Other topics on the show include:
- SMAP launches via Delta II
- New SpaceX Falcon Heavy Animation
- SpaceX Preparing for Crew Dragon Abort Tests
- Spaceport America up for Sale
- Fire at the Mars Desert Research Station
Other topics on the show include:
Here is a reprint of an article from the Rosetta mission team on where the lander might be:
Where is Philae?
Ever since Philae touched down on Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko for the final time on 12 November – it is thought to have come into contact with the comet’s surface a total of four times including the final landing – the search has been on to identify it in images. While the CONSERT instrument has helped to narrow down a 350 x 30 m ‘landing strip’ on Comet 67P/C-G’s smaller lobe, a dedicated search in OSIRIS images has so far not been able to confirm the little lander’s final location.
Philae’s descent to the surface, the initial touchdown at Agilkia at 15:34 UT (onboard spacecraft time) and first rebound were well-documented with the OSIRIS narrow-angle camera. The team also identified what they believe to be the lander in a wide-angle shot taken at 17:18 UT above the rim of the large depression – named Hatmehit – on the comet’s small lobe. The image has been used to guide subsequent lander search efforts, and provides the basis for trajectory reconstructions. According to data recorded by Philae’s ROMAP instrument, the lander may have grazed the surface at 16:20 UT – so this image may have captured the result of that encounter.
Philae above the comet?
Rosetta’s OSIRIS wide-angle camera captured this view of
Comet 67P/Churyumov–Gerasimenko on 12 November 2014
at 17:18 GMT (onboard spacecraft time). Marked is what the OSIRIS
team believe to be the Philae lander above the rim of the large
depression – named Hatmehit – on the comet’s small lobe. The
image has been used to guide subsequent lander search efforts,
and provides the basis for trajectory reconstructions.
Credits: ESA/Rosetta/MPS for OSIRIS Team
Philae’s onboard data subsequently recorded the next touchdown at 17:25 UT and its final touchdown at 17:32 UT, at a site that has now been named “Abydos” (the first touchdown site remains as Agilkia). Images sent back by the CIVA imager onboard the lander and subsequent reconstructions are providing clues as to the nature of the landing site, but a visual confirmation is still required to confirm its location.
Follow-up dedicated OSIRIS imaging campaigns that took place in late November and December from distances of 30 and 20 km from the centre of the comet (about 28 and 18 km from the surface, respectively) have not been successful in locating the lander. The campaigns specifically targeted the times that the lander would be illuminated – it is illuminated approximately 1.3 hours per comet revolution – and that Rosetta had the correct orbital position to be able to image it. However, the cameras were looking into long cast shadows from Rosetta’s terminator orbit, perpendicular to the Sun direction, which does not provide the optimum conditions for detecting the lander.
It is also important to note that Rosetta’s trajectory immediately following Philae’s touchdown allowed for good viewing conditions at the original landing site. Now that Rosetta has moved to a different orbit, and is further away from the comet, the chances of observing the lander are less (watch this video for a recap of the different trajectories following the landing).
The image below is an example of the images being used to search for the lander; it is a slightly cropped 2 x 2 mosaic taken by the OSIRIS narrow-angle camera on 13 December 2014 from a distance of about 20 km to the centre of the comet. For the 20 km imaging run 18 sets of two images were taken – one each with orange and blue filters to take advantage of the reflection of the lander solar panels, which differ compared to the cometary environment. The images were taken in the 2 x 2 rasters to ensure good surface coverage. The lander, about 1 metre across – the size of a household washing machine – would measure only about three pixels across in these images.
Lander search area
An example of the OSIRIS narrow-angle camera mosaics being used to search
for Rosetta’s lander, Philae. The image is a slightly cropped 2 x 2 mosaic
comprising images taken on 13 December 2014 from a distance of about
20 km to the centre of the comet. The lander, about 1 m across –
the size of a household washing machine – would measure only about
three pixels across in these images. The team are searching – by eye – for a
set of three spots that correspond to the lander shape, but with the region
strewn with boulders it is soon easy to identify multiple sets of three spots.
Credits: ESA/Rosetta/MPS for OSIRIS Team
“We’re looking – by eye – for a set of three spots that correspond to the lander,” says OSIRIS principal investigator Holger Sierks from the Max Planck Institute for Solar System Research (MPS) in Germany. “The problem is that sets of three spots are very common all over the comet nucleus; Hatmehit and the area around its rim where we’re looking is full of boulders and we have identified several sets of three spots.”
Although Rosetta is flying to within 6 km of the comet’s surface on 14 February, the planned trajectory foresees the closest approach on the lower part of the larger comet lobe (although the trajectory also takes Rosetta over the first touchdown point). This trajectory is planned such that the Sun will be directly behind the spacecraft, allowing the acquisition of shadow-free images. The close flyby will also allow the suite of science instruments on the orbiter to take spectra of the surface with unprecedented resolution and to directly sample the very innermost regions of the cometary coma in order to learn more about how the comet’s characteristic coma and tail develop.
“Rosetta’s busy science schedule is planned several months in advance, so a dedicated Philae search campaign was not built into the plan for the close flyby,” says ESA’s Rosetta project scientist Matt Taylor. “We’ll be focusing on “co-riding” observations from now on, that is, we won’t be changing the trajectory of Rosetta to specifically fly over the predicted landing zone in a dedicated search, but we can modify the spacecraft pointing and/or command images to be taken of the region if we’re flying close to the region and the science operations timeline allows.”
“After the flyby we’ll be much further away from the comet again, so are unlikely to have the opportunity for another dedicated lander search until later in the mission, maybe even next year,” adds ESA’s Rosetta mission manager Fred Jansen. “But the location of Philae is not required to be able to operate it, and neither does it need to be awake for us to find it.”
When will Philae wake up?
For those of you who followed the wake-up of Rosetta, you will know that it is not simply a case of switch on and get back to the science right away. The same goes for Philae.
Philae orientation visualisation
The likely orientation of Rosetta’s lander, Philae, in a visualisation
of a topographic model of the comet’s surface.
At the original landing site, Philae was expected to receive around 6.5 hours of illumination per 12.4 hour comet day, with temperatures becoming too high by March 2015 to enable continued operations. Now, at its new location, the illumination is just 1.3 hours.
