What is the Perfect Gift for Every Space Enthusiast? The Year in Space Calendar 2018!

What is the most wonderful time of the year? In my opinion, it is when the new Year In Space Calendars come out! This is our most-recommended holiday gift every year and whether it’s the gigantic wall calendar or the spiral-bound desk calendar, the 2018 versions don’t disappoint. They are full of wonderful color images, daily space facts, and historical references. These calendars even show you where you can look in the sky for all the best astronomical sights.

These calendars are the perfect gift every space enthusiast will enjoy all year.

The 2018 Year in Space Wall Calendar. Courtesy Steve Cariddi.

The gorgeous wall calendar has over 120 crisp color images and is larger, more lavishly illustrated, and packed with more information than any other space-themed wall calendar. It’s a huge 16 x 22 inches when hanging up.

The Year In Space calendars take you on a year-long guided tour of the Universe, providing in-depth info on human space flight, planetary exploration, and deep sky wonders. You’ll even see Universe Today featured in these calendars 🙂

The Year in Space calendars normally sell for $19.95, but Universe Today readers can buy the calendar for only $14.95 or less, with additional discounts that appear during checkout if you buy more than 1 copy at a time. Check out all the details here.

A close look at the 2018 Year in Space Wall Calendar. Courtesy Steve Cariddi.

Other features of the Year In Space calendar:
– Background info and fun facts
– A sky summary of where to find naked-eye planets
– Space history dates
– Major holidays (U.S. and Canada)
– Daily Moon phases
– A mini-biography of famous astronomer, scientist, or astronaut each month

The spiral bound desk calendar. Image courtesy Steve Cariddi.

The 136-Page Desk Calendar is available at a similar discounts. The desk calendar also includes a Monthly Sky Summary, which is a handy month-by-month list of what’s visible in the night sky, such as conjunctions, meteor showers, eclipses, planet visibility, and more. Plus there’s information on planetary exploration, including a comprehensive look at what to expect from the many planetary missions taking place in the year ahead.

Preview the calendars on the Year In Space website, where you can also get a direct link to Amazon. Because all shipping is handled through Amazon this year, currently calendars can only ship to US addresses.

I Still ♥ the ISS: More Reasons to Love the International Space Station

Back in 2008, I professed my feelings, bared my soul and told all about how I absolutely was in love the International Space Station. Nine and a half years ago when I wrote that article, titled “I ‘Heart’ the ISS: Ten Reasons to Love the International Space Station,” the ISS was still under construction, only three astronauts/cosmonauts at a time could live on board, and scientific research was sparse. Some people routinely questioned the cost and utility of what some people called an expensive erector set or orbiting white elephant.

But now, construction has been complete for several years, six crew members are usually aboard, and there are three fully outfitted laboratory modules that contain fourteen internal research facilities and twelve facilities outside the station. The ISS is the largest, most complex international engineering project in history, built by fifteen countries around the world. They had to – and continue to — work across differences in language, units of measure and political agendas.

A timelapse photo taken by Don Pettit on the International Space Station. Credit: Don Pettit/NASA

The ISS is an engineering and technical marvel for not only its nearly flawless construction — every piece fit together perfectly — but also for its relatively trouble-free operation. It’s become a certified US National Laboratory, conducting ground-breaking research across multiple disciplines. It serves as a unique educational and inspirational platform for people around the world.

But one thing has not changed: I still love the ISS. And today, as we celebrate 17 years of humans continuously living and working off our home planet, here are ten more reasons to love the ISS:

Seen here on a spacewalk in March 2017, NASA astronaut Peggy Whitson holds the record for most spacewalks conducted by a female astronaut. Credits: NASA

1. The Humans: The astronauts and cosmonauts on board the ISS put the ‘human’ in human spaceflight. They can do the science, make the observations and share the experience unlike any robotic mission. The personalities of each crew give a unique flavor to each Expedition (we’re currently up to Expedition #53). While astronauts like Chris Hadfield, Peggy Whitson and Scott Kelly have become uber-famous for their unique stints aboard the ISS, over 200 humans have visited and over 100 people from 10 different countries have lived and worked on board. As of today, there has been a cumulative consecutive 6,210 days of humans in orbit on the ISS.

Japanese astronaut Koichi Wakata plays around wiith humanoid robot Robonaut 2 during Expedition 39 in March 2014. Credit: NASA

2. Robots: Oh yes, we’ve got robots on board too! Robonaut is human-shaped robot working towards taking over simple human tasks like flipping switches and other maintenance, SPHERES (Synchronized Position Hold Engage and Reorient Experimental Satellites) are like Jedi training spheres that are testing several different space technologies; Japan’s super-cute JEM Internal Ball Camera can monitor space station activities and functions.

JAXA’s JEM Internal Ball Camera, or “Int-Ball” for short, floats while taking a video, July 2017. Credit: NASA.

Canadarm 2 is a 17.6 meter (57.7 feet) -long robotic arm on the station’s exterior that was instrumental in building the ISS; it can handle large payloads and is now used to dock visiting resupply ships. Dextre is Canada’s large robot that’s been described as a “robotic handyman” that does work outside the space station. Next year a new robot called Astrobee will come on board; it’s a cube-shaped robot packed with sensors, cameras, computers, and a propulsion system and is designed to help astronauts around the ISS with a variety of tasks. All these robots will help lead us to real versions of R2D2, C3PO and BB-8.

