Daniel R, Junior


Astronaut’s Making Final Preparation For EVA


Rick Mastracchio (foreground) checks U.S. spacesuits inside the Quest airlock.
Image Credit:NASA

NASA astronauts Rick Mastracchio and Mike Hopkins and Japanese astronaut Koichi Wakata gathered together Thursday to review spacewalk procedures. Mastracchio and Hopkins will exit the station to replace a faulty pump module over a series of spacewalks. Wakata will operate the station’s robotic arm to maneuver the spacewalkers at the worksite.

The first spacewalk is scheduled for Saturday at 8:10 p.m. MYT when the spacewalkers will set up the worksite on the S1 truss. Monday’s spacewalk will include the removal of the old pump module and the installation of a spare pump module. If necessary a third spacewalk would occur on Christmas day to finalize the installation of the new pump module.

NASA Television will begin coverage of the spacewalks an hour before their 8:10 p.m. scheduled start times. The spacewalks are scheduled to last about six hours and 30 minutes. Shortly after the spacewalks conclude, mission controllers will participate in a briefing at Johnson Space Center to discuss the day’s activities.

A briefing was held Wednesday with International Space Station program manager Mike Suffredini, Flight Director Dina Contella and Lead Spacewalk Officer Allison Bolinger. The mission managers discussed how a faulty pump module forced the launch delay of the Cygnus resupply craft and led to the planning for the contingency spacewalks.

The astronauts are also preparing for the possibility of ammonia leaks during their spacewalk. The pump modules are filled with ammonia for cooling and leaks have occurred while disconnecting cables during previous repair spacewalks. If ammonia flakes get on a crew member’s suit, the spacewalkers would go through a series of decontamination steps before re-entering the space station.

In the Russian side of the space station, Commander Oleg Kotov and Sergey Ryazanskiy are preparing for a Dec. 27 pre-planned spacewalk. The cosmonauts with assistance from Flight Engineer Mikhail Tyurin resized their Orlan spacesuits, checked batteries and reviewed their translation paths to the external worksites.

The duo will install a foot restraint; install medium and high resolution cameras; jettison gear from a pair of external experiments; and install a new experiment as well as a payload boom on the Zvezda service module.

Kotov and Ryazanskiy also participated in a study that monitored their cardiovascular system. Tyurin later worked on the Russian radiation detection experiment Matryeshka that observes radiation absorption in a mannequin.




NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter Watching Yutu’s Lunar Lander From Orbit


China’s moon rover Yutu (“Jade Rabbit”) rolls down a ramp on the Chang’e 3 lander after touching down on the moon’s Bay of Rainbows on Dec. 14, 2013.
Credit: CNTV

A sharp-eyed NASA spacecraft is keeping tabs on China’s recently arrived lunar lander, all in the name of science.

NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter, or LRO, has added China’s Chang’e 3 lander and associated rover — which touched down on the moon on Saturday (Dec. 14) — to its list of observation targets.

“Repeated imaging of the landing site by LROC [the LRO Camera] will allow for detailed measurements of changes to the surface caused by the landing and movement of the Chang’e 3 rover,” NASA officials wrote in a statement on Friday (Dec. 13).


“LROC can image the surface to identify changes caused by Chang’e 3’s descent engine, similar to what has been observed from previous lunar landers,” they added. “The resulting atmospheric and surface changes will provide LRO with a new scientific opportunity to observe the transport of gases on the moon and the effects of local disturbances on the lunar regolith.”

Three other NASA moon probes also were slated to observe the Dec. 14 landing for scientific purposes. The agency’s Lunar Atmosphere and Dust Environment Explorer (LADEE), for example, kept an eye out for changes to the wispy lunar atmosphere caused by Chang’e 3’s touchdown, officials said.

And the two spacecraft making up NASA’s ARTEMIS mission (short for Acceleration, Reconnection, Turbulence and Electrodynamics of Moon’s Interaction with the Sun) did their part as well.

“The first ARTEMIS spacecraft (P1) will pass within 124 miles (200 km) of the lunar surface on December 14,” NASA officials wrote in the Dec. 13 statement. “According to current plans, the spacecraft will look for any plume signatures in the plasma or magnetic field associated with Chang’e 3’s landing. The second spacecraft (P2) will observe pristine solar wind plasma and magnetic field conditions. This information is needed to determine how dust is lofted from the lunar surface.”

The Chang’e 3 success marked China’s first-ever landing on the moon, and the first soft touchdown on the lunar surface since the former Soviet Union’s Luna 24 mission in 1976. NASA’s last soft lunar landing came in 1972, on the Apollo 17 mission.

The Chang’e 3 mission carries a lander and a rover called Yutu, whose name means “Jade Rabbit.” (Yutu is a pet of the goddess Chang’e and travels with her to the moon in Chinese legends.) Both robots will conduct science observations on the lunar surface.

The $504 million LRO spacecraft launched in June 2009. It’s about the size of a Mini Cooper car and carries seven different science instruments, which it uses to observe the moon from an altitude of 31 miles (50 km).

Station’s EVA Causes Orbital Science’s Cygnus Launch Scrubbed

NASA managers are postponing the upcoming Orbital Sciences commercial cargo resupply mission to the International Space Station to proceed with a series of spacewalks to replace a faulty pump module on the space station.


Astronaut Rick Mastracchio posted this image of a spacesuit inside the Quest airlock Tuesday via his Twitter account, @AstroRM.
Image Credit: NASA

NASA Television will air a news briefing at 4 a.m. MYT (GMT+8) on Wednesday, Dec. 19 to preview the spacewalks.

Orbital Sciences’ Cygnus spacecraft, atop its Antares rocket, now will launch no earlier than mid-January. The postponement of the Antares launch will allow ample time for the station crew to focus on repairing a faulty pump module that stopped working properly on Dec. 11.

NASA currently plans for two Expedition 38 astronauts to venture outside the space station Dec. 21, 23 and 25. NASA astronauts Rick Mastracchio and Mike Hopkins will remove a pump module that has a failed valve. They will replace it with an existing spare that is stored on an external stowage platform. The pump is associated with one of the station’s two external cooling loops, which circulate ammonia outside the station to keep both internal and external equipment cool. Each of the three spacewalks will begin at 8:10 p.m. and is scheduled to last six and a half hours. NASA TV coverage will begin at 7:15 p.m.


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NASA Works Towards Dec. 19 Cygnus Launch; Possible Repair Space Walks


Flight Engineer Doug Wheelock worked outside the International Space Station in August 2010 to install a spare pump module.

NASA engineers continued efforts Sunday to regulate temperatures in one of two cooling loops on the International Space Station affected by the malfunction last week of a flow control valve in a cooling pump on the station’s starboard truss. A Flow Control Valve in the starboard Pump Module that enables the flow of ammonia to cool station systems stopped positioning itself properly last Wednesday, resulting in a drop of temperature in Cooling Loop A. That necessitated the shutdown of some support systems on the station. The temperature must be warm enough in the cooling lines to allow the system’s heat exchangers to dissipate excess heat from the station through the external radiators on the complex. The primary heat rejection capability for station systems shifted last week to Cooling Loop B that uses a fully operational Pump Module on the port truss.

Efforts overnight to fine-tune the position of an isolation valve associated with the flow control system in the Pump Module into a “sweet spot” to assist the faulty Flow Control Valve in regulating the affected cooling loop’s temperatures were still being evaluated as engineers continue to review the data, valve positioning techniques and additional methods of temperature management in the loop.

Meanwhile, parallel work is ongoing to either enable Orbital Sciences Corp. to launch its Antares rocket and the Cygnus cargo craft from the Wallops Flight Facility, Va. Thursday night at 9:19 p.m. EST on its first resupply mission to the space station, or for Expedition 38 astronauts Rick Mastracchio and Michael Hopkins to mount a suite of spacewalks beginning Thursday to replace the faulty pump.

The International Space Station Program continues to keep both options on the table pending further engineering analysis and troubleshooting efforts on the station’s cooling system.

While the engineering work on the station’s cooling loop continued, technicians at Wallops prepared to load time-critical science cargo in the Cygnus spacecraft Sunday afternoon to preserve several days of launch opportunities beginning Thursday night. The current schedule calls for the vehicle fairing to be installed on the Antares upper stage around Cygnus on Monday. The Antares rocket and attached Cygnus are scheduled to rollout to the launch pad at Wallops in the wee hours Tuesday.

Meanwhile, aboard the space station, Mastracchio and Hopkins continued to prepare their spacesuits and other equipment in the Quest airlock Sunday should they be called upon to conduct spacewalks to replace the Pump Module.

The Jade Rabbit Lands on the Moon

lunar probe Chang'e-3 on the screen of the  Beijing Aerospace Control Center in Beijing, capital of China. China's lunar probe  Chang'e-3 has started soft-landing on the moon as it began decelerating from 15 km above the lunar surface. (Xinhua/Li Xin)

lunar probe Chang’e-3 on the screen of the
Beijing Aerospace Control Center in Beijing, capital of China. China’s lunar probe
Chang’e-3 has started soft-landing on the moon as it began decelerating from 15 km
above the lunar surface. (Xinhua/Li Xin)

China’s first lunar rover landed on the surface of the moon on Saturday, less than two weeks after it lifted off from the Earth, Chinese state news reported.

The landing makes China one of only nations after the United States of America and the former Soviet Union to “soft-land” on the moon’s surface, and the first to do so in more than three dacades.

Chang’e 3, an unmanned spacecraft, will release Jade Rabbit (called Yutu in Chinese) a six- wheeled lunar rover equipped with at least four cameras and two mechanical legs that can dig up soil samples to a depth of 30 meters.

The solar-powered rover will patrol the moon’s surface, studying the structure of the lunar crust as well as soil and rocks, for at least three months. The robot’s name was decided by a public online poll and comes from a Chinese myth about the pet white rabbit of a goddess, Chang’e, who is said to live on the moon.

Weighing about 140 kilograms, the slow-moving rover carries an optical telescope for astronomical observations and a powerful ultraviolet camera that will monitor how solar activity affects the various layers of troposphere, stratosphere and ionosphere that make up the Earth’s atmosphere, China’s information technology ministry said in a statement.

The Jade Rabbit is also equipped with radioisotope heater units, allowing it to function during the cold lunar nights when temperatures plunge as low as -180*c (-292*F).

China’s space program

China has rapidly built up its space program since it first sent an astronaut into space in 2003. In 2012, the country conducted 18 space launches, according to the Pentagon.

The Chang’e-3 mission constitutes the second phase of China’s moon exploration program, which includes orbiting, landing and returning back to Earth.

In 2010, China captured images of the landing site for the 2013 probe, the Bay of Rainbows, which is considered to be one of the most picturesque parts of the moon.

Within the next decades, China expected to open a permanent space station in the Earth’s orbit.

But scientists in the United States have expressed concern that the Chang’e-3 mission could skew the results of NASA study of the moon’s dust environment.

The spacecraft’s decent is likely to create a noticeable plume on the moon’s surface that could interfere with research already being carried out by NASA’s Lunar Atmosphere and Dust Environmen Explorer (LADEE), Jeff Plescia, chair of NASA’s Lunar Exploration Analysis Group told news site Space.com in November.

The Chang’e-3 spacecraft blasted off from a Long March 3B rocket in China’s Sichuan province on December 2 and reached the moon’s orbit at 100 kilometers (about 60 miles) from its surface less than five days later.

On Tuesday, it descended into an elliptical orbit with its lowest point just 15 kilometers off lunar surface, a spokesperson for China’s Administration of Science, Technology and Industry for National Defense told Xinhua.

The Soviot Union’s Luna 24 probe was the last space mission to land on the moon in August 1976 four years after the United States launched the manned Apollo 17 mission.

China’s 1st Moon Rover Mission to Attempt Lunar Landing: Here’s What It Could Do


The lunar orbit of China’s Chang’e 3 moon lander carrying the Yutu rover is shown in this graphic released by the China Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation. Chang’e 3 will land on the moon on Dec. 14, 2013.
Credit: China Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation

China’s first moon rover mission is poised for a weekend landing on the lunar surface, an event that — if successful — will mark the country’s first robotic landing on another celestial body.

China’s Chang’e 3 lunar lander is currently orbiting the moon with its solar panels and landing legs deployed. If all goes well, the lander — which is carrying China’s first robotic rover — for a planned soft-landing on Saturday, Dec. 14, Beijing Time at Sinus Iridum, also known the Bay of Rainbows.

Once on the moon, the lander will unleash the instrument-laden Yutu rover, a six-wheeled robot built to trundle across the dusty, time-weathered terrain for months. Yutu — which means “Jade Rabbit” — is named after the rabbit that travels with the goddess Chang’e to the moon in Chinese legends.

The solar-powered Yutu rover comes equipped with cameras, a robotic arm tipped with science sensors and a radar system attached to its underbelly. The stationary lander itself is instrumented to observe Earth, astronomically eye other celestial objects from the moon, as well as watch the Yutu rover scamper about.

VIDEO: China Moon Probe Off and Flying

More than meets the eye

The surface of the moon has not been visited for decades.

Apollo 17 moonwalkers packed up their belongings and rocketed off that barren landscape in 1972. Last to explore the moon was the former Soviet Union’s robotic Luna 24 sample return mission in 1976.

If successful, the Chang’e 3 mission will mark the first time a Chinese spacecraft has touched down on the surface of an extraterrestrial body.

“I think a successful landing and rover operations will be of enormous significance for lunar exploration,” said Ian Crawford of the Department of Earth and Planetary Sciences at Birkbeck College, University of London.

“Just being the first controlled soft-landing on the lunar surface for 37 years would be significant enough, but a successful deployment of only the third robotic rover, and the first equipped with modern instruments, will be remarkable,” Crawford told SPACE.com.

And apparently there is more to this mission than meets the eye — given what’s known about the Chang’e 3’s payload for prospecting.


The Chang’e 3 lunar lander and moon rover is part of the second phase of China’s three-step robotic lunar exploration program.
Credit: Beijing Institute of Spacecraft System Engineering

China’s moon science

Crawford said Yutu’s ground-penetrating radar, or GPR for short, is one of the most “significant instruments” on the rover. For one, that hardware may reveal the scale of bedding of individual basaltic flows in Sinus Iridum. That data may help identify ancient regoliths, or “paleoregoliths,” he said.

“I have long been interested in the very rich scientific records, which may be trapped in palaeoregoliths sandwiched between lava flows,” Crawford said, and Sinus Iridum would be an excellent location to test the concept.

