Blog Archives

Watch a Full Year of the Moon in Five Minutes

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:
Read the rest of this entry

Watch This Hauntingly Beautiful Footage From Orion’s Fiery Return to Earth


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.

A look back through Orion's reentry plasma trail (NASA)

A look back through Orion’s reentry plasma trail (NASA)

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.”

Learn more about the Orion spacecraft and mission here.

Video credit: NASA

NASA Wants to Send Humans to Mars, But What About Venus?

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.

Read the rest of this entry

Is Mars Alive? Curiosity Uncovers Organics and Methane in Gale Crater

Mosaic of Curiosity made with its turret-mounted MAHLI imager. (NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS/J. Major)

Mosaic of Curiosity made from images acquired with its turret-mounted MAHLI camera. (NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS/J. Major)

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

Read the rest of this entry

Here’s Your Chance to Name a Crater on Mercury!

Artist’s rendering of MESSENGER in orbit around Mercury. (NASA/JOHNS HOPKINS UNIVERSITY APPLIED PHYSICS LABORATORY/CARNEGIE INSTITUTION OF WASHINGTON)

Artist’s rendering of MESSENGER in orbit around Mercury.
(NASA/JOHNS HOPKINS UNIVERSITY APPLIED PHYSICS LABORATORY/CARNEGIE INSTITUTION OF WASHINGTON)

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!

Read the rest of this article here.

Orion to Soar Into Space This Week for a NASA Social

This Thursday, at 7:05 a.m. EST, the launch window for NASA’s Orion will open and – weather permitting – it will lift off aboard an enormous ULA Delta IV Heavy rocket from Cape Canaveral for its maiden voyage into space. The event will be broadcast live on NASA TV starting at 4:30 a.m., and I’ll also be live on site watching from the causeway at Kennedy Space Center as part of a NASA Social event. As they’re saying on Twitter, #ImOnBoard!

Orion is NASA’s next-generation human spaceflight vehicle, built by Lockheed Martin to allow astronauts to one day travel farther than ever before… beyond low-Earth orbit to the Moon, asteroids, and Mars. Designed to ultimately launch aboard the upcoming Space Launch System of rockets, Orion’s uncrewed EFT-1 launch this week will send it into orbit 3,600 miles above the Earth to test its flight, reentry, and splashdown capabilities.

Follow the launch on Twitter at hashtags #DeltaIV and #EFT1, and follow me on Instagram for some pics from KSC and the launch site too!

Learn more about NASA’s Orion program here.

An Ocean Beyond Earth: Europa Awaits

It’s no secret that Earth’s ocean is filled with life, much of it still a mystery or totally unknown to science. But what about the ocean on other worlds? I’m not talking about sci-fi planets or suspected alien Earths around other stars, either, but right here in our own solar system, where an ocean even deeper than ours lies hidden beneath a global shell of ice.

Scientists believe there is an ocean hidden beneath the surface of Jupiter’s moon Europa. In the video above, NASA-JPL astrobiologist Kevin Hand explains why scientists are so excited about the potential of this ice-covered world to answer one of humanity’s most profound questions: does life exist beyond Earth?

To learn more about Europa, click here, and see the latest enhanced version of a Galileo image of Europa below:

Read the rest of this entry

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 16,767 other followers

%d bloggers like this: