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OSIRIS-REx Captures a Picture of Jupiter from L4

Jupiter imaged by OSIRIS-REx on Feb. 12, 2017. The visible moons are Callisto, Io, and Ganymede. (NASA/Goddard/University of Arizona)

NASA’s OSIRIS-REx may be designed to study asteroids close up but recently it’s captured a view of something farther away and much, much larger: the giant planet Jupiter and three of its largest moons at a distance of over 400 million miles!

The image was taken on Feb. 12, 2017, when the spacecraft was 76 million miles (122 million km) away from Earth—near the Earth-Sun L4 point—and 418 million miles (673 million km) from Jupiter. It’s a combination of two images taken with the PolyCam instrument, OSIRIS-REx’s longest range camera, which will capture images of the asteroid Bennu from a distance of over a million miles.

Read the full article here: NASA’s OSIRIS-REx Takes Closer Image of Jupiter

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Can Pluto Be a Planet Again Already?

New enhanced-color image of Pluto from New Horizons (NASA/JHUAPL/SwRI)

Enhanced-color image of Pluto from New Horizons (NASA/JHUAPL/SwRI)

Ever since the discovery of Pluto by Clyde Tombaugh in 1930 our Solar System was known to have nine planets orbiting the Sun. “My Very Eager Mother Just Served Us Nine Pizzas” was a popular mnemonic in my elementary school days to help remember the order of major planets from Mercury outward. But in 2006, a controversial decision by the International Astronomical Union—spurred in part by Caltech astronomer Mike Brown—changed the specifications on what officially classifies a planet in the Solar System, thereby stripping Pluto of its 76-year-old designation. The reclassification, done by an in-person vote at a meeting in Prague (at which only about 400 of over 9,000 IAU members were in attendance) has been a topic of debate—often fierce—in the astronomical community ever since, and now some scientists are demanding to have it redefined again.

The new definition, based on a 2017 proposal by six planetary scientists, would classify “at least 110” known objects in the Solar System as planets—including Pluto.

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Juno Will Not Enter Tighter Orbits Around Jupiter, Team Decides

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NASA’s Juno spacecraft will remain in 53-day-long orbits of Jupiter rather than rocket down to smaller 14-day orbits, despite the mission’s original plan to do so. Announced today, Feb. 17, this decision comes after evaluation of issues with helium valves that prevented orbital reduction burns in October and December of 2016.

“During a thorough review, we looked at multiple scenarios that would place Juno in a shorter-period orbit, but there was concern that another main engine burn could result in a less-than-desirable orbit,” said Rick Nybakken, Juno project manager at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California. “The bottom line is a burn represented a risk to completion of Juno’s science objectives.”

Even though Juno will remain in wider orbits its scientific objectives and capability to achieve them shouldn’t be affected—if anything, it will get a chance to explore more of Jupiter’s magnetic environment while reducing the time it spends in some of the more damaging regions of Jupiter’s radiation belts.

The solar-powered Juno spacecraft launched aboard a ULA Atlas V 551 rocket from Cape Canaveral on Aug. 5, 2011. After nearly five years and 1.7 billion miles of travel Juno arrived in orbit at Jupiter on July 4, 2016.

Read the full story here: NASA’s Juno Mission to Remain in Current Orbit at Jupiter

There’s a Cerulean Storm Swirling on Saturn’s North Pole

RGB color-composite of Saturn from raw images acquired on Feb. 13, 2017. (NASA/JPL-Caltech/SSI/Jason Major)

RGB color-composite of Saturn from raw images acquired on Feb. 13, 2017. (NASA/JPL-Caltech/SSI/Jason Major)

Like some giant beast’s great blue eye Saturn’s north polar vortex appears to glare up at Cassini’s wide-angle camera in this image, a color-composite made from raw images acquired in red, green, and blue visible light wavelengths on February 13, 2017.

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Chelyabinsk: a Blast From the Not-Too-Distant Past (or, How’s That Space Program Coming Along?)

Dashcam video of the Chelyabinsk meteor exploding on Feb. 15, 2013 (Source: RT.com)

Dashcam video of the Chelyabinsk meteor exploding on Feb. 15, 2013 (Source: RT.com)

Four years ago today an explosion shattered the morning sky over the Chelyabinsk region in southwestern Russia, the result of a 60-foot-wide fragment of an asteroid entering Earth’s atmosphere at over 40,000 mph and brilliantly blowing itself to smithereens at 97,000 feet up. Even at that altitude, the resulting flash of light and air blast was powerful enough to cause extensive damage on the ground, shattering windows, knocking in doors, and causing injury to nearly 1,500 people across towns in the area—several of them seriously.

This was the largest observed meteor since the famous 1908 Tunguska event, but thanks to the prevalence today of dashboard and CCTV cameras in Russia this one was well-recorded. (I remember seeing the videos online within an hour after it happened!) The footage has allowed scientists to not only determine the energy of the Chelyabinsk meteor explosion—about 500 kilotons—but also the object’s trajectory and origin.

Watch a video below of footage captured from various locations of the Chelyabinsk meteor:

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Share Your Love of Cassini and Saturn with the World

Amateur-processed images from Cassini. Top: Saturn mosaic by Ian Regan; Lower left: Enceladus in the E Ring by Val Klavans; Lower right: Crescent Titan by Jason Major.

Amateur-processed images from Cassini. Top: Saturn mosaic by Ian Regan; Lower left: Enceladus in the E Ring by Val Klavans; Lower right: Crescent Titan by Jason Major.

Even if you’re feeling inundated by Valentine-themed everything at the moment, if you love space and you’re at all creative you’re definitely going to adore this. With Cassini in the final months of its 13 years at Saturn, NASA wants you to share your love of the spacecraft, its discoveries, and the ringed planet and its fascinating family of moons.

“We’re so gratified that Cassini’s images have inspired people to work with the pictures themselves to produce such beautiful creations,” said Linda Spilker, Cassini project scientist at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory. “It’s been truly wonderful for us to feel the love for Cassini from the public. The feeling from those of us on the mission is mutual.”

In honor of Cassini’s last year in orbit (as well as its last Valentine’s Day!) the mission team is inviting all the Saturn lovers out there to share their Cassini-inspired creations through the “Cassini Inspires” outreach program. Digital art, processed images, paintings, drawings, songs, poems…if it drew any inspiration at all from something Cassini made possible, share it with the world!

Read more here: A Valentine: From Cassini with Love

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