Monday, July 31, 2017

Celebrating Four Decades of Voyage Through the Cosmos...

An artist's concept of a Voyager spacecraft venturing through the cosmos.

NASA’s Voyager Spacecraft Still Reaching for the Stars After 40 Years (Press Release)

Humanity’s farthest and longest-lived spacecraft, Voyager 1 and 2, achieve 40 years of operation and exploration this August and September. Despite their vast distance, they continue to communicate with NASA daily, still probing the final frontier.

Their story has not only impacted generations of current and future scientists and engineers, but also Earth’s culture, including film, art and music. Each spacecraft carries a Golden Record of Earth sounds, pictures and messages. Since the spacecraft could last billions of years, these circular time capsules could one day be the only traces of human civilization.

“I believe that few missions can ever match the achievements of the Voyager spacecraft during their four decades of exploration,” said Thomas Zurbuchen, associate administrator for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate (SMD) at NASA Headquarters. “They have educated us to the unknown wonders of the universe and truly inspired humanity to continue to explore our solar system and beyond.”

The Voyagers have set numerous records in their unparalleled journeys. In 2012, Voyager 1, which launched on Sept. 5, 1977, became the only spacecraft to have entered interstellar space. Voyager 2, launched on Aug. 20, 1977, is the only spacecraft to have flown by all four outer planets – Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus and Neptune. Their numerous planetary encounters include discovering the first active volcanoes beyond Earth, on Jupiter’s moon Io; hints of a subsurface ocean on Jupiter’s moon Europa; the most Earth-like atmosphere in the solar system, on Saturn’s moon Titan; the jumbled-up, icy moon Miranda at Uranus; and icy-cold geysers on Neptune's moon Triton.

Though the spacecraft have left the planets far behind – and neither will come remotely close to another star for 40,000 years – the two probes still send back observations about conditions where our Sun's influence diminishes and interstellar space begins.

Voyager 1, now almost 13 billion miles from Earth, travels through interstellar space northward out of the plane of the planets. The probe has informed researchers that cosmic rays, atomic nuclei accelerated to nearly the speed of light, are as much as four times more abundant in interstellar space than in the vicinity of Earth. This means the heliosphere, the bubble-like volume containing our solar system's planets and solar wind, effectively acts as a radiation shield for the planets. Voyager 1 also hinted that the magnetic field of the local interstellar medium is wrapped around the heliosphere.

Voyager 2, now almost 11 billion miles from Earth, travels south and is expected to enter interstellar space in the next few years. The different locations of the two Voyagers allow scientists to compare right now two regions of space where the heliosphere interacts with the surrounding interstellar medium using instruments that measure charged particles, magnetic fields, low-frequency radio waves and solar wind plasma. Once Voyager 2 crosses into the interstellar medium, they will also be able to sample the medium from two different locations simultaneously.

"None of us knew, when we launched 40 years ago, that anything would still be working, and continuing on this pioneering journey," said Ed Stone, Voyager project scientist based at Caltech in Pasadena, California. "The most exciting thing they find in the next five years is likely to be something that we didn't know was out there to be discovered."

The twin Voyagers have been cosmic overachievers, thanks to the foresight of mission designers. By preparing for the radiation environment at Jupiter, the harshest of all planets in our solar system, the spacecraft were well equipped for their subsequent journeys. Both Voyagers are equipped with long-lasting power supplies, as well as redundant systems that allow the spacecraft to switch to backup systems autonomously when necessary. Each Voyager carries three radioisotope thermoelectric generators, devices that use the heat energy generated from the decay of plutonium-238 – only half of it will be gone after 88 years.

Space is almost empty, so the Voyagers are not at a significant level of risk of bombardment by large objects. However, Voyager 1's interstellar space environment is not a complete void. It’s filled with clouds of dilute material remaining from stars that exploded as supernovae millions of years ago. This material doesn’t pose a danger to the spacecraft, but is a key part of the environment that the Voyager mission is helping scientists study and characterize.

Because the Voyagers' power decreases by four watts per year, engineers are learning how to operate the spacecraft under ever-tighter power constraints. And to maximize the Voyagers' lifespans, they also have to consult documents written decade’s earlier describing commands and software, in addition to the expertise of former Voyager engineers.

"The technology is many generations old, and it takes someone with 1970s design experience to understand how the spacecraft operate and what updates can be made to permit them to continue operating today and into the future," said Suzanne Dodd, Voyager project manager based at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena, California.

Team members estimate they will have to turn off the last science instrument by 2030. However, even after the spacecraft go silent, they’ll continue on their trajectories at their present speed of more than 30,000 mph (48,280 kilometers per hour), completing an orbit within the Milky Way every 225 million years.

The Voyager spacecraft were built by JPL, which continues to operate both. The Voyager missions are part of the NASA Heliophysics System Observatory, sponsored by the Heliophysics Division of SMD.


Friday, July 28, 2017

51 American Heroes (and 3 of Them are Republicans)...

Senators John McCain, Lisa Murkowski and Susan Collins are traitors to the GOP, heroes to the American people!

Earlier this morning, 48 Democrats and 3 Republican senators triumphantly struck down a repeal of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) that would've caused 16 million Americans to lose their health insurance by 2026. Known as the "Skinny Repeal," this bill would've taken away Obamacare's individual insurance mandate permanently and the employer mandate for 8 years...causing premiums to spike up by as much as 20% next year. But if you've been keeping regular track of the GOP's Obamacare Repeal fiasco like I have for much of this year, you'd already know that.

I'd like to point out that Senator John McCain exemplified why I voted for him in 2008 (and Barack Obama in 2012), and why fellow GOP senators Lisa Murkowski and Susan Collins should be proud that they will end up on the right side of history for last night's defeat of the Skinny Repeal. Despite threats by Donald Trump (I will not call him 'president') and his White House cronies against her state of Alaska, Murkowski stood tall and struck down the Senate GOP's extremely-flawed alternative to the ACA. And just like McCain, Collins is calling for a bipartisan answer to fixing the flaws in President Obama's signature healthcare legislation. After the embarrassing loss handed to him by his fellow GOP folks today, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell would be wise to take heed of their advice. There would be no need for me to say disparaging things about McConnell like what I've been doing with House-speaking cocksucker Paul Ryan for the past two months.

Anyways, the failure of the attempt to repeal Obamacare should be seen as a victory for Americans everywhere. In regards to those who lost their insurance due to the ACA, they should hope that the GOP and Democrats will finally work together to fix the healthcare law to ensure that they regain the medical coverage that they and the rest of the United States deserves. Thanks to McCain being a 'maverick' and the actions of two honorable ladies, that attempt to work together can begin today. Or by September... The weekend is here and Congress will soon adjourn for an August recess. (The Senate recess starts on August 11 and ends September 5.) TGIF!

Thursday, July 27, 2017

The End Is Nearer For Cassini...

An image of Saturn that was taken by NASA's Cassini spacecraft on July 16, 2017...from a distance of 777,000 miles (1.25 million kilometers) away.
NASA / JPL - Caltech / Space Science Institute

Haze on the Horizon (News Release)

This false-color view from NASA's Cassini spacecraft gazes toward the rings beyond Saturn's sunlit horizon. Along the limb (the planet's edge) at left can be seen a thin, detached haze. This haze vanishes toward the right side of the scene.

Cassini will pass through Saturn's upper atmosphere during the final five orbits of the mission, before making a fateful plunge into Saturn on Sept. 15, 2017. The region through which the spacecraft will fly on those last orbits is well above the haze seen here, which is in Saturn's stratosphere. In fact, even when Cassini plunges toward Saturn to meet its fate, contact with the spacecraft is expected to be lost before it reaches the depth of this haze.

This view is a false-color composite made using images taken in red, green and ultraviolet spectral filters. The images were obtained using the Cassini spacecraft narrow-angle camera on July 16, 2017, at a distance of about 777,000 miles (1.25 million kilometers) from Saturn. Image scale is about 4 miles (7 kilometers) per pixel on Saturn.

The Cassini mission is a cooperative project of NASA, ESA (the European Space Agency) and the Italian Space Agency. The Jet Propulsion Laboratory, a division of Caltech in Pasadena, manages the mission for NASA's Science Mission Directorate, Washington. The Cassini orbiter and its two onboard cameras were designed, developed and assembled at JPL. The imaging operations center is based at the Space Science Institute in Boulder, Colorado.

Source: NASA.Gov


An artist's concept of NASA's Cassini spacecraft entering Saturn's atmosphere to burn up at the end of its mission...on September 15, 2017.
NASA / JPL - Caltech / Space Science Institute

Sunday, July 23, 2017

Photos of the Day: My First-Ever Snapshots of the Milky Way...

The Milky Way as seen from Joshua Tree National Park in California...on July 20, 2017.

As mentioned in this Blog entry I posted over a week ago, I drove back to Joshua Tree last Thursday to take my first-ever snapshots of the Milky Way. It was an interesting experience—gazing upwards and marveling at how this huge celestial wonder extends across the entire sky. Photographing our home galaxy was both fun and frustrating! Out of the almost 200 pics that I took on Thursday, only about 27 of 'em ended up being usable. And the reason for this is because my Nikon D3300 camera, for some odd reason, would take a nice crisp image in one instance and then a really blurry one the next. This is despite the fact that I didn't move the tripod or adjust the exposure settings on my camera for the subsequent shot. However, it didn't help that it was slightly windy when I was taking photos. I tried to shield my camera by standing between it and the wind multiple times during the night. It's too bad this was futile considering that the wind was coming from the direction of the Milky Way! Its brightest and most interesting part (the galactic core?), that is... The galaxy stretches across the whole sky, remember?

The Milky Way as seen from Joshua Tree National Park in California...on July 20, 2017.

Anyways, I definitely want to head back to Joshua Tree to take more photos of the Milky Way. However, again, I need to buy a faster wide-angle lens that will allow me to take brighter and sharper snapshots of our galaxy...since the lens I used could only be adjusted to a low f-stop of 3.5, and I read online that f/2.8 is the aperture setting I really need to take a detailed pic of the Milky Way. That, and I need to keep my camera's noise reduction setting on next time. Live and learn. Enjoy some of these pics that I took last Thursday (those red streaks of light are airliners passing overhead), and I hope you had a great Sunday! That is all.

That gray wavy line is a moth that flew in front of my camera lens when I took this long-exposure snapshot of the Milky Way...on July 20, 2017.

The Milky Way as seen from Joshua Tree National Park in California...on July 20, 2017.

That red and white streak of light is an airliner passing high above Joshua Tree National Park in California...on July 20, 2017.

The Milky Way as seen from Joshua Tree National Park in California...on July 20, 2017.

The Milky Way as seen from Joshua Tree National Park in California...on July 20, 2017.

The Milky Way as seen from Joshua Tree National Park in California...on July 20, 2017.

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Note to Mitch McConnell: GIVE IT UP...

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell discusses the (hopefully-defunct) American Health Care Act.

Earlier today, it was reported online that Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell sought to introduce a bill that would completely repeal the Affordable Care Act (or ACA, a.k.a. Obamacare) without seeking to replace it for at least two years. This development came about less than 24 hours after McConnell's previous attempt to repeal and replace the ACA with the American Health Care Act (which was renamed the Better Care Reconciliation Act, or BCRA) fell through...due to four Republican senators (Jerry Moran, Mike Lee, Susan Collins and Rand Paul) announcing that they will not vote 'yes' on the health bill. One of those senators, Susan Collins, joined two other congresswomen (Lisa Murkowski and Shelley Moore Capito) in announcing that they will vote 'no' on the repeal-only Obamacare bill today. Mitch McConnell could only have two 'no' votes among his 52 GOP senators to pass any health bill (the Democrats are against anything that would kill Obamacare, fortunately); four 'noes' derailed the BCRA yesterday and three 'noes' thwarted the Republican repeal plan this morning.

All I can say is, Mitch McConnell needs to give up on his plans to kill Obamacare. It needs to be fixed, not replaced...with the Republicans working alongside Democrats to make the ACA work for every American in this country. No matter how many times the GOP revises its own health bill, it will always be unacceptable because of the fundamental and evil flaws behind it: That at least 20 million folks in the U.S. will lose health coverage within 10 years, and wealthy folks in this country will get huge tax breaks at the expense of sick, middle-class Americans with pre-existing conditions who need Medicaid to seek treatment for their illnesses. (I have my own personal reason as to why the ACA needs to be saved. Today, I have a 3PM doctor's appointment as of this entry.)

I implore Mitch McConnell to do the right thing and admit that Obamacare needs to be fixed using bipartisan help from the Democrats. Please don't put me in the position to spout angry, hateful things about him on my Blog like what I've been doing with House-speaking cocksucker Paul Ryan. There has to be at least one high-ranking Republican official willing to put country over party. Paul Ryan put the GOP over America while Donald Trump, of course, put Russia over the U.S. Show a change of heart, McConnell... Carry on.

Monday, July 17, 2017

The New Look of JUICE...