“Now we need the extra solar illumination provided by the comet’s closer proximity to the Sun by that time in order to bring the lander back to life,” says DLR’s Lander Project Manager Stephan Ulamec.
In fact, even by May, the Sun inclination will be such that it will be directly overhead of the predicted landing zone, although the lander’s orientation is such that it won’t be able to make full use of the maximum illumination on offer.
As for the process of wake up, and assuming Philae survived the low temperatures in its new residence, the earliest that the lander team expect it to be warm enough to boot up is in late March. But it will likely be May or June before there is enough solar illumination to use its transmitter, and to re-establish a communications link with Rosetta – the lander needs about 17 Watts to wake up and say “hello”.
Furthermore, the orbiter also has to be commanded to listen for Philae’s “I’m awake” signal, and be in a good position relative to the landing site to pick up the signal – although it can be up to 200 km away from the comet. It will be longer still before the battery is fully charged and Philae is ready to do science again, but that means there is a chance it will have a ringside seat for perihelion.
“We are already discussing and preparing which instruments should be operated for how long,” adds Stephan.
But even if Philae doesn’t wake up, it’s important to remember that it already completed its first science sequence on the comet, unexpectedly providing information from multiple locations on 67P/C-G.
Meanwhile Rosetta will continue to follow the comet on its orbit around the Sun and as it heads back towards the outer Solar System.
NY Times offers a nicely made, elaborate graphics page illustrating the trek so far of the Curiosity rover, plus its activities along the way, since it landed in Gale Crater on August 5, 2012 : 28 Months on Mars – NYTimes.com.
Here’s a great collection of space photos just from the past month : Month in Space Pictures: Catch a Comet and a Cosmic Dawn – NBC News.com.
A lot is going on in space these days…
This week’s Space to Ground report on activities related to the Int. Space Station:
An announcement on winners of the Future Engineers 3-D Printing in Space Tool Challenge:
After three months of designing and modeling, a panel of judges from NASA, the American Society of Mechanical Engineers Foundation (ASME) and Made In Space Inc. have selected the winners of the Future Engineers 3-D Printing in Space Tool Challenge.
The winner from the Teen Group (ages 13-19) is a Multipurpose Precision Maintenance Tool that Robert Hillan of Enterprise, Alabama, designed. The winner of the Junior Group (ages 5-12) is a Space Planter that Sydney Vernon from Bellevue, Washington, designed.
The challenge asked students in grades K-12 to use their imagination to create and submit a digital 3-D model of a tool they think astronauts could use in space. “If an astronaut tool breaks, future space pioneers won’t be able to go to the local hardware store to purchase a replacement, but with 3-D printing they will be able to create their own replacement or even create tools we’ve never seen before.” said Niki Werkheiser, NASA’s In-Space Manufacturing Project Manager at the agency’s Marshall Space Flight Center.
This challenge tapped into the creativity and ingenuity of our nation’s future engineers to imagine interesting solutions to potential mission related problems. Models were received from 470 students across the United States.
Robert Hillan’s Multipurpose Precision Maintenance Tool has “a number of important tools which allow an astronaut to complete tasks with comfort and ease. The different sized drives at the top allows the user to attach sockets. In the center are wrenches of varying sizes, allowing fewer wrenches to be carried to the job site. On the left is a precision measuring tool along with wire gauges and a single edged wire stripper. In the center is an outline for Velcro to be applied allowing an easy storage around the station. A circular hole in the bottom center allows for a clip to be used as well. On the right, and ergonomic grip is built into the tool with ridges for better grasp, lastly a pry bar is built into the ergonomic grip for ease of access”. Robert will watch from NASA’s Payload Operations Center with the mission control team as their design is printed aboard the International Space Station.
Junior Winner Space Planter designed
by Sydney Vernon Image Credit: Sydney Vernon
Sydney Vernon’s Space Planter model “would be used to grow plants on the ISS while being really water conservative. First, put the disc into the “mouth” of the creature. Tie a string to each of the ears and dangle them down through the hole in the disc into the lower part of the monster. Fill this lower part with water. Fill the top part with dirt and plant a seed. The plant will actually suck up any water it needs from the two strings dangling into the water, so it is very water-conservative. Also, it looks like a cute monster!”
Sydney‘s school will receive a 3-D printer. “First, I had a great time coming up with and designing my space tool. Then, I got told I would get a free 3-D print of what I’d made. And today, I got to meet two NASA astronauts!! This has been awesome!”
Winners were selected after a panel of expert judges interviewed the four highest rated winners from each age group. The panel members were Werkheiser, Mike Snyder, head of research and development, Made In Space Inc.; and NASA astronauts Reid Wiseman and Dr. Yvonne Cagle.
The top 10 entries from each age group are:
Teen Group (Ages13-19)
Junior Group (Ages 5-12)
“The level of engagement during this challenge was amazing to observe. I facilitated 70 future engineers in Coppell, Texas Kinder-5th grade. After they watched the launch video they were ready to build what they knew about the challenge and what they needed to know. That became the living document that guided them to research and make decisions. Creating a 3-D tool was new to them. I have heard from other educators around the district, they are applying what they learned to other projects and using them in ways I would have never predicted. This was a real world challenge that allowed them to apply their creative skills in determining an innovative tool that would make life on the ISS easier or more fun.” said Jodi Schleter, Content Integration Coach, Coppell Independent School District.
The Space Tool Challenge is the first in series of Future Engineers 3-D Printing challenges for students focused on designing solutions to real-world space exploration problems. They are conducted by the ASME Foundation in collaboration with NASA and were announced in June as part of the White House Maker Faire to empower America’s students to invent the future by bringing their ideas to life. The next challenge will be announced in April 2015. For additional information on the Future Engineers 3-D Printing in Space Challenges or to sign up for information on upcoming challenges, visit the Future Engineers Website.
