Friday, September 30, 2016

A Meet-and-Greet in Santa Monica...

Actress Ashley Tisdale poses for the cameras before doing a meet-and-greet at the Bloomingdale's department store in Santa Monica...on September 10, 2016.

Just thought I'd end this month with these photos that I took when I met actress Ashley Tisdale (of High School Musical fame) at the Bloomingdale's in Santa Monica about three weeks ago. Tisdale, who was so nice in person, was promoting her Signorelli fashion wear. The first 150 folks to buy one of her items were guaranteed a meet-and-greet with her; I think I was the fifth or sixth in line. (The people standing in front of me supposedly waited at Bloomingdale's since 6:30 in the morning. Ashley didn't show up till 1 PM.) Anyways, it would totally be cool if Tisdale's BFF Vanessa Hudgens does a photo op as well! I think Hudgens promotes a clothing line (Bongo?) too. Or maybe she'll do a meet-and-greet just for the heck of it. Not bloody likely. Happy Friday!

Ashley Tisdale poses for the cameras before doing a meet-and-greet at the Bloomingdale's department store in Santa Monica...on September 10, 2016.

Posing with Ashley Tisdale during her meet-and-greet at the Bloomingdale's department store in Santa Monica...on September 10, 2016.

Taking a photo of Santa Monica Pier, located just a few blocks down the street, after meeting Ashley Tisdale at the Bloomingdale's department store on September 10, 2016.

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

The 2016 Miramar Air Show...

Taking a selfie in front of an F-35B Lightning II at the Miramar Air Show...on September 24, 2016.

Last Saturday, I drove 108 miles to San Diego to check out the Miramar Air Show. Located at Marine Corps Air Station Miramar near the 15 Freeway, this occasion (if my memory serves me well) marks the second air show that I attended in almost 16 years...the last one being at Edwards Air Force Base in October of 2000 (though that event was technically called an open house). I went to Miramar to see the V-22 Osprey on display and the F-35B Lightning II in action during an air demo—but was pleasantly surprised to see that another F-35B was parked on the tarmac near the V-22 for people to see up-close and personal. And of course, the Blue Angels were on-hand to do their usual awesome acrobatics as I walked back to my car to head home.

Taking a selfie in front of a V-22 Osprey at the Miramar Air Show...on September 24, 2016.

So would I attend the Miramar Air Show again, you ask? Most likely if the F-22 Raptor made an appearance. (The U.S. Air Force was represented at the show by an F-16 Fighting Falcon that put on a great aerial demo right before the F-35B flew, FYI.) I saw the F-22 in person at Edwards Air Force Base in 2000 (along with the B-2 Stealth Bomber)...but believe that it was the prototype that was put on display back then. I want to see a production model (one that might have flown over Syria over the past two years, preferably) parked on the tarmac alongside the Lightning II next time. Carry on!

LINK: Click here for more photos that I took at the 2016 Miramar Air Show

The F-35B Lightning II, a VTOL aircraft (Google that), hovers in for a landing after conducting an aerial demo at the Miramar Air Show...on September 24, 2016.

Another F-35B Lightning II on display at the Miramar Air Show...on September 24, 2016.

An air demo takes place behind the F-35B Lightning II parked on the tarmac at the Miramar Air Show...on September 24, 2016.

Taking another photo with the F-35B Lightning II parked on the tarmac at the Miramar Air Show...on September 24, 2016.

People head towards the main airfield at Marine Corps Air Station (MCAS) Miramar as two AH-1 Cobra attack helicopters approach an explosion in the distance...on September 24, 2016.

A fleet of Marine Corps aircraft fly over the main airfield at MCAS Miramar after a combat demo...on September 24, 2016.

While another air demo takes place in the background, an F/A-18 Hornet, a C-130 Hercules and other aircraft are on display at the Miramar Air Show...on September 24, 2016.

The Blue Angels perform their air demo as I head back to my car...on September 24, 2016.

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Another Awesome Discovery Made by Hubble! (Send a Lander to Europa Anyway, NASA...)

A composite image combining data from the Hubble Space Telescope with a photo of Jupiter's moon Europa.
NASA / ESA / W. Sparks (STScI) / USGS Astrogeology Science Center

NASA’s Hubble Spots Possible Water Plumes Erupting on Jupiter's Moon Europa (Press Release - September 26)

Astronomers using NASA's Hubble Space Telescope have imaged what may be water vapor plumes erupting off the surface of Jupiter's moon Europa. This finding bolsters other Hubble observations suggesting the icy moon erupts with high altitude water vapor plumes.

The observation increases the possibility that missions to Europa may be able to sample Europa’s ocean without having to drill through miles of ice.

“Europa’s ocean is considered to be one of the most promising places that could potentially harbor life in the solar system,” said Geoff Yoder, acting associate administrator for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate in Washington. “These plumes, if they do indeed exist, may provide another way to sample Europa’s subsurface.”

The plumes are estimated to rise about 125 miles (200 kilometers) before, presumably, raining material back down onto Europa's surface. Europa has a huge global ocean containing twice as much water as Earth’s oceans, but it is protected by a layer of extremely cold and hard ice of unknown thickness. The plumes provide a tantalizing opportunity to gather samples originating from under the surface without having to land or drill through the ice.

The team, led by William Sparks of the Space Telescope Science Institute (STScI) in Baltimore observed these finger-like projections while viewing Europa's limb as the moon passed in front of Jupiter.

The original goal of the team's observing proposal was to determine whether Europa has a thin, extended atmosphere, or exosphere. Using the same observing method that detects atmospheres around planets orbiting other stars, the team realized if there was water vapor venting from Europa’s surface, this observation would be an excellent way to see it.

"The atmosphere of an extrasolar planet blocks some of the starlight that is behind it," Sparks explained. "If there is a thin atmosphere around Europa, it has the potential to block some of the light of Jupiter, and we could see it as a silhouette. And so we were looking for absorption features around the limb of Europa as it transited the smooth face of Jupiter."

