Thursday, January 31, 2019

Trojan-bound in 2021: Lucy Gets a Launch Vehicle for Its Trip to Primitive Asteroids Near Jupiter...

An artist's concept of the Lucy spacecraft exploring Trojan asteroids in Jupiter's orbit.
Southwest Research Institute

NASA Awards Launch Services Contract for Lucy Mission (Press Release)

NASA has selected United Launch Services LLC (ULS) of Centennial, Colorado, to provide launch services for the agency’s first-ever mission to explore Trojan asteroids.

The Lucy mission currently is targeted to launch in October 2021 on an Atlas V 401 rocket from Launch Complex 41 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida. With boosts from Earth’s gravity, the spacecraft will embark on a 12-year journey to study primitive asteroids orbiting the Sun in tandem with Jupiter.

The total cost for NASA to launch Lucy is approximately $148.3 million, which includes the launch service and other mission related costs.

NASA’s Launch Services Program at Kennedy Space Center in Florida will manage the ULS launch service. The Lucy spacecraft project is managed at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center and the Planetary Mission Program Office at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center manages the Mission for the agency’s Science Mission Directorate for the agency’s Science Mission Directorate. Other mission partners include Southwest Research Institute (SwRI) in Boulder, Colorado, Lockheed Martin in Denver, the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory in Laurel, Maryland, and Arizona State University in Tempe.

Source: NASA.Gov


An Atlas V 401 rocket carrying NASA's InSight Mars lander launches from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California...on May 5, 2018.
NASA / Cory Huston

Monday, January 28, 2019

A New Selfie by the Curiosity Mars Rover...

A self-portrait of NASA's Curiosity Mars rover, taken with a camera on her robotic arm on January 15, 2019.
NASA / JPL - Caltech

Curiosity Says Farewell to Mars' Vera Rubin Ridge (News Release)

NASA's Curiosity rover has taken its last selfie on Vera Rubin Ridge and descended toward a clay region of Mount Sharp. The twisting ridge on Mars has been the rover's home for more than a year, providing scientists with new samples - and new questions - to puzzle over.

On Dec. 15, Curiosity drilled its 19th sample at a location on the ridge called Rock Hall. On Jan. 15, the spacecraft used its Mars Hand Lens Imager (MAHLI) camera on the end of its robotic arm to take a series of 57 pictures, which were stitched together into this selfie. The "Rock Hall" drill hole is visible to the lower left of the rover; the scene is dustier than usual at this time of year due to a regional dust storm.

Curiosity has been exploring the ridge since September of 2017. It's now headed into the "clay-bearing unit," which sits in a trough just south of the ridge. Clay minerals in this unit may hold more clues about the ancient lakes that helped form the lower levels on Mount Sharp.

Source: Jet Propulsion Laboratory


A cropped version of the Curiosity Mars rover's self-portrait, taken with a camera on her robotic arm on January 15, 2019.
NASA / JPL - Caltech

Thursday, January 24, 2019

The New Horizons Spacecraft Releases Its Best Photo Yet from the Ultima Thule Flyby...

A high-resolution image of the Kuiper Belt object Ultima Thule that was taken by NASA's New Horizons spacecraft from 4,200 miles (6,700 kilometers) away...on January 1, 2019.
NASA / Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory / Southwest Research Institute

New Horizons' Newest and Best-Yet View of Ultima Thule (News Release)

The wonders – and mysteries – of Kuiper Belt object 2014 MU69 continue to multiply as NASA's New Horizons spacecraft beams home new images of its New Year's Day 2019 flyby target.

This image, taken during the historic Jan. 1 flyby of what's informally known as Ultima Thule, is the clearest view yet of this remarkable, ancient object in the far reaches of the solar system – and the first small "KBO" ever explored by a spacecraft.

