Wednesday, October 31, 2018

New Horizons Update: Only Two Months Till the Ultima Thule Flyby!

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

So I just realized that NASA's New Horizons spacecraft makes its closest approach to Kuiper Belt Object (KBO) 2014 MU69—also nicknamed Ultima Thule—exactly two months from today! New Horizons flies past the KBO at 9:33 PM, Pacific Standard Time, on December 31...or 12:33 AM, Eastern Standard Time, on January 1, 2019.

I hope all of you are having a safe and fun Halloween! No trick-or-treaters stopped by my house for candy tonight, fortunately. Of course, trick-or-treaters haven't been stopping by my house for over half a decade now... Thank you, snooty Los Angeles County neighborhood that I live in! That was a compliment.

The green line marks the path traveled by the New Horizons spacecraft as of 9:00 PM, Pacific Daylight Time, on October 31, 2018. It is 4 billion miles from Earth.
ABOVE: The green line marks the path traveled by the New Horizons spacecraft as of 9:00 PM,
Pacific Daylight Time, on October 31, 2018. It is 4 billion miles from Earth. Click
here to view the
official webpage showing where New Horizons is in space. (AU stands for Astronomical Units, in case you're wondering.)

Tuesday, October 30, 2018

Farewell, Kepler, and We Thank You...

An illustration depicting NASA's Kepler spacecraft and the multitude of exoplanets that it discovered since its mission began in early 2009.
NASA / Wendy Stenzel / Daniel Rutter

NASA Retires Kepler Space Telescope, Passes Planet-Hunting Torch (Press Release)

After nine years in deep space collecting data that indicate our sky to be filled with billions of hidden planets – more planets even than stars – NASA’s Kepler space telescope has run out of fuel needed for further science operations. NASA has decided to retire the spacecraft within its current, safe orbit, away from Earth. Kepler leaves a legacy of more than 2,600 planet discoveries from outside our solar system, many of which could be promising places for life.

"As NASA's first planet-hunting mission, Kepler has wildly exceeded all our expectations and paved the way for our exploration and search for life in the solar system and beyond," said Thomas Zurbuchen, associate administrator of NASA's Science Mission Directorate in Washington. "Not only did it show us how many planets could be out there, it sparked an entirely new and robust field of research that has taken the science community by storm. Its discoveries have shed a new light on our place in the universe, and illuminated the tantalizing mysteries and possibilities among the stars.”

Kepler has opened our eyes to the diversity of planets that exist in our galaxy. The most recent analysis of Kepler’s discoveries concludes that 20 to 50 percent of the stars visible in the night sky are likely to have small, possibly rocky, planets similar in size to Earth, and located within the habitable zone of their parent stars. That means they’re located at distances from their parent stars where liquid water – a vital ingredient to life as we know it – might pool on the planet surface.

The most common size of planet Kepler found doesn’t exist in our solar system – a world between the size of Earth and Neptune – and we have much to learn about these planets. Kepler also found nature often produces jam-packed planetary systems, in some cases with so many planets orbiting close to their parent stars that our own inner solar system looks sparse by comparison.

"When we started conceiving this mission 35 years ago we didn't know of a single planet outside our solar system," said the Kepler mission's founding principal investigator, William Borucki, now retired from NASA’s Ames Research Center in California’s Silicon Valley. "Now that we know planets are everywhere, Kepler has set us on a new course that's full of promise for future generations to explore our galaxy."

Launched on March 6, 2009, the Kepler space telescope combined cutting-edge techniques in measuring stellar brightness with the largest digital camera outfitted for outer space observations at that time. Originally positioned to stare continuously at 150,000 stars in one star-studded patch of the sky in the constellation Cygnus, Kepler took the first survey of planets in our galaxy and became the agency's first mission to detect Earth-size planets in the habitable zones of their stars.

"The Kepler mission was based on a very innovative design. It was an extremely clever approach to doing this kind of science," said Leslie Livesay, director for astronomy and physics at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, who served as Kepler project manager during mission development. "There were definitely challenges, but Kepler had an extremely talented team of scientists and engineers who overcame them.”

Four years into the mission, after the primary mission objectives had been met, mechanical failures temporarily halted observations. The mission team was able to devise a fix, switching the spacecraft’s field of view roughly every three months. This enabled an extended mission for the spacecraft, dubbed K2, which lasted as long as the first mission and bumped Kepler's count of surveyed stars up to more than 500,000.

The observation of so many stars has allowed scientists to better understand stellar behaviors and properties, which is critical information in studying the planets that orbit them. New research into stars with Kepler data also is furthering other areas of astronomy, such as the history of our Milky Way galaxy and the beginning stages of exploding stars called supernovae that are used to study how fast the universe is expanding. The data from the extended mission were also made available to the public and science community immediately, allowing discoveries to be made at an incredible pace and setting a high bar for other missions. Scientists are expected to spend a decade or more in search of new discoveries in the treasure trove of data Kepler provided.

"We know the spacecraft's retirement isn't the end of Kepler's discoveries," said Jessie Dotson, Kepler's project scientist at NASA’s Ames Research Center in California’s Silicon Valley. "I'm excited about the diverse discoveries that are yet to come from our data and how future missions will build upon Kepler's results."

Before retiring the spacecraft, scientists pushed Kepler to its full potential, successfully completing multiple observation campaigns and downloading valuable science data even after initial warnings of low fuel. The latest data, from Campaign 19, will complement the data from NASA’s newest planet hunter, the Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite, launched in April. TESS builds on Kepler's foundation with fresh batches of data in its search of planets orbiting some 200,000 of the brightest and nearest stars to the Earth, worlds that can later be explored for signs of life by missions, such as NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope.

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


Kepler mission Deputy Principal Investigator Dave Koch points to the 'Name in Space' DVD that is about to be attached to the Kepler spacecraft prior to its launch on March 6, 2009.
Ball Aerospace & Technologies Corp.

My 'Name in Space' certificate.

Sunday, October 28, 2018

Dodgers, Dodgers, Dodgers (Part 2)...

The Boston Red Sox are the new World Series champions after defeating the Los Angeles Dodgers, 5-1, in Game 5 at Dodger Stadium...on October 28, 2018.
Major League Baseball

So this is the second year in a row that the opposing team celebrated on your home field, Dodgers. You're good enough to reach the World Series but clearly not smart enough to win a championship. But hey— I'm sure you'll return to the Fall Classic next year... Go Doyers!

On a less sarcastic note, the L.A. Rams are still undefeated (at 8-0)! Word.

Saturday, October 27, 2018

Dodgers, Dodgers, Dodgers...

If Los Angeles officially gets eliminated by the Boston Red Sox tomorrow night, only to return to the World Series next year, they'll most likely be the baseball equivalent of the NFL's Buffalo Bills. Or the NBA's Utah Jazz. Or the New Jersey Nets. Or the Oklahoma City Thunder. Or...

Good job, Dave Roberts. What is it with the Dodgers making absolutely terrible decisions regarding the pitching staff for the 2017 and 2018 World Series? First, Yu Darvish starts in Game 7 last year—to disastrous consequences—and now Rich Hill is replaced in the 7th inning tonight to equally disastrous consequences (L.A. had a 4-0 lead going into the 7th inning, only to finish the game losing 9-6)... Totally lame.

Come tomorrow night, Los Angeles Dodgers manager Dave Roberts should be the MVP for his former team/soon-to-be 2018 World Series champions: the Boston Red Sox.

Friday, October 26, 2018

Goin' Up to the Big Fish Tank in the Sky...

My 6-year-old goldfish went up to the Big Fish Tank in the Sky on October 26, 2018. Rest in peace, buddy.

Rest In Peace, Goldfish. You probably should've been given a proper name during the 6 years that you graced the aquarium in my family den...just floatin' around and eatin' PetSmart-bought food twice a day.

As you can see in the pic above, Fisher (I'll name the fish after former Laker and 5-time NBA champion Derek Fisher for this Blog entry) is so big that we couldn't flush him down the toilet. So he's inside a plastic bag in the freezer in my garage—waiting for a proper burial...which will be next Friday. 'Cause that's when the garbage truck shows up to pick up our trash. Have a great weekend!

This is the first time in almost 20 years that my aquarium was completely bereft of fish...

Thursday, October 25, 2018

Hayabusa2 Update: My Name Is On An Asteroid!

Hayabusa2's shadow is visible on the surface of Ryugu after a target marker (the white point inside the green circle) containing the names of 180,000 people successfully landed on the asteroid...on October 25, 2018 (Japan Time).

Earlier today, Japan's Hayabusa2 spacecraft successfully conducted a third touchdown rehearsal at asteroid Ryugu in preparation for a sample retrieval attempt that will occur sometime early next year. During the rehearsal, Hayabusa2 got as close as 39 feet (12 meters) to the surface—before ascending to a home position more than 6 miles (10 kilometers) above Ryugu. During this third rehearsal, Hayabusa2 released a target marker (one of five that it is equipped with) that helped track the orbiter's distance from the asteroid's surface. While successfully being a vital navigation aid for Japan's robotic probe, the target marker served another awesome purpose.

A pre-launch snapshot of three of the five target markers that the Hayabusa2 spacecraft is equipped with for its mission at asteroid Ryugu.

Inside each of the five target markers aboard Hayabusa2 is a film strip containing the names of 180,000 people...including me! These names were submitted online between April and August of 2013. Along with Mars (courtesy of the Phoenix lander, the Curiosity rover and hopefully InSight when it arrives at the Red Planet on November 26), Ryugu is now the second planetary body beyond Earth in our solar system that I have a virtual presence on. So cool! When Hayabusa2 departs from Ryugu in December of next year to return samples back to Earth (in December of 2020), at least two target markers will be left behind on the asteroid's surface. And Ryugu will continue its 475-day orbit around the Sun with 180,000 monikers gracing its soil. Okay, I'll stop waxing poetic for now. Happy Thursday!

A strip of film, containing around 180,000 names submitted through the Internet in 2013, that is one of five placed inside target markers to be used by Hayabusa2 at asteroid Ryugu.
JAXA My participation certificate for the Hayabusa2 mission.

Wednesday, October 24, 2018


My autographed copy of Kobe Bryant's new book, THE MAMBA MENTALITY.

As alluded to in this previous entry about my meet and greet with the delightful Ellie Kemper from The Office two weeks ago, I went to Barnes & Noble bookstore at The Grove in Los Angeles yesterday to meet none other than Kobe Bryant! Actually, I met Kobe over 11 years ago...during a charity basketball game he hosted in Hollywood where I shook his hand, but didn't get a picture or autograph by him. That all changed last night, when not only did I buy a pre-signed copy of his book The Mamba Mentality (for less than $30), but I took a photo with the 5-time NBA champ as well! So dope. With the exception of Robert Horry, I have met the majority of players from the Lakers championship teams of 2000 to 2002. Kobe... Shaq... Derek Fisher... Rick Fox... Tyronn Lue.. Devean George... Greg Foster... And even A.C. Green. I think Horry did an autograph signing at my local mall last year, but I passed it up. I'll make sure not to do so the next time an opportunity to meet Will Smith's basketball doppelgänger comes around!

So which sports icons do I wanna meet next? Michael Jordan, if he ever decides to do a signing in Southern California. 2-time Super Bowl champion Peyton Manning (if he does a meet and greet in SoCal as well). Pau Gasol, who I'm sure will make some kind of public appearance once he permanently hangs up that San Antonio Spurs jersey in a few years. And of course, LeBron James! Just like Kobe, though, James most likely won't write a book till he leaves the NBA as well—but not before he wins his first regular season game with the Lakers. 0-3... C'mon now, Lake Show!

Posing with Kobe Bryant during a photo op inside Barnes & Noble bookstore at The Grove in Los Angeles...on October 23, 2018.

Monday, October 22, 2018

Photo of the Day: "WALL-E" Spots the Red Planet!

An image of Mars that was taken by the MarCO-B CubeSat, which is nicknamed 'WALL-E,' from a distance of about 8 million miles (12.8 million kilometers)...on October 3, 2018.
NASA / JPL - Caltech

NASA's First Image of Mars from a CubeSat (News Release)

NASA's MarCO mission was designed to find out if briefcase-sized spacecraft called CubeSats could survive the journey to deep space. Now, MarCO - which stands for Mars Cube One - has Mars in sight.

One of the twin MarCO CubeSats snapped this image of Mars on Oct. 3 - the first image of the Red Planet ever produced by this class of tiny, low-cost spacecraft. The two CubeSats are officially called MarCO-A and MarCO-B but nicknamed "EVE" and "WALL-E" by their engineering team.

A wide-angle camera on top of MarCO-B produced the image as a test of exposure settings. The MarCO mission, led by NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, hopes to produce more images as the CubeSats approach Mars ahead of Nov. 26. That's when they'll demonstrate their communications capabilities while NASA's InSight spacecraft attempts to land on the Red Planet. (The InSight mission won't rely on them, however; NASA's Mars orbiters will be relaying the spacecraft's data back to Earth.)

This image was taken from a distance of roughly 8 million miles (12.8 million kilometers) from Mars. The MarCOs are "chasing" Mars, which is a moving target as it orbits the Sun. In order to be in place for InSight's landing, the CubeSats have to travel roughly 53 million miles (85 million kilometers). They have already traveled 248 million miles (399 million kilometers).

MarCO-B's wide-angle camera looks straight out from the deck of the CubeSat. Parts related to the spacecraft's high-gain antenna are visible on either side of the image. Mars appears as a small red dot at the right of the image.

To take the image, the MarCO team had to program the CubeSat to rotate in space so that the deck of its boxy "body" was pointing at Mars. After several test images, they were excited to see that clear, red pinprick.

"We've been waiting six months to get to Mars," said Cody Colley, MarCO's mission manager at JPL. "The cruise phase of the mission is always difficult, so you take all the small wins when they come. Finally seeing the planet is definitely a big win for the team."

Source: Jet Propulsion Laboratory


An artist's concept of the two MarCO CubeSats, 'WALL-E' and 'EVE,' flying through deep space.
NASA / JPL - Caltech

Saturday, October 20, 2018

BepiColombo Is Now Headed to the First Rock from the Sun!

A European Ariane 5 rocket carrying the Mercury-bound BepiColombo spacecraft launches from Guiana Space Centre in Kourou, French Guiana...on October 19, 2018 (Pacific Time).
2018 ESA - CNES - Arianespace

At 6:45 PM, Pacific Daylight Time (9:45 PM, Eastern Daylight Time) yesterday, a European Ariane 5 rocket blasted off from Guiana Space Centre in Kourou, French Guiana...sending the BepiColombo spacecraft on a 7-year journey to Mercury. A joint mission by the European Space Agency (ESA) and the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA), BepiColombo will arrive at the planet in early December of 2025...but not before conducting six flybys of Mercury along the way. Comprising BepiColombo are three components: the Mercury Transfer Module (which will propel BepiColombo on its 7-year trip via four ion thrusters), ESA's Mercury Planetary Orbiter (MPO) and JAXA's Mercury Magnetospheric Orbiter (a.k.a. the MIO satellite). It is upon arrival at Mercury around December 5, 2025, that MIO will separate from MPO to enter its own orbit around the desolate world. The BepiColombo mission will last through May 1, 2027—and possibly through May 1, 2028 if it's granted an extended mission.

A snapshot of one of the Mercury Transfer Module's (MTM) twin solar arrays...taken by a camera aboard MTM on October 19, 2018 (Pacific Time).
ESA / BepiColombo / MTM – CC BY-SA 3.0 IGO

Aboard the MIO satellite is a memory card bearing the names and messages of 6,494 people (including one by me), which were submitted online earlier this year. Just as an FYI, Japan allowed folks to send their names and messages to the Moon via the Kaguya orbiter in 2007, and it allowed folks to fly their names and messages to Venus via the IKAROS solar sail in 2010, and the Akatsuki spacecraft in 2015. So Japan is responsible for sending folks like me on a virtual journey to three planetary bodies in our solar system [my name is at Mars courtesy of NASA's Phoenix, Curiosity and MAVEN spacecraft (and the InSight lander next month, hopefully)]! Thanks JAXA. And Godspeed on your voyage, Bepi! Happy Saturday.

My name and message, plus those of 6,493 others, are on a memory card that was placed aboard Japan's MIO satellite that's riding on the BepiColombo spacecraft to Mercury.

A JAXA technician displays the memory card that holds the names and messages of 6,494 people that is flying aboard Japan's MIO satellite to Mercury.

A red circle denotes the location of the memory card after it was attached to JAXA's MIO satellite that is now headed to Mercury.

A red circle denotes the location of the memory card after it is covered by thermal insulation on JAXA's MIO satellite that is now headed to Mercury.

Thursday, October 18, 2018

BepiColombo Update: T-Minus 24 Hours Till Launch!

An artist's concept of Europe's Mercury Planetary Orbiter and Japan's MIO spacecraft (the smaller probe at right) that comprise the BepiColombo mission to Mercury.

24 hours from now, an Ariane 5 rocket carrying the BepiColombo spacecraft is set to launch towards planet Mercury from Guiana Space Centre in Kourou, French Guiana. The exact time of lift-off is 6:45 PM, Pacific Daylight Time (9:45 PM, Eastern Daylight Time) on October 19. Once it is safely in space, BepiColombo will take a little over seven years to reach Mercury, where it will arrive in December of 2025. After entering orbit, BepiColombo will separate into two satellites—the European Space Agency's Mercury Planetary Orbiter (MPO) and the Japanese Aerospace Exploration Agency's MIO spacecraft, respectively—that will study the 'First Rock from the Sun' (my own term) for up to three years. This duration of flight also includes an extended mission.

Godspeed, Bepi! The joint European and Japanese mission continues where NASA's MESSENGER spacecraft left off after completing its study of Mercury on April 30, 2015. Can't wait for MPO and MIO to expand our scientific knowledge of the First Rock seven years from now. Happy Thursday!

The Ariane 5 rocket carrying Europe and Japan's BepiColombo spacecraft is ready to roll out to its launch pad at Guiana Space Centre in Kourou, French Guiana...on October 18, 2018.
ESA - S. Corvaja

Monday, October 15, 2018

I Won the MEGA MILLIONS Jackpot!

Okay, no I didn't. Obviously. But I did get two numbers (28 and 12) correct on my lotto ticket for the October 5 I drove down to my local gas station this morning to cash in on my winnings. 4 DOLLARS is better than NO DOLLAR at all! But in case you're wondering, I did buy a ticket for the latest drawing (that will be held tomorrow night)—which is for a $667 million jackpot. Happy Monday!

The winning numbers for the Mega Millions drawing on October 5, 2018. I got numbers 28 and 12 correct on my ticket...which earned me $4.

Thursday, October 11, 2018

Meeting the 'Unbreakable' Erin Hannon...

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, October 10, 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


An artist's concept of SpaceIL's lunar lander approaching the surface of the Moon.An artist's concept of SpaceIL's lunar lander approaching the surface of the Moon.

Tuesday, October 09, 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Monday, October 08, 2018

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, October 07, 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

LINK: Additional photos I took during my 20-year high school reunion

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, October 06, 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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