In 10 separate occurrences spanning 15 months, the team observed Europa passing in front of Jupiter. They saw what could be plumes erupting on three of these occasions.

This work provides supporting evidence for water plumes on Europa. In 2012, a team led by Lorenz Roth of the Southwest Research Institute in San Antonio, detected evidence of water vapor erupting from the frigid south polar region of Europa and reaching more than 100 miles (160 kilometers) into space. Although both teams used Hubble's Space Telescope Imaging Spectrograph instrument, each used a totally independent method to arrive at the same conclusion.

"When we calculate in a completely different way the amount of material that would be needed to create these absorption features, it's pretty similar to what Roth and his team found," Sparks said. "The estimates for the mass are similar, the estimates for the height of the plumes are similar. The latitude of two of the plume candidates we see corresponds to their earlier work."

But as of yet, the two teams have not simultaneously detected the plumes using their independent techniques. Observations thus far have suggested the plumes could be highly variable, meaning that they may sporadically erupt for some time and then die down. For example, observations by Roth’s team within a week of one of the detections by Sparks’ team failed to detect any plumes.

If confirmed, Europa would be the second moon in the solar system known to have water vapor plumes. In 2005, NASA's Cassini orbiter detected jets of water vapor and dust spewing off the surface of Saturn's moon Enceladus.

Scientists may use the infrared vision of NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope, which is scheduled to launch in 2018, to confirm venting or plume activity on Europa. NASA also is formulating a mission to Europa with a payload that could confirm the presence of plumes and study them from close range during multiple flybys.

“Hubble’s unique capabilities enabled it to capture these plumes, once again demonstrating Hubble’s ability to make observations it was never designed to make,” said Paul Hertz, director of the Astrophysics Division at NASA Headquarters in Washington. “This observation opens up a world of possibilities, and we look forward to future missions -- such as the James Webb Space Telescope -- to follow up on this exciting discovery.”

The work by Sparks and his colleagues will be published in the Sept. 29 issue of the Astrophysical Journal.

The Hubble Space Telescope is a project of international cooperation between NASA and ESA (the European Space Agency.) NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, manages the telescope. STScI, which is operated for NASA by the Association of Universities for Research in Astronomy in Washington, conducts Hubble science operations.


Monday, September 26, 2016

Thanks for Dangling That Carrot in Front of Me, Karma...

I was so close—so close to reaching the finish line and going back to the good 'ol days. And a phone call a little over an hour ago had to take all that away from me, yet again. I'm getting flashbacks of early January of 2011.

I'm feeling very, very disappointed right now. Heartbroken is actually the correct term to use here. Thanks for dangling that carrot of hope in front of me over the past few days, karma... You son-of-a-bitch.


Thursday, September 22, 2016

An Awesome Saturn-Sized Discovery by Hubble...

An artist's concept of a Saturn-sized exoplanet orbiting its two suns in the OGLE-2007-BLG-349 system.
NASA, ESA, and G. Bacon (STScI)

Hubble Finds Planet Orbiting Pair of Stars (Press Release)

Two's company, but three might not always be a crowd — at least in space.

Astronomers using NASA's Hubble Space Telescope, and a trick of nature, have confirmed the existence of a planet orbiting two stars in the system OGLE-2007-BLG-349, located 8,000 light-years away towards the center of our galaxy.

The planet orbits roughly 300 million miles from the stellar duo, about the distance from the asteroid belt to our sun. It completes an orbit around both stars roughly every seven years. The two red dwarf stars are a mere 7 million miles apart, or 14 times the diameter of the moon's orbit around Earth.

The Hubble observations represent the first time such a three-body system has been confirmed using the gravitational microlensing technique. Gravitational microlensing occurs when the gravity of a foreground star bends and amplifies the light of a background star that momentarily aligns with it. The particular character of the light magnification can reveal clues to the nature of the foreground star and any associated planets.

The three objects were discovered in 2007 by an international collaboration of five different groups: Microlensing Observations in Astrophysics (MOA), the Optical Gravitational Lensing Experiment (OGLE), the Microlensing Follow-up Network (MicroFUN), the Probing Lensing Anomalies Network (PLANET), and the Robonet Collaboration. These ground-based observations uncovered a star and a planet, but a detailed analysis also revealed a third body that astronomers could not definitively identify.

"The ground-based observations suggested two possible scenarios for the three-body system: a Saturn-mass planet orbiting a close binary star pair or a Saturn-mass and an Earth-mass planet orbiting a single star," explained David Bennett of the NASA Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, the paper's first author.

The sharpness of the Hubble images allowed the research team to separate the background source star and the lensing star from their neighbors in the very crowded star field. The Hubble observations revealed that the starlight from the foreground lens system was too faint to be a single star, but it had the brightness expected for two closely orbiting red dwarf stars, which are fainter and less massive than our sun. "So, the model with two stars and one planet is the only one consistent with the Hubble data," Bennett said.

Bennett's team conducted the follow-up observations with Hubble's Wide Field Planetary Camera 2. "We were helped in the analysis by the almost perfect alignment of the foreground binary stars with the background star, which greatly magnified the light and allowed us to see the signal of the two stars," Bennett explained.

Kepler has discovered 10 other planets orbiting tight binary stars, but these are all much closer to their stars than the one studied by Hubble.

Now that the team has shown that microlensing can successfully detect planets orbiting double-star systems, Hubble could provide an essential role in this new realm in the continued search for exoplanets.

The team's results have been accepted for publication in The Astronomical Journal.

Source: NASA.Gov

Friday, September 16, 2016

OSIRIS-REx Update: One Week After Launch...