Obtained with the wide-angle Multicolor Visible Imaging Camera (MVIC) component of New Horizons' Ralph instrument, this image was taken when the KBO was 4,200 miles (6,700 kilometers) from the spacecraft, at 05:26 UT (12:26 a.m. EST) on Jan. 1 – just seven minutes before closest approach. With an original resolution of 440 feet (135 meters) per pixel, the image was stored in the spacecraft's data memory and transmitted to Earth on Jan. 18-19. Scientists then sharpened the image to enhance fine detail. (This process – known as deconvolution – also amplifies the graininess of the image when viewed at high contrast.)

The oblique lighting of this image reveals new topographic details along the day/night boundary, or terminator, near the top. These details include numerous small pits up to about 0.4 miles (0.7 kilometers) in diameter. The large circular feature, about 4 miles (7 kilometers) across, on the smaller of the two lobes, also appears to be a deep depression. Not clear is whether these pits are impact craters or features resulting from other processes, such as "collapse pits" or the ancient venting of volatile materials.

Both lobes also show many intriguing light and dark patterns of unknown origin, which may reveal clues about how this body was assembled during the formation of the solar system 4.5 billion years ago. One of the most striking of these is the bright "collar" separating the two lobes.

"This new image is starting to reveal differences in the geologic character of the two lobes of Ultima Thule, and is presenting us with new mysteries as well," said Principal Investigator Alan Stern, of the Southwest Research Institute in Boulder, Colorado. "Over the next month there will be better color and better resolution images that we hope will help unravel the many mysteries of Ultima Thule."

New Horizons is approximately 4.13 billion miles (6.64 billion kilometers) from Earth, operating normally and speeding away from the Sun (and Ultima Thule) at more than 31,500 miles (50,700 kilometers) per hour. At that distance, a radio signal reaches Earth six hours and nine minutes after leaving the spacecraft.

Source: New Horizons Website

Tuesday, January 22, 2019

Photos of the Day: The Super Blood Wolf Moon in Progress...

Earth's shadow slowly creeps along the lunar surface...leading up to the Super Blood Wolf Moon lunar eclipse on January 20, 2019.

Just thought I'd share these two pics that I took last Sunday of the Moon as Earth's shadow slowly crept along its surface...leading up to a total lunar eclipse about an hour later. I obviously planned to take snapshots of the Super Blood Wolf Moon once it reached totality, but stupid clouds rolled in by that time and prevented me from doing so. Oh well. To see totality images that I took of the Super Blue Blood Moon almost a year ago (on January 31, 2018), click here. All pics, including the ones posted in this Blog entry, were taken with my Nikon D3300 DSLR camera. That is all!

Earth's shadow slowly creeps along the lunar surface...leading up to the Super Blood Wolf Moon lunar eclipse on January 20, 2019.

Monday, January 21, 2019

Welcome to the 2020 U.S. Presidential Race, Kamala Harris!!!

U.S. Senator Kamala Harris takes part in a group photo before the reading and signing of her new book SUPERHEROES ARE EVERYWHERE inside Barnes & Noble bookstore at The Grove in Los Angeles...on January 13, 2019.

Earlier today, Senator Kamala Harris officially announced that she's running for president in the 2020 American presidential race. All I can say is— That's awesome news! Pretty cool that she made the announcement on Martin Luther King Jr. Day... Harris has the chance to become the first African-American woman (who's also part-Indian) to work in the Oval Office (something that the late Shirley Chisholm attempted to do 47 years ago). To celebrate the occasion, here are two photos taken at a book signing by the senator/presidential candidate that I attended over a week ago.

Kamala Harris, For The People!

About to get an autograph by U.S. Senator Kamala Harris inside Barnes & Noble bookstore at The Grove in Los Angeles...on January 13, 2019.

Sunday, January 20, 2019

The Rams Are Going to the Super Bowl!!!

The Los Angeles Rams are headed to Super Bowl 53...which will be held in Atlanta, Georgia, on February 3, 2019.

Referees, schmeferees— It's not like L.A. running back Todd Gurley had the football deflated or something... Anyways, congrats to the Los Angeles Rams for defeating the New Orleans Saints, 26-23, in the National Football Conference championship game today! Now bring on the Kansas City Chiefs or the New England Cheatriots (in case you're wondering why I made that 'deflated football' comment) on February 3rd...