The challenge supports NASA Human Exploration and Operations Mission Directorate’s Advanced Exploration Division’s 3-D Printing in Zero-G ISS Technology Demonstration whose goal is to demonstrate the capability of utilizing a 3-D printer for in-space additive manufacturing technology. This is the first step toward realizing an additive manufacturing, print-on-demand “machine shop” for long-duration missions and sustaining human exploration of other planets, where there is extremely limited ability and availability of Earth-based logistics support. Advanced Exploration Systems pioneers new approaches for rapidly developing prototype systems, demonstrating key capabilities and validating operational concepts for future human missions beyond Earth orbit.
NASA JPL highligs citizen science:
Sometimes it takes a village to find new and unusual objects in space. Volunteers scanning tens of thousands of starry images from NASA’s Spitzer Space Telescope, using the Web-based Milky Way Project, recently stumbled upon a new class of curiosities that had gone largely unrecognized before: yellow balls. The rounded features are not actually yellow — they just appear that way in the infrared, color-assigned Spitzer images.
“The volunteers started chatting about the yellow balls they kept seeing in the images of our galaxy, and this brought the features to our attention,” said Grace Wolf-Chase of the Adler Planetarium in Chicago. A colorful, 122-foot (37-meter) Spitzer mosaic of the Milky Way hangs at the planetarium, showcasing our galaxy’s bubbling brew of stars. The yellow balls in this mosaic appear small but are actually several hundred to thousands of times the size of our solar system.
“With prompting by the volunteers, we analyzed the yellow balls and figured out that they are a new way to detect the early stages of massive star formation,” said Charles Kerton of Iowa State University, Ames. “The simple question of ‘Hmm, what’s that?’ led us to this discovery.” Kerton is lead author, and Wolf-Chase a co-author, of a new study on the findings in the Astrophysical Journal.
The Milky Way Project is one of many so-called citizen scientist projects making up the Zooniverse website, which relies on crowdsourcing to help process scientific data. So far, more than 70 scientific papers have resulted from volunteers using Zooniverse, four of which are tied to the Milky Way Project. In 2009, volunteers using a Zooniverse project called Galaxy Zoo began chatting about unusual objects they dubbed “green peas.” Their efforts led to the discovery of a class of compact galaxies that churned out extreme numbers of stars.
In the Milky Way Project, volunteers scan through images that Spitzer took of the thick plane of our galaxy, where newborn stars are igniting in swaths of dust. The infrared wavelengths detected by Spitzer have been assigned visible colors we can see with our eyes. In addition to the yellow balls, there are many green bubbles with red centers, populating a landscape of swirling gas and dust. These bubbles are the result of massive newborn stars blowing out cavities in their surroundings. The green bubble rims are made largely of organic molecules called polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), cleared away by blasts of radiation and winds from the central star. Dust warmed by the star appears red in the center of the bubbles.
Volunteers have classified more than 5,000 of these green bubbles using the project’s Web-based tools. When they started reporting that they were finding more reoccurring features in the shape of yellow balls, the Spitzer researchers took note and even named the features accordingly. In astronomy and other digital imaging, yellow represents areas where green and red overlap. So what are these yellow balls?
A thorough analysis by the team led to the conclusion that the yellow balls precede the green bubble features, representing a phase of star formation that takes place before the bubbles form.
“The yellow balls are a missing link,” said Wolf-Chase, “between the very young embryonic stars buried in dark filaments and newborn stars blowing the bubbles.”
“If you wind the clock backwards from the bubbles, you get the yellow ball features,” said Kerton.
The researchers explained why the yellow balls appear yellow: The PAHs, which appear green in the Spitzer images, haven’t been cleared away by the winds from massive stars yet, so the green overlaps with the warm dust, colored red, to make yellow. The yellow balls are compact because the harsh effects of the massive star have yet to fully expand into their surroundings.
So far, the volunteers have identified more than 900 of these compact yellow features. The next step for the researchers is to look at their distribution. Many appear to be lining the rims of the bubbles, a clue that perhaps the massive stars are triggering the birth of new stars as they blow the bubbles, a phenomenon known as triggered star formation. If the effect is real, the researchers should find that the yellow balls statistically appear more often with bubble walls.
“These results attest to the importance of citizen scientist programs,” said Wolf-Chase. Kerton added, “There is always the potential for serendipitous discovery that makes citizen science both exciting for the participants and useful to the professional astronomer.”
NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, California, manages the Spitzer Space Telescope mission for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate, Washington. Science operations are conducted at the Spitzer Science Center at the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena. Spacecraft operations are based at Lockheed Martin Space Systems Company, Littleton, Colorado. Data are archived at the Infrared Science Archive housed at the Infrared Processing and Analysis Center at Caltech. Caltech manages JPL for NASA.
Zooming in on the universe has not been easy or quick. Humans watched the night sky for tens of thousands of years so that by the time early civilizations arose in areas like Mesopotamia, China, and Pre-Colombian America, amazingly detailed knowledge had been gained of the movements of the planets and other heavenly objects visible to the naked eye.
It was not until 1610 that a newfangled gadget called the telescope allowed Galileo to go beyond the limits of the eye and make his famous observations of four moons orbiting Jupiter.
Many discoveries were also made of the universe beyond our solar system but it still was not until 1923 that telescopic instruments advanced to a sufficiently sensitive level to allow Edwin Hubble to discover that many of those stellar lights were not stars but galaxies, i.e. conglomerations of billions of stars just like our own Milky Way.
And it wasn’t until the mid-1990s that a star was resolved by a telescope as a disc rather than a point blur of light. The star was the red super-giant Betelgeuse, whose diameter is about as big as the orbit of Jupiter. Only a handful of similar giants have been subsequently resolved .
So making the next step and zooming in on planets around other stars is clearly a terrifically difficult task. I think it is fair to say that most people, including most astronomers, assumed up until the 1980s that such discoveries would require gigantic telescopes not available until far into the future; at least for spotting planets significantly smaller than Jupiter.
In Five Billion Years of Solitude: The Search for Life Among the Stars, Lee Billings tells the story of how astronomers successfully developed methods to detect planets around other stars without seeing them directly. The trick is to detect the effects of an exoplanet on its host star.
The first method to find an exoplanet successfully involves measuring shifts in the frequency of a star’s light as a planet orbits the star. The orbiting planet causes the star to wobble and this wobble results in an increase in the frequency of light when the star moves towards us and a decrease when the star moves away from us. This is a very tiny effect but by monitoring hundreds of spectral lines for the telltale signs of Doppler shifts, the combined statistics of the shifts in all those lines creates a significant signal in the data as more and more orbits of the planet are observed. Groups in Canada, Switzerland and the US found the first exoplanets using this method in the early 1990s.
(In the book, Billings touches on the professional rivalries and squabbles that have arisen in the highly competitive exoplanet-finding field. Here is an article by him about one such battle: The Ugly Battle Over Who Really Discovered the First Earth-Like Planet – WIRED.)
This Doppler shift method (officially referred to as the radial-velocity method) is biased towards big exoplanets orbiting close to their stars. While our sun has little Mercury as its closest inner planet, it turns out that there are many stars out there with massive exoplanets orbiting much closer to their stars than Mercury is to the Sun. Over time this method has gotten increasingly refined and smaller planets, farther out from their star have been observed.
Another method is to look for the slight dimming of a star when one of its planets passes between us and the star. This transit method requires that the plane of the planet’s orbit is oriented edge on from out point of view. This would seem to be very rare but there are so many stars out there that it happens often enough to give us plenty of cases to observe.
The Kepler space observatory has been spectacularly successful using the transit method. The Kepler team has accumulated a list of about 1000 confirmed exoplanets and over 4000 candidates are still under study. Most of the Kepler exoplanets are also large and too close to the stars to allow for life as we know it. However, a small subset of rocky planets similar in scale to the earth have been detected in “habitable zones” in which their orbits receive sufficient energy from their suns to allow for liquid water if the planets have dense enough atmospheres. That a handful of such candidate rocky exo-earth candidates have been detected is an enormous accomplishment.
The book, however, is not a technical guide to exoplanet detection. As the full name of the book implies, Billings puts the exoplanet discoveries in the broader context of the search for life beyond earth and for extraterrestrial intelligence (SETI). He focuses particularly on Frank Drake, the leading pioneer in SETI, who published his famous Drake Equation in the 1960s for estimating the number of advanced civilizations in the galaxy. Or guesstimating is more accurate. Most of the parameters in the equation, such as the probability that a star has planets and the fraction of such planets that could support life, were poorly known or not known at all. The exoplanet discoveries finally provide hard data to determine some of these parameters.
Billings also reviews the formation of the solar system and the geologic and biologic history of the earth. Earth’s development provides provide clues as to what to look for when seeking exoplanets with life.
Zooming in on earth-like planets and seeing them directly remains a key goal for exoplanet searchers. The most straight-forward way to do this is to build observatories in space and use special techniques to mask out the tremendous glare of the star so that the meager reflected light from the exoplanet can be examined. Most of the designs for such observatories will take considerable resources and Billings laments the lack of funding for such projects. He fears that just as we are finally gaining the capability to see and study distant earths, the implementation of that capability is receding into the future as NASA’s budget remains flat or falls.
(Recently Billings wrote about designs for relatively low cost space observatories specialized to see earth-sized planets around nearby stars if such planets exist : Planet Hunters Bet Big on a Small Telescope to See Alien Earths – Scientific American.)
It has been nearly five billion years since the formation of our solar system and our earth. Billings message is that we have now proven that earth is not the only rocky planet in the Milky Way. The next step is to study these exo-earths and determine if humans remain in solitude or have companions in our galaxy as well.
The ESO (European Southern Observatory) posts the latest finding:
Like the gaping mouth of a gigantic celestial creature, the cometary globule CG4 glows menacingly in this image from ESO’s Very Large Telescope. Although it looks huge and bright in this image it is actually a faint nebula and not easy to observe. The exact nature of CG4 remains a mystery. Credit: ESO
Like the gaping mouth of a gigantic celestial creature, the cometary globule CG4 glows menacingly in this new image from ESO’s Very Large Telescope. Although it appears to be big and bright in this picture, this is actually a faint nebula, which makes it very hard for amateur astronomers to spot. The exact nature of CG4 remains a mystery.
In 1976 several elongated comet-like objects were discovered on pictures taken with the UK Schmidt Telescope in Australia. Because of their appearance, they became known as cometary globules even though they have nothing in common with comets. They were all located in a huge patch of glowing gas called the Gum Nebula. They had dense, dark, dusty heads and long, faint tails, which were generally pointing away from the Vela supernova remnant located at the centre of the Gum Nebula. Although these objects are relatively close by, it took astronomers a long time to find them as they glow very dimly and are therefore hard to detect.
The object shown in this new picture, CG4, which is also sometimes referred to as God’s Hand, is one of these cometary globules. It is located about 1300 light-years from Earth in the constellation of Puppis (The Poop, or Stern).
This zoom video sequence goes from a wide view of the southern Milky Way deep into the constellation of Puppis close to the site of the Vela supernova remnant. The final view shows a new close-up view of the cometary globule CG4. It glows menacingly, like the gaping mouth of a gigantic celestial creature, in this this new image from ESO’s Very Large Telescope. What looks huge and bright in this image is actually a faint nebula and not easy to observe The exact nature of CG4 remains a mystery. Credit: ESO/J.Perez/Digitized Sky Survey 2/N. Risinger (skysurvey.org). Music: movetwo
The head of CG4, which is the part visible on this image and resembles the head of the gigantic beast, has a diameter of 1.5 light-years. The tail of the globule — which extends downwards and is not visible in the image — is about eight light-years long. By astronomical standards this makes it a comparatively small cloud.
The relatively small size is a general feature of cometary globules. All of the cometary globules found so far are isolated, relatively small clouds of neutral gas and dust within the Milky Way, which are surrounded by hot ionised material.
The head part of CG4 is a thick cloud of gas and dust, which is only visible because it is illuminated by the light from nearby stars. The radiation emitted by these stars is gradually destroying the head of the globule and eroding away the tiny particles that scatter the starlight. However, the dusty cloud of CG4 still contains enough gas to make several Sun-sized stars and indeed, CG4 is actively forming new stars, perhaps triggered as radiation from the stars powering the Gum Nebula reached CG4.