In November 2014, NASA astronaut Butch Wilmore installed a 3-D printer made by Made in Space in the Columbus laboratory’s Microgravity Science Glovebox on the International Space Station. Credit: NASA TV

3. There’s a 3-D printer on board: 3-D printing has taken off on Earth for all sorts of applications and the 3-D printer on the ISS could help pave the way for future long-term space expeditions. The Additive Manufacturing Facility (AMF) from the company Made In Space has printed tools for use on the station, and NASA is even looking at printing food in space. It’s the first version of the Star Trek replicator, and can help solve the logistics problem of having spares for every single nut and bolt, enabling repairs and being able to solve unanticipated problems in space where there are no hardware stores.

4. Science! Hundreds of experiments conducted on board the ISS have changed science both off and on our world. Experiments include fields as diverse as microbiology, space science, fundamental physics, astronomy, meteorology and Earth observation to name a few. Every week, I receive a detailed email from the ISS Program Science Office, explaining the diverse experiments and unique results from research in space. Like on Earth, not all research in space is headline-making and world changing, and science takes time. As Peggy Whitson said, “like research on the ground, it takes many years to get a final answer but each step is important.”

The continued research on the ISS is producing unique science results, space technology spinoffs, and other technologies that are saving lives around the world. Studies have allowed for advances in water monitoring and filtering, fire prevention, particle and colloidal studies, and nanomaterials that are providing innovations in industry.

The Center for the Advancement of Science in Space (CASIS) manages the ISS National Lab, and they have has partnered with academic researchers, government organizations, startups and major commercial companies to take advantage of the unique microgravity lab.

Big experiments include the Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer that is looking for dark matter, and antimatter and cosmic rays; and the Cold Atom Laboratory (CAL) is an experimental instrument set to launch next year that will create extremely cold conditions in the microgravity environment of the ISS leading to the formation of Bose Einstein Condensates that are a magnitude colder than those that are created in laboratories on Earth.

Building the ISS itself has led to advances in engineering and all the activities on board enhance our ability to explore space and one day set off on journeys that will take humans out into the solar system.

Here’s a video that explains in detail some of the top research results from the ISS:

NASA astronaut Kate Rubins not only became the first person to sequence DNA in space, but the sequenced more than a billion bases during her time aboard the space station. Credits: NASA

5. More science, for the betterment of humanity’s health. One of the main areas of focus is life sciences. Studying the effects of microgravity on astronauts provides insight into human physiology, and how it evolves or erodes in space, and those studies can be used directly to help solve medical problems here on Earth. Investigations have been aimed at studying cancer cells, bone density and osteoporosis, heart disease, eye sight issues, as well as and examining ways to enhance pharmaceuticals.

Last year, DNA was successfully sequenced aboard the ISS, and this opens a whole new world of scientific and medical possibilities. Scientists consider it a game changer.

Expedition 24’s Tracy Caldwell Dyson gazes out of the cupola. Credit: NASA

6. The Cupola and orbital perspective. Seeing Earth from space can be life changing, and even just seeing the incredible pictures and videos from the ISS astronauts can give us the big picture and a long-term view of our world that we can’t get otherwise. Books like Frank White’s “The Overview Effect” and ISS astronaut Ron Garan’s “The Orbital Perspective” have talked in detail about the impact of seeing our world as a whole, and how it can show us, as Garan said, “both the good and bad of our daily decisions, words, and actions.”

Additionally, Earth observations can help in studying climate and and Earth’s physical, biological and chemical systems.

Also, you can see that the Earth is not flat.

You can watch live views of the Earth from the ISS with ISS HD Viewing Experiment Camera here.

7. International cooperation. This is one of the benefits of space exploration: people from different countries and faiths can learn to live together in peace and harmony. While space exploration started as more of a competition, as NASA historian Steven J. Dick has said, “political and funding realities have now shifted the balance toward cooperation.”

The ISS is the result of unprecedented scientific and engineering collaboration among five space agencies. I’ll just reiterate what I wrote in 2008: In a world where violence and political animosity floods the daily news, it’s incredible that this structure in space was quietly built by 15 different countries working together in relative harmony. If not for the international partners, the ISS probably wouldn’t have gotten off the ground, former NASA Administrator Mike Griffin has said, adding that that the station’s most enduring legacy is the international partnership that created it.

“Space is without borders, we fly to an international space station where we do experiments that come back to Earth and benefit all of us — they benefit all humankind,” said German ISS astronaut Alexander Gerst.

8. Longevity: The ISS is an incredible feat of engineering, and its 15 pressurized modules and many other components are working so well in space that the goalposts for station’s life has been extended several times. 2028 is that latest estimate and goal for how long the ISS will be operational. It won’t last forever, though, as some components have been in space since 1998. It took a dozen years and more than 30 missions to assemble. It is the result of unprecedented scientific and engineering collaboration.

