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Making Cubesats do Astronomy

Will cubesats develop a new technological branch of astronomy? Goddard engineers are taking the necessary steps to make cubesat sized telescopes a reality. (Credit: NASA, UniverseToday/TRR)

Will cubesats lead to a new technological branch of astronomy? Goddard engineers are taking the necessary steps to make cubesat-sized telescopes a reality. (Credit: NASA, UniverseToday/TRR)

One doesn’t take two cubesats and rub them together to make static electricity. Rather, you send them on a brief space voyage to low-earth orbit (LEO) and space them apart some distance and voilà, you have a telescope. That is the plan of NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center engineers and also what has been imagined by several others.

Cubesats are one of the big crazes in the new space industry. But nearly all that have flown to-date are simple rudderless cubes taking photos when they are oriented correctly. The GSFC engineers are planning to give two cubes substantial control of their positions relative to each other and to the Universe surrounding them. With one holding a telescope and the other a disk to blot out the bright sun, their cubesat telescope will do what not even the Hubble Space Telescope is capable of and for far less money.

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Weekly Space Hangout – Oct. 24, 2014

Host: Fraser Cain (@fcain)

Guests:
Ramin Skibba (@raminskibba)
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This Is the Very First Photo of Earth From Space

The first photo of Earth from space was taken on Oct. 24, 1946 (Credit: White Sands Missile Range/Applied Physics Laboratory)

The first photo of Earth from space was taken on Oct. 24, 1946 (Credit: White Sands Missile Range/Applied Physics Laboratory)

These days we see photos of our planet taken from space literally every day. Astronauts living aboard the International Space Station, weather and Earth-observing satellites in various orbits, even distant spacecraft exploring other planets in our Solar System… all have captured images of Earth from both near and far. But there was a time not that long ago when there were no pictures of Earth from space, when a view of our planet against the blackness of the cosmos was limited to the imagination of dreamers and artists and there was nothing but the Moon orbiting our world.

On this day in 1946, before Apollo, before Mercury, even before Sputnik, that was no longer the case.

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Comet Siding Spring Was Bleeding Hydrogen As It Sped By Mars

Comet Siding Spring shines in ultraviolet in this image obtained by the Mars Atmosphere and Volatile EvolutioN (MAVEN) spacecraft. Credit: Laboratory for Atmospheric and Space Physics/University of Colorado; NASA

Comet Siding Spring shines in ultraviolet in this image obtained by the Mars Atmosphere and Volatile EvolutioN (MAVEN) spacecraft. Credit: Laboratory for Atmospheric and Space Physics/University of Colorado; NASA

As Comet Siding Spring passed close by Mars on Sunday (Oct. 19), NASA’s newest Mars spacecraft took a time-out from its commissioning to grab some ultraviolet pictures of its coma. What you see above is hydrogen, a whole lot of it, leaving the comet in this picture taken from 5.3 million miles (8.5 million kilometers).

The hydrogen is a product of the water ice on the comet that the Sun is slowly melting and breaking apart into hydrogen and oxygen molecules. Because hydrogen scatters ultraviolet light from the Sun, it shows up rather clearly in this picture taken by the Mars Atmosphere and Volatile EvolutioN (MAVEN) spacecraft.

Check out more recent pictures of Siding Spring below.

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Stinky! Rosetta’s Comet Smells Like Rotten Eggs And Ammonia

A view of Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko on Sept. 26, 2014 from the orbiting Rosetta spacecraft. Credit: ESA/Rosetta/NAVCAM

A view of Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko on Sept. 26, 2014 from the orbiting Rosetta spacecraft. Credit: ESA/Rosetta/NAVCAM

While you can’t smell in space — there is no medium to carry the molecules, the same reason you can’t hear things — you can certainly detect what molecules are emanating from comets and other solar system bodies. A new analysis of Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko by the orbiting Rosetta spacecraft thus found a rather pungent chemistry combination.

The spacecraft detected hydrogen sulphide (the smell of rotten eggs), ammonia and formaldehyde with traces of hydrogen cyanide and methanol. But compared to the amounts of water and carbon monixide 67P has, these molecule concentrations are quite miniscule.

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