There are indications, Crawford said, such layers were detected by the orbital radar carried by Japan’s Kaguya moon probe. It was launched in 2007, orbited the moon for a year and eight months, and was purposely impacted on the lunar surface in June 2009.

If palaeoregolith layers exist within the uppermost 330 feet (100 meters) or so of the moon’s topside, then the Chang’e 3 mission should detect them, Crawford said. While China’s radar-toting spacecraft won’t have any means to access such buried layers, “I think the validation of GPR as a means for detecting them, and confirmation of their existence, would be a major contribution to future exploration plans,” he said.

Mining potential

Chinese space officials have been clear about surveying the moon and then tapping it for its resources.

“China has made no secret of their interest in lunar Helium-3 fusion resources,” said Harrison “Jack” Schmitt, a former Apollo 17 moonwalker and professional geologist. He is author of the book, “Return to the Moon — Exploration, Enterprise, and Energy in the Human Settlement of Space.”

Rare on Earth, Helium-3, rooted in the moon’s upper surface by billions of years of solar wind blasting, could be mined to energize fusion reactors. That initiative has long been advocated by Schmitt.

Yutu’s belly-mounted radar could give the depth of minable regolith and also identify boulders in that regolith large enough to cause mining problems, Schmitt told SPACE.com. “In fact, I would assume that this mission is both a geopolitical statement and a test of some hardware and software related to mining and processing of the lunar regolith.”

Schmitt said that NASA’s now on-duty Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO) has radar aboard that has obtained some very useful data. For example, it identified a buried, second fault that crosses the valley of Taurus-Littrow, the site that Eugene Cernan and Schmitt inspected on the Apollo 17 mission in December 1972.

Furthermore, Apollo 17‘s Command Module pilot, Ronald Evans, operated a radar “sounder” from the Command Service Module in lunar orbit. “I understand that people are still actively trying to process that data,” Schmitt said.

Low-hanging fruit

“Chang’e 3 will invariably break new ground by investigating a new site on the moon, partly with new instrumentation, about which we know very little, by the way. So scientifically, it will advance knowledge,” said Paul Spudis, a planetary geology and remote sensing expert at the Lunar and Planetary Institute in Houston.

“But its real significance is the development of a lunar surface capable flight system,” Spudis said. His question: Why build a lander that can carry nearly 3,750 pounds (1,700 kilograms) to deliver a rover that Chinese media reports as weighing 310 pounds (140 kilograms)?

“Clearly, they have other payloads in the queue, waiting to be sent there. Just what, we shall have to wait and see,” Spudis said.

While Apollo 17’s Schmitt is a supporter for moon-derived Helium-3, Spudis said “the real, low-hanging fruit” on the moon is the water and permanent sunlight at the poles, useful materials and continuous energy.

“Both enable long-term presence on the moon. I’m not sure that the Chinese see it quite that way yet, but they will eventually,” Spudis said.


This image shows the view inside China’s mission control center in Beijing for the Chang’e 3 moon lander and rover mission in December 2013.
Credit: China Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation

Geophysical exploration

Pascal Lee, a planetary scientist and chairman of the Mars Institute at the NASA Ames Research Center, Moffett Field, Calif., had done noteworthy work with ground-penetrating radar.

GPR can indeed be considered an In-situ Resource Utilization (ISRU) instrument, Lee said, in that GPRs are commonly used on Earth in geophysical exploration. They are used, he told SPACE.com, as the initial phase of subsurface reconnaissance that precedes any actual exploitation — or utilization — of resources.

“GPR is a profiling instrument, so it is expected to be operating while the rover is roving, as opposed to when it’s stopped at any particular location,” Lee said.

Lunar radar returns

GPR usually has a dipole antenna setup, so one antenna transmits a radar signal into the ground, while the other antenna receives the echoed signal, Lee said. Radar returns are triggered by discontinuities in the physical properties underground, for instance when more or less electrically conducting materials are encountered by the incoming radar signal, he said.

“The time of return of various echoed signals tells you how deep things are. The shape and polarization of the returning signal tells you what types of materials are encountered,” Lee said. “If different sounding frequencies are available on the GPR, which seems to be the case on the Chinese rover, the higher frequencies are used for probing to shallow depths while the lower frequencies, longer wavelength, are used to probe to greater depths,” he said.

Usually, GPR does not do well in the presence of liquid water in the ground, Lee said. “In the case of the moon, we are in GPR heaven, and the subsurface is expected to be bone dry when it comes to any liquid water.”

Excavation plans

Lee said that the GPR on Yutu is expected to be a subsurface structural profiler. If that’s the case, at higher frequencies, it will provide profiles of subsurface material transitions down to a depth of about 100 feet (30 meters).

“It should, therefore, be able to tell us where the lunar regolith transitions to more compact underlying materials. At lower frequencies, it will generate profiles of the deeper subsurface structure of the moon, down to hundreds of meters, provided the rover can rove over distances of order hundreds of meters or more,” Lee said.

From an ISRU perspective, it’s mostly the high-frequency soundings, down to a depth of 30 meters or so that will be most informative, as they will tell you how deep the lunar rubble layer is, “an important piece of information if one has future excavation plans,” Lee said. The deep sounding of the lunar subsurface, he said, down to hundreds of meters is more of value in an academic and possible geologic context, he said.

First order data

The Chang’e rover’s GPR is thought to have a penetration depth of 100 feet to nearly 330 feet (30 meters to 100 meters). It apparently can operate in two wavelengths, giving it very high resolution at shallow depths to penetrate through the regolith and into the mare basalts. The other GPR wavelength can penetrate through the regolith and into the mare basalts.

Once operating on the moon, the GPR should provide some first order data, said Jeff Plescia, a space scientist at Johns Hopkins University’s Applied Physics Laboratory in Laurel, Md.

Plescia also chairs NASA’s Lunar Exploration Analysis Group (LEAG), chartered to assist the space agency in planning the scientific exploration of the moon.

The subsurface distribution of boulders on the moon is unknown, Plescia told SPACE.com. The late astrogeologist, Gene Shoemaker, argued years ago that the subsurface distribution should resemble the surface distribution, Plescia said.

“But there is no data. The trenches that were dug during the [Apollo] missions did not go very deep and there were only one or two instances where they thought they hit a rock either in drilling or with a cone penetrometer…which might suggest rocks are rare,” Plescia said.

ImageRadar equipment onboard NASA’s LRO does get some penetration, as does Earth-based Goldstone and Arecibo radar dishes, Plescia said. “But given the spatial resolution it would be more statistical than actually mapping boulders as Chang’e 3 could do,” he said.



Chris Hadfield Became Discovery News “Person Of The Year”


On March 3, Hadfield oversaw the successful berthing of the robotic SpaceX Dragon resupply vehicle, using the space station’s Canadarm2 robotic arm to grab onto the second commercial delivery to the orbiting outpost. Coincidentally, Hadfield first rose to fame when, in 2001, he became the first Canadian to carry out a spacewalk, helping to install that same Canadarm2.

Colonel Chris Hadfield is a man of firsts. He was the first Canadian to carry out a spacewalk, the first Canadian to command the International Space Station and the first person in history to record a produced music video in space. Because of his unique ability to captivate the world, bringing a focus on space station science and what it’s like to live in space, Discovery News is proud to announce that Hadfield has been selected as the first Discovery News Person of the Year!

VIDEO: DNEWS Favorite Chris Hadfield Moments

Few would question Hadfield’s popularity. He was already known by millions as an astronaut who loves to share his experiences in orbit. He undoubtedly cemented his cosmic fame when he released the first authentic space music video a cover of David Bowie’s “Space Oddity” in May 2013 during the final days of his tenure as space station commander.

VIDEO: Chris Hadfield cover of David Bowie’s “Space Oddity”

After returning to Earth on May 13 and retiring from his astronaut career of 21 years, the 54 year-old Ontario native moved back to Canada to begin a new chapter of his life. Inundated by requests for speaking engagements, book tours and even a new job as adjunct professor at the University of Waterloo, could Hadfield’s retirement actually be busier than when he was an astronaut?

“People say that, and it makes me laugh!” Hadfield told me over the phone. “People have no idea how busy and demanding the life of an astronaut is.”

After more than two decades working as an astronaut (and a Royal Canadian Air Force pilot before that), Hadfield gave me a small taste of the duties that were expected of him as a Canadian space man, culminating in an epic five month adventure on the orbiting outpost. Between the endless study, preparation, working with other astronauts and various leadership roles, very little time was left.

But the world is most familiar with Hadfield’s ability to share his experiences using all the tools at his disposal, most notably throughhis Twitter account @Cmdr_Hadfield. He became so effective at communicating with the world during Expedition 35 that the public had a very warped view on how much time he spent on Twitter.

“I think people get a kind of misperception about the amount of time that I was putting into social media,” he said. “It’s so simple to send a tweet. I’m taking photos regardless, all astronauts do, and I think I took 45,000 photographs in the five months on the space station. Once you get in the Cupola, who wouldn’t!”

The Cupola, a European-built module of the ISS where astronauts have an uninterrupted view of the Earth, was often used by Hadfield for some terrestrial photography, as well as a location to contemplate the orbital experience.

“To a large degree, that is what had the biggest impact — just a couple of minutes every day in amongst the 24 hours that I worked, most of them,” Hadfield continued. “So it was by no means the focus of what I did; the space station is a big, complex scientific laboratory and a complex structure that took a lot of work, but I’d try to send pictures of it on a daily basis and not just keep (the experience) to myself.”

Hadfield attributes his ability to connect with the world through social media as being behind his promotion to a household name.

ANALYSIS: What Happens When You Wring a Washcloth in Orbit?

“It’s enabled completely by technology. The beauty of social media is in the first word: it’s social,” he said. “This is a huge difference (from traditional media). Instead of telling people what we are doing on the space station, you can invite them on board to sharewhat we are doing on the space station.”

Commending NASA and the Canadian Space Agency, Hadfield pointed out that very little of the outreach he did would have been possible if it weren’t for the space agencies’ foresight to enable the technology on the ISS.

Though certainly not the first to showcase experiments on the space station, Hadfield — with his unique “bent” on teaching — became very well known for some key demonstrations he videoed, to the delight of his growing fan base. From what happens when you cry in space, to the physics of water surface tension when you wring a wet tea towel in microgravity, every video became a Youtube sensation.

“It’s something that I was resolved to do since I was nine — if I get to (go into space), I want to share it and show folks what it’s really like,” Hadfield explained. “I tried to do it on the previous two flights, but I was limited by the technologies that existed.”

Hadfield’s previous spaceflight missions included STS-74, a shuttle Atlantis mission to the Russian Mir space station in November 1995, and STS-100, an Endeavour mission to the International Space Station to install the Canadarm2 robotic arm in April 2001. It was during the latter mission that he became the first Canadian to complete a spacewalk.

Then, on Dec. 19, 2012, he launched in the Russian Soyuz TMA-07M spacecraft to begin his long-duration stay as a part of Expedition 35 with NASA astronaut Thomas Marshburn and cosmonaut Roman Romanenko. When he took command (after the Expedition 34 crew departed the station in March 2013), it was only the second time that neither a NASA astronaut nor Russian cosmonaut was in command of the ISS.

During his stay on the space station, Hadfield was responsible for the lives of five other crewmembers and helped to run dozens of scientific experiments; he also oversaw the berthing of the second SpaceX commercial cargo run.

PHOTOS: Astronaut Guide: How to Train Your Dragon

Through his expert social media skills, he quickly amassed a huge number of followers. So, ending his mission on a high note, the talented astro-musician combined his passion for space with his passion for music and starred in the first professionally-crafted music video shot in space.

Taking on the roles of “Ground Control” and “Major Tom,” Hadfield sung the David Bowie classic “Space Oddity,” a video that will be forever cemented in spaceflight history. But why did he choose to do it?

“I was just trying to be a good dad!” Hadfield said with a laugh. “I mean really, at the start, my son was insistent. He was like ‘Dad, you have to do this, everyone wants you to do it!’ It was one of those ‘Right, OK, I’ll try to squeeze it in’ projects.”

Working with friends and fellow Canadians Emm Gryner, an award-winning musician, and Joe Corcoran, a music producer based in LA, Hadfield crafted the vocals. Then his son Evan urged him to record the now-famous music video.

“’Space Oddity’ really (came about) because my son was insistent … and he was right. The worldwide response was phenomenal and continues to be.”

By this point, Hadfield had reached a million followers on Twitter and had garnered a huge following on Reddit, Tumblr and Facebook (to name just a few social networks), but being in space meant that he wasn’t fully aware of how his popularity on the ground had skyrocketed.

“I wasn’t all that aware … Once in a while I’d get a tweet from William Shatner or from another celebrity and that was kind of delightful,” he said. “It was like ‘Hey, other people are paying attention to what we are doing!’ but I think that that is the slice that people see, they thought that was the priority of what I was doing.”

ANALYSIS: Space Station Astronaut Calls for Syria Peace

Despite the huge social media following Hadfield still enjoys, it is still the tangible, everyday experiences that he holds most dear.

“The scope of the response is wonderful. It’s been really delightful for me. Everywhere that I go I am stopped by people that I’ve never met telling me that they’re proud of me. I don’t know of a bigger complement or privilege – no matter what awards you win or what people say for numbers, a parade of strangers stopping me to say how proud they are is a delightful position to be in.”

To find out more about Chris Hadfield’s odyssey in space, his massively popular book “An Astronaut’s Guide to Life on Earth: What Going to Space Taught Me About Ingenuity, Determination, and Being Prepared for Anything” is now available.

Moon May Outshine Geminid Meteor Shower Peak This Week

This chart shows the radiant point for the Geminid meteor shower. Credit: SkyandTelescope.com

This chart shows the radiant point for the Geminid meteor shower.
Credit: SkyandTelescope.com

This week marks the peak of what is usually considered the most satisfying of all annual meteor displays: the Geminid meteor shower.

As was the case with last month’sLeonid meteor shower, however, prospective skywatchers should be aware that once again, observers will face a major obstacle in their attempt to see this year’s Geminid performance, namely, the moon.

Learn why famous meteor showers like the Perseids and Leonids occur every year. Credit: Karl Tate, SPACE.com contributor

Learn why famous meteor showers like the Perseids and Leonids occur every year. Credit: Karl Tate, SPACE.com contributor

Unfortunately, as luck would have it, the moon will turn full on Dec. 17, and as such, will seriously hamper viewing the peak of the Geminids, predicted to occur in the overnight hours of Dec. 13 to 14.  Bright moonlight will flood the sky through much of that night, playing havoc with any serious attempts to observe the usually spectacular meteor shower.


