Blog Archives

The Desert Dishes of Apollo Valley

Panorama of the Deep Space Network's Apollo Valley in Goldstone, CA (© Jason Major) CLICK FOR FULL SIZE

Panorama of the Deep Space Network’s Apollo Valley in Goldstone, CA (© Jason Major) CLICK FOR FULL SIZE

Deep in the Mojave desert of central California, scattered among the scrub-covered hills and rugged, rock-strewn fields, are enormous white radar dishes pointed at the sky — NASA’s “ears” for listening to the faint calls coming from its many spacecraft out exploring our solar system. I recently had the opportunity to pay a visit to the Deep Space Network complex in Goldstone (read my full account here) and while there took some photos of one of DSN’s most impressive sites: “Apollo Valley,” the home of DSS-24, -25, and -26, three giant 34-meter high-gain “Beam Waveguide” antennas (the first two of which are seen above) as well as the original Apollo dish that once received messages from Apollo 11 as it made its historic Moon landing.

With the spring desert flowers in bloom and the antennas gleaming white against the blue sky, it was an impressive sight! Click the image above for a full-sized version.

Learn more about Apollo Valley here.

Visiting the Place Where We Talk to Space

On April 2 I had the chance to visit NASA's Deep Space Network as part of a NASA Social (© J. Major)

On April 2 I had the chance to visit NASA’s Deep Space Network as part of a NASA Social (© J. Major)

When you’re talking to spacecraft billions of miles away, you need a powerful voice. And when you’re listening for their faint replies from those same staggering distances, you need an even bigger set of ears. Fortunately, NASA’s Deep Space Network has both — and last week I had the chance to see some of them up close and in person as one of the lucky participants in a NASA Social at JPL and the Deep Space Network! (If you follow me on Twitter you may have seen the live photos I had been sending from the event.) Want to know what happened during those two amazing days? Read the rest of this article here.

Cassini Uncovers Even More Evidence for Enceladus’ Hidden Ocean

A concept of the subsurface structure of Saturn's moon Enceladus (NASA/JPL-Caltech)

A concept of the subsurface structure of Saturn’s moon Enceladus (NASA/JPL-Caltech)

It’s been suspected for nearly a decade that Saturn’s 315-mile-wide moon Enceladus harbors a hidden ocean beneath its frozen crust, thanks to observations by the Cassini spacecraft of icy plumes spraying from its southern pole, and now scientists have even more evidence supporting its existence: Doppler measurements of the moon’s gravity taken during Cassini’s flybys show variations indicative of a subsurface southern sea as deep as the Pacific’s Mariana Trench!

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The Details Are In The Dunes

HiRISE image of frosty Martian dunes acquired on Jan. 24, 2014 (NASA/JPL/University of Arizona)

HiRISE image of frosty Martian dunes acquired on Jan. 24, 2014 (NASA/JPL/University of Arizona)

And what details! This image, acquired by the HiRISE camera aboard NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter on Jan. 24, 2014, shows rippled dunes in Mars’ southern hemisphere, coated with a fall dusting of seasonal carbon dioxide frost. With the Sun just five degrees above the horizon, the surface detail captured by HiRISE is simply exquisite.

Be sure to click the image for a high-resolution version.

The original image resolution is just over 50 cm per pixel, so details about 151 cm (5 feet) wide are resolved. See the full image area here, and view the original post on the University of Arizona’s HiRISE site here.

MRO launched on August 12, 2005, and has been in orbit around Mars since March 2006. It is currently in its second Extended Mission exploring the surface of Mars.

Four Years of SDO

It’s hard to believe it’s already been four years that NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory has kept a watchful eye on our home star, but here we are: 2014, and the four-year anniversary of the Feb. 11 launch has come and gone. Amazing. But what’s even more amazing are all the incredible observations and discoveries SDO has made of the Sun in that relatively short time!

Check out the video above, a compilation from the talented people over at Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, showing some of the best solar sights from SDO over the past four years.

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Watch a Full Year of the Moon (in Five Minutes)

This is pretty neat — it’s a visualization of the Moon’s phases and libration all throughout 2014, 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 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 imaging of the Moon’s surface available!

So you know about the phases, but why is the Moon rocking back and forth like that? That’s the libration effect I mentioned — read more below:
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On the Lunatic Fringe: LADEE’s First Pictures of the Moon

Image of the Moon and stars from NASA's LADEE spacecraft, Feb. 8, 2014 (NASA/Ames)

Image of the Moon and stars from NASA’s LADEE spacecraft, Feb. 8, 2014 (NASA/Ames)

It’s getting so a spacecraft can’t take a decent picture these days without SOMEONE getting in the way! (*Ahem* MOON.) But then it just might be the lunatic we’re looking for…

The image above is one of five that were downlinked by NASA’s Lunar Atmospheric Dust Environment Explorer — aka LADEE (that’s “laddie” à la Mr. Scott, not “lady” à la Jerry Lewis) — and was taken on Feb. 8 with its wide-angle star tracker camera. We see a small portion of the lunar terrain illuminated by reflected light from the Earth from the spacecraft’s position about 156 miles above the Moon, which is about 100 miles lower than the ISS orbits above the Earth.

While not a particularly detailed image of the Moon like something we’d see from LRO, it’s still neat to see it close up and on its night side! The star tracker instrument is mainly a calibration tool for navigation… but that doesn’t mean it’s blind. (Just a wee bit farsighted.)

Read more about this in my Discovery News article.

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