An artist's concept of NASA's OSIRIS-REx spacecraft preparing to take a sample from asteroid Bennu.
NASA / Goddard / Chris Meaney

OSIRIS-REx Mission Status Report (News Release - September 15)

One week post-launch, NASA’s Origins, Spectral Interpretation, Resource Identification, Security-Regolith Explorer (OSIRIS-REx) spacecraft remains healthy and is on track for its two-year journey to the asteroid Bennu. As of noon EDT Thursday, the spacecraft was approximately 2 million miles (3.2 million kilometers) from Earth, traveling at approximately 12,300 miles per hour (19,800 kilometers per hour) relative to Earth. All of the spacecraft’s subsystems are operating as expected.

The OSIRIS-REx spacecraft is designed to rendezvous with, study, and return a sample of Bennu to Earth. This sample of a primitive asteroid will help scientists understand the formation of our solar system more than 4.5 billion years ago.

After liftoff at 7:05 p.m. EDT on Sept. 8, the United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket performed flawlessly and positioned the OSIRIS-REx spacecraft exactly where the mission’s navigation team expected it to be. By 1:30 p.m. EDT on Sept. 9, approximately 18 1/2 hours after launch, the OSIRIS-REx spacecraft had crossed the orbital path of the Moon at 240,000 miles (386,500 kilometers). By that evening, the spacecraft transitioned from launch operations into its outbound cruise phase.

On Sept. 12, OSIRIS-REx took its first image from it star tracker navigational camera, proving the system is functioning properly. The star tracker takes images of the stars and compares them to an on-board catalog, which then tells the spacecraft navigation systems its attitude, or which way it is pointing.

Next week, the engineers controlling the OSIRIS-REx spacecraft will conduct checkouts of the science instruments on board the spacecraft.

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

Source: NASA.Gov


An image that was taken by the star tracker aboard NASA's OSIRIS-REx spacecraft...on September 12, 2016.

Thursday, September 15, 2016

Cassini Enters the Home Stretch of Its Historic Mission...

An infographic showing all of the accomplishments that NASA's Cassini spacecraft achieved since its arrival at Saturn in 2004.
NASA / Jet Propulsion Laboratory - Caltech

Cassini Begins Epic Final Year at Saturn (Press Release)

After more than 12 years studying Saturn, its rings and moons, NASA's Cassini spacecraft has entered the final year of its epic voyage. The conclusion of the historic scientific odyssey is planned for September 2017, but not before the spacecraft completes a daring two-part endgame.

Beginning on November 30, Cassini's orbit will send the spacecraft just past the outer edge of the main rings. These orbits, a series of 20, are called the F-ring orbits. During these weekly orbits, Cassini will approach to within 4,850 miles (7,800 kilometers) of the center of the narrow F ring, with its peculiar kinked and braided structure.

"During the F-ring orbits we expect to see the rings, along with the small moons and other structures embedded in them, as never before," said Linda Spilker, Cassini project scientist at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, California. "The last time we got this close to the rings was during arrival at Saturn in 2004, and we saw only their backlit side. Now we have dozens of opportunities to examine their structure at extremely high resolution on both sides."

The Last Act: A Grand Finale

Cassini's final phase -- called the Grand Finale -- begins in earnest in April 2017. A close flyby of Saturn's giant moon Titan will reshape the spacecraft's orbit so that it passes through the gap between Saturn and the rings - an unexplored space only about 1,500 miles (2,400 kilometers) wide. The spacecraft is expected to make 22 plunges through this gap, beginning with its first dive on April 27.

During the Grand Finale, Cassini will make the closest-ever observations of Saturn, mapping the planet's magnetic and gravity fields with exquisite precision and returning ultra-close views of the atmosphere. Scientists also hope to gain new insights into Saturn's interior structure, the precise length of a Saturn day, and the total mass of the rings -- which may finally help settle the question of their age. The spacecraft will also directly analyze dust-sized particles in the main rings and sample the outer reaches of Saturn's atmosphere -- both first-time measurements for the mission.

"It's like getting a whole new mission," said Spilker. "The scientific value of the F ring and Grand Finale orbits is so compelling that you could imagine a whole mission to Saturn designed around what we're about to do."

Getting Into Saturn, Literally

Since the beginning of 2016, mission engineers have been tweaking Cassini's orbital path around Saturn to position the spacecraft for the mission's final phase. They have sent the spacecraft on a series of flybys past Titan that are progressively raising the tilt of Cassini's orbit with respect to Saturn's equator and rings. This particular orientation enables the spacecraft to leap over the rings with a single (and final) Titan flyby in April, to begin the Grand Finale.

"We've used Titan's gravity throughout the mission to sling Cassini around the Saturn system," said Earl Maize, Cassini project manager at JPL. "Now Titan is coming through for us once again, providing a way for Cassini to get into these completely unexplored regions so close to the planet."

The Grand Finale will come to a dramatic end on Sept. 15, 2017, as Cassini dives into Saturn's atmosphere, returning data about the planet's chemical composition until its signal is lost. Friction with the atmosphere will cause the spacecraft to burn up like a meteor soon afterward.

To celebrate the beginning of the final year and the adventure ahead, the Cassini team is releasing a new movie of the rotating planet, along with a color mosaic, both taken from high above Saturn's northern hemisphere. The movie covers 44 hours, or just over four Saturn rotations.

'A Truly Thrilling Ride'

"This is the sort of view Cassini will have as the spacecraft repeatedly climbs high above Saturn's northern latitudes before plunging past the outer -- and later the inner -- edges of the rings," said Spilker.

And so, although the mission's end is approaching -- with a "Cassini Final Plunge" clock already counting down in JPL mission control -- an extremely important phase of the mission is still to come.

"We may be counting down, but no one should count Cassini out yet," said Curt Niebur, Cassini program scientist at NASA Headquarters in Washington. "The journey ahead is going to be a truly thrilling ride."