Here's hoping that unlike a certain Los Angeles baseball team who could've brought home the trophy two years in a row, the Rams will actually win the championship in Super Bowl LIII instead of merely being happy playing for it. Carry on!

EDIT (7:29 PM, PST): F**k the Cheatriots!

The Los Angeles Rams will take on the New England Cheatriots in Super Bowl 53 at Atlanta, Georgia...on February 3, 2019.

Saturday, January 19, 2019

Photos of the Day: The Smoke Plume from a California Rocket Launch...

The smoke plume from the Delta IV Heavy rocket's launch from California's Vandenberg Air Force Base is visible from my house in Pomona (189 miles away)...on January 19, 2019.

Just thought I'd share these pics that I took of the exhaust plume from a Delta IV Heavy rocket that lifted off from Vandenberg Air Force Base in Ventura County, California earlier today. I shot these photos while I was at home in Pomona...which is located 189 miles southeast of Vandenberg AFB! The Delta IV Heavy rocket launched at 11:10 AM, Pacific Standard Time—while these images were obtained 9 minutes into the flight, with the payload and its second stage booster well in space, and the smoke trail from the 3 first stage boosters still visible for folks throughout Southern California to see. Nice. The Delta IV Heavy's flight was designated NROL-71, meaning that it was carrying a spy satellite for the National Reconnaissance Office. [The military is fully funded during the partial government shutdown...which is why the U.S. Air Force is still able to conduct rocket launches—as long as they aren't for NASA (which is affected by the government closure).] Carry on!

The smoke plume from the Delta IV Heavy rocket's launch from California's Vandenberg Air Force Base is visible from my house in Pomona (189 miles away)...on January 19, 2019.

The smoke plume from the Delta IV Heavy rocket's launch from California's Vandenberg Air Force Base is visible from my house in Pomona (189 miles away)...on January 19, 2019.

The smoke plume from the Delta IV Heavy rocket's launch from California's Vandenberg Air Force Base is visible from my house in Pomona (189 miles away)...on January 19, 2019.

The Delta IV Heavy rocket carrying the NROL-71 payload for the National Reconnaissance Office launches from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California...on January 19, 2019.
United Launch Alliance

Tuesday, January 15, 2019

New Horizons Resumes Transmitting Data from the Ultima Thule Flyby Back to Earth...

An animated GIF depicting Ultima Thule's propeller-like seen over a 7-hour span by NASA's New Horizons spacecraft between December 31, 2018 and January 1, 2019.
NASA / Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory / Southwest Research Institute / National Optical Astronomy Observatory

New Movie Shows Ultima Thule from an Approaching New Horizons (News Release)

NASA Spacecraft Begins Returning New Images, Other Data from Historic New Year's Flyby

This movie shows the propeller-like rotation of Ultima Thule in the seven hours between 20:00 UT (3 p.m. ET) on Dec. 31, 2018, and 05:01 UT (12:01 a.m.) on Jan. 1, 2019, as seen by the Long Range Reconnaissance Imager (LORRI) aboard NASA's New Horizons as the spacecraft sped toward its close encounter with the Kuiper Belt object at 05:33 UT (12:33 a.m. ET) on Jan. 1.

During this deep-space photo shoot – part of the farthest planetary flyby in history – New Horizons' range to Ultima Thule decreased from 310,000 miles (500,000 kilometers, farther than the distance from the Earth to the Moon) to just 17,100 miles (28,000 kilometers), during which the images became steadily larger and more detailed. The team processed two different image sequences; the bottom sequence shows the images at their original relative sizes, while the top corrects for the changing distance, so that Ultima Thule (officially named 2014 MU69) appears at constant size but becomes more detailed as the approach progresses.