A montage of 31 images taken in less than a second as the International Space Station transits the Sun and a solar prominence. Credit and copyright: Thierry Legault.

9. You can see it for yourself, and its brighter than ever. One of the most amazing things about the ISS is that you can watch it orbit over your backyard. This 460-ton, football-field-size permanently crewed platform orbits 240 miles above Earth, going around every 90 minutes. I still see people’s jaws drop and eyes widen in wonder when they see for the first time, as it glides silently and swiftly across the night or early morning sky. I never tire of observing it. Find out when the station will fly over your backyard at NASA’s Spot the Station website or at the Heaven’s Above website.

10. Construction is complete. We did it. We built this incredible structure in space, together. Yes, it was expensive, about $100 billion. But it was ambitious, audacious and unprecedented and it has been an unequivocal success. It will lead us to the future of space exploration, hopefully extending and protecting life on Earth. It’s an international mission that is truly for all humankind.

First Cosmic Event Observed in Both Gravitational Waves and Light

About 130 million years ago, in a galaxy far away, two neutron stars collided. The cataclysmic crash produced gravitational waves, ripples in the fabric of space and time. This event is now the 5th observation of gravitational waves by the Laser Interferometer Gravitational wave Observatory (LIGO) and Virgo collaboration, and the first detected that was not caused by the collision of two black holes.

But this event — called a kilonova — produced something else too: light, across multiple wavelengths.

For the first time in history, an astronomical phenomenon has been first observed through gravitational waves and then seen with telescopes. In an incredibly collaborative effort, over 3,500 astronomers using 100 instruments on over 70 telescopes around the world and in space worked with physicists from the LIGO and Virgo collaboration.

Scientists call this “multimessenger astronomy.”

“Together, all these observations are bigger than the sum of their parts,” said Laura Cadonati, LIGO’s Deputy Spokesperson at a briefing today. “We are now learning about the physics of the universe, about the elements we are made of, in a way that no one has ever done before.”

Observations of the kilonova. Credit: P.K. Blanchard/ E. Berger/ Pan-STARRS/DECam.

“It will give us insight into how supernova explosions work, how gold and other heavy elements are created, how the nuclei in our body works and even how fast the universe is expanding,” said Manuela Campanelli, from the Rochester Institute of Technology. “Multimessenger astronomy demonstrates how we can combine the old way with the new. It has changed the way astronomy is done.”

Neutron stars are the crushed leftover cores of massive stars that long ago exploded as supernovae. The two stars, located near each other in a galaxy called NGC 4993, started out between 8-20 times the mass of our sun. Then with their supernovas, each condensed down to about 10 miles in diameter, the size of a city. These are stars composed entirely of neutrons and are in-between normal stars and black holes in size and density — just a teaspoon of neutron star material would weigh 1 billion tons.

They spun around each other in a cosmic dance until their mutual gravity caused them to collide. That collision produced a fireball of astronomical proportions and the repercussions of that event arrived at Earth 130 million years later.

“While this event took place 130 million years ago, we only found out about this on Earth on August 17, 2017, just before the solar eclipse,” said Andy Howell from the Las Cumbres Observatory, speaking at a press briefing today. “We’ve been keeping this secret the whole time and we’re about to bust!”

At 8:41 am EDT, LIGO and Virgo felt the early tremors of the ripples of spacetime, gravitational waves. Just two seconds later, a bright flash of gamma rays was detected by NASA’s Fermi space telescope. This allowed researchers to quickly pinpoint the direction from which the waves were coming.

Alerted by an Astronomers Telegram, thousands of astronomers around the world scrambled to make observations and begin collecting additional data from the neutron star merger.

This animation shows how LIGO, Virgo, and space- and ground-based telescopes zoomed in on the location of gravitational waves detected August 17, 2017 by LIGO and Virgo. By combining data from the Fermi and Integral space missions with data from LIGO and Virgo, scientists were able to confine the source of the waves to a 30-square-degree sky patch. Visible-light telescopes searched a large number of galaxies in that region, ultimately revealing NGC 4993 to be the source of gravitational waves.

“This event has the most precise sky localization of all detected gravitational waves so far,” Jo van den Brand, spokesperson for the Virgo collaboration, said in a statement. “This record precision enabled astronomers to perform follow-up observations that led to a plethora of breathtaking results.”

This provides the first real evidence that light and gravitational waves travel at the same speeds – near the speed of light — as Einstein predicted.

The kilonova became red and faded by a factor of over 20 in just a few days. This rapid change was captured by Las Cumbres Observatory telescopes as night time moved around the globe. Credit: Sarah Wilkinson / LCO.

Observatories from the very small to the most well-known were involved, quickly making observations. While bright at first, the event faded in less than 6 days. Howell said the observed light was 2 million times brighter than the Sun over the course of the first few hours, but it then faded over a few days.

The Dark Energy Camera (DECam), which is mounted on the Blanco 4-meter Telescope at the Cerro Tololo Inter-American Observatory in the Chilean Andes was one of the instruments that helped localize the source of the event.