This wide-field image shows a rich region of the sky in the constellation of Puppis (The Poop). At the centre lies the strange cometary globule CG4. Other interesting objects are also seen, including several much more distant spiral galaxies. This colour view was produced from images forming part of the Digitized Sky Survey 2. Credit: ESO and Digitized Sky Survey 2
Why CG4 and other cometary globules have their distinct form is still a matter of debate among astronomers and two theories have developed. Cometary globules, and therefore also CG4, could originally have been spherical nebulae, which were disrupted and acquired their new, unusual form because of the effects of a nearby supernova explosion. Other astronomers suggest, that cometary globules are shaped by stellar winds and ionising radiation from hot, massive OB stars. These effects could first lead to the bizarrely (but appropriately!) named formations known as elephant trunks and then eventually cometary globules.
To find out more, astronomers need to find out the mass, density, temperature, and velocities of the material in the globules. These can be determined by the measurements of molecular spectral lines which are most easily accessible at millimetre wavelengths — wavelengths at which telescopes like the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA) operate.
This picture comes from the ESO Cosmic Gems programme, an outreach initiative to produce images of interesting, intriguing or visually attractive objects using ESO telescopes, for the purposes of education and public outreach. The programme makes use of telescope time that cannot be used for science observations. All data collected may also be suitable for scientific purposes, and are made available to astronomers through ESO’s science archive.
A high school group has built a robotic system for releasing balloons to test upper atmosphere winds before launches at Cape Canaveral. This is useful in lightning conditions when people are restricted from releasing them out in the open: Students’ pink robot could save space industry millions – Florida Today –
For decades, specialists at the Air Force station’s weather balloon facility would brave blustery or otherwise bad conditions to release large white weather balloons by hand. But when lightning was too close, no balloons got launched.
Now, a hot-pink robot built by local high school students is rolling to the rescue.
“Even if you save one launch, it’s worth it,” Nick McAleenan, 16, told media members crowded outside the Air Force station’s weather balloon facility to see the robot in action.
“PINK Team,” a robotics team of students from Rockledge, Cocoa Beach, Viera and Space Coast high schools, fashioned a clever way to release weather balloons without risking human life.
[See video at linked page – can’t stop the autoplay if embedded here so removed it.]
The PINK team got its name as follows:
The girls on the team won out on the choice of team name and color. Bradley says the boys had skipped out on that team meeting.
“The guys were out surfing that day,” Bradley said. “Out of spite, the girls picked pink.”
January 27, 2015—NASA’s Dawn spacecraft has returned the sharpest images ever seen of the dwarf planet Ceres. The images were taken 147,000 miles (237,000 kilometers) from Ceres on Jan. 25, and represent a new milestone for a spacecraft that soon will become the first human-made probe to visit a dwarf planet.
This animation of the dwarf planet Ceres was made by combining images taken by NASA’s Dawn spacecraft on January 25, 2015. The spacecraft’s framing camera took these images, at a distance of about 147,000 miles (237,000 kilometers) from Ceres, and they represent the highest-resolution views to date of the dwarf planet.
“We know so little about our vast solar system, but thanks to economical missions like Dawn, those mysteries are being solved,” said Jim Green, Planetary Science Division Director at NASA Headquarters in Washington.
At 43 pixels wide, the new images are more than 30 percent higher in resolution than those taken by NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope in 2003 and 2004 at a distance of over 150 million miles (about 241 million kilometers). The resolution is higher because Dawn is traveling through the solar system to Ceres, while Hubble remains fixed in Earth orbit. The new Dawn images come on the heels of initial navigation images taken Jan. 13 that reveal a white spot on the dwarf planet and the suggestion of craters. Hubble images also had glimpsed a white spot on the dwarf planet, but its nature is still unknown.
The white dot in the upper left is not yet identified. The image
was taken 147,000 miles (237,000 kilometers) from Ceres on
January 25, 2015 by NASA’s Dawn spacecraft.
Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/UCLA/MPS/DLR/IDA
“Ceres is a ‘planet’ that you’ve probably never heard of,” said Robert Mase, Dawn project manager at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California. “We’re excited to learn all about it with Dawn and share our discoveries with the world.”
As the spacecraft gets closer to Ceres, its camera will return even better images. On March 6, Dawn will enter into orbit around Ceres to capture detailed images and measure variations in light reflected from Ceres, which should reveal the planet’s surface composition.
“We are already seeing areas and details on Ceres popping out that had not been seen before. For instance, there are several dark features in the southern hemisphere that might be craters within a region that is darker overall,” said Carol Raymond, deputy principal investigator of the Dawn mission at JPL. “Data from this mission will revolutionize our understanding of this unique body. Ceres is showing us tantalizing features that are whetting our appetite for the detailed exploration to come.”
Ceres, the largest body between Mars and Jupiter in the main asteroid belt, has a diameter of about 590 miles (950 kilometers). Some scientists believe the dwarf planet harbored a subsurface ocean in the past and liquid water may still be lurking under its icy mantle.
Originally described as a planet, Ceres was later categorized as an asteroid, and then reclassified as a dwarf planet in 2006. The mysterious world was discovered in 1801 by astronomer Giuseppe Piazzi, who named the object for the Roman goddess of agriculture, grain crops, fertility and motherly relationships.
“You may not realize that the word ‘cereal’ comes from the name Ceres. Perhaps you already connected with the dwarf planet at breakfast today,” said JPL’s Marc Rayman, mission director and chief engineer of the Dawn mission.
Powered by a uniquely capable ion propulsion system, Dawn also orbited and explored Vesta, the second most massive body in the asteroid belt. From 2011 to 2012, Dawn returned more than 30,000 images, 18 million light measurements and other scientific data about the impressive large asteroid. Vesta has a diameter of about 326 miles (525 kilometers).
“With the help of Dawn and other missions, we are continually adding to our understanding of how the solar system began and how the planets were formed,” said Chris Russell, principal investigator for the Dawn mission, based at the University of California, Los Angeles.
Dawn’s mission to Vesta and Ceres is managed by JPL for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate in Washington. Dawn is a project of the directorate’s Discovery Program, managed by NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama. UCLA is responsible for overall Dawn mission science. Orbital Sciences Corp. of Dulles, Virginia, designed and built the spacecraft. JPL is managed for NASA by the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena.
The framing cameras were provided by the Max Planck Institute for Solar System Research in Gottingen, Germany, with significant contributions by the German Aerospace Center (DLR) Institute of Planetary Research in Berlin, and in coordination with the Institute of Computer and Communication Network Engineering in Braunschweig.
The visible and infrared mapping spectrometer was provided by the Italian Space Agency and the Italian National Institute for Astrophysics, was built by Selex ES, and is managed by Italy’s National Institute for Astrophysics and Planetology in Rome. The gamma ray and neutron detector was built by Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico, and is operated by the Planetary Science Institute of Tucson, Arizona.
The new Dawn images are available online at: go.nasa.gov/1wyp0LA
To view the images taken by Hubble, visit: go.nasa.gov/1Ju41mf
A message from the Challenger Center for Space Science Education:
Crew’s Legacy Lives On in Thriving STEM Education Organization
WASHINGTON (January 26, 2015) – Challenger Center for Space Science Education (Challenger Center) and its network of 44 Centers around the globe will honor the crew of the Challenger Shuttle by observing the 29th anniversary of the accident on Wednesday, January 28. The nonprofit STEM education organization was formed in 1986 as a living tribute to the crew and works to strengthen students’ interest and knowledge in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM).
Challenger Center will accompany Challenger family members, June Scobee Rodgers and Dr. Chuck Resnik and his family, to NASA‘s Day of Remembrance at Arlington National Cemetery on Wednesday. NASA’s Day of Remembrance was created in the wake of the Columbia tragedy to honor those who gave their lives in the cause of exploration and discovery. The date commemorates the astronauts who died in the Columbia, Challenger and Apollo I accidents as well as the other NASA pilots and employees who lost their lives in the pursuit of exploration.
Challenger Learning Centers around the globe will recognize the anniversary through special events, programs, and discussions with their local students and communities.
“It is hard to believe that we lost our beloved Challenger crew 29 years ago. They had such grand plans to teach and inspire kids around the globe,” said Dr. June Scobee Rodgers, founding chair, Challenger Center, and widow of Challenger commander Dick Scobee. “As family members, we knew that from that tragedy we had to create triumph, and continue the work of our loved ones. It is awe inspiring to watch Challenger Center continue to flourish and keep our loved one’s legacies alive.”
Nearly 30 years after the tragedy, Challenger Center continues to grow and be recognized for its successes. In 2014, Challenger Center opened its first newly designed Center since the organization’s founding. Challenger Learning Center at the Scobee Education Center, San Antonio College is a state-of-the-art Center that has quickly become Challenger Center’s flagship facility. Last year, the organization also opened a Center in Reno, Nevada, marking the first location in the state. Challenger Learning Centers in Schenectady, NY and Lockport, NY are scheduled to open later this year.
In addition to expanding its brick and mortar footprint, Challenger Center began work on a new project funded through a $3 million grant from the U.S. Department of Education. The research and development grant will assist in the creation of a program that will deliver Challenger Center missions directly into the classroom, helping to reach students who do not have access to a Challenger Learning Center.
“Challenger Center is inspiring today’s students to see their full potential and follow a path that leads to a career in the STEM industry, helping us build a stronger society,” said Dr. Lance Bush, president and CEO, Challenger Center. “Never before has this mission been so critical. Just as the Challenger crew demonstrated a true commitment to being innovators in both their work and personal lives, we work to inspire that desire and passion for innovation in our Challenger Center students.”
About Challenger Center for Space Science Education (Challenger Center)
As a leader in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) education, Challenger Center and its international network of Challenger Learning Centers use space simulations to engage students in dynamic, hands-on opportunities. These experiences strengthen knowledge in STEM subjects and inspire students to pursue careers in these important fields. Centers reach hundreds of thousands of students and tens of thousands of teachers each year. Founded in 1986, Challenger Center was created to honor the crew of shuttle flight STS-51-L: Dick Scobee, Gregory Jarvis, Christa McAuliffe, Ronald McNair, Ellison Onizuka, Judith Resnik, and Michael J. Smith. Learn more about Challenger Center at www.challenger.organd connect with us on facebook.com/challengerctr, twitter.com/challengerctr and youtube.com/ccsse.
Here’s a SETI Institute seminar by Jens Biele of the German space agency (DLR) in which he talks about the ESA Rosetta/Philae landing on Comet 67P/C-G: The Rosetta Lander (PHILAE) mission: landing on comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko – SETI Institute
Here is the caption to the video:
The Rosetta Lander (PHILAE) mission: landing on comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko
The Rosetta Lander, Philae, landed on 67P/Churyumov Gerasimenko on 12 November 2014. Before this could happen, a landing site had to be selected within just 2 months, based on data from the Rosetta Orbiter instruments and analyses on flight dynamics and illumination profiles. Philae was programmed to perform a First Scientific Sequence, immediately following touch down, and then enter its long term science mode.
The paper will report on the actual landing and the very first results. The landing was successful, though the operational sequences had to be modified ad hoc: Philae did not anchor upon first touchdown at 15:34:06 UTC but rebounded at least once, finally settling – fully operating all the while – at a place not ideal for long-term science. A wealth of science data has been received.
Rosetta is an ESA mission with contributions from its member states and NASA. Rosetta’s Philae lander is provided by a consortium led by DLR, MPS, CNES and ASI.
The asteroid I mentioned yesterday that was to fly past earth turned out to have an unusual feature:
Scientists working with NASA’s 230-foot-wide (70-meter) Deep Space Network antenna at Goldstone, California, have released the first radar images of asteroid 2004 BL86. The images show the asteroid, which made its closest approach today (Jan. 26, 2015) at 8:19 a.m. PST (11:19 a.m. EST) at a distance of about 745,000 miles (1.2 million kilometers, or 3.1 times the distance from Earth to the moon), has its own small moon.
The 20 individual images used in the movie were generated from data collected at Goldstone on Jan. 26, 2015. They show the primary body is approximately 1,100 feet (325 meters) across and has a small moon approximately 230 feet (70 meters) across. In the near-Earth population, about 16 percent of asteroids that are about 655 feet (200 meters) or larger are a binary (the primary asteroid with a smaller asteroid moon orbiting it) or even triple systems (two moons). The resolution on the radar images is 13 feet (4 meters) per pixel.