The Geminids are already around, having been active only in a very weak and scattered form since about Dec. 7.  Geminid activity is expected to be on an upswing in the nights to come, leading up to their peak on Friday night (Dec. 13).

Historically, this shower has a reputation for being rich both in slow, bright, meteors as well as rather faint meteors, with relatively few of medium brightness. Many Geminid meteor shower streaks appear yellowish in hue. Every once in a while, a Geminid fireball will blaze forth, bright enough to be quite spectacular and more than capable of attracting attention even in bright moonlight.

“If you have not yet seen a mighty Geminid fireball arcing gracefully across an expanse of sky, then you have not seen a meteor,” astronomers David Levy and Stephen Edberg wrote in their book, “Observe Meteors,” published by the Astronomical League.

Dark sky opportunities

The best times to look for streaking Geminids this year will be during the predawn hours several mornings before the night of full moon when theconstellation Gemini will be standing high in the northwest sky.

In fact, three “windows” of dark skies will be available between moonset and the first light of dawn on the mornings of Dec. 13, 14 and 15.  Generally speaking, there will be about two hours of completely dark skies available on the morning of Dec. 13. This window shrinks to only about an hour on the 14th, and to less than 10 minutes by the morning of the 15th.

The Geminids have a tendency to rise slowly toward their maximum.  The day before they peak, the majority of the meteors that are seen are usually rather faint.  But at the peak as well as the day after, the shower is dominated by a preponderance of bright meteors.  And the intensity of the display drops off rather sharply the day after the peak.

So during the two-hour period of dark skies on the morning of Friday, the 13th, if you’re at a location free from light pollution and with a wide-open view of the sky, you should expect to see an average of 30 to 60 Geminids per hour, though many will probably be rather faint.

The shower peaks on Saturday morning but there is only about one hour of darkness before moonset and the first light of dawn. Nonetheless, during that hour, you might be treated to the best meteor performance of the year with possibly 60 to 120 Geminid sightings, many of them bright and perhaps a few outstandingly bright fireballs thrown in for good measure.

By Sunday morning, the peak of the shower will have passed and the activity will be rapidly declining; average rates of 15 to 30 bright meteors per hour are possible, but unfortunately observers will have a very limited amount of time — mere minutes — of darkness between the setting of a practically full moon and the dawn’s early light.


All times in this chart are a.m. and are local standard times for US states. “MS” is the time of moonset. “Dawn” is the time when morning (astronomical) twilight begins. “Win” is the available window of dark sky composed of the number of minutes between the time of moonset and the start of twilight.
Credit: Joe Rao/SPACE.com

Preparing for a meteor watch

No two observers prepare for a meteor vigil the same way. It helps to have had a late afternoon nap, a shower, and to wear all fresh clothing.

Be sure to keep this in mind: at this time of year, meteor watching can be a long, cold business. Expect the ambient air temperature to be far below what your local radio or TV weathercaster predicts.  When you sit quite still, close to the rapidly cooling ground, you can become very chilled. Therefore, make sure you’re warm and comfortable. Heavy blankets, sleeping bags, ground cloths, auto cushions, and pillows are essential equipment.

Warm cocoa, tea or coffee can take the edge off the chill, as well as provide a slight stimulus. It’s even better if you can observe with friends. That way, you can keep each other awake, as well as cover more sky.

Give your eyes time to dark-adapt before starting. Probably the best bet is to rest on a lawn lounge, all the way back, so you can look up and see the whole sky.  When you see a streak, mentally run it backwards across the sky.  Do the same with the second and third and note where their paths cross.  Right there will be the bright star Castor in Gemini (with the brilliant planet Jupiter also shining not too far to the south), and that’s the region of the sky where the Geminids will appear to fan out from.


Corpse of a comet?

A final point to note are that Geminids stand apart from the other meteor showers in that they seem to have been spawned not by a comet, but by 3200 Phaeton, an Earth-crossing asteroid.

Then again, the Geminids may be comet debris after all, for some astronomers consider Phaeton to really be the dead nucleus of a burned-out comet that somehow got trapped into an unusually tight orbit.


Editor’s note:

If you have an amazing night sky photo of the Geminids or any other view you’d like to share for a possible story or image gallery, please contact managing editor Daniel R, Junior at spacephoto.danielrjunior@gmail.com.


Ancient Mars Lake Could Have Supported Life, Curiosity Rover Shows


Mastcam mosaic of the Yellowknife Bay formation. This is a view from the base of an exposed section up through Sheepbed, Gillespie Lake, and basal Glenelg members. Locations of drill holes and Alpha Particle X-Ray Spectrometer (A PXS) measurements are shown. Image released Dec. 9, 2013.
Credit: Science/AAAS

NASA’s Curiosity rover has found evidence of an ancient Martian lake that could have supported life as we know it for long stretches — perhaps millions of years.

This long and skinny freshwater lake likely existed about 3.7 billion years ago, researchers said, suggesting that habitable environments were present on Mars more recently than previously thought.

“Quite honestly, it just looks very Earth-like,” said Curiosity lead scientist John Grotzinger, of the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena, Calif.

“You’ve got an alluvial fan, which is being fed by streams that originate in mountains, that accumulates a body of water,” Grotzinger told SPACE.com. “That probably was not unlike what happened during the last glacial maximum in the Western U.S.”


Habitable Mars

The lake once covered a small portion of the 96-mile-wide (154 kilometers) Gale Crater, which the 1-ton Curiosity rover has been exploring since touching down on the Red Planet in August 2012.

The main task of Curiosity’s $2.5 billion mission is to determine whether Gale Crater could ever have supported microbial life. The rover team achieved that goal months ago, announcing in March that a spot near Curiosity’s landing site called Yellowknife Bay was indeed habitable billions of years ago.

The new results, which are reported today (Dec. 9) in six separate papers in the journal Science, confirm and extend Curiosity’s landmark discovery, painting a more complete picture of the Yellowknife Bay area long ago.

This picture emerged from Curiosity’s analysis of fine-grained sedimentary rocks called mudstones, which generally form in calm, still water. The rover obtained powdered samples of these rocks by drilling into Yellowknife Bay outcrops.

The mudstones contain clay minerals that formed in the sediments of an ancient freshwater lake, researchers said. Curiosity also spotted some of the key chemical ingredients for life in the samples, including sulfur, nitrogen, hydrogen, oxygen, phosphorus and carbon.

The lake could have potentially supported a class of microbes called chemolithoautotrophs, which obtain energy by breaking down rocks and minerals. Here on Earth, chemolithoautotrophs are commonly found in habitats beyond the reach of sunlight, such as caves and hydrothermal vents on the ocean floor.

“It is exciting to think that billions of years ago, ancient microbial life may have existed in the lake’s calm waters, converting a rich array of elements into energy,” Sanjeev Gupta of Imperial College London, co-author of one of the new papers, said in a statement.

An icy Martian lake?

The shallow ancient lake may have been about 30 miles long by 3 miles wide (50 by 5 kilometers), Grotzinger said. Based on the thickness of the sedimentary deposits, the research team estimates that the lake existed for at least tens of thousands of years — and perhaps much longer, albeit on a possibly on-and-off basis.

Taking into account the broader geological context, “you could wind up with an assemblage of rocks that represent streams, lakes and ancient groundwater systems — so for times when the lake might have been dry, the groundwater’s still there. This could have gone on for millions or tens of millions of years,” Grotzinger said.

The lack of weathering on Gale Crater’s rim suggests that the area was cold when the lake existed, he added, raising the possibility that a layer of ice covered the lake on a permanent or occasional basis. But such conditions wouldn’t be much of a deterrent to hardy microbes.

“These are entirely viable habitable environments for chemolithoautotrophs,” Grotzinger said.

Researchers still don’t know if the Gale Crater lake hosted organisms of any kind; Curiosity was not designed to hunt for signs of life on Mars. But if chemolithoautotrophs did indeed dominate the lake, it would put an alien twist on a superficially familiar environment.

Image“You can imagine that, if life evolved on Mars and never got beyond the point of chemolithoautotrophy, then in the absence of competition from other types of microbes, these systems might have been dominated by that type of metabolic pathway,” Grotzinger said. “And that’s an un-Earth-like situation.”



Astronomical Almanac 2014

2013 will wrapped up soon, Have you made ​​plans for the next year of observation? Still do not know what will happen next?

Let’s refer to the Astronomical Almanac 2014 ..

Celestial phenomenon that has been adapted for us in Malaysia and countries in southeast asia.

To download, simply click on the images and click save.


© 2013 by Daniel R, Junior.
All rights reserved. No part of this document may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise, without prior written permission of Daniel R, Junior.

China’s 1st Moon Rover Arrives in Lunar Orbit

Less than five days after leaving Earth atop a blazing Long March launcher, China’s Chang’e 3 spacecraft reached lunar orbit Friday to prepare for an historic rocket-assisted touchdown in the moon’s Bay of Rainbows later this month.

Outfitted with a six-wheeled robotic rover and smarts to avoid hazards in the landing zone, Chang’e 3 is China’s boldest unmanned space mission to date, extending feats achieved by a pair of lunar orbiters launched in 2007 and 2010.


China’s Chang’e 3 moon mission, the country’s first flight to land a rover on the moon, is depicted in this graphic released by the China Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation. The mission launched on Dec. 2, 2013 Beijing Time and arrived in lunar orbit less than five days later.
Credit: China Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation

The four-legged lander fired its propulsion system for six minutes and braked into orbit around the moon at 0953 GMT (4:53 a.m. EST) Friday, according to China’s state-run Xinhua news agency.

The craft lifted off Dec. 1 on a Long March 3B rocket, which put the probe on a direct four-and-a-half day trajectory from Earth to the moon.

The spacecraft is now flying 100 kilometers, or about 60 miles, above the moon, Xinhua reported.

After lowering its altitude later this week, Chang’e 3 will fire a variable-thrust main engine to make a soft landing in the Bay of Rainbows, a dark lava plain on the upper-left quadrant of the moon’s near side.

The lander has terrain recognition sensors to feed information into the probe’s guidance computer, ensuring the spacecraft does not come down on a steep slope or in a boulder field.

A few feet above the moon, the lander will autonomously cut off its engine and drop to the surface. Engineers fastened shock absorbers to the landing legs to cushion the impact.


The Chang’e 3 lunar lander and moon rover is part of the second phase of China’s three-step robotic lunar exploration program.
Credit: Beijing Institute of Spacecraft System Engineering

China has not disclosed the time of the landing, but European Space Agency officials supporting the mission with communications and tracking antennas say the touchdown is scheduled for some time Dec. 14.

Named Yutu or “jade rabbit,” the mission’s rover will drive off the landing platform a few hours later, according to ESA officials.

The rover has a mass of 140 kilograms, or about 308 pounds, and carries radioisotope heater units to keep the spacecraft warm during the two week-long lunar nights. The heaters are likely powered by small quantities of plutonium-238, the isotope of plutonium preferred for space missions, according to respected space researcher Dwayne Day, who discussed the rover’s heaters in a story published in the Space Review.

The Yutu rover carries advanced radars to study the structure of the lunar crust at shallow depths along its path, and it is outfitted with spectrometers to detect the elements making up the moon’s soil and rocks, said Pei Zhaoyu, a spokesperson for the Chang’e 3 mission, in a report by Xinhua.

Four navigation and panoramic cameras are mounted on the rover to return high-resolution images from the moon.

The mission also has an optical telescope for astronomical observations from the lunar surface, according to Pei.

ImageChina’s lunar program is focused on robotic missions for now, with plans for an unmanned mission to return rock samples to Earth by 2020. China’s military-run human space program is focused on development of a space station in Earth orbit around the same timeframe, but scientists have studied a manned lunar mission in the next decade.

Chang’e 3 will be China’s first mission to test the technologies required for future lunar surface exploration.



Giant Alien Planet Discovered in Most Distant Orbit Ever Seen


An artist’s conception of a young planet in a distant orbit around its host star. The star still harbors a debris disk, remnant material from star and planet formation, interior to the planet’s orbit.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

An enormous alien planet — one that is 11 times more massive than Jupiter — was discovered in the most distant orbit yet found around a single parent star.

The newfound exoplanet, dubbed HD 106906 b, dwarfs any planetary body in the solar system, and circles its star at a distance that is 650 times the average distance between the Earth and the sun. The existence of such a massive and distantly orbiting planet raises new questions about how these bizarre worlds are formed, the researchers said.

“This system is especially fascinating because no model of either planet or star formation fully explains what we see,” study lead researcher Vanessa Bailey, a fifth-year graduate student in the University of Arizona’s department of astronomy, said in a statement.


This is a discovery image of planet HD 106906 b in thermal infrared light. The planet is more than 20 times farther away from its star than Neptune is from the sun.
Credit: Vanessa Bailey

In the most commonly accepted theories of planet formation, it is thought that planets that orbit close to their parent star, such as Earth, began as small, asteroid-type bodies that clumped together in the primordial disk of gas and dust around the burgeoning star. Yet, this process operates too slowly to explain how giant planets form far away from their star, the researcher said.

Alternative hypotheses have suggested that distant giant planets may form in ways similar to mini binary star systems, Bailey said.

“A binary star system can be formed when two adjacent clumps of gas collapse more or less independently to form stars, and these stars are close enough to each other to exert a mutual gravitation attraction and bind them together in an orbit,” she explained.

In the HD 106906 system, the star and planet may have collapsed independently, but the materials that clumped together to form the planet were insufficient for it to grow large enough to ignite into a new star, Bailey said.

But, there are still problems with this scenario. For one, difference between the masses of two stars in a binary system is typically no more than a ratio of 10 to 1.

“In our case, the mass ratio is more than 100-to-1,” Bailey said. “This extreme mass ratio is not predicted from binary star formation theories — just like planet formation theory predicts that we cannot form planets so far from the host star.”

Researchers are also keen to study the new planet, because leftover material from when the planet and star formed can still be detected.

“Systems like this one, where we have additional information about the environment in which the planet resides, have the potential to help us disentangle the various formation models,” Bailey said. “Future observations of the planet’s orbital motion and the primary star’s debris disk may help answer that question.”

The planet HD 106906 b is only 13 million years old, and is still glowing from the residual heat from its formation,” the researchers said. By comparison, Earth formed 4.5 billion years ago, which makes it roughly 350 times older than the newfound exoplanet.

The planet was found using a thermal infrared camera mounted on the Magellan telescope in the Atacama Desert in Chile. The researchers used data from the Hubble Space Telescope to confirm their discovery.

