRAIL, and is currently completing development of InSight. The Planetary Missions Program Office at NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama manages the program for the agency's Science Mission Directorate.

Source: NASA.Gov


An artist's concept of the VERITAS spacecraft orbiting Venus.
NASA / JPL - Caltech