“The challenge that we face every time that the LIGO collaboration issues a new observational trigger is how do we search for a source that is rapidly fading, was possibly faint to begin with, and is located somewhere over there,” said Marcelle Soares-Santos, from Brandeis University at the briefing. She is the first author on the paper describing the optical signal associated with the gravitational waves. “It’s the classical challenge of finding a needle in a haystack with the added complication that the needle is far away and haystack is moving.”

With the DECam, they were quickly able to determine the source galaxy, and rule out 1,500 other candidates that were present in that haystack.

“Things that look like these ‘nneedles’ are very common, so we need to make sure we have the right one. Today, we are certain we have,” Soares-Santos added.

In the very small department, a small robotic 16-inch telescope called PROMPT (Panchromatic Robotic Optical Monitoring and Polarimetry Telescope) — which astronomer David Sand from the University of Arizona described at “basically a souped-up amateur telescope,” — also helped determine the source. Sand said this proves that even small telescopes can play a roll in multimessenger astronomy.

The well known is led by Hubble and several other NASA and ESA space observatories, such as the Swift, Chandra and Spitzer missions. Hubble captured images of the galaxy in visible and infrared light, witnessing a new bright object within NGC 4993 that was brighter than a nova but fainter than a supernova. The images showed that the object faded noticeably over the six days of the Hubble observations. Using Hubble’s spectroscopic capabilities the teams also found indications of material being ejected by the kilonova as fast as one-fifth of the speed of light.

On 17 August 2017, the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory (LIGO) and the Virgo Interferometer both detected gravitational waves from the collision between two neutron stars. Within 12 hours observatories had identified the source of the event within the lenticular galaxy NGC 4993, shown in this image gathered with the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope. The associated stellar flare, a kilonova, is clearly visible in the Hubble observations. This is the first time the optical counterpart of a gravitational wave event was observed. Hubble observed the kilonova gradually fading over the course of six days, as shown in these observations taken in between 22 and 28 August (insets). Credit: NASA and ESA. Acknowledgment: A.J. Levan (U. Warwick), N.R. Tanvir (U. Leicester), and A. Fruchter and O. Fox (STScI).

“This is a game-changer for astrophysics,” said Howell. “A hundred years after Einstein theorized gravitational waves, we’ve seen them and traced them back to their source to find an explosion with new physics of the kind we only dreamed about before.”

Here are just a few of insights this single event created, using multimessenger astronomy:

* Gamma rays: These flashes of light are now definitively associated with merging neutron stars and will help scientists figure out how supernova explosions work, explained Richard O’Shaughnessy, also from Rochester Institute of Technology and a member of the LIGO team. “The initial gamma-ray measurements, combined with the gravitational-wave detection, further confirm Einstein’s general theory of relativity, which predicts that gravitational waves should travel at the speed of light,” he said.

* The source of gold and platinum: “These observations reveal the direct fingerprints of the heaviest elements in the periodic table,” said Edo Berger, from the Harvard Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, speaking at the briefing. “The collision of the two neutron stars produced 10 times of mass of Earth in gold and platinum alone. Think about how as these materials are flying out of this event, they eventually combine with other elements to form stars, planets, life … and jewelry.”

Berger added something else to think about: the original supernova explosions of these stars produced all the heavy elements up to iron and nickel. Then in the kilonova in this one system, we can see the complete history of how the periodocial table of the heavy elements came into being.

Howell said that when you split the signatures of the heavy elements into a spectrum, you create a rainbow. “So there really was a pot of gold at the end of the rainbow, at least a kilonova rainbow,” he joked.

* Nuclear physics astronomy: “Eventually, more observations like this discovery will tell us how the nuclei in our body works,” O’Shaughnessy said. “The effects of gravity on neutron stars will tell us how big balls of neutrons behave, and, by inference, little balls of neutrons and protons — the stuff inside of our body that makes up most of our mass”; and

* Cosmology:- “Scientists now can independently measure how fast the universe is expanding by comparing the distance to the galaxy containing the bright flare of light and distance inferred from our gravitational wave observation,” said O’Shaughnessy.

“The ability to study the same event with both gravitational waves and light is a real revolution in astronomy,” said astronomer Tony Piro from the CfA. “We can now study the universe with completely different probes, which teaches things we could never know with only one or the other.”

“For me, what made this event so amazing is that not only did we detect gravitational waves, but we saw light across the electromagnetic spectrum, seen by 70 observatories around the world,” said David Reitz, scientific spokesman for LIGO, at today’s press briefing. “This is the first time the cosmos has provided to us the equivalent of movies with sound. The video is the observational astronomy across various wavelengths and the sound is gravitational waves.”

Sources: Las Cumbres Observatory, Hubble Space Telescope, Rochester Institute of Technology, Kilonova.org, CfA,, press briefing.

Watch a House-Sized Asteroid Pass Close to Earth Tonight (October 11/12)

On Oct. 12, a house-size asteroid will pass quite close to Earth – only 26,000 miles (42,000 kilometers) away. This is just above the orbital altitude of communications satellites and a little over one-tenth the distance to the Moon. But not to fear, it has no chance of hitting Earth.

