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NASA Readies OSIRIS-REx to Visit an Asteroid

Artist's concept of OSIRIS-REx (NASA/Goddard)

Artist’s concept of OSIRIS-REx (NASA/Goddard)

NASA is about to embark on its first mission to sample an asteroid—and I’ll have a front-row seat to the launch!

On Thursday, Sept. 8, at 7:05 p.m. (23:05 UTC) the launch window opens for the launch of OSIRIS-REx, NASA’s mission to visit the near-Earth asteroid Bennu, orbit and map it, collect a sample and return it to Earth. The 8-foot-wide, 20-foot-long spacecraft will launch aboard a ULA Atlas V rocket from Cape Canaveral AFS and as a member of the latest NASA Social event I and 99 other attendees will be at the Cape to see it off on its 7-year journey. Be sure to follow me on Twitter and Instagram to see pictures and videos from the two-day event on Sept. 7–8, and follow the #NASASocial hashtag on Twitter too!

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Rosetta Finally Found Its Lost Philae Lander

Rosetta's OSIRIS camera team has found the silent Philae lander on the surface of comet 67P

Rosetta’s OSIRIS camera team has found the silent Philae lander on the surface of comet 67P

Nearly two years after its historic landing on comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko, ESA’s lander has finally been spotted in an image from the orbiting Rosetta spacecraft—PHILAE HAS BEEN FOUND!

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Juno Sends Back Its First Pictures of Jupiter’s North Pole; “Like Nothing We Have Seen Before”

Jupiter's north pole imaged by NASA's Juno spacecraft on Aug. 27, 2016 ( NASA/JPL-Caltech/SwRI/MSSS)

Jupiter’s north pole imaged by Juno on Aug. 27, 2016 (NASA/JPL-Caltech/SwRI/MSSS)

Thanks to NASA’s Juno spacecraft we now have our best views yet of the north pole of our Solar System’s largest planet and they’re “hardly recognizable as Jupiter” according to the mission’s lead scientist!

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Watch Saturn’s Moons Race Inside the Rings

Saturn's moons Prometheus and Atlas are captured by Cassini in these images from Aug. 23, 2016

Saturn’s moons Prometheus and Atlas are captured by Cassini in these images from Aug. 23, 2016

Round and round they go… the animation above, made from 14 raw images taken by NASA’s Cassini spacecraft on August 23, 2016, shows the moons Prometheus and Atlas orbiting Saturn within the Roche Division gap between its A (top right) and F (center) rings. The gravitational tug of Prometheus (92 miles / 148 km long) is strong enough to pull on the fine, smoke-like icy particles of the F ring, creating streamer and “clump” features that follow it along.

The much smaller Atlas (23 miles / 37 km wide) follows a path around Saturn just past the outer edge of the A ring. It was once thought to be a “shepherd moon” of the A ring, but it’s now known that the pull of the more distant Janus and Epimetheus are responsible for that.

Atlas does have its very own ring, though—a very faint (i.e., not visible above) band of material that runs along its orbit named R/2004 S 1, discovered by the Cassini mission in July 2004.

Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/SSI. Animation by Jason Major.

Seeds in the Cosmic Wind: Carl Sagan on Space Exploration

Got the Monday back-to-work blues? Upset by bad news headlines? Concerned about a potential future President Trump? Take a couple of minutes and watch this.

This video, published by The Royal Institution on YouTube in Dec. 2015 and shared again on Twitter today, features an adorable animation about spaceflight with narration taken from a lecture given by Carl Sagan in 1977.

At that time it had been five years since humans had last walked on the Moon, the first Space Shuttle flight was still three and a half years away and the Voyagers had only just passed the orbit of Mars. But Sagan’s confidence and enthusiasm about the future of space exploration and human spaceflight is as inspirational now as it was then…let us continue to remember his words and pass along his message to each new generation that looks up and wonders “what’s out there” and, more importantly, “can I go?”

“Artifacts from Earth are spinning out into the cosmos. I believe the time will come when most human cultures will be engaged in an activity you might describe as a dandelion going to seed.”
— Carl Sagan, 1977

The Moon’s Dark Seas Are Scars From Ancient Strikes—Even Bigger Than We Thought

Mare Imbrium, one of the large dark basalt "seas" on the Moon's near side. (Photo: J. Major)

Mare Imbrium—the “Sea of Rains”—one of the large dark basalt lava flows on the Moon’s near side. (Photo: J. Major)

When you look up at a full or full-ish Moon you can’t help but notice the large dark spots that mark its Earth-facing side. These form the face of what many call the “Man in the Moon” (or the body of a Moon rabbit, to others) and are individually called mare (“MAR-ay”) which is the Latin word for sea. Early astronomers thought they were bodies of water, but in reality they are solidified dark lava flows from ancient lunar impact events that occurred several billion years ago.

One of the biggest lunar seas, Mare Imbrium (see above), had for a while been thought to have been created by the impact of an asteroid or meteorite somewhere around 50 miles across, based solely on computer models.

Now, research conducted by Brown University professor Dr. Peter Schultz—a specialist in lunar and planetary impacts—indicates that the object that formed Mare Imbrium was likely more massive and of much larger size than once thought…perhaps even as big as 190 miles wide.

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