Saturn and Titan Show Off Their Crescents

Cassini image of Saturn and Titan from Aug. 11, 2013 (NASA/JPL-Caltech/SSI)

Cassini image of Saturn and Titan from Aug. 11, 2013 (NASA/JPL-Caltech/SSI)

It may not be in color but that doesn’t make it any less beautiful: this stunning image from Cassini shows Saturn and its largest moon Titan – the second-largest moon in our solar system, after Jupiter’s Ganymede – from their night sides, both showing their crescents against the blackness of space.

Titan’s crescent nearly wraps all the way around its globe, because of the way its thick atmosphere scatters sunlight.

The view was obtained at a distance of approximately 1.1 million miles (1.7 million kilometers) from about 3 degrees above the ringplane. The image was taken in violet wavelengths with Cassini’s wide-angle camera (WAC) on Aug. 11, 2013.

Source: NASA/JPL

NASA’s Turning Up the Heat: Orion’s Upcoming Trial by Fire


On the morning of December 4 2014, at 7:05 a.m. EST, a ULA Delta IV Heavy will thunder into the sky from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station’s Pad 37, its orange-and-white triple-barreled, Boy Scout salute-shaped rocket carrying NASA’s next-generation Orion space vehicle 3,600 miles into space where it will perform a multi-stage orbital test before splashing down in the Pacific. Called Exploration Flight Test 1 (EFT-1 for short) it will be the first high-altitude flight of the Lockheed Martin-built Orion vehicle and the first step in NASA’s current goal of sending humans farther out into the Solar System than ever before.

The EFT-1 reentry will subject Orion to temperatures of over 4000ºF!

The EFT-1 reentry will subject Orion to temperatures of over 4000ºF!

The video above shows what will happen during the four-hour EFT-1 “Trial by Fire,” from liftoff to splashdown.

And while nobody will be on board Orion for this flight, I (and quite a few other space fans!) will be on board for a NASA Social event at the Cape and Kennedy Space Center, where we’ll learn more about Orion, NASA and its commercial crew partners, and ultimately watch the launch from the Causeway viewing site from the incredibly close distance of 2.7 miles! It’ll be loud, it’ll be bright, and it will be the beginning of a new era for NASA. I’m honored to be able to be a part of it!

Want to know more about Orion’s first flight? Check out an infographic below of what will happen on Dec. 4:

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Seven Days Out: ESA’s Historic Landing on a Comet is Just a Week Away

In less than a week, on November 12, 2014, the Philae lander will separate from ESA’s Rosetta spacecraft and descend several kilometers down to the dark, dusty and frozen surface of Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko. Its three spindly legs and rocket-powered harpoon are all that will keep the 100-kilogram spacecraft from crashing or bouncing hopelessly back out into space. It will be the culmination of a decade-long voyage across the inner Solar System, a testament to human ingenuity and inventiveness and a shining example of the incredible things we can achieve through collaboration.

Philae is getting ready for his biggest challenge yet!

Philae is getting ready for his biggest challenge yet!

But first, Philae has to get there… to touch down safely in the chosen site (named Agilkia, after a small island in the Nile) and successfully become, as designed, the first human-made object to soft-land on a comet. How will the little spacecraft pull off such a daring maneuver around a tumbling chunk of icy rubble traveling over 18 kilometers a second? The German Aerospace Center (DLR) has released a video about the event, with a finale worthy of the best sci-fi film. Watch it above, and follow along with the landing on Twitter with the hashtag #CometLanding.

Want a more playful version of Rosetta and Philae’s upcoming adventure? Check out the latest animated video from ESA below:

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Cassini Spots the Sun Shining on Titan’s Sea

Infrared mosaic image showing sunglint off Titan's Kraken Mare. (NASA/JPL-Caltech/University of Arizona/University of Idaho)

Infrared mosaic image showing sunglint off Titan’s Kraken Mare. (NASA/JPL-Caltech/University of Arizona/University of Idaho)

There’s nothing like the beautiful reflection of sunlight off the mirrored surface of a lovely lake… regardless if you’re on Earth or Saturn’s moon Titan! This picture, a mosaic of images acquired by Cassini’s Visual Infrared and Mapping Spectrometer (VIMS) instrument during a flyby on August 21, 2014, shows exactly that: sunglint reflecting off the super-smooth surface of the moon’s largest polar lakes.

(Except unlike on Earth this lake isn’t filled with liquid water but rather liquid methane and ethane!)

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Spaceflight is Still Hard: Antares Explosion Destroys Station Supplies

Explosion of the Antares rocket and Cygnus resupply vehicle on October 28, 2014. Credit: NASA/Joel Kowsky

Explosion of the Antares rocket and Cygnus resupply vehicle on October 28, 2014. Credit: NASA/Joel Kowsky

This past Tuesday, October 28, at 6:22 p.m. EDT, an Orbital Sciences Antares rocket lifted off from the shorefront pad at NASA’s Wallops Space Flight Facility in Virginia, the Cygnus vehicle inside its fairing . The third of eight planned launches in Orbital Sciences’ $1.9-billion NASA contract, the Orb-3 mission was to deliver over 5,000 lbs of cargo to the International Space Station after a beautiful nighttime launch that would be visible to viewers up and down the U.S. East Coast.

Except, as you probably know by now, that’s not at all what happened.

Just six seconds after ignition and liftoff from the pad, a series of explosions ran through the Antares rocket. Ablaze, the 133-foot-tall stack stopped in midair and then fell back onto the pad in a fiery smear, where it and its contents of fuels and cargo detonated in an enormous explosion. It was incredible, it was catastrophic, it was awful.

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This Is The First Photo Ever Taken of Earth From Space

The first photo of Earth from space was taken on Oct. 24, 1946 (Credit: White Sands Missile Range/Applied Physics Laboratory. HT to Smithsonian Air & Space.)

This is the first photo of Earth taken from space. (Credit: White Sands Missile Range/Applied Physics Laboratory. HT to Smithsonian Air & Space.)

These days we get to see photos of our planet taken from space literally every day. Astronauts and cosmonauts living and working aboard the ISS, weather and Earth-observing satellites in various orbits, even distant spacecraft exploring other planets in our Solar System… all have captured images of Earth from near and far. But there was a time not that long ago when there were no pictures of Earth from space, when a view of the planet against the blackness of the cosmos was limited to the imagination of dreamers and artists and there was nothing but the Moon orbiting our world.

On October 24, 1946, — before Apollo, before Mercury, even before Sputnik — that was no longer the case.

The image above shows the first photo captured of Earth from space, taken by a camera mounted to a V-2 rocket that was launched from the White Sands Missile Range in New Mexico. Taken to the United States by the dozen from Germany after the end of World War II, V-2 (for “Vergeltungswaffe 2″) missiles were used by the US Army to improve on their own rocket designs and also by scientists who were permitted to fill their payloads with experiments.

Read the rest of this article and see some cool video footage of the V-2 launch here.

Surprise: it can snow on Venus! (But it’s made of metal.)

Radar observations of Ovda Regio highlands show bright, reflective "frost" on rising slopes but dark "bare" patches at the highest elevations. (NASA image)

Radar observations of Ovda Regio highlands show bright, reflective “frost” on rising slopes but dark “bare” patches at the highest elevations. (NASA Magellan data)

Our neighboring planet Venus is pretty badass. Sulfuric acid-laden clouds, crushing atmospheric pressure, and broiling surface temperatures soaring to nearly 900 degrees Fahrenheit (480 degrees Celsius) make Earth’s “sister” world quite the alien horror show. And now there may be another strange phenomenon to add to Venus’ list of extreme oddities: heavy metal ferroelectric “snow” covering its highest mountain peaks — but, curiously, only up to a certain height.

Read the rest of my article on Discovery News here.

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