The trajectory of asteroid 2004 BL86 is well understood. Monday’s flyby was the closest approach the asteroid will make to Earth for at least the next two centuries. It is also the closest a known asteroid this size will come to Earth until asteroid 1999 AN10 flies past our planet in 2027.
Asteroid 2004 BL86 was discovered on Jan. 30, 2004, by the Lincoln Near-Earth Asteroid Research (LINEAR) survey in White Sands, New Mexico.
Radar is a powerful technique for studying an asteroid’s size, shape, rotation state, surface features and surface roughness, and for improving the calculation of asteroid orbits. Radar measurements of asteroid distances and velocities often enable computation of asteroid orbits much further into the future than if radar observations weren’t available.
NASA places a high priority on tracking asteroids and protecting our home planet from them. In fact, the U.S. has the most robust and productive survey and detection program for discovering near-Earth objects (NEOs). To date, U.S. assets have discovered over 98 percent of the known NEOs.
In addition to the resources NASA puts into understanding asteroids, it also partners with other U.S. government agencies, university-based astronomers, and space science institutes across the country, often with grants, interagency transfers and other contracts from NASA, and also with international space agencies and institutions that are working to track and better understand these objects.
NASA’s Near-Earth Object Program at NASA Headquarters, Washington, manages and funds the search, study and monitoring of asteroids and comets whose orbits periodically bring them close to Earth. JPL manages the Near-Earth Object Program Office for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate in Washington. JPL is a division of the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena.
In 2016, NASA will launch a robotic probe to one of the most potentially hazardous of the known NEOs. The OSIRIS-REx mission to asteroid (101955) Bennu will be a pathfinder for future spacecraft designed to perform reconnaissance on any newly discovered threatening objects. Aside from monitoring potential threats, the study of asteroids and comets enables a valuable opportunity to learn more about the origins of our solar system, the source of water on Earth, and even the origin of organic molecules that led to the development of life.
NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, will provide overall mission management, systems engineering, and safety and mission assurance for OSIRIS-REx. Lockheed Martin Space Systems in Denver will build the spacecraft. OSIRIS-REx is the third mission in NASA’s New Frontiers Program. NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama, manages New Frontiers for the agency’s Science Mission Directorate in Washington.
NASA also continues to advance the journey to Mars through progress on the Asteroid Redirect Mission (ARM), which will test a number of new capabilities needed for future human expeditions to deep space, including to Mars. This includes advanced Solar Electric Propulsion — an efficient way to move heavy cargo using solar power, which could help pre-position cargo for future human missions to the Red Planet. As part of ARM, a robotic spacecraft will rendezvous with a near-Earth asteroid and redirect an asteroid mass to a stable orbit around the moon. Astronauts will explore the asteroid mass in the 2020’s, helping test modern spaceflight capabilities like new spacesuits and sample return techniques. Astronauts at NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston have already begun to practice the capabilities needed for the mission.
and via Twitter at www.twitter.com/asteroidwatch
More information about asteroid radar research is at: echo.jpl.nasa.gov/
More information about the Deep Space Network is at: deepspace.jpl.nasa.gov/dsn
For more information about the OSIRIS-REx mission, visit:
1. Monday, Jan. 26, 2015: 2:00-3:30PM PST (5:00-& 6:30 PM EST, 4:00-5:30 PM CST): We welcome JPL’s DR. MARC RAYMAN, the chief engineer and mission director for Dawn, the first spacecraft ever targeted to orbit two extraterrestrial destinations, the giant protoplanet Vesta and dwarf planet Ceres.
2. Tuesday, Jan. 27, 2015:,7-8:30 PM PST (10-11:30 PM EST, 9-10:30 PM CST): We welcome back JOHN POWELL OF JP Aerospace.
3. Friday, Jan. 30, 2015; 9:30 -11 AM PST (12:30-2 PM EST; 11:30-1 PM CST): We welcome DR. EDGAR BERING to discuss the Mars Rover Contest for Middle and Elementary School students to be held at the University of Houston on Jan. 31, 2015. Professor Bering is the founder of this event.
4. Sunday, Feb. 1, 2015: 12-1:30 PM PST (3-4:30 PM EST, 2-3:30 PM CST): We welcome back DR. DOUG PLATA, a physician from Southern California, who will be discussing concepts regarding an initial lunar base. He will be taking a solutions-based approach while addressing the various challenges inherent in such a project.
The Space Show is a project of the One Giant Leap Foundation.
I posted previously about SpaceTraveller, a “solar system simulator and space mission visualizer program” under development by BINARY SPACE, which provides the Satellite Tracking Tool here and with whom I work to make the Virtual SpaceTV 3D animated news reports. That post included a video demonstrating a simulation of the Rosetta spacecraft as it maneuvered near Comet 67P/C-G.
Here is a new video showing a SpaceTraveller simulation of the famous ‘Seven Minutes of Terror’ as the Mars Science Laboratory (i.e. the Curiosity rover) made its atmospheric entry, descent, and landing on Mars on August 6, 2012.
The trajectory, orientation and rotation data is derived from MSL’s sensors (with a certain time granularity). Trajectories for other objects than MSL (when not body-fixed to it) are approximate only (implemented manually).
For further info on SpaceTraveller, contact email@example.com.
An asteroid half a kilometer in diameter will pass near earth on Monday: Giant asteroid is about to give Earth a close call – Sen.com
Here is the original NASA JPL story:
(See GIF animation clip)
This graphic depicts the passage of asteroid 2004 BL86, which will come
no closer than about three times the distance from Earth to the moon
on Jan. 26, 2015. Due to its orbit around the sun, the asteroid is
currently only visible by astronomers with large telescopes who are
located in the southern hemisphere. But by Jan. 26, the space rock’s
changing position will make it visible to those in the northern hemisphere.
Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech
An asteroid, designated 2004 BL86, will safely pass about three times the distance of Earth to the moon on January 26. From its reflected brightness, astronomers estimate that the asteroid is about a third of a mile (0.5 kilometers) in size. The flyby of 2004 BL86 will be the closest by any known space rock this large until asteroid 1999 AN10 flies past Earth in 2027.
