On recent summer afternoons on Mars, navigation cameras aboard NASA’s Curiosity Mars rover observed several whirlwinds carrying Martian dust across Gale Crater. Dust devils result from sunshine warming the ground, prompting convective rising of air. All the dust devils were seen in a southward direction from the rover. Timing is accelerated and contrast has been modified to make frame-to-frame changes easier to see.
Here is the latest of the Planetary Society‘s series The Planetary Post with Robert Picardo:
Star parties are magical events where one can observe the wonders of our night sky…and have a surprise Star Trek: Voyager reunion. Also, news about seven Earth-sized planets orbiting a red dwarf star, plus learn how you can help prevent an asteroid impact disaster.
Leaders of the quest to find, understand and protect ourselves from the asteroids and comets called Near Earth Objects gathered with host Mat Kaplan for a live conversation about this existential threat from space. This special episode presents excerpts of that lively discussion with JPL Senior Research Scientist Amy Mainzer, Manager of NASA/JPL’s Center for Near Earth Object Studies Paul Chodas, and NASA’s Planetary Defense Officer Lindley Johnson. Also on stage was Planetary Society Director of Science and Technology Bruce Betts. Bruce stayed for this week’s What’s Up segment.
SpaceX announced on Monday that two private persons will ride a Crew Dragon spacecraft launched by a Falcon Heavy on a trip around the Moon. The target date for the flight is late 2018. TMRO.tv‘s Lisa Stojanovsk gives an overview of the endeavor:
The first launch of the Falcon Heavy is planned for this summer. All three cores will fly back for landings.
The Falcon Heavy system will have flown three or four times before this Moon flyby happens. The Crew Dragon will have flown both unmanned and manned to the ISS before the trip as well.
SpaceX to Send Privately Crewed Dragon Spacecraft
Beyond the Moon Next Year
We are excited to announce that SpaceX has been approached to fly two private citizens on a trip around the moon late next year. They have already paid a significant deposit to do a moon mission. Like the Apollo astronauts before them, these individuals will travel into space carrying the hopes and dreams of all humankind, driven by the universal human spirit of exploration. We expect to conduct health and fitness tests, as well as begin initial training later this year. Other flight teams have also expressed strong interest and we expect more to follow. Additional information will be released about the flight teams, contingent upon their approval and confirmation of the health and fitness test results.
Most importantly, we would like to thank NASA, without whom this would not be possible. NASA’s Commercial Crew Program, which provided most of the funding for Dragon 2 development, is a key enabler for this mission. In addition, this will make use of the Falcon Heavy rocket, which was developed with internal SpaceX funding. Falcon Heavy is due to launch its first test flight this summer and, once successful, will be the most powerful vehicle to reach orbit after the Saturn V moon rocket. At 5 million pounds of liftoff thrust, Falcon Heavy is two-thirds the thrust of Saturn V and more than double the thrust of the next largest launch vehicle currently flying.
Later this year, as part of NASA’s Commercial Crew Program, we will launch our Crew Dragon (Dragon Version 2) spacecraft to the International Space Station. This first demonstration mission will be in automatic mode, without people on board. A subsequent mission with crew is expected to fly in the second quarter of 2018. SpaceX is currently contracted to perform an average of four Dragon 2 missions to the ISS per year, three carrying cargo and one carrying crew. By also flying privately crewed missions, which NASA has encouraged, long-term costs to the government decline and more flight reliability history is gained, benefiting both government and private missions.
Once operational Crew Dragon missions are underway for NASA, SpaceX will launch the private mission on a journey to circumnavigate the moon and return to Earth. Lift-off will be from Kennedy Space Center’s historic Pad 39A near Cape Canaveral – the same launch pad used by the Apollo program for its lunar missions. This presents an opportunity for humans to return to deep space for the first time in 45 years and they will travel faster and further into the Solar System than any before them.