Artists concept of Asteroid 2012 TC4’s close pass of Earth on Oct. 12, 2017. Based on continuing observations, scientists have determined that it will pass the Earth at a distance of about 26,000 miles (42,000 kilometers). Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Asteroid 2012 TC4 was discovered almost 4 years ago to the day, on October 4, 2012, just a week before it made another close pass by Earth.

With a little more advance notice this time around, NASA and asteroid trackers around the world are using the close pass to test their ability to operate as a coordinated International Asteroid Warning Network. This is a growing global observing network to communicate and coordinate their optical and radar observations in a real scenario.

“Asteroid trackers are using this flyby to test the worldwide asteroid detection and tracking network, assessing our capability to work together in response to finding a potential real asteroid-impact threat,” said Michael Kelley, program scientist and NASA lead for the TC4 observation campaign. You can read more details about the observing campaign in our previous article.

You can watch it pass by too, if you have a at least an 8 inch telescope, according to our David Dickinson, who has a very informative post about 2012 TC4 at Sky & Telescope.

Closest approach will be at on October 12, 2017, at 5:41 Universal Time (1:41 a.m. EDT).

You can also watch a couple of webcasts of the pass:

Virtual Telescope will have a live feed, and the Slooh Telescope crew will also host a live feed starting tonight at 8 pm EDT on Oct. 11.

2012 TC4 is estimated to be 45 to 100 feet (15 to 30 meters) in size.

NASA’s Asteroid Watch says that no asteroid currently known is predicted to impact Earth for at least the next 100 years.

More info at NASA’s website.

Dwarf Planet Haumea Has a Ring

A unique opportunity to study the dwarf planet Haumea has led to an intriguing discovery: Haumea is surrounded by a ring.

Add this to the already long list of unique things about the weird-shaped world with a dizzying rotation and a controversial discovery.

On January 21, 2017 Haumea passed in front of a distant star, in an event known as an occultation. The background star can – pardon the pun – shine a light on the object passing in front, providing information about a distant object — such as size, shape, and density — that is otherwise difficult to obtain. Since an occultation with Haumea had never been observed before, scientists were first eager, and then surprised.

“One of the most interesting and unexpected findings was the discovery of a ring around Haumea,” said said Pablo Santos-Sanz, from the Institute of Astrophysics of Andalusia (IAA-CSIC) in a statement.

This is the first time a ring has been discovered around a trans-neptunian object, and the team said this discovery shows that the presence of rings could be much more common than was previously thought, in our Solar System as well as in other planetary systems.

“Twelve telescopes from ten different European observatories converged on the phenomenon,” said José Luis Ortiz, who led the observational effort, and is also from IAA-CSIC. “This deployment of technical means allowed us to reconstruct with a very high precision the shape and size of dwarf planet Haumea, and discover to our surprise that it is considerably bigger and less reflecting than was previously believed. It is also much less dense than previously thought, which answered questions that had been pending about the object.”

The team said their data shows that the egg-shaped Haumea measures 2,320 kilometers in its largest axis. Previous estimates from various observations put the size at roughly 1,400 km. It takes 3.9 hours for Haumea rotate around its axis, much less than any other body in the Solar System that measures more than a hundred kilometers long. This rotational speed likely caused Haumea to flatten out, giving it an ellipsoid shape. It orbits the Sun in an elliptical loop that takes 284 years to complete. Additionally Haumea has two small moons.

Artist’s impression of the dwarf planet Haumea and its moons, Hi’aka and Namaka. Credit: NASA

Ortiz and team say their data shows the newly discovered ring lies on the equatorial plane of the dwarf planet, and it “displays a 3:1 resonance with respect to the rotation of Haumea, which means that the frozen particles which compose the ring rotate three times slower around the planet than it rotates around its own axis.”

Ortiz says there might be a few possible explanations for the formation of the ring; it may have originated in a collision with another object, or in the dispersal of surface material due to the planet’s high rotational speed.

Of course, other objects in our Solar System have rings: all the giant planets have rings, with Saturn’s being the most massive and well know. But small centaur asteroids located between Jupiter and Neptune were found to have rings, too.
“Now we have discovered that bodies even farther away than the centaurs, bigger and with very different general characteristics, can also have rings,” said Santos-Sanz.

You may recall there was great controversy over the discovery of Haumea. The discovery was originally announced in 2005 by Mike Brown from Caltech, along with his colleagues Chad Trujillo of the Gemini Observatory in Mauna Kea, Hawaii, and David Rabinowitz, of Yale University.

But then Ortiz and Santos-Sanz attempted to scoop Brown et. al by sending in their claim to discovery to the Minor Planet Center before Brown’s paper was published. It was later learned that Ortiz and colleagues had accessed the Caltech observing logs remotely, looking at when and where Brown was looking with his telescopes. Ortiz and team initially denied the claims, but later conceded accessing the observation logs, maintaining they were just verifying whether they had discovered a new object in observations from 2003.

I asked Brown today if anything was ever officially resolved about the controversy.

“I think the resolution is that it is generally accepted that they stole our positions, but no one wants to think about it anymore,” he said via email.

But the discovery of a ring Haumea, Brown said, looks solid.

“I will admit to being wary of anything Ortiz says, so I checked the data very carefully,” Brown said. “Even I have to agree that the detection looks pretty solid. Haumea is weird, so it’s less surprising than, say, finding rings around something like Makemake. But, still, this was not something I was expecting!”

Sources: IAA-CSIC, Nature, email exchange with Brown.

Hey Citizen Scientists! Help NASA Analyze Images Taken from the Space Station

Calling all citizen scientists, geography buffs, fans of the International Space Station and those who love that orbital perspective!

CosmoQuest has a brand new project in coordination with NASA and the Astronomical Society of the Pacific (ASP) where you can help identify features in photographs taken by astronauts from the space station.

The project is called Image Detective. I’ve tried it out, and wow, THIS is a lot of fun!

Now, I absolutely love seeing the images taken of Earth from the ISS, and I routinely follow all the astronauts on board on social media so I can see their latest images. And I also love the concept of regular, everyday people doing science. Plus I’m a big fan of CosmoQuest and their ‘quest’ to bring science to the public.

But still, the setup CosmoQuest has is really great and the process is easy. Citizen scientists are asked to help identify geographic features (natural or human-made) and then determine the location on Earth where the photo is centered.

I found that last part to be the most difficult, but I’ve been known to have trouble reading a map … so I’m hoping that I can improve a bit with more practice.

“The astronauts’ photos of Earth are visually stunning, but more than that, they can be used to study our changing Earth,” said our good friend Dr. Pamela Gay, who is the Director of Technology and Citizen Science at ASP. “From erupting volcanoes, to seasonal flooding, these images document the gradual changes that happen to our landscape. The trick is, we need to make these images searchable, and that means taking the time to sort through, analyze, and label (add metadata) the unidentified images within the database of 1.5 million plus photos.”

You can try it out here: http://cosmoquest.org/ImageDetective.

The team says that Image Detective spreads the significant work necessary to label all of the images out to citizen scientists across the world.

“This is a unique, powerful, and beautiful image data set that has already yielded excellent research science. But the data set needs the many eyes and minds of citizen scientists to reach its full potential as a publicly available, searchable catalog,” said Dr. Jennifer Grier, a Senior Scientist and Senior Education and Communication Specialist at Planetary Science Institute (PSI) and CosmoQuest’s lead support scientist. “With the additions that citizen scientists as detectives can make, professional research scientists will be able to conduct more research into our changing world, and do so much more effectively.”

Rosetta Team Finds New, Final Image Hiding in the Data

ESA scientists have found one additional image from the Rosetta spacecraft hiding in the telemetry. This new image was found in the last bits of data sent by Rosetta immediately before it shut down on the surface of Comet 67P/Churyumov–Gerasimenko last year.

The new image shows a close-up shot of the rocky, pebbly surface of the comet, and looks somewhat reminiscent of the views the Huygens lander took of the surface of Saturn’s moon Titan.

A final image from Rosetta, shortly before it made a controlled impact onto Comet 67P/Churyumov–Gerasimenko on 30 September 2016. Credit: ESA/Rosetta/MPS for OSIRIS Team MPS/UPD/LAM/IAA/SSO/INTA/UPM/DASP/IDA.

Planetary astronomer Andy Rivkin noted on Twitter that for size context, he estimates the block just right of center looks to be about the size of a hat. That’s a fun comparison to have (not to mention thinking about hats on Comet 67P!)

The picture has a scale of 2 mm/pixel and measures about 1 m across. It’s a really ‘close’ close-up of Comet 67P.

“The last complete image transmitted from Rosetta was the final one that we saw arriving back on Earth in one piece moments before the touchdown at Sais,” said Holger Sierks, principal investigator for the OSIRIS camera at the Max Planck Institute for Solar System Research in Göttingen, Germany. “Later, we found a few telemetry packets on our server and thought, wow, that could be another image.”

The team explains that the image data were put into telemetry ‘packets’ aboard Rosetta before they were transmitted to Earth, and the final images were split into six packets. However, for the very last image, the transmission was interrupted after only three full packets. The incomplete data was not recognized as an image by the automatic processing software, but later, the engineers in Göttingen could make sense of these data fragments to reconstruct the image.

You’ll notice it is rather blurry. The OSIRIS camera team says this image only has about 53% of the full data and “therefore represents an image with an effective compression ratio of 1:38 compared to the anticipated compression ratio of 1:20, meaning some of the finer detail was lost.”

That is, it gets a lot blurrier as you zoom in compared with a full-quality image. They compared it to compressing an image to send via email, versus an uncompressed version that you would print out and hang on your wall.

Rosetta’s final resting spot is in a region of active pits in the Ma’at region on the two-lobed, duck-shaped comet.

A montage of the last few images from Rosetta, including the new image, with context of where the features on the last images are located. Credit: ESA/Rosetta/MPS for OSIRIS Team MPS/UPD/LAM/IAA/SSO/INTA/UPM/DASP/IDA

Launched in 2004, Rosetta traveled nearly 8 billion kilometers and its journey included three Earth flybys and one at Mars, and two asteroid encounters. It arrived at the comet in August 2014 after being in hibernation for 31 months.

After becoming the first spacecraft to orbit a comet, it deployed the Philae lander in November 2014. Philae sent back data for a few days before succumbing to a power loss after it unfortunately landed in a crevice and its solar panels couldn’t receive sunlight.

But Rosetta showed us unprecedented views of Comet 67P and monitored the comet’s evolution as it made its closest approach and then moved away from the Sun. However, Rosetta and the comet moved too far away from the Sun for the spacecraft to receive enough power to continue operations, so the mission plan was to set the spacecraft down on the comet’s surface.

And scientists have continued to sift through the data, and this new image was found. Who knows what else they’ll find, hiding the data?

Read more details about this image at ESA’s website.

Read our article about Rosetta’s mission end here.

Australia To Create Its Own Space Agency

This year’s International Astronautical Congress is being held in Adelaide, Australia and the opening ceremonies of this meeting of ‘all things space’ included a special announcement. The Australian government announced that it will establish a new national space agency, with the hopes of growing Australia’s already vibrant space industry.

Michaelia Cash, Australian’s acting Minister of Industry, Innovation and Science was quoted as saying that Australia will not have a NASA but an agency “right for our nation, right for our industry … that will provide the vehicle for Australia to have a long-term strategic plan for space – a plan that supports the innovative application of space technologies and grows our domestic space industry, including through defense space procurement.”

Australia’s space industry is worth about $4 billion and already employs about 11,500 people. But proponents for creating a space agency for the country say it will help coordinate and expand the efforts.

Of course Australia has been very active in space exploration, being part of every deep-space mission NASA has flown with tracking and communications as part the Deep Space Network and the precursor system of dishes around the world. The tracking and communications dish at Parkes, Honeysuckle Creek, Tidbinbilla and Canberra were notoriously part of the Apollo missions, and several other large radio dishes in Australia have been listening to space to tease out astronomical details. Additionally, the Square Kilometer Array being built in Australia, New Zealand and South Africa will help us answer fundamental questions in astronomy and cosmology.

In depth: how we *really* watched the footage from the Apollo 11 Moon landing, thanks to the Australian radio dishes.

But still, many have said that Australia is one of the few major developed countries that do not have a space agency. New Zealand established their space agency last year. You can see a list of all the world’s space agencies from Heather Archuletta’s Pillownaut website.

Reportedly, the plan is to double the size of Australia’s current space capacity within five years and add thousands of new jobs, while taking advantage of new technology such as cubesats.

“We have longstanding ties with NASA, exploring space together and generating all of these jobs. And that’s the key point, it is a jobs industry-first agency,” astrophysicist Alan Duffy told ABC. “It’s designed to create satellites and new uses for the images that come from those satellites, and I don’t mean giant, bus-sized satellites of the ‘60s and ‘70s. Thanks to smartphones something the size of a toaster has the same capabilities as some of these historic launches. So we get to space cheaper and we can do more when we’re there.”

Reportedly, more details of the new space agency will be announced this week during the IAC, which is a gathering of thousands of global space experts, heads of other space agencies and private companies.

Sources: ABC, Sydney Morning Herald

Loss of Signal: Cassini Spacecraft Plunges Into Saturn

Until the very end, Cassini displayed just how robust and enduring this spacecraft has been throughout its entire 20 years in space and its 13-year mission at Saturn. As Cassini plummeted through the ringed-planet’s atmosphere, its thrusters fought the good fight to keep the antenna pointed at Earth for as long as possible, sending as much of the last drops of science data as it could.

Cassini endured about 40 seconds longer than expected before loss of signal was called at 11:55:46 UTC

“I hope you’re all deeply proud of this accomplishment,” said Cassini Project Manager Earl Maize in JPL’s Mission Control Center after Cassini’s signal was lost. “This has been an incredible mission, and incredible spacecraft and an incredible team. I’m going to call this the end of mission. Project Manager off the net.”

Of course, the actual demise of Cassini took place about an hour and 23 minutes before, as it took that long for the signal to travel the 1.5 billion km distance from Saturn to Earth.

“This is a bittersweet moment for all of us,” said JPL Director Mike Watkins, “but I think it is more sweet than bitter because Cassini has been such an incredible mission. This is a great time to celebrate the hard work and dedication of those who have worked on this mission.”

Watkins added that almost everything we know about Saturn comes from the Cassini mission. “It made discoveries so compelling that we have to back,” he said. “We will go back and fly through the geysers of Encleadus and we’ll go back to explore Titan… These are incredibly compelling targets.”

Cassini program manager at JPL, Earl Maize, left, and spacecraft operations team manager for the Cassini mission at Saturn, Julie Webster, right, embrace after the Cassini spacecraft plunged into Saturn, Friday, Sept. 15, 2017 at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California. Photo Credit: (NASA/Joel Kowsky)

Cassini launched on Oct. 15, 1997, and arrived at Saturn’s in 2004. It studied Saturn’s rings and sent back postcards almost every day of its journeys around the Saturn system, pictures of complex moons, the intriguing rings and the giant gas planet.

It revealed the moon Enceladus as one of the most geothermally active places in our solar system, showing it to be one of the prime targets in the search for life beyond Earth.