At the time of its closest approach on January 26, the asteroid will be approximately 745,000 miles (1.2 million kilometers) from Earth.
“Monday, January 26 will be the closest asteroid 2004 BL86 will get to Earth for at least the next 200 years,” said Don Yeomans, who is retiring as manager of NASA’s Near Earth Object Program Office at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, after 16 years in the position. “And while it poses no threat to Earth for the foreseeable future, it’s a relatively close approach by a relatively large asteroid, so it provides us a unique opportunity to observe and learn more.”
One way NASA scientists plan to learn more about 2004 BL86 is to observe it with microwaves (http://www.jpl.nasa.gov/news/news.php?release=2006-00a ). NASA’s Deep Space Network antenna at Goldstone, California, and the Arecibo Observatory in Puerto Rico will attempt to acquire science data and radar-generated images of the asteroid during the days surrounding its closest approach to Earth.
“When we get our radar data back the day after the flyby, we will have the first detailed images,” said radar astronomer Lance Benner of JPL, the principal investigator for the Goldstone radar observations of the asteroid. “At present, we know almost nothing about the asteroid, so there are bound to be surprises.”
Asteroid 2004 BL86 was initially discovered on Jan. 30, 2004 by a telescope of the Lincoln Near-Earth Asteroid Research (LINEAR) survey in White Sands, New Mexico.
The asteroid is expected to be observable to amateur astronomers with small telescopes and strong binoculars.
“I may grab my favorite binoculars and give it a shot myself,” said Yeomans. “Asteroids are something special. Not only did asteroids provide Earth with the building blocks of life and much of its water, but in the future, they will become valuable resources for mineral ores and other vital natural resources. They will also become the fueling stops for humanity as we continue to explore our solar system. There is something about asteroids that makes me want to look up.”
NASA’s Near-Earth Object Program Office is experiencing its first transition in leadership since it was formed almost 17 years ago. On Jan. 9, after a 39-year-long career at JPL, Yeomans retired. Paul Chodas, a long-time member of Yeomans’ team at JPL, has been designated as the new manager.
NASA detects, tracks and characterizes asteroids and comets using both ground- and space-based telescopes. Elements of the Near-Earth Object Program, often referred to as “Spaceguard,” discover these objects, characterize a subset of them and identify their close approaches to determine if any could be potentially hazardous to our planet.
JPL manages the Near-Earth Object Program Office for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate in Washington. JPL is a division of the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena.
More information about asteroids and near-Earth objects is at: www.jpl.nasa.gov/asteroidwatch.
To get updates on passing space rocks, follow: twitter.com/asteroidwatch
Back in December I posted about the DreamUP! program created by NanoRacks and FISE ( Foundation for International Space Education), which aims to send STEM projects to the International Space Station.
Chicks in Space is the first team attempting to raise the $15k needed to get an experiment to the station:
Chicks in Space is a group of high school girls who hope to advance space science. We have grown up working on NASA challenges and have had the opportunity to participate in the Conrad Spirit of Innovation – a program aimed at development of innovative ideas. We have created the Garden of ETON – or Extra Terrestrial Organic Nutrition.
This is a hydroponic garden developed to function under conditions of microgravity. It has always been our dream to have an experiment on NASA’s International Space Station. We hope to be able to have the opportunity to launch a reconfigured Garden of ETON – NanoETON – on NanoRacks LLC on NASA’s International Space Station. NanRacks LLC is a company that helps projects like ours get through NASA’s safety and review processes.
When we are not working on space related projects we enjoy golfing and hanging out with our family.
They have raised about a third of the funding needed to Send the Garden of ETON to Space.
I posted here about the Philip K. Dick Science Fiction Film Festival, which took place last weekend. Here is a report on the winning films:
The Philip K. Dick Science Fiction Film Festival returned to New York City for its third annual event from January 15-18, 2015 and has culminated in yet another successful season. With events at three distinguished locations including The Cervantes Institute, Tribeca Cinemas and The Producer’s Club, the festival has announced of award winners in recognition for achievement in filmmaking.
The honorable list includes Mark Netter’s Nightmare Code (2014) for Best Philip K. Dick Feature, Matt Duggan’s Inverse (2014) for Best Science Fiction Feature, Kathleen Behun’s 21 Days (2014) for Best Supernatural Feature, MacGregor and Bruno Zacarías’ Similo (2014) for Best Latino, African American and Other People of Color Short and Matt Owen’s Turn On (2013) for Best Science Fiction Short.
The festival, which recently received massive attention from NBC New York/COZI TV’s News 4 New York at 7, The New York Times, The New York Daily News, Time Out New York and Metro New York continues to which celebrates the cinematic style inspired by Philip K. Dick is grateful for any support as the team continues to offer the very best in science fiction film, culture and excitement.
Here’s the trailer for Nightmare Code, which won the Best Philip K. Dick Feature award:
And here is the trailer for Inverse, which won the Best Science Fiction Feature award:
Update: Here is an announcement with the full list of award winners:
(New York City, N.Y.) January 18, 2015 – The Philip K. Dick Science Fiction Film Festival ascended into glory in its third year honoring the literary world’s most nuanced and visionary author, Philip K. Dick. As the city’s hottest ticket from January 15-18, 2015, the festival screened at three locations including The Cervantes Institute, Tribeca Cinemas and The Producer’s Club and culminated in award recognition for achievement in filmmaking by the creative individuals who are leaders in the most daring cornerstone of the movie industry. With its largest yet slate of innovative features and shorts, the sold out event brought festival-goers on an unforgettable ride to the best science fiction cinema has to offer.
The festival itself has received high-profile praise in recent days including founder and programming director Daniel Abella’s guest appearance on NBC New York/COZI TV’s News 4 New York at 7 as he was interviewed by anchor Roseanne Colletti. The televised segment preceded flattering editorial pieces in The New York Times, The New York Daily News, Time Out New York and Metro New York, all of which called fans to the festival’s mission in bringing forth the best in science fiction and beyond in the footsteps of its namesake. With energy at an all-time high and vigorously growing by the minute a sentiment by Abella in his television appearance remains wholeheartedly true — that this festival “will leave you smiling.”
List of Award Winners: