Author Archives: JPMajor
This is very cool: it’s a visualization of the Moon’s changing phases and libration throughout the year, made by NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center Visualization Studio. They’ve done these several times in the past and this is the latest one for the upcoming year 2015.
For accuracy you just can’t beat it: the global terrain map you see in the rendering was made with actual images and measurements of the lunar surface obtained by the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter’s LROC camera and laser altimeter. It’s the most detailed video of the Moon’s surface available!
So you know about phases, but why is the Moon rocking back and forth like that? That’s due to the libration I mentioned –read more below:
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On December 5, 2014, at 7:05 a.m. EST, an enormous Delta IV Heavy roared into the sky from Launch Complex 37 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, sending a test version of NASA’s Orion spacecraft on a “flawless” four-and-a-half hour, two-orbit voyage which took it 3,604 miles away from Earth – farther than any spacecraft designed for human occupants has ventured since Apollo 17. (Read my personal account of that historic event here.) Later that same day Orion returned to Earth, reentering the atmosphere and splashing down in the Pacific off the southern tip of Baja California where U.S. Navy ships and recovery divers were waiting. The event was broadcast live as seen by surveillance aircraft, but today NASA has shared HD video captured from the spacecraft itself: a hauntingly beautiful rear-view mirror look at Orion’s “trial by fire” reentry, parachute descent, and splashdown.
It’s ten minutes and fifteen seconds that you will certainly not want to miss. Check it out above.
“The video begins 10 minutes before Orion’s 11:29 a.m. EST splashdown in the Pacific Ocean, just as the spacecraft was beginning to experience Earth’s atmosphere. Peak heating from the friction caused by the atmosphere rubbing against Orion’s heat shield comes less than two minutes later, and the footage shows the plasma created by the interaction change from white to yellow to lavender to magenta as the temperature increases. The video goes on to show the deployment of Orion’s parachutes and the final splash as it touches down.”
Video credit: NASA
NASA, SpaceX, Mars One… all (and others) are actively working on plans to send humans to the surface of Mars at some time within the next few decades. And while the first human exploration of the Red Planet will be a truly momentous and historic event in whatever fashion it ends up being – it will involve the first steps people make on another planet, after all – getting humans safely to the surface of Mars and back will certainly not be a simple task… we still have yet to venture farther than our own Moon, after all.
To help develop the technologies needed and work out the logistics of traveling to Mars, NASA is proposing an Asteroid Redirect Mission (ARM) that would be sort of a “midpoint” in human spaceflight beyond Earth. The exact details of ARM won’t be nailed down until next year, but in essence it will involve getting a small asteroid or a piece thereof into orbit around the Moon, where it can be examined and sampled by astronauts. But while ARM will certainly assist in practicing for advanced deep space missions, some NASA engineers are suggesting that we could do better, actually putting humans if not on at least above another planet with airships soaring the skies of Venus.
While it’s not quite the “smoking gun” for evidence of life on Mars, the recent announcement of a detection of spiking methane levels by NASA’s Curiosity rover has certainly caught everyone’s attention – especially since the activity of microbes is one possible source for the presence of the compound, which has already been detected by spacecraft in orbit around Mars.
“This temporary increase in methane – sharply up and then back down – tells us there must be some relatively localized source,” said Sushil Atreya of the University of Michigan, a member of the Curiosity rover science team. “There are many possible sources, biological or non-biological, such as interaction of water and rock.”
Still, biological in origin or not, these findings are yet another milestone for the MSL mission.
“We have had a major discovery. We have found organics on Mars.”
– John Grotzinger, Curiosity lead scientist
On March 18, 2011, MESSENGER became the first human-made spacecraft to enter orbit around Mercury. Now almost four years, eight billion miles, and over 260,000 images later, MESSENGER is nearing the end of its operational life.
To commemorate the many achievements of the mission, scientists from NASA and the MESSENGER teams at the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory and the Carnegie Institution for Science are giving people around the world the opportunity to name five craters on Mercury — names which, once selected, will become official through the IAU!
Launched in 2005, the European Space Agency’s Venus Express successfully entered orbit around our cloud-shrouded neighboring world. Now, after more than eight and a half years of scientific observations Venus Express has run out of fuel and will soon go gentle into that good night – that is if by “going gentle” you mean death-diving into the corrosive, sulfuric acid-laden atmosphere of an intensely overheated planet.
“While we are sad that this mission is ended, we are nevertheless happy to reflect on the great success of Venus Express as part of ESA’s planetary science program and are confident that its data will remain important legacy for quite some time to come.”
— Martin Kessler, Head of ESA Science Operations
Many of the images we’ve been seeing of the craggy surface of comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko, as incredible as they are, are still monochrome. Now Rosetta’s OSIRIS team has released a true-color image of the comet taken with it high-res science imaging instrument… but even then it’s still pretty much grey.