The Cassini-Huygens mission is a cooperative project of NASA, ESA (European Space Agency) and the Italian Space Agency. NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, a division of Caltech in Pasadena, manages the mission for NASA's Science Mission Directorate, Washington. JPL designed, developed and assembled the Cassini orbiter.

Source: Jet Propulsion Laboratory


Wednesday, September 14, 2016

New Horizons Update: Pluto Leaves 'Graffiti' Marks on Neighboring Charon...

An image of Pluto's largest moon Charon as seen by NASA's New Horizons spacecraft...on July 14, 2015.

Pluto ‘Paints’ its Largest Moon Red (News Release)

In June 2015, when the cameras on NASA’s approaching New Horizons spacecraft first spotted the large reddish polar region on Pluto’s largest moon, Charon, mission scientists knew two things: they’d never seen anything like it elsewhere in our solar system, and they couldn’t wait to get the story behind it.

Over the past year, after analyzing the images and other data that New Horizons has sent back from its historic July 2015 flight through the Pluto system, the scientists think they’ve solved the mystery. As they detail this week in the international scientific journal Nature, Charon’s polar coloring comes from Pluto itself – as methane gas that escapes from Pluto’s atmosphere and becomes “trapped” by the moon’s gravity and freezes to the cold, icy surface at Charon’s pole. This is followed by chemical processing by ultraviolet light from the sun that transforms the methane into heavier hydrocarbons and eventually into reddish organic materials called tholins.

"Who would have thought that Pluto is a graffiti artist, spray-painting its companion with a reddish stain that covers an area the size of New Mexico?" asked Will Grundy, a New Horizons co-investigator from Lowell Observatory in Flagstaff, Arizona, and lead author of the paper. "Every time we explore, we find surprises. Nature is amazingly inventive in using the basic laws of physics and chemistry to create spectacular landscapes."

The team combined analyses from detailed Charon images obtained by New Horizons with computer models of how ice evolves on Charon’s poles. Mission scientists had previously speculated that methane from Pluto’s atmosphere was trapped in Charon’s north pole and slowly converted into the reddish material, but had no models to support that theory.

The New Horizons team dug into the data to determine whether conditions on the Texas-sized moon (with a diameter of 753 miles or 1,212 kilometers) could allow the capture and processing of methane gas. The models using Pluto and Charon’s 248-year orbit around the sun show some extreme weather at Charon’s poles, where 100 years of continuous sunlight alternate with another century of continuous darkness. Surface temperatures during these long winters dip to -430 Fahrenheit (-257 Celsius), cold enough to freeze methane gas into a solid.

“The methane molecules bounce around on Charon's surface until they either escape back into space or land on the cold pole, where they freeze solid, forming a thin coating of methane ice that lasts until sunlight comes back in the spring,” Grundy said. But while the methane ice quickly sublimates away, the heavier hydrocarbons created from it remain on the surface.

The models also suggested that in Charon’s springtime the returning sunlight triggers conversion of the frozen methane back into gas. But while the methane ice quickly sublimates away, the heavier hydrocarbons created from this evaporative process remain on the surface.

Sunlight further irradiates those leftovers into reddish material – called tholins – that has slowly accumulated on Charon’s poles over millions of years. New Horizons’ observations of Charon’s other pole, currently in winter darkness – and seen by New Horizons only by light reflecting from Pluto, or “Pluto-shine” – confirmed that the same activity was occurring at both poles.

“This study solves one of the greatest mysteries we found on Charon, Pluto’s giant moon,” said Alan Stern, New Horizons principal investigator from the Southwest Research Institute, and a study co-author. “And it opens up the possibility that other small planets in the Kuiper Belt with moons may create similar, or even more extensive ‘atmospheric transfer’ features on their moons.”

Source: NASA.Gov

Monday, September 12, 2016

InSight Update: America's Next Red Planet Lander Continues Its March to a 2018 Launch...

An artist's concept of NASA's InSight lander on the surface of Mars.

NASA Approves 2018 Launch of Mars InSight Mission (Press Release - September 2)

NASA is moving forward with a spring 2018 launch of its InSight mission to study the deep interior of Mars, following final approval this week by the agency's Science Mission Directorate.

The Interior Exploration using Seismic Investigations, Geodesy and Heat Transport (InSight) mission was originally scheduled to launch in March of this year, but NASA suspended launch preparations in December due to a vacuum leak in its prime science instrument, the Seismic Experiment for Interior Structure (SEIS).

The new launch period for the mission begins May 5, 2018, with a Mars landing scheduled for Nov. 26, 2018. The next launch opportunity is driven by orbital dynamics, so 2018 is the soonest the lander can be on its way.

"Our robotic scientific explorers such as InSight are paving the way toward an ambitious journey to send humans to the Red Planet," said Geoff Yoder, acting associate administrator for NASA's Science Mission Directorate, in Washington. "It's gratifying that we are moving forward with this important mission to help us better understand the origins of Mars and all the rocky planets, including Earth."

The SEIS instrument -- designed to measure ground movements as small as half the radius of a hydrogen atom -- requires a perfect vacuum seal around its three main sensors in order to withstand harsh conditions on the Red Planet. Under what's known as the mission "replan," NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, will be responsible for redesigning, developing and qualifying the instrument's evacuated container and the electrical feedthroughs that failed previously. France's space agency, the Centre National d'Études Spatiales (CNES), will focus on developing and delivering the key sensors for SEIS, integration of the sensors into the container, and the final integration of the instrument onto the spacecraft.

The German Aerospace Center (DLR) is contributing the Heat Flow and Physical Properties Package (HP3) to InSight's science payload.

NASA's budget for InSight was $675 million. The instrument redesign and two-year delay add $153.8 million. The additional cost will not delay or cancel any current missions, though there may be fewer opportunities for new missions in future years, from fiscal years 2017-2020.