The study, which has been accepted for publication in a future issue of The Astrophysical Journal Letters, could lead to a better understanding of distantly orbiting exoplanets.


“Every new directly detected planet pushes our understanding of how and where planets can form,” study co-investigator Tiffany Meshkat, a graduate student at Leiden Observatory in the Netherlands, said in a statement. “Discoveries like HD 106906 b provide us with a deeper understanding of the diversity of other planetary systems.”



Sleeping in space

After a long day working in orbit, there is nothing like a good night’s sleep! However, sleeping is a little different in space. There is no up or down, and everything is weightless. Astronauts can attach their sleeping bags to a wall or a ceiling, and sleep anywhere as long as they don’t float around and bump into something.

On the International Space Station (ISS), most of the crew sleep in their own small cabins. If there are not enough of these for everyone on board, an astronaut can sleep in one of the ISS modules. The American quarters are private, soundproof booths where a crew member can also listen to music, use a laptop, and store personal effects in a large drawer or in nets attached to the cabin walls. The cabin also has a reading lamp, a shelf and a desktop.

It is important that sleeping quarters are well ventilated. Otherwise, astronauts can wake up deprived of oxygen and gasping for air, because a bubble of their own exhaled carbon dioxide has formed around their heads.

There are 16 sunsets and sunrises every 24 hours on the ISS, so it is not easy to know when it is time to sleep. Astronauts work and sleep according to a daily time plan. They are usually scheduled for eight hours of sleep at the end of each mission day. They may wear eyeshades or pull down shutters over the windows to keep out the sunlight while they are sleeping.

When it is time to wake up, the crew uses an alarm clock, or music broadcast by mission control back on Earth. The excitement of being in space and motion sickness can disrupt an astronaut’s sleep pattern. Some astronauts have reported having dreams and nightmares. Some have even reported snoring in space!

Here, a Canadian Space Agency’s Astronaut, Commander Chris Hadfield shows us how astronauts sleep in space:

Venus Now Shining at Its Brightest: How to See It


At 2 p.m. EST on Friday December 6, Venus will be shining at its brightest. Look for it in the southwestern sky just after sunset.
Credit: Starry Night Software

Venus is shining at its brightest in the low southwestern night sky just after sunset, making it a fine time for stargazers to observe the brilliant planet, weather permitting.

Venus’ dazzling brightness is the result of some cosmic geometry. As the planet moves around the sun, observers on Earth can see it illuminated from all angles. This causes Venus to pass through “phases” similar to the moon.

When Venus is on the far side of the sun in relation to Earth, a point called “superior conjunction,” it is fully illuminated from our point of view, and we see it as a “full Venus.” It is 100-percent illuminated but far away, only 10 arc seconds in diameter.

When Venus is at “greatest elongation,” farthest from the sun in our sky, as it was on November 1, we see it as a “half Venus.” When the passes between Earth and the sun, as it will on Jan. 11, called “inferior conjunction,” it is illuminated from behind, just like the new moon.

The brightness we see from Venus depends on two things: its phase and the planet’s distance from Earth. Venus should be brightest at its “full” phase, like the moon, but at that time it is at its furthest from us. At “half” phase, as it was on Nov. 1, only half of the planet is illuminated, but it is much brighter because it is much closer.

As Venus nears inferior conjunction, its illuminated portion shrinks down to a narrow sliver. This causes it to fade in brightness. But it is also getting closer to us, which makes it brighten.


This NASA graphic shows how bright Venus is as compared to other objects in the night sky.
Credit: NASA/JPL

This week, these two factors balance out, and we will see Venus at its very brightest. It is neither “half Venus” (50 percent illuminated, 25 arc seconds in diameter) or “new Venus” (0-percent illuminated, 60 arc seconds in diameter), but somewhere in between. In fact it is 26-percent illuminated and 41 arc seconds in diameter. This is the “Goldilocks point” when distance and phase combine to produce the greatest brightness.

This week Venus will shine with a brightness of –4.9 magnitude, on the upside-down brightness scale that astronomers use. It is based on the brightest stars being magnitude 1 and the faintest stars visible being magnitude 6. Thus the brighter the object, the smaller its magnitude number. Astronomers extended this scale into the negative for really bright objects.

Sirius, the brightest star in the night sky, is a magnitude –1.4 star. The full moon, meanwhile,  is a magnitude –12.7 and the sun is –26.8. So Venus will be considerably brighter than Sirius this week, but nowhere near as bright as the moon. It is bright enough to cast shadows, when observed on a moonless night from a dark location.

Even though Venus is the brightest object in the night sky other than the moon, surprisingly few people have seen it in its current apparition. That’s because at this time of year the ecliptic, the path of the planets across the sky, makes a very shallow angle with the horizon in the northern hemisphere. Although Venus is very bright, it is also very low in the sky, so is often blocked by clouds or buildings.Image

This week, find yourself a location with a low southwestern horizon and look for Venus. Watch it as it slowly sets, and see if you can see it change color from white to orange to red as it nears the horizon, just as the sun and moon do.

Did you know that you can see Venus in daylight? The best time to look for it will be on Thursday this week. Look for the narrow crescent moon in the afternoon sky above and to the left of the sun. Use that to locate Venus, just below the moon. You may need binoculars to first spot it, but once you know where it is relative to the moon, it’s very easy to see.



Heat Shield for NASA’s Orion Spacecraft Arrives at Kennedy Space Center

NASA’s Orion spacecraft is just about ready to turn up the heat. The spacecraft’s heat shield arrived at the agency’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida Wednesday night aboard the agency’s Super Guppy aircraft.

The heat shield, the largest of its kind ever built, is to be unloaded Thursday and is scheduled for installation on the Orion crew module in March, in preparation for Orion’s first flight test in September 2014.

>< Video: Textron team readies Orion heat shield for shipment to Kennedy


Orion’s heat shield is loaded onto the Super Guppy in Manchester, N.H., for transport to Kennedy Space Center in Florida.
Image Credit: NASA

“The heat shield completion and delivery to Kennedy, where Orion is being prepared, is a major step toward Exploration Flight Test-1 next year,” said Dan Dumbacher, NASA’s deputy associate administrator for exploration systems development in Washington. “Sending Orion into space for the first time is going to give us crucial data to improve our design decisions and develop Orion to send humans on future missions to an asteroid and Mars.”

The heat shield began its journey in January 2012 in Colorado, at Orion prime contractor Lockheed Martin’s Waterton Facility near Denver. That was the manufacturing site for a titanium skeleton and carbon fiber skin that give the heat shield its shape and provide structural support during landing. They were shipped in March to Textron Defense Systems near Boston, where they were used in construction of the heat shield itself.


NASA’s Super Guppy aircraft takes off from Manchester, N.H., carrying the heat shield that will protect Orion on its first mission, Exploration Flight Test-1, to Kennedy Space Center for installation.
Image Credit: NASA

Textron installed a fiberglass-phenolic honeycomb structure on the skin, filled each of the honeycomb’s 320,000 cells with the ablative material Avcoat, then X-rayed and sanded each cell to match Orion’s design specifications. The Avcoat-treated shell will shield Orion from the extreme heat it will experience as it returns to Earth. The ablative material will wear away as it heats up during Orion’s re-entry into the atmosphere, preventing heat from being transferred to the rest of the capsule.

“Many people across the country have poured a tremendous amount of hard work into building this heat shield,” said Orion Program Manager Mark Geyer. “Their efforts are a critical part of helping us understand what it takes to bring a human-rated spacecraft back safely from deep space.”

Before and during its manufacture, the heat shield material was subjected to arc-jet testing NASA’s Ames Research Center in California and NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston. Arc jets heat and expand gasses to very high temperatures and supersonic and hypersonic speeds, thus simulating the heating conditions that a returning spacecraft will experience.

The heat shield delivered to Kennedy will be used during Exploration Flight Test-1, a two-orbit flight that will take an uncrewed Orion capsule to an altitude of 3,600 miles. The returning capsule is expected to encounter temperatures of almost 4,000 degrees Fahrenheit as it travels through Earth’s atmosphere at up to 20,000 mph, faster than any spacecraft in the last 40 years.

Data gathered during the flight will influence decisions about design improvements on the heat shield and other Orion systems, authenticate existing computer models, and innovative new approaches to space systems and development. It also will reduce overall mission risks and costs for future Orion missions, which include exploring an asteroid and Mars.




Cassini’s Best Look Yet At Saturn’s Crazy Hexagon


This colorful view from NASA’s Cassini spacecraft is the highest-resolution view of the unique six-sided jet stream at Saturn’s north pole known as “the hexagon.” (NASA/JPL-Caltech/SSI/Hampton University)

Yes, I said hexagon. If you haven’t heard, our solar system’s second-largest planet has another curious feature besides its sprawling rings; it’s also in possession of an uncannily geometric six-sided jet stream encircling its north pole — at the heart of which lies a churning hurricane-like vortex over 1,800 miles wide. This hexagon has been known about since the days of Voyager, and now NASA’s Cassini spacecraft has presented us with the highest-resolution look yet at this odd atmospheric phenomenon.

Image This colorful view from NASA’s Cassini mission is the highest-resolution view of the unique six-sided jet stream at Saturn’s north pole known as “the hexagon.” This movie, made from eight images obtained by Cassini’s imaging cameras over 10 hours on Dec. 10, 2012, is the first to show the hexagon in color filters and the first movie to show a complete view from the north pole down to about 70 degrees north latitude.

Click to play the animation full-size.

Scientists can see the motion of a wide variety of cloud structures that reside within the hexagon in this movie. There is a massive hurricane tightly centered on the north pole, with an eye about 50 times larger than the average hurricane eye on Earth. Numerous small vortices are also present, which appear as reddish ovals. Some of these vortices spin clockwise while the hexagon and hurricane spin counterclockwise. Some of those smaller features are swept along with the jet stream of the hexagon, as if on a racetrack.  The biggest of these vortices, seen near the lower right corner of the hexagon and appearing whitish, spans about 2,200 miles (3,500 kilometers), approximately twice the size of the largest hurricane on Earth.


Cassini image of Saturn’s north pole and hexagon from Nov. 27, 2013 (NASA/JPL/SSI)

The differences in this version of the movie, in which different wavelengths of light from ultraviolet to visible to infrared have been assigned colors, show a distinct contrast between the types of atmospheric particles inside and outside the hexagon. Inside the hexagon there are fewer large haze particles and a concentration of small haze particles, while outside the hexagon, the opposite is true. The jet stream that makes up the hexagon seems to act like a barrier, which results in something like the “ozone hole” in the Antarctic.

This movie shows a view from directly over the north pole, keeping up with the rotation of the planet so that all the motion seen on the screen is the motion of the hexagonal jet stream or the storms inside of it, without any added motion from the spinning of the planet itself. The original images were re-projected to show this polar view.

High-resolution views of the hexagon have only recently become possible because of the changing of the seasons at Saturn and changes in the Cassini spacecraft’s orbit. The north pole was dark when Cassini first arrived in July 2004. The sun really only began to illuminate the entire interior of the hexagon in August 2009, with the start of northern spring.  In late 2012, Cassini began making swings over Saturn’s poles, giving it better views of the hexagon.

(Source: NASA press release)



NASA’s Dawn Fills out its Ceres Dance Card


This artist’s concept shows NASA’s Dawn spacecraft heading toward the dwarf planet Ceres. Dawn spent nearly 14 months orbiting Vesta, the second most massive object in the main asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter, from 2011 to 2012.
Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

It’s going to be a ball when NASA’s Dawn spacecraft finally arrives at the dwarf planet Ceres, and mission managers have now inked in the schedule on Dawn’s dance card.

Dawn has been cruising toward Ceres, the largest object in the main asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter, since September 2012. That’s when it departed from its first dance partner, Vesta.

Ceres presents an icy — possibly watery — counterpoint to the dry Vesta, where Dawn spent almost 14 months. Vesta and Ceres are two of the largest surviving protoplanets — bodies that almost became planets — and will give scientists clues about the planet-forming conditions at the dawn of our solar system.

When Dawn enters orbit around Ceres, it will be the first spacecraft to see a dwarf planet up-close and the first spacecraft to orbit two solar system destinations beyond Earth.


NASA’s Dawn spacecraft will be getting an up-close look at the dwarf planet Ceres starting in late March or the beginning of April 2015.
Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

“Our flight plan around Ceres will be choreographed to be very similar to the strategy that we successfully used around Vesta,” said Bob Mase, Dawn’s project manager at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif. “This approach will build on that and enable scientists to make direct comparisons between these two giants of the asteroid belt.”

As a prelude, the team will begin approach operations in late January 2015. The next month, Ceres will be big enough in Dawn’s view to be imaged and used for navigation purposes. Dawn will arrive at Ceres — or, more accurately, it will be captured by Ceres’ gravity — in late March or the beginning of April 2015.

Dawn will make its first full characterization of Ceres later in April, at an altitude of about 8,400 miles (13,500 kilometers) above the icy surface. Then, it will spiral down to an altitude of about 2,750 miles (4,430 kilometers), and obtain more science data in its survey science orbit. This phase will last for 22 days, and is designed to obtain a global view of Ceres with Dawn’s framing camera, and global maps with the visible and infrared mapping spectrometer (VIR).

Dawn will then continue to spiral its way down to an altitude of about 920 miles (1,480 kilometers), and in August 2015 will begin a two-month phase known as the high-altitude mapping orbit. During this phase, the spacecraft will continue to acquire near-global maps with the VIR and framing camera at higher resolution than in the survey phase. The spacecraft will also image in “stereo” to resolve the surface in 3-D.

Then, after spiraling down for two months, Dawn will begin its closest orbit around Ceres in late November, at a distance of about 233 miles (375 kilometers). The dance at low-altitude mapping orbit will be a long waltz — three months — and is specifically designed to acquire data with Dawn’s gamma ray and neutron detector (GRaND) and gravity investigation. GRaND will reveal the signatures of the elements on and near the surface. The gravity experiment will measure the tug of the dwarf planet, as monitored by changes in the high-precision radio link to NASA’s Deep Space Network on Earth.


This graphic shows the planned trek of NASA’s Dawn spacecraft from its launch in 2007 through its arrival at the dwarf planet Ceres in early 2015.

At this low-altitude mapping orbit, Dawn will begin using a method of pointing control that engineers have dubbed “hybrid” mode because it utilizes a combination of reaction wheels and thrusters to point the spacecraft. Up until this final mission phase, Dawn will have used just the small thruster jets, which use a fuel called hydrazine, to control its orientation and pointing. While it is possible to explore Ceres completely using only these jets, mission managers want to conserve precious fuel. At this lowest orbit, using two of the reaction wheels to help with pointing will provide the biggest hydrazine savings. So Dawn will be spinning up two of the gyroscope-like devices to aid the thrusters.

