Category Archives: space

Geminid meteor shower this weekend

Hope there’s clear skies for you.

The online Slooh Community Observatory will host a live webacst of the Geminid meteor display on Saturday night beginning at 8 p.m. EST (0100 Dec. 14 GMT).You can also watch the Slooh webcast directly:

More skywatching info at

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JPL | News | Saturn’s Moons: What a Difference a Decade Makes

The successor to the Voyagers at Saturn, NASA’s Cassini spacecraft, has spent the past 10 years collecting images and other data as it has toured the Ringed Planet and its family of satellites. New color maps, produced from this trove of data, show that Cassini has essentially fulfilled one of its many mission objectives: producing global maps of Saturn’s six major icy moons.

via JPL | News | Saturn's Moons: What a Difference a Decade Makes.

Pretty cool to see the difference in the maps. The north polar region of Enceladus will be filled in next year.

On a side note, I always thought that GM-Saturn should have named their cars after the Saturnian moons rather than names like SL and LW. Titan would be a pretty good name for a big SUV.

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Successful launch of Orion

Yesterday there was a boat too close, then winds were too high, then a fuel valve wouldn’t cycle properly. This morning, the countdown went smoothly.

I realized that while I know the rhythm of the Shuttle launches – the max Q, the booster separation, eight minutes to main engine cutoff – I don’t know squat about a Delta 4 Heavy launch. That was impressive.
Splashdown around 11:30 AM Eastern time off Baja California.


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EFT-1 Orion preparing for historic launch atop of Delta IV-H |

The unmanned Exploration Flight Test 1 mission, the maiden flight of NASA’s Orion spacecraft, is due to lift off atop a Delta IV rocket from Cape Canaveral during a two-hour, 39-minute window which opens at 12:05 UTC 07:05 local time. [7:05 AM Eastern]

Thursday’s mission will see Orion make two orbits of the planet during a four and a half hour mission that will end with the spacecraft’s recovery in the Pacific Ocean. Reaching a maximum altitude of 5,790 kilometres [3,600 miles] the mission will test separation mechanisms, demonstrate Orion’s Crew Module in orbit and prove that the spacecraft can withstand atmospheric reentry and be recovered successfully.

via EFT-1 Orion preparing for historic launch atop of Delta IV-H | will cover the launch, orbits, and re-entry. Should be a good test of the heatshield during re-entry. For comparison, the International Space Station flies at an altitude of around 250 miles.

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Orion poised to fly December 4th.

NASA’s Orion space vehicle is scheduled to make its first (unmanned) flight on December 4th.  Like most first flights, it’s objectives are fairly modest. Toss it up, make a couple orbits, come back down.  The one really aggressive move it will be making is that the orbits will be highly elliptical, with a maximum altitude of about 3,600 miles. That the highest orbit for a man rated vehicle in about 40 years. 

Why do this? Because Orion is not simply designed for low earth orbit, but rather for deep space exploration, potentially lunar or even Mars orbital missions. When you return from lunar flight, the reentry speed is much, much greater than from simple low earth orbit.

Not only will Orion use its power to achieve a higher orbit, it will use its engines to artificially accelerate to mimic that higher reentry speed.  A similar test was done during the Apollo program.

Here’s a look at the first quarter 2014 progress report.


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Comet landing attempt today

From the NASA press release:

Earlier this morning, the European Space Agency’s Rosetta Mission deployed its comet lander, “Philae.” Seven hours later at 11 a.m. EST, the experiment-laden, harpoon-firing Philae is set to touch down on the surface of comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko.

It will be the first time in history that a spacecraft has attempted a soft landing on a comet. Rosetta is an international mission led by ESA – European Space Agency, with instruments provided by its member states, and additional support and instruments provided by NASA.

NASA Television will provide live coverage from 9-11:30 a.m. EST of Rosetta scheduled landing of a probe on a comet today. NASA’s live commentary will include excerpts of the ESA coverage and air from 9-10 a.m. EST. NASA will continue carrying ESA’s commentary from 10-11:30 a.m. EST. ESA’s Philae (fee-LAY) lander is scheduled to touch down on comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko at 10:35 a.m. EST. A signal confirming landing is expected at approximately 11:02 a.m. EST.

After landing, Philae will obtain the first images ever taken from a comet’s surface. It also will drill into the surface to study the composition and witness close up how a comet changes as its exposure to the sun varies. Philae can remain active on the surface for approximately two-and-a-half days. Its “mothership” is the Rosetta spacecraft that will remain in orbit around the comet through 2015. The orbiter will continue detailed studies of the comet as it approaches the sun and then moves away. NASA has three of the 16 instruments aboard the orbiter.

Comets are considered primitive building blocks of the solar system that are literally frozen in time. They may have played a part in “seeding” Earth with water and, possibly, the basic ingredients for life.

Watch NASA TV online at:

comet 67p


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Mars Spacecraft Reveal Comet Flyby Effects on Martian Atmosphere | NASA

The MAVEN spacecraft, recently arrived at Mars, detected the comet encounter in two ways. The remote-sensing Imaging Ultraviolet Spectrograph observed intense ultraviolet emission from magnesium and iron ions high in the atmosphere in the aftermath of the meteor shower. Not even the most intense meteor storms on Earth have produced as strong a response as this one. The emission dominated Mars’ ultraviolet spectrum for several hours after the encounter and then dissipated over the next two days.

MAVEN also was able to directly sample and determine the composition of some of the comet dust in Mars’ atmosphere. Analysis of these samples by the spacecraft’s Neutral Gas and Ion Mass Spectrometer detected eight different types of metal ions, including sodium, magnesium and iron. These are the first direct measurements of the composition of dust from an Oort Cloud comet.

via Mars Spacecraft Reveal Comet Flyby Effects on Martian Atmosphere | NASA. posted the actual atmosphere spectrum measurements.

MAVEN did not actually see streaks of light in the Martian atmosphere–the spacecraft was sheltering behind the body of Mars during the comet’s flyby. But when MAVEN emerged, it found a glowing layer of Mg+ (a constituent of meteor smoke) floating 150 km above the planet’s surface.

The blue is Mars’ atmosphere before the comet flyby, red is after.

The “smoke” was made of ionized magnesium and other metals shed by the disintegrating meteoroids. The data are consistent with “a few tons of comet dust being deposited in the atmosphere of Mars,” says Nick Schneider, the instrument lead for MAVEN’s Imaging Ultraviolet Spectrograph at University of Colorado, Boulder. “A human on the surface of Mars might have seen thousands of shooting stars per hour, possibly a meteor storm.” He further speculated that the meteor shower would have produced a yellow afterglow in the skies of Mars because the meteor smoke was rich in sodium ions.

How cool is that to have MAVEN arrive in time for the flyby.

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