All the images have been sharpened using scientific techniques that enhance detail. The original image scale is 1.5 miles (2.5 kilometers) per pixel in the first frame, and 0.08 miles (0.14 kilometers) per pixel in the last frame. The rotation period of Ultima Thule is about 16 hours, so the movie covers a little under half a rotation. Among other things, the New Horizons science team will use these images to help determine the three-dimensional shape of Ultima Thule, in order to better understand its nature and origin.

The raw images included in the movie are available on the New Horizons LORRI website. New Horizons downlinked the two highest-resolution images in this movie immediately after the Jan. 1 flyby, but the more distant images were sent home on Jan. 12-14, after a week when New Horizons was too close to the Sun (from Earth's point of view) for reliable communications. New Horizons will continue to transmit images – including its closest views of Ultima Thule – and data for the next many months.

Source: New Horizons Website


These images were used to create an animation demonstrating Ultima Thule's rotation on January 1, seen by the Long Range Reconnaissance Imager on the New Horizons spacecraft.
NASA / Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory / Southwest Research Institute

Monday, January 14, 2019

Photo and Video of the Day: A U.S. Senator Makes an Appearance at The Grove in Los Angeles...

U.S. Senator Kamala Harris takes part in a group photo before the reading and signing of her new book SUPERHEROES ARE EVERYWHERE inside Barnes & Noble bookstore at The Grove in Los Angeles...on January 13, 2019.

Yesterday, I went to Barnes & Noble at The Grove in Los Angeles to attend a book reading and signing by U.S. Senator Kamala Harris...who promoted her new publication Superheroes Are Everywhere. This book, which is geared towards children, was the only item that Senator Harris signed on Sunday—even though her biography, The Truths We Hold: An American Journey, is also available for purchase. Although yesterday's event was primarily meant for the senator to talk to the young children in audience about who and what inspired her to be where she is today, I felt obligated to drive to The Grove as Harris will presumably be in the headlines a lot next one of many, many Democratic candidates lookin' to unseat that traitor Trump from the White House in the 2020 presidential election.

Missing out on seeing Senator Harris in person would've been akin to me missing out on getting a photo with actress Felicity Jones when she did a Q&A panel after a screening of the Oscar-nominated film The Theory of Everything over four years ago. Had I known that Jones was going to be the lead in Rogue One: A Star Wars Story two years later (I'm a huge Star Wars fan, of course), I would've definitely walked over to where she and co-star Eddie Redmayne were standing inside the auditorium to try to get a pic with her. But this Blog entry isn't about the actress who would play the heroic Jyn Erso (as well as real-life hero Ruth Bader Ginsburg in the recently-released On the Basis of Sex) on the big screen; it's about an American senator who will position herself as the hero who removes a Russian patsy from the Oval Office come November of 2020 (assuming Robert Mueller's report doesn't force Senate Republicans to finally grow a pair and impeach Dotard 45 by then). That is all.

Friday, January 11, 2019

About China Landing a Spacecraft on the Far Side of the Moon...

A snapshot of the Yutu-2 rover that was taken by the Chang'e 4 lander on the far side of the Moon.

HEY CHINA, I would like to say thanks for allowing the general public to submit their names online so that they could join the Chang'e 4 lander and Yutu-2 rover on the far side of the Moon...just like how Japan's space agency and NASA allowed people to fly their names on the Kaguya spacecraft and Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter about a decade ago, respectively. Oh wait— You didn't invite the public to fly their names on the Chang'e 4 mission to the Moon...


Thursday, January 10, 2019

Akatsuki Update: The Latest News from Earth's Twin...

FIGURE 1: Images of Venus' lower clouds as captured by the Akatsuki spacecraft's IR2 camera.

Giant Pattern Discovered in the Clouds of Planet Venus (Press Release)

Infrared cameras and supercomputer simulations break through Venus' veil

A Japanese research group has identified a giant streak structure among the clouds covering planet Venus based on observation from the spacecraft Akatsuki. The team also revealed the origins of this structure using large-scale climate simulations. The group was led by Project Assistant Professor Hiroki Kashimura (Kobe University, Graduate School of Science) and these findings were published on January 9 in Nature Communications.