InSight's primary goal is to help us understand how rocky planets formed and evolved. Jim Green, director of NASA's Planetary Science Division, said, "We've concluded that a replanned InSight mission for launch in 2018 is the best approach to fulfill these long-sought, high-priority science objectives."

CNES President Jean-Yves Le Gall added, "This confirmation of the launch plan for InSight is excellent news and an unparalleled opportunity to learn more about the internal structure of the Red Planet, which is currently of major interest to the international science community."

The InSight Project is managed by JPL for NASA's Science Mission Directorate, Washington. Lockheed Martin Space Systems, Denver, built the spacecraft. InSight is part of NASA's Discovery Program, which is managed by NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama.

Source: Jet Propulsion Laboratory


NASA's InSight Mars lander is tucked inside its aeroshell at the Lockheed Martin facility near Denver, Colorado.
NASA / Lockheed Martin

Thursday, September 08, 2016

Bound for Bennu: OSIRIS-REx Lifts Off!

The OSIRIS-REx spacecraft is launched from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida on September 8, 2016.
NASA / Kim Shiflett

NASA’s OSIRIS-REx Speeds Toward Asteroid Rendezvous (Press Release)

NASA's first asteroid sampling mission launched into space at 7:05 p.m. EDT Thursday from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida, beginning a journey that could revolutionize our understanding of the early solar system.

“Today, we celebrate a huge milestone for this remarkable mission, and for this mission team,” said NASA Administrator Charles Bolden. “We’re very excited about what this mission can tell us about the origin of our solar system, and we celebrate the bigger picture of science that is helping us make discoveries and accomplish milestones that might have been science fiction yesterday, but are science facts today.”

The Origins, Spectral Interpretation, Resource Identification, Security-Regolith Explorer (OSIRIS-REx) spacecraft is designed to rendezvous with, study, and return a sample of the asteroid Bennu to Earth. Asteroids like Bennu are remnants from the formation of our solar system more than 4.5 billion years ago. Scientists suspect that asteroids may have been a source of the water and organic molecules for the early Earth and other planetary bodies. An uncontaminated asteroid sample from a known source would enable precise analyses, providing results far beyond what can be achieved by spacecraft-based instruments or by studying meteorites.

OSIRIS-REx separated from its United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket 8:04 p.m. minutes after launch. The solar arrays deployed and are now powering the spacecraft.

“With today’s successful launch, the OSIRIS-REx spacecraft embarks on a journey of exploration to Bennu,” said Dante Lauretta, OSIRIS-REx principal investigator at the University of Arizona, Tucson. “I couldn’t be more proud of the team that made this mission a reality, and I can’t wait to see what we will discover at Bennu.”

In 2018, OSIRIS-REx will approach Bennu – which is the size of a small mountain – and begin an intricate dance with the asteroid, mapping and studying Bennu in preparation for sample collection. In July 2020, the spacecraft will perform a daring maneuver in which its 11-foot arm will reach out and perform a five-second “high-five” to stir up surface material, collecting at least 2 ounces (60 grams) of small rocks and dust in a sample return container. OSIRIS-REx will return the sample to Earth in September 2023, when it will then be transported to NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston for examination.

The OSIRIS-REx mission will be the first U.S. mission to carry samples from an asteroid back to Earth and the largest sample returned from space since the Apollo era.

"It’s satisfying to see the culmination of years of effort from this outstanding team,” said Mike Donnelly, OSIRIS-REx project manager at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland. “We were able to deliver OSIRIS-REx on time and under budget to the launch site, and will soon do something that no other NASA spacecraft has done – bring back a sample from an asteroid.”

Goddard provides overall mission management, systems engineering and the safety and mission assurance for OSIRIS-REx. The University of Arizona leads the science team and observation planning and processing. Lockheed Martin Space Systems in Denver built the spacecraft. OSIRIS-REx is the third mission in NASA’s New Frontiers Program. NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama, manages the agency’s New Frontiers Program for its Science Mission Directorate in Washington. Launch and countdown management is the responsibility of NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida.


The OSIRIS-REx spacecraft undergoes launch processing inside the Payload Hazardous Servicing Facility at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida.
NASA / Glenn Benson

Rocketcam footage showing the OSIRIS-REx spacecraft as the payload fairing separated from its Centaur second stage engine...on September 8, 2016.
United Launch Alliance

Rocketcam footage showing the OSIRIS-REx spacecraft separating from its Centaur second stage engine following a successful launch from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida...on September 8, 2016.
United Launch Alliance

A microchip bearing the names of 440,000 people (including Yours Truly) is attached to the OSIRIS-REx spacecraft at the Lockheed Martin facility near Denver, Colorado.
NASA / The Planetary Society / Lockheed Martin

My participation certificate for the OSIRIS-REx mission.

Wednesday, September 07, 2016

America's New Stealth Destroyer Is Ready for Action...

The USS Zumwalt conducts sea trials out in the Atlantic Ocean, on December 7, 2015.
U.S. Navy / General Dynamics Bath Iron Works

Navy's Most Advanced Warship, USS Zumwalt Departs Bath Iron Works (Press Release)

BATH, Maine (NNS) -- The Navy's newest and most technologically advanced surface ship, future USS Zumwalt (DDG 1000) departed Bath Iron Works, Sept. 7, marking the beginning of a 3-month journey to its new homeport in San Diego.

Crewed by 147 Sailors, Zumwalt is the lead ship of a class of next-generation multi-mission destroyers designed to strengthen naval power. They are capable of performing critical maritime missions and enhance the Navy's ability to provide deterrence, power projection and sea control.

Named for Adm. Elmo R. "Bud" Zumwalt Jr., former chief of naval operations (CNO) from 1970 to 1974, the Zumwalt-class features a state-of-the-art electric propulsion system, a wave-piercing tumblehome hull, stealth design and the latest war fighting technology and weaponry available.

"As the DDG 1000 sails into open water, Zumwalt is once again on active service in the U.S. Navy," said Capt. James A. Kirk, Zumwalt's commanding officer.

DDG 1000 will be the first U.S. Navy combatant surface ship to utilize an integrated power system (IPS) to provide electric power for propulsion and ship services. The IPS generates approximately 78 megawatts of power, nearly what a nuclear-powered aircraft carrier generates, to meet the total ship electric power requirements and provide extra capacity to accommodate future weapons and computing systems.

"With 78 megawatts of power generation capacity readily available, DDG 1000 enters the Fleet bringing with it a new era of power generation, conversion, and propulsion to the U.S. Navy," said Kirk.

In preparation for Zumwalt's departure from Bath, the crew recently completed an engineering light off assessment and crew certification to ensure the ship's readiness to join the surface fleet.

"The 147 Sailors of Zumwalt (DDG 1000) have completed the training and certifications required of them in record time. They have demonstrated superb technical expertise, teamwork, and toughness over the last three months," said Kirk.

In addition to its advanced weapon and propulsion systems, Zumwalt is much larger than today's destroyers. At 610 feet long and 80.7 feet wide, Zumwalt is 100 feet longer and 13 feet wider, and its flight deck is 93 percent larger than an Arleigh Burke-class destroyer.

Stealthy, powerful, and lethal, Zumwalt integration into the fleet will provide a vital link from the Navy's current needs to its future capabilities.

USS Zumwalt will be formally commissioned during Fleet Week Maryland in Baltimore, Oct. 15.

Following the commissioning ceremony Zumwalt will begin its transit to San Diego, making several port visits en route. Upon arrival in San Diego, she is scheduled to take part in a Post Delivery Availability and Mission Systems Activation and is expected to be integrated into the fleet in 2018 following test and evaluation.

"We take a great deal of pride in our namesake, Admiral Zumwalt, and are committed to honoring him through our service," said Kirk.

A veteran of World War II and the conflicts in Korea and Vietnam, Adm. Zumwalt exemplified honor, courage and commitment during 32 years of dedicated naval service, earning a Bronze Star with Valor for his actions during the Battle of Leyte Gulf.

During his time as CNO, Adm. Zumwalt embraced technological innovation and advocated a number of successful programs including, the Oliver Hazard Perry-class frigate, the Ohio-class ballistic missile submarine and the F-14 Tomcat, all of which yielded long-term benefits to the warfighting readiness of the Navy. His legacy is proudly carried on today by the new class of destroyers that bear his name.

Source: United States Navy


The USS Zumwalt sails through the waters off the coast of Maine in November of 2013.
U.S. Navy / General Dynamics Bath Iron Works

Tuesday, September 06, 2016

Rosetta Finds a Lost Friend...

Images of comet 67P/Churyumov–Gerasimenko and the Philae lander on its surface, as seen by ESA's Rosetta spacecraft on September 2, 2016.
ESA / Rosetta / MPS for OSIRIS Team MPS / UPD / LAM / IAA / SSO / INTA / UPM / DASP / IDA; context: ESA/Rosetta/NavCam

Philae found! (News Release - September 5)

Less than a month before the end of the mission, Rosetta’s high-resolution camera has revealed the Philae lander wedged into a dark crack on Comet 67P/Churyumov–Gerasimenko.

The images were taken on 2 September by the OSIRIS narrow-angle camera as the orbiter came within 2.7 km of the surface and clearly show the main body of the lander, along with two of its three legs.

The images also provide proof of Philae’s orientation, making it clear why establishing communications was so difficult following its landing on 12 November 2014.

“With only a month left of the Rosetta mission, we are so happy to have finally imaged Philae, and to see it in such amazing detail,” says Cecilia Tubiana of the OSIRIS camera team, the first person to see the images when they were downlinked from Rosetta yesterday.

“After months of work, with the focus and the evidence pointing more and more to this lander candidate, I’m very excited and thrilled that we finally have this all-important picture of Philae sitting in Abydos,” says ESA’s Laurence O’Rourke, who has been coordinating the search efforts over the last months at ESA, with the OSIRIS and Lander Science Operations and Navigation Center (SONC, CNES) teams.

Philae was last seen when it first touched down at Agilkia, bounced and then flew for another two hours before ending up at a location later named Abydos, on the comet’s smaller lobe.

After three days, Philae's primary battery was exhausted and the lander went into hibernation, only to wake up again and communicate briefly with Rosetta in June and July 2015 as the comet came closer to the Sun and more power was available.

However, until today, the precise location was not known. Radio ranging data tied its location down to an area spanning a few tens of metres, but a number of potential candidate objects identified in relatively low-resolution images taken from larger distances could not be analysed in detail until recently.

While most candidates could be discarded from analysis of the imagery and other techniques, evidence continued to build towards one particular target, which is now confirmed in images taken unprecedentedly close to the surface of the comet.

At 2.7 km, the resolution of the OSIRIS narrow-angle camera is about 5 cm/pixel, sufficient to reveal characteristic features of Philae’s 1 m-sized body and its legs, as seen in these definitive pictures.

“This remarkable discovery comes at the end of a long, painstaking search,” says Patrick Martin, ESA’s Rosetta Mission Manager. “We were beginning to think that Philae would remain lost forever. It is incredible we have captured this at the final hour.”

“This wonderful news means that we now have the missing ‘ground-truth’ information needed to put Philae’s three days of science into proper context, now that we know where that ground actually is!” says Matt Taylor, ESA’s Rosetta project scientist.

"Now that the lander search is finished we feel ready for Rosetta's landing, and look forward to capturing even closer images of Rosetta's touchdown site,” adds Holger Sierks, principal investigator of the OSIRIS camera.

The discovery comes less than a month before Rosetta descends to the comet’s surface. On 30 September, the orbiter will be sent on a final one-way mission to investigate the comet from close up, including the open pits in the Ma’at region, where it is hoped that critical observations will help to reveal secrets of the body’s interior structure.

