Today in 1966: Lunar Orbiter I Launched to Map our Moon

Earth was seen from the Moon for the first time by Lunar Orbiter I on August 23, 1966. (NASA/LPI/USGS)

Earth was seen from the Moon for the first time by Lunar Orbiter I on August 23, 1966. (NASA/LPI/USGS)

A test version of a Lunar Orbiter spacecraft. (Eric Long, National Air & Space Museum)

A test version of the 2-meter-long, 390-kg Lunar Orbiter spacecraft. (Eric Long, National Air & Space Museum)

On August 10, 1966, NASA’s Lunar Orbiter I launched from Cape Canaveral aboard an Atlas-Agena D rocket, the flagship spacecraft of a program designed to map the Moon and investigate intended landing sites for the planned Apollo landings, including helping determine the risks from micrometeorite and radiation exposure. Over the course of the next twelve months and five successful missions the Lunar Orbiter program photographed 99% of the Moon’s surface, both nearside and far, to a resolution as fine as 1 meter – which at the time was ten times better than what could be achieved from Earth.

Lunar Orbiter I was also responsible for sending back our first views of Earth from lunar orbit, one of which can be seen above.

Learn more about Lunar Orbiter here, and see original images from the Lunar Orbiter program here. Also, check out a cool old Apollo-era film about the Lunar Orbiter and Apollo prep missions below:

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No This Is Not an Alien Cave Crab on Mars

Curiosity Mastcam image from Mars taken on Sept. 5, 2014. (NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS. Edit by J. Major.)

Curiosity Mastcam image from Mars taken on Aug. 5, 2014. (NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS. Edit by J. Major.)

I’m in a debunking mood today, probably brought on by the seasonal “double Moon hoax” that raises its oh-so-wrong head every August. (Read more on that nonsense here.) So here’s one more thing to say “NO” to: giant alien cave crabs on Mars.

Apparently there’d been some buzz recently in the “space woo” circles online over an image acquired by NASA’s Curiosity rover showing an exposed rock outcrop on Mars. In the image, tucked into a corner between a couple of larger rocks, is an oddly-shaped… thing… that some of the more “open-minded” (sarcasm intended) viewers have claimed is an alien organism, not unlike some that have made appearances in various sci-fi films over the years.

I’ve included the original Mastcam image above with the object in question outlined and “enhanced” on the left. Is this indisputable evidence of tentacled cave dwellers on the Red Planet? Hardly.

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Mars Will NOT Be As Big As The Moon In The Night Sky

There will not be

There will not be “two Moons” in the sky on August 27, 2015, despite what this circulating image claims. (Original credit unknown.)

No, no, no…a thousand times NO: Mars will not become a “second Moon” in the sky on August 27. It won’t this year, it didn’t last year, and it didn’t in the past dozen years since this silly yet strangely perennial cyber-legend (yes I just used the prefix “cyber”) first started circulating on teh interwebz. I don’t know why it keeps rising from the e-dead every year, some years more omnipresently than others, but the bottom line is it simply won’t happen. Not this time, not ever… the Solar System just doesn’t work that way. (And good thing too!)

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The Hammer-Feather Drop: Watch Apollo 15 Commander Dave Scott “Do a Science” on the Moon

On August 2, 1971, at the end of the last EVA of the Apollo 15 mission, Commander David Scott took a few minutes to conduct a classical science experiment in front of the TV camera that had been set up just outside the LM Falcon at the Hadley Rille landing site. Scott, a former Air Force pilot, recreated a famous demonstration often attributed to Galileo (which may or may not have actually been performed by the astronomer in Pisa in 1586) that shows how objects of different masses react the same way to gravity when dropped – that is, they fall at the same rate.

By performing the “acceleration test” in the vacuum environment of space (but where there is still an observable downward pull of gravity) the element of air resistance is negated – especially on such a low-mass and low-density object as a falcon feather – thereby creating a more “pristine” setting for the centuries-old experiment than could ever be achieved on Earth.

According to a report on the mission’s science objectives: “During the final minutes of the third extravehicular activity, a short demonstration experiment was conducted. A heavy object (a 1.32-kg aluminum geological hammer) and a light object (a 0.03-kg falcon feather) were released simultaneously from approximately the same height (approximately 1.6 m) and were allowed to fall to the surface. Within the accuracy of the simultaneous release, the objects were observed to undergo the same acceleration and strike the lunar surface simultaneously, which was a result predicted by well-established theory, but a result nonetheless reassuring considering both the number of viewers that witnessed the experiment and the fact that the homeward journey was based critically on the validity of the particular theory being tested. ” (Joe Allen, NASA SP-289, Apollo 15 Preliminary Science Report, Summary of Scientific Results, p. 2-11. Source.)

Launched on July 26, 1971, Apollo 15 was the first of the “J” missions capable of a longer stay time on the moon and greater surface mobility, thanks to the use of the Lunar Roving Vehicle (LRV).Learn more about the Apollo 15 mission here.

Dawn Finds Similarities Between Ceres and Saturn’s Moons

Ceres (left, Dawn image) compared to Tethys (right, Cassini image) at comparative scale sizes. (Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech/UCLA/MPS/DLR/IDA and NASA/JPL-Caltech/SSI. Comparison by J. Major.)

Ceres (left, Dawn image) compared to Tethys (right, Cassini image) at comparative scale sizes. (Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech/UCLA/MPS/DLR/IDA and NASA/JPL-Caltech/SSI. Comparison by J. Major.)

Around 600 miles wide, covered in craters and cliffs, a composition of rock and water ice… these are descriptions of both several of Saturn’s moons and the dwarf planet Ceres, based on recent observations by NASA’s Dawn spacecraft. New topographical maps show that, in terms of surface features anyway, Ceres shares similarities with Saturn’s icy satellites.

“The craters we find on Ceres, in terms of their depth and diameter, are very similar to what we see on Dione and Tethys, two icy satellites of Saturn that are about the same size and density as Ceres,” said Paul Schenk,  Dawn science team member and a geologist at the Lunar and Planetary Institute (LPI) in Houston, TX. “The features are pretty consistent with an ice-rich crust.”

Read more in my article on Universe Today.

Behold the Hidden Colors of Pluto

Enhanced-color view of Pluto (NASA/JHUAPL/SwRI)

Enhanced-color view of Pluto (NASA/JHUAPL/SwRI)

This newly-released picture of Pluto isn’t quite what our eyes would perceive… but then our eyes aren’t high-tech scientific imaging sensors like the ones aboard New Horizons! An enhanced-color image made from data acquired by the spacecraft’s LORRI and Ralph cameras on July 13, 2015, this view of Pluto shows the many variations in surface compositions across the planet’s visible area. What the compositions are specifically and how they got to be in the places they’re in are questions still being worked on by scientists, so for now we can all just have fun speculating and enjoy the view!

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