An artist's concept of Europe's Jupiter Icy Moons Explorer (JUICE) in orbit around the Jovian world and its four Galilean moons.
Spacecraft: ESA / ATG medialab; Jupiter: NASA / ESA / J. Nichols (University of Leicester); Ganymede: NASA / JPL; Io: NASA / JPL / University of Arizona; Callisto and Europa: NASA / JPL / DLR

Exploring Jupiter (Press Release)

It may still be five years away from launch, and over a decade before our Jupiter Icy Moons Explorer reaches the gas giant and its icy moons, but preparations are well under way. This new artist’s impression depicts the final spacecraft design, the construction of which is being overseen by Airbus Defence and Space.

The spacecraft’s solar wings form a distinctive cross-shape totalling 97 sq m, the largest ever flown on an interplanetary mission. The size is essential to generate sufficient power – around 850 W – for the instruments and spacecraft so far from the Sun.

The spacecraft is furnished with a laboratory of instruments that will investigate Jupiter’s turbulent atmosphere and vast magnetosphere, as well as study the planet-sized moons Ganymede, Europa and Callisto. All three moons are thought to have oceans of liquid water beneath their icy crusts and should provide key clues on the potential for such moons to harbour habitable environments.

Juice’s cameras will capture exquisite details of the moons’ features, as well as identify the ices and minerals on their surfaces. Other instruments will sound the subsurface and interior of the moons to better understand the location and nature of their buried oceans. The tenuous atmosphere around the moons will also be explored.

The spacecraft will also include booms such as a 10 m-long magnetometer mast (seen towards the bottom of Juice in the artist impression), a 16 m radar antenna (the long boom across the top), and antennas to measure electric and magnetic fields.

Ganymede is the only moon in the Solar System to generate its own internal magnetic field, and Juice is well equipped to document its behaviour and explore its interaction with Jupiter’s own magnetosphere.

Juice is scheduled for launch in 2022 on a seven-year journey to the Jovian system. Its tour will include a dedicated orbit phase of Jupiter, targeted flybys of Europa, Ganymede and Callisto, and finally nine months orbiting Ganymede – the first time any moon beyond our own has been orbited by a spacecraft.

In the artist’s impression, which is not to scale, Ganymede is shown in the foreground, Callisto to the far right, and Europa centre-right. Volcanically active moon Io is also shown, at left. The moons were imaged by NASA’s Galileo spacecraft; Jupiter is seen here with a vivid aurora, captured by the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope.

Source: European Space Agency

Thursday, July 13, 2017

Photo of the Day: Getting Ready to Test Hubble's Successor in Texas...

The James Webb Space Telescope hangs from the ceiling of Chamber A at NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas.
NASA / Chris Gunn

NASA’s Webb Telescope ‘Hangs Out’ in Houston (News Release - July 10)

Houston might have a high of 95 degrees Fahrenheit this week, but NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope will soon be hanging out in a vibration-isolating "hammock," with the best air conditioning available, courtesy of NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston.

In preparation for the Webb telescope’s upcoming cryogenic testing, engineers at Johnson have suspended it from the ceiling of the center’s historic Chamber A. This "hammock" (really, six support rods attached to the platform on which the telescope is sitting) is not for relaxation; it’s meant to isolate the telescope from the vibrations Chamber A could produce once the door closes and testing begins, as well as from disturbances that might occur outside the chamber.

“Remember that the system is designed to work in space, where the disturbances are highly controlled and only come from the spacecraft,” said Gary Matthews, an integration and testing engineer at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, who is testing the Webb telescope while it is at Johnson. “On Earth, we have to deal with all the ground-based disturbances, such as the pumps and motors, and even traffic driving by.”

You may have a hard time seeing the Webb telescope floating in the photo, because it is suspended only a few inches from the rails on the bottom of the chamber, which were used to roll the telescope into place.

What’s a hammock without a little bit of sway? With the telescope suspended, engineers conducted a "push test," where they gave it a very slight nudge and observed how it reacted to ensure the suspension system was functioning the best it could, said Matthews. Don’t worry, the 14,000 pound telescope wasn’t swinging from one side of the chamber to the other; the nudge only amounted to a few millimeters of movement.

Webb will remain suspended in the chamber for the entire cryogenic testing phase, which will last about three months. In space, the telescope must be kept extremely cold, in order to be able to detect the infrared light from very faint, distant objects. To protect the telescope from external sources of light and heat (like the Sun, Earth and Moon), as well as from heat emitted by the observatory, a five-layer, tennis court-sized sunshield acts like a parasol that provides shade. The sunshield separates the observatory into a warm, Sun-facing side (reaching temperatures close to 185 degrees Fahrenheit) and a cold side (400 degrees below zero). The sunshield blocks sunlight from interfering with the sensitive telescope instruments.

The James Webb Space Telescope is the scientific successor to NASA's Hubble Space Telescope. It will be the most powerful space telescope ever built. Webb is an international project led by NASA with its partners, ESA (European Space Agency) and the Canadian Space Agency.

Source: NASA.Gov

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Juno Update: The "Eye of Jupiter" Up-Close...

An enhanced color image of Jupiter's Great Red Spot that was taken by NASA's Juno spacecraft on July 10, 2017.
NASA / JPL - Caltech / SwRI / MSSS / Kevin Gill

NASA’s Juno Spacecraft Spots Jupiter’s Great Red Spot (News Release)

Images of Jupiter’s Great Red Spot reveal a tangle of dark, veinous clouds weaving their way through a massive crimson oval. The JunoCam imager aboard NASA's Juno mission snapped pics of the most iconic feature of the solar system’s largest planetary inhabitant during its Monday (July 10) flyby. The images of the Great Red Spot were downlinked from the spacecraft’s memory on Tuesday and placed on the mission’s JunoCam website Wednesday morning.

“For hundreds of years scientists have been observing, wondering and theorizing about Jupiter’s Great Red Spot,” said Scott Bolton, Juno principal investigator from the Southwest Research Institute in San Antonio. “Now we have the best pictures ever of this iconic storm. It will take us some time to analyze all the data from not only JunoCam, but Juno’s eight science instruments, to shed some new light on the past, present and future of the Great Red Spot.”

As planned by the Juno team, citizen scientists took the raw images of the flyby from the JunoCam site and processed them, providing a higher level of detail than available in their raw form. The citizen-scientist images, as well as the raw images they used for image processing, can be found at:

“I have been following the Juno mission since it launched,” said Jason Major, a JunoCam citizen scientist and a graphic designer from Warwick, Rhode Island. “It is always exciting to see these new raw images of Jupiter as they arrive. But it is even more thrilling to take the raw images and turn them into something that people can appreciate. That is what I live for.”

Measuring in at 10,159 miles (16,350 kilometers) in width (as of April 3, 2017) Jupiter's Great Red Spot is 1.3 times as wide as Earth. The storm has been monitored since 1830 and has possibly existed for more than 350 years. In modern times, the Great Red Spot has appeared to be shrinking.

All of Juno's science instruments and the spacecraft's JunoCam were operating during the flyby, collecting data that are now being returned to Earth. Juno's next close flyby of Jupiter will occur on Sept. 1.

Juno reached perijove (the point at which an orbit comes closest to Jupiter's center) on July 10 at 6:55 p.m. PDT (9:55 p.m. EDT). At the time of perijove, Juno was about 2,200 miles (3,500 kilometers) above the planet's cloud tops. Eleven minutes and 33 seconds later, Juno had covered another 24,713 miles (39,771 kilometers), and was passing directly above the coiling, crimson cloud tops of the Great Red Spot. The spacecraft passed about 5,600 miles (9,000 kilometers) above the clouds of this iconic feature.

Juno launched on Aug. 5, 2011, from Cape Canaveral, Florida. During its mission of exploration, Juno soars low over the planet's cloud tops -- as close as about 2,100 miles (3,400 kilometers). During these flybys, Juno is probing beneath the obscuring cloud cover of Jupiter and studying its auroras to learn more about the planet's origins, structure, atmosphere and magnetosphere.

Early science results from NASA's Juno mission portray the largest planet in our solar system as a turbulent world, with an intriguingly complex interior structure, energetic polar aurora, and huge polar cyclones.

“These highly-anticipated images of Jupiter’s Great Red Spot are the ‘perfect storm’ of art and science. With data from Voyager, Galileo, New Horizons, Hubble and now Juno, we have a better understanding of the composition and evolution of this iconic feature,” said Jim Green, NASA’s director of planetary science. “We are pleased to share the beauty and excitement of space science with everyone.”

JPL manages the Juno mission for the principal investigator, Scott Bolton, of Southwest Research Institute in San Antonio. The Juno mission is part of the New Frontiers Program managed by NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama, for the Science Mission Directorate. Lockheed Martin Space Systems, Denver, built the spacecraft. JPL is a division of Caltech in Pasadena.

Source: NASA.Gov


Another enhanced color image of Jupiter's Great Red Spot that was taken by NASA's Juno spacecraft on July 10, 2017.
NASA / JPL - Caltech / SwRI / MSSS / Jason Major

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Getting Ready for Marvel's NEW WARRIORS Next Year...

Milana Vayntrub will play Squirrel Girl on Marvel's NEW WARRIORS in 2018.

So yesterday afternoon, I found out online that the amazingly-talented Milana Vayntrub will become one of Marvel's newest live-action superheroes in the 2018 TV series New Warriors. Milana will play Doreen Green, a.k.a. the all-powerful Squirrel Girl...who in the comic books defeated none other than Thanos himself, and bested other characters such as Deadpool in combat. With Tippy-Toe, her buddy squirrel at her side, Squirrel Girl will be joined by Mister Immortal (Derek Theler), Night Thrasher (Jeremy Tardy), Speedball (Calum Worthy), Debrii (Kate Comer) and Microbe (Matthew Moy...who cracked me up as diner owner Han Lee on the CBS sitcom 2 Broke Girls) on New Warriors. It will debut on Freeform—formerly Disney's ABC Family channel—next year.

As someone who's followed her career since she delighted audiences as the adorable Lily Adams on AT&T's TV commercials, I am stoked that Milana is getting roles in projects as huge as a new Marvel TV show. From her funny Let's Talk About Something More Interesting YouTube videos, Paul Feig's hilarious but sadly short-lived 2015 sci-fi web series Other Space (plus a cameo on Feig's Ghostbusters reboot last summer) to a Season One stint on NBC's hit show This Is Us, Milana is going places. This is both literally and figuratively... Milana went to Greece and Jordan over the past two years to personally help Syrian refugees (and created her charity organization as a result). Ms. Vayntrub herself was a refugee who emigrated here from Uzbekistan when it was once a Soviet republic 30 years ago.

In regards to Other Space, it's so interesting that Milana is the second cast member on that series to land a role on a Marvel show. The first cast member being Karan Soni...who went from playing Captain Stewart Lipinski on Other Space's UMP Cruiser to Deadpool's trusty cab driver Dopinder in the movies. With Milana as Squirrel Girl and Soni's Dopinder set to get more bad but hilarious dating advice by Wade Wilson (Ryan Reynolds) in next year's Deadpool 2, it's clearly obvious that the alternate universe the UMP Cruiser stumbled into happened to be the Marvel Universe itself! I wouldn't be surprised if other Other Space alumni Neil Casey and/or Eugene Cordero join Brie Larson in 2019's Captain Marvel...

So yea, I can't wait to see Milana charm TV audiences and Marvel fans as Doreen Green next year. I'd ask if she'll appear at the D23 Expo [where Disney promotes its plans for its theme parks, movies, TV shows (Disney owns Marvel, remember?) and other properties] in Anaheim or San Diego Comic-Con this month, but it doesn't really matter to me. I've had the pleasure of meeting Milana a few times at her comedy shows and other places over the past two years. The first time was in early 2015, and I worked on an amazing short film called Brief last September... Milana and I both donated money to this project through Kickstarter, and I got to be an extra on it (yes, Milana was on set; she helped out as an assistant director since Brief was written and produced by some of her closest friends). Ms. Vayntrub is one of the coolest and nicest folks you'll ever meet in person—and considering how big of a star she's becoming by the day, that is something to be proud of. Anyways, time to end this Blog entry (unless of course, Milana is actually reading this and can't get enough of my crazy and incessant flattery)... Bring on the New Warriors next year! And Happy Tuesday.

The NEW WARRIORS will make their live-action debut on TV in 2018.

Monday, July 10, 2017

Photo of the Day: The Thunder Moon...

A snapshot of the Full Moon that I took on July 9, 2017.

Here's a snapshot of the Full Moon that I took with my Nikon D3300 late last night. I only had about 10-15 minutes to take photos of the so-called Thunder Moon (a.k.a. Hay Moon, Mead Moon, Buck Moon, Ripe Corn Moon and Guru Purnima according to NASA)...what with cloud cover quickly moving in to obscure the view above my vantage point here in Los Angeles County, California. Oh well. Lookin' forward to late next week—when I hopefully drive back to Joshua Tree and take my very first pics of the Milky Way in the desert sky. Hopefully. Stay tuned!

Sunday, July 09, 2017

Snapshots of the Moon...

A snapshot of the Moon that I took on July 6, 2017.

Just thought I'd share these two photos that I took of the Moon this past week. The pic below was shot yesterday. Based on what I read online, the Moon doesn't officially become a Full Moon [a.k.a. a "Thunder Moon" (not to be mistaken with Sailor Moon or any other Japanese anime character), according to NASA] till tonight. Nice. Can't wait to take snapshots of it—even though it'll probably look the same as in the image below. Happy Sunday!

A snapshot of the Moon that I took on July 8, 2017.

Wednesday, July 05, 2017

New Horizons Update: The Journey to 2014 MU69 Continues...

Four members of the South African observation team for NASA's New Horizons mission scan the sky while waiting for the start of the 2014 MU69 occultation...on June 3, 2017.
NASA / JHUAPL / SwRI / Henry Throop

New Mysteries Surround New Horizons’ Next Flyby Target (News Release)

NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft doesn’t zoom past its next science target until New Year’s Day 2019, but the Kuiper Belt Object, known as 2014 MU69, is already revealing surprises.

Scientists have been sifting through data gathered from observing the object’s quick pass in front of a star – an astronomical event known as an occultation – on June 3. More than 50 mission team members and collaborators set up telescopes across South Africa and Argentina, along a predicted track of the narrow shadow of MU69 that the occultation would create on Earth’s surface, aiming to catch a two-second glimpse of the object’s shadow as it raced across the Earth. Accomplishing the observations of that occultation was made possible with the help of NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope and Gaia, a space observatory of the European Space Agency (ESA).

Combined, the pre-positioned mobile telescopes captured more than 100,000 images of the occultation star that can be used to assess the environment around this Kuiper Belt Object (KBO). While MU69 itself eluded direct detection, the June 3 data provided valuable and unexpected insights that have already helped New Horizons.

“These data show that MU69 might not be as dark or as large as some expected,” said occultation team leader Marc Buie, a New Horizons science team member from Southwest Research Institute (SwRI) in Boulder, Colorado.

Initial estimates of MU69’s diameter, based primarily on data taken by the Hubble Space Telescope since the KBO’s discovery in 2014, fall in the 12-25-mile (20-40-kilometer) range – though data from this summer’s ground-based occultation observations might imply it’s at or even below the smallest sizes expected before the June 3 occultation.

Besides MU69’s size, the readings offer details on other aspects of the Kuiper Belt Object.

“These results are telling us something really interesting,” said New Horizons Principal Investigator Alan Stern, of SwRI. “The fact that we accomplished the occultation observations from every planned observing site but didn’t detect the object itself likely means that either MU69 is highly reflective and smaller than some expected, or it may be a binary or even a swarm of smaller bodies left from the time when the planets in our solar system formed.”

More data are on the way, with additional occultations of MU69 occurring on July 10 and July 17. On July 10, NASA’s airborne Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy (SOFIA) will use its powerful 100-inch (2.5-meter) telescope to probe the space around MU69 for debris that might present a hazard to New Horizons as it flies by in 18 months.

On July 17, the Hubble Space Telescope also will check for debris around MU69, while team members set up another groundbased “fence line” of small mobile telescopes along the predicted ground track of the occultation shadow in southern Argentina to try to better constrain, or even determine, the size of MU69.

Check out the star brightness, predicted shadow path and other tech specs for the July 10 and July 17 occultation events.

Source: NASA.Gov


An artist's concept of NASA's New Horizons spacecraft flying past 2014 MU69.
NASA / JHUAPL / SWRI / Steve Gribben

Monday, July 03, 2017

Photos of the Day: Light Trails in Los Angeles County...

A long-exposure snapshot that I took of the 57 and 60 freeways near the city of Diamond Bar in California...on June 30, 2017.

Just thought I'd share these pics that I took at the city of Diamond Bar in California last Friday. As I was waiting for my Nikon D3300 camera to arrive via UPS about 3 three weeks ago, I was eager to use the DSLR to shoot these long-exposure night shots of traffic cruisin' down the local street and freeways. I even bought a photography magazine at Barnes & Noble a few hours before I shot these images to learn how to do so. Needless to say, the effort was a success! As of this entry, these pics were approved by iStock, while the photo above was also accepted by Adobe Stock and Shutterstock (these last two sites are very strict in regards to accepting photos—so it was an achievement that the image above was worthy of being posted for sale by these two respective agencies). Niiice. So what's my next goal in terms of using my D3300 to take amazing snapshots? Going to Joshua Tree at night to take photos of the Milky Way! That will happen sometime before the end of this month.

Anyways, to all of my fellow Yanks reading this: Have a fun and safe Independence Day tomorrow! Carry on.

A long-exposure snapshot that I took of a local street in Diamond Bar, California...on June 30, 2017.

Another long-exposure snapshot that I took of a local street in Diamond Bar, California...on June 30, 2017.

Another long-exposure snapshot that I took of the 57 and 60 freeways near the city of Diamond Bar in California...on June 30, 2017.

Saturday, July 01, 2017

Protecting Our Species from Near-Earth Objects: Targeting Didymos with DART...

An artist's concept of NASA's DART spacecraft firing its ion engine during flight.

NASA’S First Asteroid Deflection Mission Enters Next Design Phase (News Release - June 30)

The first-ever mission to demonstrate an asteroid deflection technique for planetary defense -- the Double Asteroid Redirection Test (DART) -- is moving from concept development to preliminary design phase, following NASA’s approval on June 23.

“DART would be NASA’s first mission to demonstrate what’s known as the kinetic impactor technique -- striking the asteroid to shift its orbit -- to defend against a potential future asteroid impact,” said Lindley Johnson, planetary defense officer at NASA Headquarters in Washington. “This approval step advances the project toward an historic test with a non-threatening small asteroid.”

While current law directs the development of the DART mission, DART is not identified as a specific budget item in the Administration’s Fiscal Year 2018 budget.

The target for DART is an asteroid that will have a distant approach to Earth in October 2022, and then again in 2024. The asteroid is called Didymos -- Greek for “twin” -- because it’s an asteroid binary system that consists of two bodies: Didymos A, about one-half mile (780 meters) in size, and a smaller asteroid orbiting it called Didymos B, about 530 feet (160 meters) in size. DART would impact only the smaller of the two bodies, Didymos B.

The Didymos system has been closely studied since 2003. The primary body is a rocky S-type object, with composition similar to that of many asteroids. The composition of its small companion, Didymos B, is unknown, but the size is typical of asteroids that could potentially create regional effects should they impact Earth.

“A binary asteroid is the perfect natural laboratory for this test,” said Tom Statler, program scientist for DART at NASA Headquarters. “The fact that Didymos B is in orbit around Didymos A makes it easier to see the results of the impact, and ensures that the experiment doesn’t change the orbit of the pair around the sun.”

After launch, DART would fly to Didymos, and use an on-board autonomous targeting system to aim itself at Didymos B. Then the refrigerator-sized spacecraft would strike the smaller body at a speed about nine times faster than a bullet, approximately 3.7 miles per second (6 kilometers per second). Earth-based observatories would be able to see the impact and the resulting change in the orbit of Didymos B around Didymos A, allowing scientists to better determine the capabilities of kinetic impact as an asteroid mitigation strategy. The kinetic impact technique works by changing the speed of a threatening asteroid by a small fraction of its total velocity, but by doing it well before the predicted impact so that this small nudge will add up over time to a big shift of the asteroid’s path away from Earth.

“DART is a critical step in demonstrating we can protect our planet from a future asteroid impact,” said Andy Cheng of The Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory in Laurel, Maryland, the DART investigation co-lead. “Since we don’t know that much about their internal structure or composition, we need to perform this experiment on a real asteroid. With DART, we can show how to protect Earth from an asteroid strike with a kinetic impactor by knocking the hazardous object into a different flight path that would not threaten the planet.”

Small asteroids hit Earth almost daily, breaking up harmlessly in the upper atmosphere. Objects large enough to do damage at the surface are much rarer. Objects larger than 0.6 miles (1 kilometer) in diameter -- large enough to cause global effects -- have been the focus of NASA’s ground-based search for potentially hazardous objects with orbits that bring them near the Earth, and about 93 percent of these sized objects have already been found. DART would test technologies to deflect objects in the intermediate size range—large enough to do regional damage, yet small enough that there are many more that have not been observed and could someday hit Earth. NASA-funded telescopes and other assets continue to search for these objects, track their orbits, and determine if they are a threat.

To assess and formulate capabilities to address these potential threats, NASA established its Planetary Defense Coordination Office (PDCO) in 2016, which is responsible for finding, tracking and characterizing potentially hazardous asteroids and comets coming near Earth, issuing warnings about possible impacts, and assisting plans and coordination of U.S. government response to an actual impact threat.

DART is being designed and would be built and managed by The Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory (APL) in Laurel, Maryland. The project would be overseen by the Planetary Missions Program Office at Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama. DART also is supported by teams from the Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, Maryland; Johnson Space Center, Houston, Texas; and the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, California.

Source: NASA.Gov