Venus is often called Earth’s twin because of their similar size and gravity, but the climate on Venus is very different. Venus rotates in the opposite direction to Earth, and a lot more slowly (about one rotation for 243 Earth days). Meanwhile, about 60 km above Venus’ surface a speedy east wind circles the planet in about 4 Earth days (at 360 km/h), a phenomenon known as atmospheric superrotation.

The sky of Venus is fully covered by thick clouds of sulfuric acid that are located at a height of 45-70 km, making it hard to observe the planet’s surface from Earth-based telescopes and orbiters circling Venus. Surface temperatures reach a scorching 460 degrees Celsius, a harsh environment for any observations by entry probes. Due to these conditions, there are still many unknowns regarding Venus’ atmospheric phenomena.

To solve the puzzle of Venus’ atmosphere, the Japanese spacecraft Akatsuki began its orbit of Venus in December 2015. One of the observational instruments of Akatsuki is an infrared camera “IR2” that measures wavelengths of 2 μm (0.002 mm). This camera can capture detailed cloud morphology of the lower cloud levels, about 50 km from the surface. Optical and ultraviolet rays are blocked by the upper cloud layers, but thanks to infrared technology, dynamic structures of the lower clouds are gradually being revealed.

Before the Akatsuki mission began, the research team developed a program called AFES-Venus for calculating simulations of Venus’ atmosphere. On Earth, atmospheric phenomena on every scale are researched and predicted using numerical simulations, from the daily weather forecast and typhoon reports to anticipated climate change arising from global warming. For Venus, the difficulty of observation makes numerical simulations even more important, but this same issue also makes it hard to confirm the accuracy of the simulations.

AFES-Venus had already succeeded in reproducing superrotational winds and polar temperature structures of the Venus atmosphere. Using the Earth Simulator, a supercomputer system provided by the Japan Agency for Marine-Earth Science and Technology (JAMSTEC), the research team created numerical simulations at a high spatial resolution. However, because of the low quality of observational data before Akatsuki, it was hard to prove whether these simulations were accurate reconstructions.

This study compared detailed observational data of the lower cloud levels of Venus taken by Akatsuki’s IR2 camera with the high-resolution simulations from the AFES-Venus program. The left part of Figure 1 (above) shows the lower cloud levels of Venus captured by the IR2 camera. Note the almost symmetrical giant streaks across the northern and southern hemispheres. Each streak is hundreds of kilometers wide and stretches diagonally almost 10,000 kilometers across. This pattern was revealed for the first time by the IR2 camera, and the team have named it a planetary-scale streak structure. This scale of streak structure has never been observed on Earth, and could be a phenomenon unique to Venus. Using the AFES-Venus high-resolution simulations, the team reconstructed the pattern (Figure 1 right-hand side). The similarity between this structure and the camera observations prove the accuracy of the AFES-Venus simulations.

Next, through detailed analyses of the AFES-Venus simulation results, the team revealed the origin of this giant streak structure. The key to this structure is a phenomenon closely connected to Earth’s everyday weather: polar jet streams. In mid and high latitudes of Earth, a large-scale dynamics of winds (baroclinic instability) forms extratropical cyclones, migratory high-pressure systems, and polar jet streams. The results of the simulations showed the same mechanism at work in the cloud layers of Venus, suggesting that jet streams may be formed at high latitudes. At lower latitudes, an atmospheric wave due to the distribution of large-scale flows and the planetary rotation effect (Rossby wave) generates large vortexes across the equator to latitudes of 60 degrees in both directions (figure 2, left). When jet streams are added to this phenomenon, the vortexes tilt and stretch, and the convergence zone between the north and south winds forms as a streak. The north-south wind that is pushed out by the convergence zone becomes a strong downward flow, resulting in the planetary-scale streak structure (figure 2, right). The Rossby wave also combines with a large atmospheric fluctuation located over the equator (equatorial Kelvin wave) in the lower cloud levels, preserving the symmetry between hemispheres.

