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Tag Archives: Moon

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

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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).

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.

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)

Hybrid Solar Eclipse Wows Skywatchers Across The Globe

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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.

 

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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!”

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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 

LADEE Arrived At Lunar Orbit During Gov’t Shutdown

NASA’s new LADEE spacecraft successfully entered lunar orbit, is operating beautifully and has begun shooting its radical laser communications experiment despite having to accomplish a series of absolutely critical do-or-die orbital insertion engine firings with a “skeleton crew ” – all this amidst the NASA and US government shutdown, NASA Ames Research Center Director Pete Wordon told Universe Today in a LADEE mission exclusive.

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Penumbral Eclipse Almost Here – October 19, 2013 (Malaysia)

 

The lunar eclipse is almost here! On the night of Friday October 18, 2013, a penumbral lunar eclipse will be visible in the night’s sky to those in Europe, Africa, parts of the Americas, and parts of Asia (Malaysia included).

Those in Europe, Africa, and the Near-East will get the best show, as the eclipse will peak during the dark late-night hours. Those in the Americas can still see the eclipse, but given that it will still be comparatively light during the hours that the eclipse peaks, they won’t be able to see as much/as clearly.

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