Saturn’s active, ocean-bearing moon Enceladus sinks behind the giant planet in a farewell portrait from NASA’s Cassini spacecraft.
Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Space Science Institute

Also, piggybacking along was the Huygens probe to study Saturn’s largest moon, Titan. This landing in 2005 was the first spacecraft to land in the outer solar system.

During its final plunge, Cassini’s instruments captured data on Saturn’s atmosphere, sending a strong signal throughout. As planned, data from eight of Cassini’s science instruments will be providing new insights about Saturn, including hints about the planet’s formation and evolution, and processes occurring in its atmosphere.

This death plunge ensures Saturn’s moons will remain pristine for future exploration.

Over 260 scientists from 17 countries and hundreds of engineers worked with Cassini throughout the entire mission. During Cassini’s final days, mission team members from all around the world gathered at JPL to celebrate the achievements of this historic mission.

Here is the last picture taken by Cassini’s cameras, showing the place where Cassini likely met its demise:

This monochrome view is the last image taken by the imaging cameras on NASA’s Cassini spacecraft. It looks toward the planet’s night side, lit by reflected light from the rings, and shows the location at which the spacecraft would enter the planet’s atmosphere hours later. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Space Science Institute

If you can’t get enough of Cassini, there will be more information coming about this final data, and of course, you can go look at all the images it has sent back here. Also, NASA has provided an ebook for download that includes information and images from the mission.

Cassini: The Mission That Will Live Forever

“With Cassini, we had a rare opportunity and we seized it,” said Linda Spilker, Cassini Mission Scientist.

And on Friday, September 15, we say goodbye to this incredible spacecraft.

Since 2004, Cassini has been orbiting Saturn, exploring the magnificent gas giant planet while weaving through an incredibly diverse assortment of 60-plus icy moons, and skimming along the edges of the complex but iconic icy rings.

Cassini’s findings have revolutionized our understanding of the entire Saturn system, providing intriguing insights on Saturn itself as well as revealing secrets held by moons such as Enceladus, which should be a big iceball but instead is one of the most geothermally active places in our solar system. And thanks to the Huygens lander, we now know Saturn’s largest moon, Titan is eerily Earthlike, but yet totally alien.

“The lasting story of Cassini will likely be its longevity and the monumental amount of scientific discovery,” Cassini Project Manager Earl Maize told me last year. “It was absolutely the right spacecraft in the right place at the right time to capture a huge array of phenomena at Saturn.”

But after 20 years in space, the Cassini spacecraft is running out of fuel, and so Cassini will conduct a sacred act known as ‘planetary protection.’ This self-sacrifice will ensure any potentially habitable moons of Saturn won’t be contaminated sometime in the future if the drifting, unpowered spacecraft were to accidentally crash land there. Microbes from Earth might still be adhering to Cassini, and its RTG power source still generates warmth. It could melt through the icy crust of one of Saturn’s moons, possibly, and reach a subsurface ocean.

Diagram of Cassini’s final week, showing some of the milestones as the spacecraft heads for its plunge into Saturn. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

For a mission this big, this long and this unprecedented, it will end in spectacular fashion. Called the Grand Finale — which actually began last spring — Cassini has made 22 close passes through the small gap between Saturn’s cloud tops and the innermost ring. This series of orbits has sent the spacecraft on an inevitable path towards destruction.

And tomorrow, on its final orbit, Cassini will plunge into Saturn’s atmosphere at tens of thousands of kilometers per hour. Like the science-churning machine it has been throughout its mission, Cassini will continue to conduct science observations until the very end, sending back long-sought after data about Saturn’s atmosphere. But eventually, the spacecraft will be utterly destroyed by the gas planet’s heat and pressure. It will burn up like a meteor, and become part of the planet itself.

There’s no real way to sum up this amazing mission in one article, and so I’ll leave some links and information below for you to peruse.

But I’ll also leave you with this: Instead of feeling like the mission is over, I prefer to think of Cassini as living forever, because of all the data it provided that has yet to be studied. Linda Spilker told me this last year:

“In one way,” Spilker said, “the mission will end. But we have collected this treasure trove of data, so we have decades of additional work ahead of us. With this firehose of data coming back basically every day, we have only been able to skim the cream off the top of the best images and data. But imagine how many new discoveries we haven’t made yet! The search for a more complete understanding of the Saturn system continues, and we leave that legacy to those who come after, as we dream of future missions to continue the exploration we began.”

But if you want to say goodbye to Cassini, scientist Sarah Hörst might have suggested the best way to do it:

You can watch the live video coverage of Cassini’s end of mission on Friday starting at 7 a.m. EDT. on NASA TV

NASA has a great “Grand Finale” feature on its website, which is well worth the visit.

NASA also has all sorts of “Grand Finale” images, graphics and videos available here.

Follow the @CassiniSaturn twitter account for the latest info.

Imaging wizard Kevin Gill has put together a “Visions of Cassini” video with a great compilation of images from the mission. Here’s a shorter two minute version:

Or a longer, two and a half hour version!

These are one of the highest-resolution color images of any part of Saturn’s rings, taken on taken on July 6, 2017, with the Cassini spacecraft narrow-angle camera. This image shows a portion of the inner-central part of the planet’s B Ring. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Space Science Institute