This study revealed the giant streak structure on the planetary scale in the lower cloud levels of Venus, replicated this structure with simulations, and suggested that this streak structure is formed from two types of atmospheric fluctuations (waves), baroclinic instability and jet streams. The successful simulation of the planetary-scale streak structure formed from multiple atmospheric phenomena is evidence for the accuracy of the simulations for individual phenomena calculated in this process.

Until now, studies of Venus’ climate have mainly focused on average calculations from east to west. This finding has raised the study of Venus’ climate to a new level in which discussion of the detailed three-dimensional structure of Venus is possible. The next step, through collaboration with Akatsuki and AFES-Venus, is to solve the puzzle of the climate of Earth’s twin Venus, veiled in the thick cloud of sulfuric acid.

Source: Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency

FIGURE 2: Diagrams showing how jet streams travel in Venus' atmosphere.

Monday, January 07, 2019

Kepler Update: Exoplanets Continue to be Discovered by the Space Telescope Even After It Has Fallen Silent...

An artist's concept of the exoplanet K2-288Bb orbiting the fainter member of a pair of cool M-type stars.
NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center / Francis Reddy

Citizen Scientists Find New World with NASA Telescope (News Release)

Using data from NASA's Kepler space telescope, citizen scientists have discovered a planet roughly twice the size of Earth located within its star's habitable zone, the range of orbital distances where liquid water may exist on the planet's surface. The new world, known as K2-288Bb, could be rocky or could be a gas-rich planet similar to Neptune. Its size is rare among exoplanets - planets beyond our solar system.

"It's a very exciting discovery due to how it was found, its temperate orbit and because planets of this size seem to be relatively uncommon," said Adina Feinstein, a University of Chicago graduate student who discussed the discovery on Monday, Jan. 7, at the 233rd meeting of the American Astronomical Society in Seattle. She is also the lead author of a paper describing the new planet accepted for publication by The Astronomical Journal.

Located 226 light-years away in the constellation Taurus, the planet lies in a stellar system known as K2-288, which contains a pair of dim, cool M-type stars separated by about 5.1 billion miles (8.2 billion kilometers) - roughly six times the distance between Saturn and the Sun. The brighter star is about half as massive and large as the Sun, while its companion is about one-third the Sun's mass and size. The new planet, K2-288Bb, orbits the smaller, dimmer star every 31.3 days.

In 2017, Feinstein and Makennah Bristow, an undergraduate student at the University of North Carolina Asheville, worked as interns with Joshua Schlieder, an astrophysicist at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland. They searched Kepler data for evidence of transits, the regular dimming of a star when an orbiting planet moves across the star's face.

Examining data from the fourth observing campaign of Kepler's K2 mission, the team noticed two likely planetary transits in the system. But scientists require a third transit before claiming the discovery of a candidate planet, and there wasn't a third signal in the observations they reviewed.

As it turned out, though, the team wasn't actually analyzing all of the data.

In Kepler's K2 mode, which ran from 2014 to 2018, the spacecraft repositioned itself to point at a new patch of sky at the start of each three-month observing campaign. Astronomers were initially concerned that this repositioning would cause systematic errors in measurements.

"Re-orienting Kepler relative to the Sun caused miniscule changes in the shape of the telescope and the temperature of the electronics, which inevitably affected Kepler's sensitive measurements in the first days of each campaign," said co-author Geert Barentsen, an astrophysicist at NASA's Ames Research Center in California's Silicon Valley and the director of the guest observer office for the Kepler and K2 missions.

To deal with this, early versions of the software that was used to prepare the data for planet-finding analysis simply ignored the first few days of observations - and that's where the third transit was hiding.

As scientists learned how to correct for these systematic errors, this trimming step was eliminated - but the early K2 data Barstow studied had been clipped.

"We eventually re-ran all data from the early campaigns through the modified software and then re-ran the planet search to get a list of candidates, but these candidates were never fully visually inspected," explained Schlieder, a co-author of the paper. "Inspecting, or vetting, transits with the human eye is crucial because noise and other astrophysical events can mimic transits."