Designed from the beginning to carry humans, the Dragon spacecraft already has a long flight heritage. These missions will build upon that heritage, extending it to deep space mission operations, an important milestone as we work towards our ultimate goal of transporting humans to Mars.
Three decades ago, a massive stellar explosion sent shockwaves not only through space but also through the astronomical community. SN 1987A was the closest observed supernova to Earth since the invention of the telescope and has become by far the best studied of all time, revolutionising our understanding of the explosive death of massive stars.
Located in the Large Magellanic Cloud, a satellite galaxy of the Milky Way, Supernova 1987A is the nearest supernova explosion observed in hundreds of years. It marked the end of the life of a massive star and sent out a shockwave of ejected material and bright light into space. The light finally reached Earth on 23 February 1987 — like a cosmic blast from the past.
This time-lapse video sequence, created of images taken with the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope, reveals the dramatic changes in the ring of material around the supernova 1987A. The images, taken between 1994 to 2016, show the movement of debris from the supernova within the ring. The ring, about one light-year across, also begins to brighten as the shock wave of material hits it.
The NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope has been on the front line of observations of SN 1987A since 1990 and has taken a look at it many times over the past 27 years. To celebrate the 30th anniversary of the supernova and to check how its remnant has developed, Hubble took another image of the distant explosion in January 2017, adding to the existing collection.
Because of its early detection and relative proximity to Earth, SN 1987A has become the best studied supernova ever. Prior to SN 1987A, our knowledge of supernovae was simplistic and idealised. But by studying the evolution of SN 1987A from supernova to supernova remnant in superb detail, using telescopes in space and on the ground, astronomers have gained revolutionary insights into the deaths of massive stars.
Using computer simulations astronomers can visualise the development of the supernova 1987A, from its initial blast observed three decades ago to the luminous ring of material seen today: The sequence begins with the star before it exploded. A ring of material was expelled about 20 000 years before the actual supernova happened. A flash of light indicates the actual stellar explosion which sends a shock wave outwards. As this wave slams into the ring, knots of dense material become intensely heated and glow brightly, while was with lower density is blown outward. Credit: NASA, ESA, and F. Summers and G. Bacon (STScI)
Back in 1990, Hubble was the first to see the event in high resolution, clearly imaging the main ring that blazes around the exploded star. It also discovered the two fainter outer rings, which extend like mirror images in a hourglass-shaped structure. Even today, the origin of these structures is not yet fully understood.
However, by observing the expanding remnant material over the years, Hubble helped to show that the material within this structure was ejected 20 000 years before the actual explosion took place. Its shape at first surprised astronomers, who expected the dying star to eject material in a spherical shape — but faster stellar winds likely caused the slower material to pile up into ring-like structures.
The initial burst of light from the supernova illuminated the rings. They slowly faded over the first decade after the explosion, until the shock wave of the supernova slammed into the inner ring in 2001, heating the gas to searing temperatures and generating strong X-ray emission. Hubble’s observations of this process shed light on how supernovae can affect the dynamics and chemistry of their surrounding environment, and thus shape galactic evolution.
This video starts with a view of the night sky as seen from the ground and zooms in onto the Large Magellanic Cloud, a satellite galaxy of the Milky Way. A further zoom shows the remnants of the supernova explosion 1987A, nestled between red-coloured gas, as they are seen by Hubble. The site of the supernova is surrounded by a ring of material that is illuminated by a wave of energy from the outburst. Two faint outer rings are also visible. All three of these rings existed before the explosion.Credit: NASA, ESA, and G. Bacon (STScI)
1. Monday, Feb. 27, 2017: 2-3:30 pm PST (5-6:30 pm EST, 4-5:30 pm CST): We welcome Brother Guy Consolmagno SJ, Director, Specola, Vaticana, Vatican City State,. Brother Guy will be discussing the role of the Vatican Observatory and space.
2. Tuesday, Feb. 28, 2017: 7-8:30 pm PST, 10-11:30 pm EST, 9-10:30 pm CST: Kim Holder of Moonwards.com returns to the program with updates and new information.