In 2011, the Dawn team prepared the capability to operate in a hybrid mode, but it wasn’t needed during the Vesta mission. It was only when a second (of four) reaction wheels developed excessive friction while Dawn was leaving Vesta in 2012 that mission managers decided to use the hybrid mode at Ceres. To prove the technique works, Dawn engineers completed a 27-hour in-flight test of the hybrid mode, ending on Nov. 13. It operated just as expected.

“The successful test of this new way to control our orientation gives us great confidence that we’ll have a steady hand at Ceres, which will enable us to get really close to a world that we only know now as a fuzzy dot amidst the stars,” said Marc Rayman, Dawn’s chief engineer and mission director, based at JPL.

Of course, mission planners have built some extra days into the schedule to account for the small uncertainty in the efficiency of the solar arrays at such a large distance from the sun, where sunlight will be very faint. The solar arrays provide power to the ion propulsion system, in addition to operating power for the spacecraft and instruments. Mission planners also account for potential variations in the gravity field of Ceres, which will not be known precisely until Dawn measures them.

“We are expecting changes when we get to Ceres and, fortunately, we built a very capable spacecraft and developed flexible plans to accommodate the unknowns,” said Rayman. “There’s great excitement in the unexpected — that’s part of the thrill of exploration.”

Starting on Dec. 27, Dawn will be closer to Ceres than it will be to Vesta.

“This transition makes us eager to see what secrets Ceres will reveal to us when we get up close to this ancient, giant, icy body,” said Christopher Russell, Dawn’s principal investigator, based at UCLA. “While Ceres is a lot bigger than the candidate asteroids that NASA is working on sending humans to, many of these smaller bodies are produced by collisions with larger asteroids such as Ceres and Vesta. It is of much interest to determine the nature of small asteroids produced in collisions with Ceres. These might be quite different from the small rocky asteroids associated with Vesta collisions.”


Dawn’s mission is managed by JPL for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate in Washington. Dawn is a project of the directorate’s Discovery Program, managed by NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Ala. UCLA is responsible for overall Dawn mission science. Orbital Sciences Corp. in Dulles, Va., designed and built the spacecraft. The German Aerospace Center, the Max Planck Institute for Solar System Research, the Italian Space Agency and the Italian National Astrophysical Institute are international partners on the mission team. The California Institute of Technology in Pasadena manages JPL for NASA.






Comet ISON Spotted From Space Station

Comet ISON Spotted From Space Station

A close inspection of this image, photographed by one of the Expedition 38 crew members aboard the International Space Station, reveals a pin-head sized view of an object which is actually the comet ISON, seen just to the right of center and a little below center in the frame. Hardware components of the orbital outpost and Earth’s atmosphere above the horizon take up most of the image. Most of the other bright dots in the sky are heavenly bodies. The comet is distinguishable by its tail.
Photo credit: NASA

Alien Super-Earth Planets Plentiful in Exoplanet Search


Artist’s impression of Kepler-62f, a potential super-Earth in its star’s habitable zone.
Credit: NASA/Ames/JPL-Caltech

Our solar system hosts a cornucopia of worlds, from the hellfire of Venus to the frozen plains of Mars to the mighty winds of Uranus. In that range, the Earth stands alone, with no planet coming close to its life-friendly position near the Sun.

Outside our solar system, however, it’s a different story. Observations using space-based and ground-based telescopes have indicated that a new class of objects dubbed super-Earths – worlds that are about two to 10 times our planet’s mass and up to two times its radius – could be among the most common type of planets orbiting other stars.


Artist’s impression of the Gliese 667C system.
Credit: ESO/M. Kornmesser

That’s because during the past few years, astronomers have found plenty of these super-sized rocky bodies orbiting different types of stars. Among these planetary systems, those around M-class stars, which are cooler and fainter than our Sun, are particularly important. Because of the low surface temperatures of these stars, the regions around them where an Earth-like planet can maintain liquid water on its surface (also known as the Habitable Zone) are closer to them — making such potentially habitable super-Earths in those regions more detectable.

Scientists also believe that these smaller stars are the most abundant in the Sun’s corner of the universe, implying super-Earths would be plentiful in our solar neighbourhood, as well.

Nader Haghighipour is a member of the NASA Astrobiology Institute and the University of Hawaii-Manoa’s Institute for Astronomy. Among his research interests is figuring out how these worlds form, and most importantly, how they arrive in their current orbits.

Some of his work hints that migrating giant planets could be responsible for the close-in orbits of smaller bodies. Their massive gravity could excite the rocks and protoplanetary debris on their paths and cause them to be scattered out of the system or coalesce into smaller planets such as super-Earths.

“When giant planets approach the central star, especially around an M-dwarf, I’m interested in how they affect accretion of small planetesimals in a disc in front of them and how that will result in the formation of super-Earths, particularly in the habitable zone,” Haghighipour said.


The Keck Telescopes in Hawaii.
Credit: NASA/JPL

Faster discovery pace for super-Earths

Haghighipour recently surveyed the state of super-Earth research in a paper that appeared in the Annual Review of Earth and Planetary Sciences. The first super-Earths were discovered in 1992 around pulsar star PSR B1257+12, but it’s only in the past five years that the pace of discovery picked up.

This was in large part due to the arrival of the NASA Kepler space telescope, which spent close to four years hunting planets in a small region of the sky in the constellation Cygnus. Kepler ended its primary mission in 2013 after the telescope exceeded its design lifetime. During this time, it provided a treasure trove of extremely high quality data that has revolutionized the field of exoplanetary science.

Short period super-Earths are easier to detect around smaller stars than those that are the Sun’s size or larger. This is because smaller stars show larger reactions to the tug of the planet as the planet orbits the star. If the planet happens to go across the face of the star from Earth’s perspective, a super-Earth blocks out more of a small star’s light, making it easier to detect.

“That super-Earths in short-period orbits around cooler and smaller stars are easier to detect   has set the ground for this becoming fashionable, and now there’s a great deal of attention in using radial velocity and transit photometry techniques to find such planets in the habitable zones of M stars,” Haghighipour said.

These planets are both detectable by the Kepler telescope and also ground-based ones. Most commonly, discoveries from the ground take place with two instruments. One of them is the High Accuracy Radial Velocity Planet Searcher (HARPS) on a European Southern Observatory 3.6m telescope at La Silla, Chile. The other is the W. M. Keck Observatory’s High Resolution Echelle Spectrograph (HiRES) in Mauna Kea, Hawaii.


Earth seen from the NASA Mercury MESSENGER spacecraft. Astronomers are not sure if super-Earths have tectonic plates or an atmosphere that is similar to our own planet.
Credit: NASA, Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory, and Carnegie Institution of Washington

While NASA scientists re-examine Kepler’s mission – its science work is on hold after two of its four reaction wheels failed – they are hard at work planning its successor mission, the Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS).  TESS will have both advantages and disadvantages while searching for super-Earths, Haghighipour said.

“Because TESS is going to cover the entire sky, as opposed to Kepler that focused on only one portion of the sky, it may be able to find more [exoplanets],” he said. “As far as accuracy and precision, because it’s not going to stay on one region of the sky for as long as the Kepler did, the accuracy may not be as high as that of the Kepler.”


One particular star system of interest to Haghighipour is Gliese 667, a triple star system which lies about 22 light-years from Earth. Haghighipour was part of a team that identified at least one super-Earth in the habitable zone of GJ 667C in 2012.

This year, another group led by the University of Göttingen in Germany revealed that where there was one super-Earth, there may actually be many.  The new analysis found that the M-star in the GJ 677 system (known as GJ 677c) has about six or seven planets, including anywhere from three to five “super-Earths” in the habitable zone.

Because the star is so faint and dim, to be in its habitable zone these planets must crowd in close. The researchers estimated that the planets have very short years, between 20 and 50 days, and may even have one side perpetually facing their host star. Even in this state, however, the astronomers believe it is possible that life could survive there.

“It’s the most reliable detection [of potentially habitable exoplanets] that we’ve had,” Haghighipour said. The challenge, he added, is to understand the planets’ habitable environments from a distance.

While calculating the location of the habitable zone of a star is relatively straightforward, modelling the planets’ dynamics and climate is far trickier. It is unknown if these worlds have plate tectonics, for example – a geophysical processes that regulates the abundance of CO2 and H2O in Earth’s atmosphere. Their interiors remain masked to astronomers, andunderstanding exoplanet atmosphere composition is something that some teams are only starting to accomplish.


The field of stars that the Kepler space telescope examined as it searched for exoplanets.
Credit: NASA/JPL

Identification efforts continue, however. Haghighipour has been working on detecting super-Earths in the habitable zones of M-stars since 2009 along with observers at the University of California, Santa Cruz and the Carnegie Institution of Washington. Gliese 667Cc is the most cited discovery from this collaboration, but there are others.

On the theoretical side, Haghighipour has two papers published in the Astrophysical Journalabout habitability in binary star systems. He also has been trying to figure out how super-Earths form at different distances from their stars.

“It’s possible each system has had its own history, and its own way of formation. There is no reason to believe that one way of formation for planets in a system, or for super-Earths in habitable zones, can be applied to all systems,” he said.

Perhaps this research could shed some light on the formation of our own solar system. Both super-Earths and “hot Jupiters” – gas giant planets that closely orbit their parent stars – appear to be common in other systems, so why not ours?

Image“Honestly, we have no definite answer for that. There are many different models that present  different ideas for why there are no super-Earths and hot Jupiters in our solar system. But in order for these models to be successful, they have to explain other properties of the solar system as well,” he said.

For example, a giant gas planet close to our Sun would likely have disturbed any rocky planets wanting to orbit nearby. It will be an interesting theoretical puzzle for astronomers to figure out as they continue classifying worlds outside of the solar system.



Apollo 11, July 13, 1969.

Apollo 11, July 13, 1969.

This picture is of the gold replica of an olive branch, the traditional symbol of peace, which was left on the moon’s surface by Apollo 11 crewmembers. Astronaut Neil A. Armstrong, commander, was in charge of placing the small replica (less than half a foot in length) on the moon. The gesture represents a fresh wish for peace for all mankind.

(credit: NASA-JSC)

Fate of Comet ISON Uncertain After Fiery Sun Encounter

The celestial saga continues for Comet ISON, which crept close to the sun like the fabled Icarus, only to apparently survive the encounter at first. But whether the comet will once again be visible to stargazers is far from certain.


Comet ISON comes in from the bottom right and moves out toward the upper right, getting fainter and fainter, in this time-lapse image from the ESA/NASA Solar and Heliospheric Observatory on Nov. 28, 2013. The image of the sun at the center is from NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory.

On Thanksgiving Day (Nov. 28), many amateur and professional astronomers declared that Comet ISON was dead after the comet flew within 684,000 miles (1.1 million km) of the sun. But on Friday, to paraphrase Mark Twain: “The report of Comet ISON’s death was an exaggeration.”

It initially appeared that the comet did not survive its inbound journey toward the sun — indeed, images and video ofCometISON from NASA spacecraftsuggested that the comet had completely disintegrated just prior to its closest approach. But by Friday, the comet most definitely appeared alive and well, suggesting that previous reports of ISON being “sun and done” were at the very least, premature.

Signs of comet survival

Comet ISON (or perhaps a large fragment of it)appeareddistinctly on images from the Solar and Heliospheric Observatory (SOHO) spacecraft hovering above the sun. But the long tail that was evident as the comet was en route to the sun, apparently dissipated as ISON buzzed the sun’s surface, whipping around the solar furnace at a speed of 843,000 mph (1.3 million km/hour).

By Saturday (Nov. 30), the lingering fragment appeared to have become nothing more than a diffuse cloud, perhaps truly signaling the end for Comet ISON.

Skywatchers will be watching the eastern sky in the hour or so prior to sunrise during the coming days to see what they can see of a comet that was originally billed as a potential “comet of the century.” But now it seems the question is, will there be anything left to see?


A sketch of the Great Southern Comet of January 1887.
Credit: Knowledge Magazine, Nov. 1, 1887.

“There’s no doubt that the comet shrank in size considerably as it rounded the sun and there’s no doubt that something made it out on the other side to shoot back into space,” NASA officials wrote in an update Monday (Dec. 2). “The question remains as to whether the bright spot seen moving away from the sun was simply debris, or whether a small nucleus of the original ball of ice was still there. Regardless, it is likely that it is now only dust.”

Could Comet ISON become a “headless wonder”

If Comet ISON does reappear in the morning sky, would it still maintain some sort of a head or coma, or more likely just a tail? If it’s the latter, then perhaps we will see something akin to the “Great Southern Comet of January 1887.” This sungrazing comet was described as a faint narrow ribbon of light which contracted near the sun but with no trace of a head or condensation.

Perhaps ISON will replicate that particular comet apparition in the days to come. Any sort of comet tail associated with what is left of ISON that might appear in the coming mornings would appear to stretch upward from the horizon and tilted to the left.

However, comet expert Karl Battams suspects the amazing display scientists had hoped for won’t be realized. “We still don’t know if it will be naked-eye [visible] but based on its current brightness in the LASCO images — which is around magnitude +5 and fading — it does seem unlikely that there will be much to see in the night sky,” Battams wrote in ablog post on NASA’s Comet ISON Observing Campaign website. I suspect that some of the outstanding astrophotographers around the world will be able to get something, but I doubt it will be as spectacular as before perihelion. I hope I’m wrong though.”

“I’d guess that a few observers will begin picking up ISON in a couple of days, but if – and I do mean IF — Comet ISON becomes naked-eye visible, it won’t be until near the end of next week (say, Dec 6 or 7). Please don’t get your hopes up, but we all need to keep in mind how ISON keeps surprising us,” Battams added.


This NASA graphic shows the possible location of Comet ISON in the December night sky if the comet has survived its close sun encounter enough to be visible to the naked eye.
Credit: NASA

Viewing Table

In the table accompanying this guide, I have provided details for making a sighting of Comet ISON. The information have been calculated for an observer at 40 degrees north latitude and 90 degrees west longitude, near the population center of the contiguous United States. However, you need not live near Lebanon, Kansas, to use the table. A simple correction will allow you to get a more accurate time for most north temperate latitudes.

The times given for the comet’s rising time (column 2) and the start of nautical twilight (column 4) are given in local mean time (LMT). Our civil time zones are based on standard meridians. Eastern Standard Time is based on 75 degrees west longitude; Central, 90 degrees, Mountain, 105 degrees and Pacific, 120 degrees.

If your longitude is on or very close to one these (such as in Philadelphia or Denver) no correction is needed. Otherwise, to get standard time add 4 minutes for each degree you are west of your standard meridian or subtract 4 minutes for each degree you are east of it. New York, for instance, is one degree east of the 75 degrees standard meridian, so you would need to subtract 4 minutes. But Indianapolis is 11 degrees west of the 75 degrees standard meridian, so there you need to add 44 minutes.


This table lists possible sighting opportunities for Comet ISON, if it is becomes visible to the naked eye after its Nov. 28 sun encounter, in December 2013.
Credit: Joe Rao/SPACE.com

Your clenched fist held at arm’s length measures approximately 10 degrees from one end to the other.

Column 1 provides the date. Column 3 gives that point on the horizon where the head of the comet is due to rise.  Bear in mind that if there is a tail, that it will already be above the horizon. Column 5 provides the direction where the comet head will be positioned at the start of nautical twilight. The eastern sky will already be getting light, but it will be only early twilight and it will still be sufficiently dark enough to see a number of stars (and hopefully ISON). No times are provided for Dec. 1 and 2, since the head of the comet – or least where the head is supposed to be – will not have risen.  Column 6 gives the comet’s altitude above the horizon when nautical twilight begins and finally, Column 7 is the time of sunrise.

ImageSome final thoughts on ISON 

In terms of a timeline, in a few days we’ll likely be able to make a good call on the naked eye visibility of ISON (As Battams urges: “keep your expectations low, please …).

As it stands now, however … this is sounding more like an obituary (or maybe an “orbit-tuary”).



Comet ISON Post Mortem


Comet ISON, fading fast. This was the state of the comet on Nov. 30 at 20:42 UTC (3:42 p.m. EST): barely there.
(Photo by NASA / ESA / SOHO)


Or… “That time I was right, then wrong, then probably right again like I was in the first place, more or less.”

The other day I wrote up a synopsis of the life and possible death of comet C/2012 S1 (ISON). Karl Battams, who runs the SungrazerComets Twitter feed and the Comet ISON Observing Campaign page, has an excellent summary of what we know so far (with a couple of very cool animations, too). The bottom line is that it’s been one surprise after another, with it getting bright, then dim, then bright again, then dim.

But, as we get more images of the comet as it heads away from the Sun, its ultimate fate is perhaps a little easier to see. The NASA / ESA spacecraft SOHO has been observing the comet since it entered its field of view on Nov. 28, and has told an interesting if somewhat head-scratchy tale. The solid nucleus of the comet started out about two kilometers wide, and got very bright. It faded rapidly as it approached the Sun, pretty much the opposite of what you might expect. But then it got bright again after it rounded the Sun, though not nearly as bright as before. And now it appears to be fading without stop.

Here’s a video I put together showing the comet starting on Nov. 28 at 07:00 UTC (02:00 EST), and ending 44 hours later on Nov. 30 at 04:00 (Nov. 29 at 11:00 p.m. EST):

You can see the comet head was so bright at the beginning it was saturatingthe SOHO detector, but then faded fast (I wrote a brief explanation of what you see in SOHO images in an earlier post). The other thing to note is that now, days later, the comet has faded substantially; there is no nucleus to be seen, and we can even see stars right through the comet (the image at the top of this post was taken on Nov. 30 at 20:42 UTC, and makes that clear; ISON is on the upper right and is now pretty well dispersed).

So what happened? A video from a different viewpoint may help. The STEREO spacecraft are twin probes moving around the Sun in opposite directions. They are on the other side of the Sun from Earth, so they have a very different perspective on what happened. Here is a (low-res) video from STEREO A showing the same events:

At about 10-11 seconds in, as ISON is about to swing around, you can see it starts to emit a thin puff of something (it looks like a flash, a sudden thing, but I suspect that might be an illusion due to the comet happening to cross a bright region in the solar atmosphere, making the comet look brighter). This may possibly have been a disruptive event, breaking apart the nucleus. That would explain why it faded. Heating and expansion of the material would cause it to glow briefly, which would be why the comet brightened after perihelion, and then as it dispersed it would thin, so overall the comet would fade.

Mind you, the SDO and PROBA2 spacecraft did not see the comet; if a lot of ice were blown out they should have seen it. Also, at the end of the videos you see a cloud of material blow out and sweep around the comet; that is likely fine dust blown out by the solar wind. So it may be that the disruption event shook out a lot of dust, and what we’re seeing now is a big cloud of debris moving away. Maybe we’ll know better when Hubble can take a look, but that won’t be for a few weeks (Hubble cannot look near the Sun, so we have to wait for orbital mechanics to bring the comet farther out). It may be there are still some decent sized chunks, and these could still brighten. I wouldn’t get my hopes up though.

editor--wordpressAs I’ve said many times, though, there’s a lot of stuff going on here, and it’s not at all clear what happened. I’m guessing based on what I’ve seen, experts I’ve talked to, and my own experience observing comets.

And while I won’t make any firm predictions, because that path leads to ruin (or at least frustration), it does seem like this is the comet’s last gasp. The ethereal nature of the material in the SOHO images from Saturday makes it look like it won’t recover from this latest waning.

But who knows? When the comet started fading before perihelion I thought it might be dying, and I was more sure when it really smeared out. Then it came back, and we thought it survived, but now it’s looking more like that was a last gasp. This comet (and our estimation of what it’s doing) changes its story on an hourly basis, it seems.

So assume none of this is written in stone (or ice). We will certainly learn more as scientists analyze the data returned, and we get even more observations in the coming months.


Post Originally posted on Bad Astronomy’s Blog

ISON After Perihelion: The Undead Maybe Somewhat Ex-Comet


Comet ISON — well, what’s left of it — as of Nov. 29 at 18:30 UTC (1:30 p.m. EST). It’s the blob at top center; the white circle shows the size of the Sun’s disk.
(Photo by NASA / ESA / SOHO)

Yesterday, comet C/2012 S1 (ISON) zoomed over the surface of the Sun, barreling through the star’s intolerable heat and light. We all waited on the edge of our seats to see what would happen, and amazingly, a few hours later, something came out the other side.

But what, exactly? We’re still not sure. But here’s my guess, based on what I’ve seen and heard.

Sun Diving

Let me give you a quick overview first. The comet itself was a chunk of rock, gravel, and dust held together by ice, smushed into an object perhaps two kilometers (a bit over a mile across). It came from the Oort cloud, a vast repository of such icy chunks well outside the orbit of Neptune. The orbit of ISON is extremely close to an escape trajectory for the solar system, meaning this is likely its first and only dip into the neighborhood; it may not ever return, and instead be ejected into interstellar space (or at least not be back for many, many, millennia).

As it approached the Sun on Nov. 28, it suddenly got very bright, which could have been from an outburst (perhaps due to solar heat seeping under the surface, reaching a pocket of ice, changing it directly from a solid to a gas, and triggering a sudden expulsion of that gas as it expanded), or even a disruption event. Since the ice holds the comet together, losing that ice means losing the infrastructure of the comet itself. It can break apart into smaller chunks, like other comets have in the past.


Comet ISON at 17:24 UTC (23:24 EST) Nov. 28, when it really looked like a goner.
(Photo by NASA / ESA / SOHO / Helioviewer.org)

Still, it looked solid enough as it kept heading for the Sun… for a while. But a few hours later (but still before closest approach) it had faded considerably, and images from the NASA/ESA spacecraft SOHO showed it looking more smeared out. The trail of stuff narrowed toward the tip, but we didn’t see a single, bright spot there, which is what we expected for an intact comet. Those of us who were punditing at the timewere, understandably, becoming convinced ISON was breaking up.

Pining for the Fjords

Then it got too close to the Sun for SOHO to see it (SOHO uses an occulting mask, a disk of metal, to block the fierce light of the Sun and allow it to see the fainter environment around our star; that’s why you see a black spot in the images, and the long bar to the upper right which holds the disk in place). We waited.

And waited.

At some point after perihelion I made a decision. I drew a line in the sand, saying I thought this was an ex-comet. But then, not long after, like Lazarus or a zombie, ISON came back from the dead.

But Wait! What Light Through Yonder SOHO Breaks?

By 19:48 UTC, a little tadpole was visible in the inner SOHO images. Within a few hours it was clear something had made it around the Sun. But was it an intact comet, or just a dust cloud of debris ripped apart by the terrible forces it experienced?


Comet ISON re-emerging on Nov. 28 at 23:00 UTC, a few hours after closest approach to Sun. The Sun is hidden by a metal disk (black circle); the red circle is from a narrow-angle camera showing the region close to the Sun.
(Photo by NASA / ESA / SOHO / Helioviewer.org)

That brings us to now. What of the comet? Well…we’re not really sure. The latestpictures do show a condensed blob of something, and it doesn’t look quite as much like a debris cloud as it did.

Best guess: As it rounded the Sun the solid nucleus fell apart. It may have released a lot of junk — dust, gas, whatever — but a sizeable chunk remained. That itself is still being heated by the Sun, and so is surrounded by a fuzzy coma of material. We can clearly see a tail of dust following behind it in the same orbit, and another tail of fine dust getting blown out by the solar wind (multiple tails of different compositions are common in comets).

So I wouldn’t say the comet survived, so much as some of it wasn’t destroyed. A subtle difference, perhaps, but clearly something is still there.


PROBA2 image of the Sun… but where’s ISON?
(Photo by ESA / PROBA2)

Interestingly, both the Solar Dynamics Observatory and the European PROBA2spacecraft did not see any hint of ISON as it passed the Sun. That’s extremely puzzling; PROBA2 has a very sensitive camera. Both are easily able to detect oxygen atoms released by the comet, which should glow in ultraviolet light (and the oxygen would come from water, an abundant substance in the comet). It’s not clear at all why the comet was invisible; it may be more evidence it did mostly break up. But again, we’re still seeing a tail (which means it’s blowing out material), so the only thing we can be sure of is that there’s more to this story than we’ve figured out in this short time.

What’s Next?

I’ll note the trajectory of the comet hasn’t changed. Gravity is far and away the dominant force steering the comet, and it’s still on its way out. It’s still bright, though not nearly as bright as it was. And it’s still very close to the Sun, just a few degrees away, so it won’t be visible just yet.

However, after a few days, if it stays bright, it may be visible in the pre-dawn sky. I wouldn’t bet on it, but geez, I wouldn’t bet against it either with this comet. Look low to the eastern horizon while the sky is still dark; you may need binoculars. As far as I can tell, the tail (if any) will stick more or less straight up away from the horizon (depending on your latitude). It may be visible after sunset in the west-northwest as well, but the angle of the tail won’t be as good.

I do NOT suggest trying to see it while it’s still near the Sun; it’s too faint and the chance of eye damage (if you use optical aids like binoculars or a telescope) is too high to risk it.

My advice is to wait a few days to see if it’s visible to the eye before dawn, and in the meantime delight and be puzzled by the fantastic images we’re getting from space.

The comet, or what’s left of it, will make its closest approach to Earth at the end of December, when it will be 60 million kilometers away. A few weeks later, it’s possible that we’ll pass through the debris trail from ISON, and see some meteors from it. At this point, given the capricious nature of the comet, I’d score this one as a firm maybe. We’ll know more in the coming weeks. I don’t think there’s any real danger from big pieces, since the comet itself will be millions of kilometers away at the time, so don’t fret. We should be safe from needing Bruce Willis’s help here.

editor--wordpressAd Infinitum

This comet has been a weirdo since Day 1, and continues to surprise and fascinate astronomers. And normal people, too. I was overwhelmed with the response I got yesterday both during and after the NASA video Hangout, as well as on Twitter, where I was trying to keep up with this iceball as it performed its merry pranks for the planet to see. My tweets got hundreds of replies, in many different languages, showing how this event touched people all over our own small world.

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: Comets and cats are equally predictable. It’s a losing game to be firm with them; your best move is to watch, wait, and enjoy the show while it happens. That’s my plan, for sure.

Tip o’ the Whipple Shield to my pal Craig DeForest for the PROBA2 news.


Post originally posted on Bad Astronomy’s Blog

Comet ISON likely broke up into pieces

STOCKHOLM: Once billed as the comet of the century, Comet ISON apparently was no match for the sun.

 Scientists said images from NASA spacecraft showed the comet approaching for a slingshot around the sun on Thursday, but just a trail of dust coming out on the other end. 

“It does seem like Comet ISON probably hasn’t survived this journey,” U.S. Navy solar researcher Karl Battams said in a Google+ hangout. 

Phil Plait, an astronomer who runs the “Bad Astronomy” blog, agreed, saying “I don’t think the comet made it.” 

Still, he said, it wouldn’t be all bad news if the 4.5-billion-year-old space rock broke up into pieces, because astronomers might be able to study them and learn more about comets. 

“This is a time capsule looking back at the birth of the solar system,” he said. 

The comet was two-thirds of a mile wide as it got within 1 million miles (1.6 million kilometers) of the sun, which in space terms basically means grazing it. 

NASA solar physicist Alex Young said it would take a few hours to confirm ISON’s demise, but admitted things were not looking good. 

He said the comet had been expected to show up in images from the Solar Dynamics Observatory spacecraft at around noon eastern time (1700 GMT), but almost four hours later there was “no sign of it whatsoever.” 

“Maybe over the last couple of days it’s been breaking up,” Young told The Associated Press. “The nucleus could have been gone a day or so ago.” 

 Images from other spacecraft showed a light streak continuing past the sun, but Young said that was most likely a trail of dust continuing in the comet’s trajectory.

“The comet itself is definitely gone, but it looks like there is a trail of debris,” he said. 

Comet ISON was first spotted by a Russian telescope in September last year. 

Some sky gazers speculated early on that it might become the comet of the century because of its brightness, although expectations dimmed as it got closer to the sun. 

Made up of loosely packed ice and dirt, it was essentially a dirty snowball from the Oort cloud, an area of comets and debris on the fringes of the solar system. 

Two years ago, a smaller comet, Lovejoy, grazed the sun and survived, but fell apart a couple of days later. 

“That’s why we expected that maybe this one would make it because it was 10 times the size,” Young said. 

It may be a while before there’s a sun-grazer of the same size, he said. 

“They are pretty rare,” Young said. “So we might not see one maybe even in our lifetime.”


This NASA image obtained November 27, 2013 shows Comet ISON, in this five-minute exposure taken at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center and captured using a color CCD camera attached to a 14″ telescope located at Marshall on November 8, 2013 at 5:40 a.m. EST. US astrophysicists are split over what will happen when the comet ISON passes near the sun November 28, 2013, but a majority think it will break apart. Comets are frozen balls of space dust left over from the formation of stars and planets billions of years ago.So when one of them zips close to a hot star, like the Sun, sometimes the icy core… melts. “Many of us think it could break up into pieces, and some people think it won’t survive at all” after its brush near the Sun, said comet expert Carey Lisse of the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory during a telephone press conference. But he conceded, there are others who think the icy mass “will actually survive and come back out” on the other side of the sun, albeit somewhat shrunken down from its encounter with the Sun’s heat.

Questions About ISON? Here Are Some Answers:


Comet ISON imaged on Nov. 19 with the Marshall Space Flight Center 20″ telescope in New Mexico
(NASA/MSFC/MEO/Cameron McCarty)

Unless you’ve been living in the Oort Cloud you’ve probably heard about the current travels of comet C/2012 S1 (aka ISON) through the inner solar system. Although this soon-to-be “sungrazing” comet was first spotted by Russian astronomers Vitali Nevski and Artyom Novichonok on Sept. 21, 2012, it’s actually been on its way toward the Sun for much, much longer — possibly for the past several million years or so. But on November 28 at 1:38 p.m. EST, as many Americans are sitting down for their Thanksgiving Day dinners here in the U.S., ISON will make its closest pass around the Sun (called perihelion) and, while you won’t be able to see it in the sky at that point (it’s much too close to the Sun right now) our many eyes in the sky will be watching.

There’s been a lot of misinformation passed around the ‘net recently regarding ISON (as seems to be de rigueur whenever something astronomical is occurring) and I can’t stress enough that there’s no reason to be concerned about this comet’s visit. If anything, ISON should be the one worried — there’s still a chance that it won’t survive perihelion intact! In fact, somereports are suggesting that it already has broken up (which as yet has not been confirmed). So to answer some of the most common questions people have been asking about ISON, NASA has shared some video interviews with experts on the subject. Watch them below:

Don Yeomans is a senior research scientist and near-Earth object expert at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory. (Source)

In another Q&A video, solar physicist Alex Young (check out his website TheSunToday.org) from NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center talks about ISON and what we can learn from its once-in-a-lifetime visit:

“This is just all-in-all a very exciting and a very unique object.”

– C. Alex Young, Ph. D.

Also, here’s the latest view of ISON as seen by NASA’s STEREO-A , one of two solar-observing spacecraft orbiting the Sun on nearly the opposite side of Earth:

The movie from the spacecraft’s Heliospheric Imager (HI) shows comet ISON, Mercury, the periodic comet Encke (which reached perihelion on Nov. 21) and Earth over a five-day period from Nov. 20 to Nov. 25. The Sun is off frame to the right.


Infographic of ISON’s visit to the inner solar system in 2013-2014 (NASA)

Comets have always been a source of fascination to humans. Once seen to portendinauspicious events, and then thought to be fiery “exhalations” of the atmosphere, they are now known to be icy visitors from the furthest reaches of the solar system… leftovers from the time of planetary formation and containing the same stuff that made up the original protoplanetary disk that once surrounded our Sun. It’s a rare event to have an object like ISON — a large, pristine comet that has never been “heat-treated” by the Sun’s corona — come so near and regardless of whether it becomes a dazzling night-sky object or not, scientists around the world are going to get a great chance to learn more about the history of our solar system.

It will be interesting to see if ISON “pulls a Lovejoy” and reappears from around the Sun! You can have your football games — I’ll be rooting for team ISON on Thursday! :)

(Of course, it could also drop an Elenin on us. We’ll just have to wait and see. As the well-known comet hunter David Levy famously said, “Comets are like cats; they have tails, and they do precisely what they want.”)

NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory (SDO) will be watching ISON’s pass on Nov. 28 and sharing the images in near-realtime here (which will give you a much better — and safer — view than going outside and trying to look at the Sun yourself) and ESA’s SOHO spacecraft should be getting ISON in view of its LASCO imagers in just a couple of hours.

Spaceweather.com also has a great library of the latest visitor-submitted photos of ISON and other comets taken from all around the world. It’s also a good source for the most recent info. There’s also a Flickr groupjust for ISON photos.

Check out an infographic of ISON’s visit timeline below, and read more about ISON’s visibility on my friend David Dickinson’s article on Universe Today here.

And as far as after perihelion, the gif below will tell you where in the sky to look for ISON as it (or whatever is left of it) heads back out into space, most likely never again to return. Oh, and sorry, southern hemisphere… ISON is a northern sky object. (Source: Troy Dunham/Huffington Post)


Where to find ISON before sunrise in Dec. 2013 (Click to play)


Dave Dickinson also has a detailed viewing guide for after perihelion up on Universe Today as well. (Pending ISON’s survival, of course!)

UPDATE 11/27: as of this morning, ISON has appeared in the field of view of the SOHOspacecraft. Karl Battams of the Naval Research Lab and member of the ISON observing campaign, currently watching the comet from the Kitt Peak Observatory, has posted some answers to common questions regarding ISON and its chances of surviving perihelion. Read more here.

“Comet ISON has started to act like a Sungrazing comet. What does this mean? Well it means that ISON is now in a very near-Sun region of the solar system and is experiencing levels of solar radiation that your average comet is never going to have to deal with. Accordingly, its surface is boiling away furiously, releasing tremendous amounts of ice, dust and gas and brightening up enormously.”
– Karl Battams

Image of ISON from SOHO’s LASCO C3 camera on 11/27, 16:18 UT. The Sun is behind the blue disk at center. (ESA/NASA)

Image of ISON from SOHO’s LASCO C3 camera on 11/27, 16:18 UT. The Sun is behind the blue disk at center. (ESA/NASA)


Note from the Editor:
This post is originally post on Lights In The Dark’s Blog

Clock Ticking for 2018 Private Manned Mars Mission


An artist’s illustration of the manned spacecraft for the Inspiration Mars mission to send two astronauts on a Mars flyby mission in 2017-2018.
Credit: Inspiration Mars

A private manned Mars mission won’t get off the ground as planned in January 2018 unless it secures the support of the federal government within the next few months, officials say.

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Celebrating 15 Years of The International Space Station

Nov. 20, 1998, was a day to mark in history. The Russian Space Agency , now known as Roscosmos, launched a Proton rocket that lifted the pressurized module called Zarya, or “sunrise,” into orbit. This launch would truly be the dawn of the largest international cooperation effort in space to ever come to light.

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NASA Damage Map Helps in Typhoon Disaster Response

NASA Damage Map Helps in Typhoon Disaster Response

When Super Typhoon Haiyan, one of the most powerful storms ever recorded on Earth, struck the Philippines Nov. 8, 2013, it tore a wide swath of destruction across large parts of the island nation. To assist in the disaster response efforts, scientists at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif., in collaboration with the Italian Space Agency, generated this image of the storm’s hardest-hit regions, depicting its destruction.
The 40-by-50 kilometer damage proxy map, which covers a region near Tacloban City, where the massive storm made landfall, was processed by JPL’s Advanced Rapid Imaging and Analysis (ARIA) team using X-band interferometric synthetic aperture radar data from the Italian Space Agency’s COSMO-SkyMed satellite constellation. The technique uses a prototype algorithm to rapidly detect surface changes caused by natural or human-produced damage. The assessment technique is most sensitive to destruction of the built environment. When the radar images areas with little to no destruction, its image pixels are transparent. Increased opacity of the radar image pixels reflects damage, with areas in red reflecting the heaviest damage to cities and towns in the storm’s path. The time span of the data for the change is Aug. 19–Nov. 11, 2013. Each pixel in the damage proxy map is about 30 meters across.
ARIA is a JPL- and NASA-funded project being developed by JPL and Caltech. It is building an automated system for providing rapid and reliable GPS and satellite data to support the local, national, and international hazard monitoring and response communities. Using space-based imagery of disasters, ARIA data products can provide rapid assessments of the geographic region impacted by a disaster, as well as detailed imaging of the locations where damage occurred.

Launch Readiness Review Gives ‘Go’ for MAVEN Launch

ImageA Launch Readiness Review ended this morning with NASA and contractor managers giving MAVEN the “go” for launch at 1:28 p.m. EST on Monday, Nov. 18, from Space Launch Complex 41 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida. Today’s review is the final mission review for MAVEN and its ride into space, the United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket. The Atlas V was also…

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Expedition 37 Crew, Olympic Torch Land in Kazakhstan

Three Expedition 37 crew members have landed after 166 days in space, completing a 70.3 million mile mission spanning more than 2,600 orbits of the Earth since their launch to the International Space Station in May.

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Expedition 37 Crew Heads Back to Earth

Soyuz Commander Fyodor Yurchikhin and Flight Engineers Karen Nyberg and Luca Parmitano undocked their Soyuz TMA-09M spacecraft from aft end the International Space Station’s Zvezda service module at 7:26 a.m. MYT Sunday to begin the journey home. At the time of the undocking, the complex was orbiting 262 miles over northeast Mongolia.

A deorbit burn at 9:55 a.m. will put the Soyuz on track for a parachute-assisted landing in the steppe of Kazakhstan southeast of Dzhezkazgan at 10:49 a.m. (8:49 a.m. Monday, Kazakh time).

Returning to Earth along with Yurchikhin, Nyberg and Parmitano is the torch that will be used to light the Olympic flame at the Feb. 7 opening ceremonies of the 2013 Winter Olympic Games in Sochi, Russia.

Expedition 37 Bids Farewell to Station Crewmates

ISS Expedition 37 Commander Fyodor Yurchikhin and Flight Engineers Karen Nyberg and Luca Parmitano bid farewell to their International Space Station crewmates and closed the hatch to their Soyuz TMA-09M spacecraft docked at the aft end of the Zvezda service module at 4 a.m. MYT.

When their Soyuz undocks at 7:26 a.m., it will mark the end of Expedition 37 and the start of Expedition 38 under the command of Oleg Kotov. Yurchikhin passed the helm of the station over to Kotov during a change of command ceremony Sunday.

A deorbit burn at 9:55 a.m. will put the Soyuz on track for a parachute-assisted landing in the steppe of Kazakhstan southeast of Dzhezkazgan at 10:49 a.m. ( 8:49 a.m. Monday, Kazakh time).

Expedition 37 Crew Returns Home Today

It is a busy weekend as three new crew members are adjusting to life aboard the International Space Station. A pair of cosmonauts is also getting ready for a Saturday morning spacewalk. Finally, three other station residents are packing up for their return home Sunday.

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Olympic Torch Highlights Station Spacewalk

Two Russian cosmonauts clad in Orlan spacesuits conducted an out-of-this-world hand-off of the Olympic torch at the start of Saturday’s 5-hour, 50-minute spacewalk to perform maintenance on the International Space Station.

Expedition 37 Flight Engineers Oleg Kotov and Sergey Ryazanskiy opened the hatch to the Pirs docking compartment at 9:34 a.m. EST and floated outside to begin a photo opportunity with the unlit torch.

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Station’s Crew Greets New Members (Updated)


The nine-member crew talks to family, friends and mission officials after Expedition 38 was welcomed aboard the International Space Station.

A new trio of Expedition 38 flight engineers opened the Soyuz and station hatches at 7:44 a.m. EST Thursday and were greeted by six station crew members. They docked to the Rassvet docking compartment at 5:31 a.m. after lifting from the Baikonur Cosmodrome, Kazakhstan, at 11:14 p.m. Wednesday aboard a Soyuz TMA-11M spacecraft.
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Expedition 38 Launches to Join Six-Member Station Crew

The Soyuz TMA-11M spacecraft heads to space seconds after launching on time from the Baikonur Cosmodrome, Kazakhstan.

The Soyuz TMA-11M spacecraft heads to space seconds after launching on time from the Baikonur Cosmodrome, Kazakhstan.

A new trio of Expedition 38 flight engineers lifted off from the Baikonur Cosmodrome, Kazakhstan, at 11:14 p.m. EST Wednesday aboard a Soyuz TMA-11M spacecraft. They are on a trip to the International Space Station that will take just over six hours.

After four orbits they will dock to the Rassvet docking compartment at 5:31 a.m. Wednesday. The Soyuz and station hatches will open about two hours later when they will be greeted by six station crew members. New station crew members Mikhail Tyurin, Koichi Wakata and Rick Mastracchio will join Expedition 37 Commander Fyodor Yurchikhin and Flight Engineers Karen Nyberg, Luca Parmitano, Oleg Kotov, Mike Hopkins and Sergey Ryazanskiy.

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India Successfully Launched Mars Probe

An Indian rocket has blasted off on the country’s first mission to Mars as it aims to become the only Asian nation to reach the Red Planet.

The rocket carrying the unmanned probe took off at 9.08am GMT from the Sriharikota spaceport, close to Chennai.

It entered orbit around Earth 44 minutes later, the country’s space agency confirmed.

The gold-coloured probe, which weighs 1,350kg (2,976lb), is about the size of a small car and is being carried by a 350-tonne rocket – much smaller than the US or Russian equivalents.

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Astronaut Chris Hadfield: “I couldn’t run for about four months”

Col. Chris Hadfield, author of “An Astronaut’s Guide to Life on Earth,” discusses the effect of space on the human body, as well as how his body felt after he returned to Earth after living aboard the International Space Station.

Hybrid Solar Eclipse Wows Skywatchers Across The Globe


The diamond ring effect of the 2013 total solar eclipse is seen in this amazing photo by eclipse-chasing photographer Ben Cooper, who captured the image from an airplane at 43,000 feet on Nov. 3, 2013 during a rare hybrid annual/total solar eclipse.
Credit: Ben Cooper/LaunchPhotography.com

A rare solar eclipse that began as a “ring of fire” and transformed into a spectacular total eclipse of the sun amazed skywatchers from North America to Africa today (Nov. 3), and they captured the photos to prove it.

The Sunday eclipse was a rare hybrid solar eclipse, which began over the Atlantic Ocean as an annular eclipse and transitioned into a full total solar eclipse for observers along the narrow path of totality in the eastern Atlantic and over parts of Africa. Observers along the U.S. East Coast and parts of Canada, meanwhile, awoke to a partial solar eclipse at sunrise.

“We witnessed totality here, and it was stunning,” said Paul Cox, who hosted a live webcast of the solar eclipse from Kenya for the online community observatory Slooh.com. The webcast included feeds from the GLORIA robotic telescope project and Slooh’s remotely operated observatory in the Canary Islands off Africa’s western coast. 

Cox and GLORIA project eclipse chasers set up telescopes and cameras near Kenya’s Lake Turkana and were prepared to witness about 14 seconds of totality as the moon crossed in front of the sun as seen from the region. A surprise sandstorm hammered the area just as the moon began its trip across the sun’s face, then clouds threatened to spoil the view.

But a last-minute thinning of the clouds allowed observers to observe the solar eclipse, Cox. Cheers could be heard in the Slooh webcast during totality and the sky clearly darkened visibly.

“It was alien … it was like nothing else I’ve seen,” Cox said in the webcast, adding that it was his first total solar eclipse experience. “It’s not a normal kind of dark. This is one of the most eerie … wow.”


Hybrid solar eclipses occur when the moon and sun align in a way in which, initially, the moon’s shadow falls short of the Earth’s surface, leaving a bright ring of light (the “ring of fire” or annulus) around the moon’s silhouette. As the eclipse progresses along Earth’s surface, the shadow reaches the surface to create the total solar eclipse. 

The last hybrid solar eclipse occurred in April 2005. The next one will not occur until 2023. 

For Cox, who was moved to tears by the experience, witnessing the total solar eclipse was an unforgettable experience. He and his team drove for three days to reach their observing site at Kenya’s Lake Turkana. 

“This is an absolute adventure for me because this is my first total solar eclipse,” Cox said.



Veteran space photographer Ben Cooper captured this spectacular aerial view of the 2013 total solar eclipse from an eclipse-chasing airplane during the rare hybrid solar eclipse of Nov. 3, 2013. The photo was taken from 43,000 feet over the Atlantic Ocean aboard a 12-person Falcon 900B jet chartered from Bermuda.
Credit: Ben Cooper/LaunchPhotography.com

Solar eclipse by land, sea and air

Several other eclipse-chasing expeditions on land, sea and air, including a team in Gabon, Africa led by astronomer Jay Pasachoff of Williams College, were also looking forward to observing the event. Pasachoff’s team planned to use the eclipse as a way to study the sun’s outer atmosphere, or corona, as well as space weather. A trio of cruise ship was also positioned along the eclipse path in the eastern Atlantic Ocean, while at least one chartered jet chased the moon’s shadow across the Atlantic from Bermuda.

Veteran space and launch photographer Ben Cooper, meanwhile, was among the small team who chartered the jet from Bermuda to chase today’s solar eclipse. He captured spectacular photos of the eclipse from an altitude of 43,000 feet (13,106 meters), including a spectacular view of the diamond ring effect as the moon appeared to cover the sun, despite some turbulence.

“For the first time ever, an aircraft was used to intercept an extremely short eclipse, doing so in a perpendicular crossing of the eclipse path. There was zero margin for error, with the plane required to hit a geographic point over the ocean at a precise second,” Cooper wrote on his website LaunchPhotography.com. “It is also just the second time a flight to intercept any very short eclipse (just seven seconds in our case) was accomplished successfully!”


Photographer James Currie captured this view of the sunrise partial solar eclipse over Norfolk, Va., on Nov. 3, 2013 during a rare hybrid solar eclipse. ‘This was the first time I got to see a solar eclipse!’
Credit: James Currie

Partial solar eclipse views

The first observers of Sunday’s solar eclipse were along the eastern coasts of the United States and Canada, where the moon appeared to bite a chunk from the sunrise.

In West Orange, N.J., where an estimated 100 spectators gathered at the local Eagle Rock Reservation to watch the sunrise over New York City in the distance, the solar eclipse was visible only briefly before it disappeared into a low layer of thick clouds.

“Based on my timestamps, there was about 3 minutes where the eclipse was visible,” observer Nicholas Sperling, who captured an amazing view of the partial solar eclipse over the NYC skyline.

In Norfolk, Va., skywatcher James Currie photographed the solar eclipse from Ocean View Beach and reveled in the view.

“This was the first time I got to see a solar eclipse!” Currie wrote in an email.

In the United Arab Emirates, skywatcher Kristi Larson was expecting to enjoy a serene sunset over Abu Dhabi when she was surprised by the solar eclipse.

“[We] stepped outside tonight to watch the beautiful Abu Dhabi, UAE sunset and was very perplexed to see just part of the sun,” adding that she learned of the solar eclipse by checking SPACE.com quickly. “If we would have known this was not your ordinary breath taking Abu Dhabi sunset we would have pulled out the ‘good’ camera, sadly we just snapped the picture with an iPhone.”

Sunday’s solar eclipse was the only total solar eclipse of 2013 and the 

Soyuz Move Sets Stage for Arrival of New Crew (Updated)


The Soyuz TMA-09M under the command of Expedition 37 Commander Fyodor Yurchikhin backs away from the International Space Station’s Rassvet module for a flyaround to the aft port of the Zvezda service module. .

Three International Space Station crew members took their Soyuz for a spin around the block Friday as they prepare for the extremely busy final week of Expedition 37.

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Soyuz Move Sets Stage for Arrival of New Crew


The Soyuz TMA-09M under the command of Expedition 37 Commander Fyodor Yurchikhin backs away from the International Space Station’s Rassvet module for a flyaround to the aft port of the Zvezda service module. .

Three International Space Station crew members took their Soyuz for a spin around the block Friday as they prepare for the extremely busy final week of Expedition 37.


Commander Fyodor Yurchikhin and Flight Engineers Karen Nyberg and Luca Parmitano undocked their Soyuz TMA-09M spacecraft from the Rassvet module on the Earth-facing side of the station at 4:33 a.m. EDT Friday. After backing the vehicle a safe distance away, Soyuz Commander Yurchikhin rotated the Soyuz and began the flyaround to the rear of the station. Carefully aligning the spacecraft with the docking port on the aft end of the Zvezda service module, which was vacated by the European Space Agency’s fourth Automated Transfer Vehicle (ATV) on Monday, Yurchikhin guided the spacecraft in for its docking at 4:54 a.m.


Coincidentally, Yurchikhin was at the helm for the last Soyuz relocation at the station in June 2010 when he piloted the Expedition 24 crew’s Soyuz TMA-19 vehicle from Zvezda to the then newly installed Rassvet module.


Friday’s Soyuz move sets the stage for the launch and arrival of a trio of new station crew members — NASA astronaut Rick Mastracchio, Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency astronaut Koichi Wakata and Soyuz Commander Mikhail Tyurin of the Russian Federal Space Agency – who will dock their Soyuz TMA-11M spacecraft to Rassvet on Nov. 7 about six hours after their launch from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan.


The arrival of Mastracchio, Wakata and Tyurin will mark the first time since October 2009 that nine people have served together aboard the station without the presence of a space shuttle.


Also arriving to the station aboard the Soyuz TMA-11M will be the Olympic torch, which is making the longest leg of its relay leading up to the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russian. Flight Engineers Oleg Kotov and Sergey Ryazanskiy will take the Olympic torch outside the station during a symbolic spacewalk on Nov. 9.  


The torch will return to Earth along with Yurchikhin, Nyberg and Parmitano on Nov. 10 when they board their Soyuz for the journey home after more than five months in space.


The final departure of Yurchikhin, Nyberg and Parmitano will free the Zvezda port for the docking of a new Progress resupply vehicle in late November. Program managers prefer to have a Progress or ATV cargo ship docked at Zvezda so it can help reboost the station and adjust its attitude.

Three Space Station Crews Get Ready for Relocation, Launch, Landing


International Space Station crews commuting to and from their orbiting laboratory will be busy this November, and NASA Television will provide live coverage of their launches, landings and relocations.

Traffic starts to pick up Friday, Nov. 1. Expedition 37 Commander Fyodor Yurchikhin of the Russian Federal Space Agency (Roscosmos) and Flight Engineers Karen Nyberg of NASA and Luca Parmitano of the European Space Agency will climb into their Soyuz spacecraft, back out of one Russian Earth-facing docking spot and fly a short distance to another one at the end of the station. NASA TV coverage starts at 4 p.m. MYT. The 24-minute maneuver begins with undocking at 4:34 p.m.

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NASA’s Orion Spacecraft Comes to Life

NASA’s first-ever deep space craft, Orion, has been powered on for the first time, marking a major milestone in the final year of preparations for flight.



Technicians work inside the Orion crew module being built at Kennedy Space Center to prepare it for its first power on. Turning the avionics system inside the capsule on for the first time marks a major milestone in Orion’s final year of preparations before its first mission, Exploration Flight Test

Orion’s avionics system was installed on the crew module and powered up for a series of systems tests at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida last week. Preliminary data indicate Orion’s vehicle management computer, as well as its innovative power and data distribution system — which use state-of-the-art networking capabilities — performed as expected.

All of Orion’s avionics systems will be put to the test during its first mission, Exploration Flight Test-1(EFT-1), targeted to launch in the fall of 2014.

“Orion will take humans farther than we’ve ever been before, and in just about a year we’re going to send the Orion test vehicle into space,” said Dan Dumbacher, NASA’s deputy associate administrator for exploration systems development in Washington. “The work we’re doing now, the momentum we’re building, is going to carry us on our first trip to an asteroid and eventually to Mars. No other vehicle currently being built can do that, but Orion will, and EFT-1 is the first step.”

Orion provides the United States an entirely new human space exploration capability — a flexible system that can to launch crew and cargo missions, extend human presence beyond low-Earth orbit, and enable new missions of exploration throughout our solar system.

EFT-1 is a two-orbit, four-hour mission that will send Orion, uncrewed, more than 3,600 miles above the Earth’s surface –15 times farther than the International Space Station. During the test, Orion will return to Earth, enduring temperatures of 4,000 degrees Fahrenheit while traveling 20,000 miles per hour, faster than any current spacecraft capable of carrying humans. The data gathered during the flight will inform design decisions, validate existing computer models and guide new approaches to space systems development. The information gathered from this test also will aid in reducing the risks and costs of subsequent Orion flights.


Technicians work inside the Orion crew module being built at Kennedy Space Center to prepare it for its first power on. Turning the avionics system inside the capsule on for the first time marks a major milestone in Orion’s final year of preparations before its first mission, Exploration Flight Test


“It’s been an exciting ride so far, but we’re really getting to the good part now,” said Mark Geyer, Orion program manager. “This is where we start to see the finish line. Our team across the country has been working hard to build the hardware that goes into Orion, and now the vehicle and all our plans are coming to life.”

Throughout the past year, custom-designed components have been arriving at Kennedy for installation on the spacecraft — more than 66,000 parts so far. The crew module portion already has undergone testing to ensure it will withstand the extremes of the space environment. Preparation also continues on the service module and launch abort system that will be integrated next year with the Orion crew module for the flight test.

The completed Orion spacecraft will be installed on a Delta IV heavy rocket for EFT-1. NASA is also developing a new rocket, the Space Launch System, which will power subsequent missions into deep space, beginning with Exploration Mission-1 in 2017.

NASA Prepares to Launch First Mission to Explore Martian Atmosphere



Oct. 21, 2013 — Inside the Payload Hazardous Servicing Facility at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida, engineers and technicians perform a spin test of the Mars Atmosphere and Volatile Evolution, or MAVEN, spacecraft. The operation is designed to verify that MAVEN is properly balanced as it spins during the initial mission activities. (NASA)


A NASA spacecraft that will examine the upper atmosphere of Mars in unprecedented detail is undergoing final preparations for a scheduled 1:28 p.m. EST Monday, Nov. 18 launch from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida.

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ATV-4 or “Albert Einstein” Completes Mission at Station


The European Space Agency’s fourth Automated Transfer Vehicle (ATV-4) undocks from the aft port of the International Space Station’s Zvezda service module.

The European Space Agency’s fourth Automated Transfer Vehicle (ATV-4), also known as the “Albert Einstein,” undocked from the aft port of the International Space Station’s Zvezda service module at 4:55 a.m. EDT Monday. Its departure sets the stage for the relocation of a Soyuz spacecraft currently docked at the station and the arrival of three new crew members…

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ATV-4 Ready for Today’s Undocking


 The European Space Agency’s Automated Transfer Vehicle-4 (ATV-4) “Albert Einstein” is about to dock to the orbital outpost at 2:07 GMT, June 15, 2013, following a ten-day period of free-flight.

The Expedition 37 crew is getting Europe’s “Albert Einstein” Automated Transfer Vehicle-4 (ATV-4) ready for its undocking. The ATV-4 has been filled with trash and its hatches have been closed. European Space Agency mission controllers will deorbit the ATV-4 over the Pacific Ocean.

The ATV-4 delivered more than 7 tons of food, fuel and supplies on June 15. It’s undocking is scheduled for 4:59 p.m. MYT Monday. NASA Television will cover the event live beginning at 4:45 p.m.

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Northern Lights Over Maine’s Moosehead Lake

Northern Lights Over Maine's Moosehead Lake

The vivid dance of the northern lights shimmers over Maine’s Moosehead Lake in this spectacular photo by a veteran night sky photographer.

Astrophotographer Mike Taylor of Maine captured the stunning aurora view on Oct. 10 and was awestruck at the celestial beauty.

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Pathfinding Operations for Orion Spacecraft at Kennedy Space Center

Pathfinding Operations for Orion Spacecraft at Kennedy Space Center

At NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida, the Orion ground test vehicle has been lifted high in the air by crane in the transfer aisle of the Vehicle Assembly Building. The ground test vehicle is being used for pathfinding operations, including simulated manufacturing, assembly and stacking procedures.
Orion is the exploration spacecraft designed to carry astronauts to destinations not yet explored by humans, including an asteroid and Mars. It will have emergency abort capability, sustain the crew during space travel and provide safe re-entry from deep space return velocities. The first unpiloted test flight of Orion, Exploration Flight Test (EFT)-1 is scheduled to launch in 2014. EFT-1 will be Orion’s first mission, which will send an uncrewed spacecraft 3,600 miles into Earth’s orbit. As part of the test flight, Orion will return to Earth at a speed of approximately 20,000 mph for a splashdown in the Pacific Ocean.

Cassini Gets New Views of Titan’s Land of Lakes

Cassini Gets New Views of Titan's Land of Lakes

PASADENA, Calif.– With the sun now shining down over the north pole of Saturn’s moon Titan, a little luck with the weather, and trajectories that put the spacecraft into optimal viewing positions, NASA’s Cassini spacecraft has obtained new pictures of the liquid methane and ethane seas and lakes that reside near Titan’s north pole. The images reveal new clues about how the lakes formed and about Titan’s Earth-like “hydrologic” cycle, which involves hydrocarbons rather than water…

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