Instead, the re-processed data were posted directly to Exoplanet Explorers, a project where the public searches Kepler's K2 observations to locate new transiting planets. In May 2017, volunteers noticed the third transit and began an excited discussion about what was then thought to be an Earth-sized candidate in the system, which caught the attention of Feinstein and her colleagues.

"That's how we missed it - and it took the keen eyes of citizen scientists to make this extremely valuable find and point us to it," Feinstein said.

The team began follow-up observations using NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope, the Keck II telescope at the W. M. Keck Observatory and NASA's Infrared Telescope Facility (the latter two in Hawaii), and also examined data from ESA's (the European Space Agency's) Gaia mission.

Estimated to be about 1.9 times Earth's size, K2-288Bb is half the size of Neptune. This places the planet within a recently discovered category called the Fulton gap, or radius gap. Among planets that orbit close to their stars, there's a curious dearth of worlds between about 1.5 and two times Earth's size. This is likely the result of intense starlight breaking up atmospheric molecules and eroding away the atmospheres of some planets over time, leaving behind two populations. Since K2-288Bb's radius places it in this gap, it may provide a case study of planetary evolution within this size range.

On Oct. 30, 2018, Kepler ran out of fuel and ended its mission after nine years, during which it discovered 2,600 confirmed planets around other stars - the bulk of those now known - along with thousands of additional candidates astronomers are working to confirm. And while NASA's Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite is the newest space-based planet hunter, this new finding shows that more discoveries await scientists in Kepler data.

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

Source: Jet Propulsion Laboratory

Saturday, January 05, 2019

My Name Was Transmitted to NASA's New Horizons Spacecraft and the Kuiper Belt Region! I Hope...

A certificate that commemorates my name and a greeting having traveled to NASA's New Horizons spacecraft, the Kuiper Belt and beyond on January 1, 2019 (Eastern Standard Time)...hopefully.

On December 31 (of last year), a transmission containing names and messages from 30,547 people was beamed towards NASA's New Horizons spacecraft only hours before it made its closest approach to the Kuiper Belt object Ultima Thule on New Year's Day. I would say that this makes up for me not being able to submit my name in time for it to be included on a CD containing over 430,000 monikers that was attached to the spacecraft almost 14 years ago, but it doesn't. Why? It's because I kept track of this latest campaign till the final minutes before its deadline (on Friday, December 21, 2018)...and over 37,000 names and messages were submitted by the time this campaign came to a close at 9:00 PM, Pacific Standard Time that Friday.

37,000+ messages were submitted online in the hopes that they would make their way to the Kuiper Belt region billions of miles from Earth and beyond. And yet, less than 31,000 greetings were ultimately included in the transmission. Why were the other 6,000 greetings omitted from the radio signal? Why would John Hopkins University (which was responsible for beaming the signal to New Horizons and not NASA itself) vet the submissions if they weren't gonna be stored on the flight computers of New Horizons itself—and instead making their way to interstellar space as just a mere radio wave (like the Hello From Earth message that was transmitted towards deep space in 2009)? Why would the folks at John Hopkins care if someone submitted "Jesus Christ," "Mr. T" or "Luke Skywalker" (which I didn't; I'm just listing random examples) if these names weren't gonna find their way into New Horizons' data recorders? Oh well.

I'm just hoping that I posted the certificate above because my name is about 81 billion miles in space (assuming my math is correct) since its journey began at the speed of light on December 31, and not one of those 6,000-plus submissions grounded on a computer server at John Hopkins University. That is all.

A snapshot of the Kuiper Belt object Ultima Thule that was taken by NASA's New Horizons spacecraft from 18,000 miles (28,000 kilometers) away...on January 1, 2019 (Eastern Standard Time).
NASA / Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory / Southwest Research Institute

Thursday, January 03, 2019

The Democrats Are In Da House!

With the children of other congressional members standing next to her, Nancy Pelosi is sworn in as Speaker of the House of Representatives on the first day of the 116th Congress...on January 3, 2019.