Source: European Space Agency


An image of the Philae lander on the surface of comet 67P/Churyumov–Gerasimenko, as seen by ESA's Rosetta spacecraft on September 2, 2016.
ESA / Rosetta / MPS for OSIRIS Team MPS / UPD / LAM / IAA / SSO / INTA / UPM / DASP/IDA

Monday, September 05, 2016

Juno Update: Jupiter As Never Seen Before!

An image of Jupiter's north pole as seen by NASA's Juno spacecraft on August 27, 2016.
NASA / JPL - Caltech / SwRI / MSSS

Jupiter’s North Pole Unlike Anything Encountered in Solar System (News Release - September 2)

NASA’s Juno spacecraft has sent back the first-ever images of Jupiter’s north pole, taken during the spacecraft’s first flyby of the planet with its instruments switched on. The images show storm systems and weather activity unlike anything previously seen on any of our solar system’s gas-giant planets.

Juno successfully executed the first of 36 orbital flybys on Aug. 27 when the spacecraft came about 2,500 miles (4,200 kilometers) above Jupiter’s swirling clouds. The download of six megabytes of data collected during the six-hour transit, from above Jupiter’s north pole to below its south pole, took one-and-a-half days. While analysis of this first data collection is ongoing, some unique discoveries have already made themselves visible.

“First glimpse of Jupiter’s north pole, and it looks like nothing we have seen or imagined before,” said Scott Bolton, principal investigator of Juno from the Southwest Research Institute in San Antonio. “It’s bluer in color up there than other parts of the planet, and there are a lot of storms. There is no sign of the latitudinal bands or zone and belts that we are used to -- this image is hardly recognizable as Jupiter. We’re seeing signs that the clouds have shadows, possibly indicating that the clouds are at a higher altitude than other features.”

One of the most notable findings of these first-ever pictures of Jupiter’s north and south poles is something that the JunoCam imager did not see.

“Saturn has a hexagon at the north pole,” said Bolton. “There is nothing on Jupiter that anywhere near resembles that. The largest planet in our solar system is truly unique. We have 35 more flybys to study just how unique it really is.”

Along with JunoCam snapping pictures during the flyby, all eight of Juno’s science instruments were energized and collecting data. The Jovian Infrared Auroral Mapper (JIRAM), supplied by the Italian Space Agency, acquired some remarkable images of Jupiter at its north and south polar regions in infrared wavelengths.

“JIRAM is getting under Jupiter’s skin, giving us our first infrared close-ups of the planet,” said Alberto Adriani, JIRAM co-investigator from Istituto di Astrofisica e Planetologia Spaziali, Rome. “These first infrared views of Jupiter’s north and south poles are revealing warm and hot spots that have never been seen before. And while we knew that the first-ever infrared views of Jupiter's south pole could reveal the planet's southern aurora, we were amazed to see it for the first time. No other instruments, both from Earth or space, have been able to see the southern aurora. Now, with JIRAM, we see that it appears to be very bright and well-structured. The high level of detail in the images will tell us more about the aurora’s morphology and dynamics.”

Among the more unique data sets collected by Juno during its first scientific sweep by Jupiter was that acquired by the mission’s Radio/Plasma Wave Experiment (Waves), which recorded ghostly-sounding transmissions emanating from above the planet. These radio emissions from Jupiter have been known about since the 1950s but had never been analyzed from such a close vantage point.

“Jupiter is talking to us in a way only gas-giant worlds can,” said Bill Kurth, co-investigator for the Waves instrument from the University of Iowa, Iowa City. “Waves detected the signature emissions of the energetic particles that generate the massive auroras which encircle Jupiter’s north pole. These emissions are the strongest in the solar system. Now we are going to try to figure out where the electrons come from that are generating them.”

The Juno spacecraft launched on Aug. 5, 2011, from Cape Canaveral, Florida and arrived at Jupiter on July 4, 2016. JPL manages the Juno mission for the principal investigator, Scott Bolton, of Southwest Research Institute in San Antonio. Juno is part of NASA's New Frontiers Program, which is managed at NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama, for NASA's Science Mission Directorate. Lockheed Martin Space Systems, Denver, built the spacecraft. Caltech in Pasadena, California, manages JPL for NASA.

Source: NASA.Gov


An infrared image of Jupiter's southern aurora as seen by NASA's Juno spacecraft on August 27, 2016.
NASA / JPL - Caltech / SwRI / MSSS

Sunday, September 04, 2016

New Horizons Update: Photographing One of Pluto's Icy Brethren from 1.3 Billion Miles Away...

An animated GIF showing the Kuiper Belt object Quaoar moving through deep seen by NASA's New Horizons spacecraft on July 13-14, 2016.

New Horizons Spies a Kuiper Belt Companion (News Release - August 31)

NASA’s New Horizons is doing some sightseeing along the way, as the spacecraft speeds toward a New Year’s Day 2019 date with an ancient object in the distant region beyond Pluto known as 2014 MU69.

New Horizons recently observed the Kuiper Belt object Quaoar (“Kwa-war”), which – at 690 miles or 1,100 kilometers in diameter – is roughly half the size of Pluto. This animated sequence shows composite images taken by New Horizons’ Long Range Reconnaissance Imager (LORRI) at four different times over July 13-14: “A” on July 13 at 02:00 Universal Time; “B” on July 13 at 04:08 UT; “C” on July 14 at 00:06 UT; and “D” on July 14 at 02:18 UT. Each composite includes 24 individual LORRI images, providing a total exposure time of 239 seconds and making the faint object easier to see.

New Horizons’ location in the Kuiper Belt gives the spacecraft a uniquely oblique view of the small planets like Quaoar orbiting so far from the sun. When these images were taken, Quaoar was approximately 4 billion miles (6.4 billion kilometers) from the sun and 1.3 billion miles (2.1 billion kilometers) from New Horizons. With the oblique view available from New Horizons, LORRI sees only a portion of Quaoar’s illuminated surface, which is very different from the nearly fully illuminated view of the Kuiper Belt object from Earth. Comparing Quaoar from the two very different perspectives gives mission scientists a valuable opportunity to study the light-scattering properties of Quaoar’s surface.

In addition to many background stars, two far away galaxies – IC 1048 and UGC 09485, each about 370 billion times farther from New Horizons than Quaoar – are also visible in these images. Unlike the galaxies and stars, Quaoar appears to move across the background scene due to its much closer distance. Other objects which appear to move in these images are camera artifacts.

In June the New Horizons mission received the go-ahead to fly onward to 2014 MU69 -- considered one of the early building blocks of the solar system -- with a planned rendezvous of Jan. 1, 2019.

Source: NASA.Gov


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

Saturday, September 03, 2016

Photos of the Day: The Wilshire Grand's Spire Is Complete!

The Wilshire Grand Center stands tall in downtown Los Angeles after the final spire segment was installed atop the skyscraper on September 3, 2016.
Irfan Khan / Los Angeles Times

Just thought I'd share these great photos that I found online showing the Wilshire Grand Center after the final piece of its spire was installed early this morning. The skyscraper now stands at about 1,100 feet-tall, with the spire making it around 90 feet higher than the U.S. Bank Tower (which was the tallest building in Los Angeles up until this past week) and officially giving the Wilshire Grand Center the honorary position of being the tallest skyscraper west of the Mississippi River. Sure, it's still the fourth-highest building in the United States (behind New York's 1 World Trade Center and the Empire State Building, as well as Chicago's Willis Tower). But other than that, I'm so proud to be an Angeleno! For the most part, that is. Yes, I keep saying that.

A construction worker stands on the final spire segment as it was being installed atop the Wilshire Grand Center on September 3, 2016.
Gary Leonard, AP

The final spire segment is about to be installed atop the Wilshire Grand Center on September 3, 2016.
Gary Leonard, AP

Construction workers inside a steel cage put finishing touches on the spire after its final segment was installed atop the Wilshire Grand Center...on September 3, 2016.
Reed Saxon, AP

Friday, September 02, 2016

Dawn Update: Getting a Better View of Ceres...

A composite image showing NASA's Dawn spacecraft orbiting the dwarf planet Ceres.

Dawn Sets Course for Higher Orbit (Press Release - August 31)

After studying Ceres for more than eight months from its low-altitude science orbit, NASA's Dawn spacecraft will move higher up for different views of the dwarf planet.

Dawn has delivered a wealth of images and other data from its current perch at 240 miles (385 kilometers) above Ceres' surface, which is closer to the dwarf planet than the International Space Station is to Earth. Now, the mission team is pivoting to consider science questions that can be examined from higher up.

After Dawn completed its prime mission on June 30, having surpassed all of its scientific objectives at Vesta and at Ceres, NASA extended the mission to perform new studies of Ceres. One of the factors limiting Dawn’s lifetime is the amount of hydrazine, the propellant needed to orient the spacecraft to observe Ceres and communicate with Earth. By going to a higher orbit at Ceres, Dawn will use the remaining hydrazine more sparingly, because it won't have to work as hard to counter Ceres' gravitational pull.

"Most spacecraft wouldn't be able to change their orbital altitude so easily. But thanks to Dawn's uniquely capable ion propulsion system, we can maneuver the ship to get the greatest scientific return from the mission," said Marc Rayman, chief engineer and mission director, based at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, California.

On Sept. 2, Dawn will begin spiraling upward to about 910 miles (1,460 kilometers) from Ceres. The altitude will be close to where Dawn was a year ago, but the orientation of the spacecraft's orbit -- specifically, the angle between the orbit plane and the sun -- will be different this time, so the spacecraft will have a different view of the surface.

The mission team is continuing to develop the extended mission itinerary and will submit a full plan to NASA next month.

Dawn's mission is managed by JPL for NASA's Science Mission Directorate in Washington. Dawn is a project of the directorate's Discovery Program, managed by NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama. UCLA is responsible for overall Dawn mission science. Orbital ATK Inc., in Dulles, Virginia, designed and built the spacecraft. The German Aerospace Center, Max Planck Institute for Solar System Research, Italian Space Agency and Italian National Astrophysical Institute are international partners on the mission team.

Source: NASA.Gov

Thursday, September 01, 2016

Countdown to Bennu: T-Minus 7 Days Till OSIRIS-REx Lifts Off!

The payload fairing containing NASA's OSIRIS-REx spacecraft is now attached to its Atlas V launch vehicle at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida...on August 29, 2016.
NASA / Dimitri Gerondidakis

Only one week remains till an Atlas V rocket carrying NASA's OSIRIS-REx spacecraft lifts off from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida to begin a 7-year mission to and from asteroid Bennu! Here are photos from last Monday's operation that involved mating the payload fairing containing OSIRIS-REx to its Atlas vehicle at the launch pad. The excitement is brewing for next Thursday! Assuming, of course, the Florida weather cooperates that evening.

The payload fairing containing NASA's OSIRIS-REx spacecraft passes by the Vehicle Assembly Building at Kennedy Space Center in Florida...on August 29, 2016.
NASA / Dimitri Gerondidakis

At Space Launch Complex 41 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida, the payload fairing containing NASA's OSIRIS-REx spacecraft is hoisted inside the Vertical Integration Facility to be mated with its Atlas V rocket...on August 29, 2016.
NASA / Dimitri Gerondidakis

At Space Launch Complex 41 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida, the payload fairing containing NASA's OSIRIS-REx spacecraft is about to be mated to its Atlas V rocket inside the Vertical Integration Facility...on August 29, 2016.
NASA / Dimitri Gerondidakis