Congratulations to Nancy Pelosi for officially becoming the Speaker of the House of Representatives (again) after the Democrats finally took control of this chamber of Congress today! Pelosi is now the most powerful woman in Washington, D.C., and also the third person in the line of succession to the presidency. So if Donald Trump and Mike Pence were um, somehow removed from office (I'm lookin' at ya, Robert Mueller), Pelosi would attain what Hillary Clinton tried to achieve in the 2008 and 2016 elections, respectively. And in even greater news, Paul Ryan is no longer a House-speaking cocksucker, but just a cocksucker now that he's returned to civilian life. He resigned from his political post with a "remarkable" 12% approval rating—so I just felt like pouring salt on the wound for this spineless weasel.

Anyways, once again congrats to the Democrats! And end this government shutdown, Pelosi! The fact that you said that a sitting president can be indicted oughta make this easier for ya. Carry on.

Former House-speaking cocksucker Paul Ryan was integral to getting that abomination known as the American Health Care Act approved by the GOP-led House of Representatives in 2017.

Wednesday, January 02, 2019

HELLO, ULTIMA THULE! 2019 Begins with Humanity Taking Glimpses of a Primordial Celestial World...

A snapshot of the Kuiper Belt object Ultima Thule that was taken by NASA's New Horizons spacecraft from 18,000 miles (28,000 kilometers) away...on January 1, 2019 (Eastern Standard Time).
NASA / Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory / Southwest Research Institute

HAPPY BELATED NEW YEAR, EVERYONE!!! In case you're wondering why I didn't post a Blog entry on January 1st itself, it's because I wanted to start 2019 off with these amazing photos that were just released of 2014 MU69 (a.k.a. Ultima Thule)...which was briefly visited by NASA's New Horizons spacecraft over a half-hour after midnight on New Year's Day. Now 4 billion miles from Earth, New Horizons flew past this 22-mile-long Kuiper Belt object (KBO) at 12:33 AM, Eastern Standard Time on January 1 (9:33 PM, Pacific Standard Time on December 31)—making this the most distant object to ever be explored by a spacecraft.

The reddish hue of Ultima Thule is revealed in these snapshots taken by two cameras aboard NASA's New Horizons spacecraft...on January 1, 2019 (EST).
NASA / Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory / Southwest Research Institute

Since it takes over 6 hours for New Horizons to transmit its Ultima Thule data at the speed of light back to Earth, a total of 20 months will be required for all of the information gathered at this KBO to be beamed to our home planet. By the time the data transfer is completed next year, the New Horizons team will probably have submitted another proposal to NASA to explore a second KBO sometime in the 2020s. Ultima Thule was barely detected even using the full capabilities of the Hubble Space Telescope (HST)—so it would remain to be seen if HST will be powerful enough to find another KBO (even farther from Earth than 2014 MU69 is) for New Horizons to reconnoiter. Let's hope that Hubble is powerful enough...or that the James Webb Space Telescope (which would easily detect KBOs beyond Ultima Thule's orbit) doesn't suffer another friggin' launch delay.

An artist's concept of the New Horizons spacecraft exploring Ultima Thule. Notice how accurate the depiction of the KBO is in this artwork (which was created well before yesterday's flyby) prior to its photographic unveiling by NASA on January 2, 2019.
Adrian Mann / All About Space

I would also like to point out that NASA's OSIRIS-REx spacecraft officially entered orbit around asteroid Bennu on New Year's Eve (the probe arrived at the Near-Earth object on December 3). Congrats to this mission's team for the major milestone! And happy Hump Day, everyone.

The green line marks the path traveled by the New Horizons spacecraft as of 9:00 PM, Pacific Standard Time, on January 2, 2019. It is 4.1 billion miles from Earth.
ABOVE: The green line marks the path traveled by the New Horizons spacecraft as of 9:00 PM,
Pacific Standard Time, on January 2, 2019. It is 4.1 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.)