Sunrise over the surface of the moon: a series of star tracker images taken by LADEE Saturday, April 12. The lunar horizon is ahead, a few minutes before orbital sunrise. Image Credit: NASA Ames.
NASA’s Lunar Atmosphere and Dust Environment Explorer (LADEE) literally ‘saw the light’ just days before crashing into the lunar farside last Thursday April 17. Skimming just a few kilometers above the moon’s surface, mission controllers took advantage of this unique low angle to gaze out over the moon’s horizon in complete darkness much like the Apollo astronauts did from lunar orbit more than 40 years ago.
With the glow of Earth well-hidden, any dust in the moon’s scant atmosphere around the time of orbital sunrise should become visible. Scientists also expected to see the softly luminous glow of the zodiacal light, an extensive cloud of comet and asteroid dust concentrated in the flat plane of the solar system. The zodiacal light gets its name from the zodiac, that familiar band of constellations the planets pass through as they orbit the sun. Back on Earth, the zodiacal light looks like a big thumb of light standing up from the western horizon a couple hours after sunset in spring and before sunrise in fall.
So what did LADEE see? As you watch the animation above, comprised of images taken from darkness until sunrise, you’ll see a yellow haze on the horizon that expands into large diffuse glow tilted slightly to the right. This is the zodiacal light along with a smaller measure of light coming from sun’s outer atmosphere or corona. Together they’re referred to as CZL or ‘coronal and zodiacal light’. At the very end, the sun peaks over the lunar horizon.
What appears to be missing from the pictures are the mysterious rays seen by some of the Apollo astronauts. The rays, neatly sketched by astronaut Eugene Cernan of Apollo 17, look a lot like those beams of light and shadow streaming though holes in clouds called crepuscular rays.
Only thing is, Earth’s atmosphere is thick enough for cloud beams. The dust in the moon’s atmosphere appears much too thin to cause the same phenomenon. And yet the astronauts saw rays as if sunlight streamed between mountain peaks and scattered off the dust just like home.
It’s believed that dust gets lofted into the spare lunar atmosphere via electricity. Ultraviolet light from the sun knocks electrons from atoms in moon dust, giving them a positive charge. Since like charges repel, bits of dust push away from one another and move in the direction of least resistance: up. The smaller the dust particle, the higher it rises until dropping back down to the surface. Perhaps these “fountains” of lunar dust illuminated by the sun are what the astronauts recorded.
Unlike Cernan, LADEE saw only the expected coronal and zodiacal light but no rays. Scientists plan to look more closely at several sequences of images made of lunar sunrise in hopes of finding them.
Spring is a time of treasures in eggs — think about the Easter weekend that just passed, for example, or the number of chicks hatching in farms across the world. That’s also true of “near-space” exploration. A project called PongSats has sent thousands of tiny experiments into space, and is ready to send up another batch this coming September.
The concept is simple for the students participating — slice open a ball, put something inside you want to test at high experiments, then repackage it and decorate it for the big trip up. The balloons will soar to about 19 miles (30 kilometers), which is well below the Karman Line of 62 miles or 100 kilometers that marks the edge of space. Don’t discount that, however — you will still see black skies and the curvature of the Earth from that altitude.
Anyway, about the PongSats. A Kickstarter campaign (closing in five days) is asking for money to shoot these balls into the atmosphere, for science. While it’s aimed at young students, anybody can get an experiment on that balloon, the founder says.
“My favorite is the marshmallow. You put a marshmallow inside the ping pong ball. At 100,000 feet the marshmallow puffs up completely filling the ball. Then it freeze dries. The student gets to hold in her hand the direct results of traveling [to] the top of the atmosphere,” wrote John Powell, the founder of the project.
PongSat has already been through one successful Kickstarter round, when in 2012 the concept received $12,466 — a 138% increase over its $9,000 goal. That money was slated to send 1,000 student experiments into space. To date, the company has sent over 14,000 experiments aloft with only three losses — a 0.02% failure rate.
“However, the risk for a complete vehicle loss does exist,” Powell acknowledged, but said that after 164 flights, they “have gotten pretty good at it.” Any PongSats lost in flight will be flown again, no questions asked.
Powell’s project is part of a larger trend of sending items high in the sky — sometime for scientific purposes, and sometimes for other reasons. A Lego man and teddy bears are among those that made the journey.
This 2012 project was called “Lego Man In Space” (although of course, balloons fly high in the atmosphere and well below the Karman Line at 62 miles or 100 kilometers above the surface.) Two teenagers from Toronto, Canada — Mathew Ho and Asad Muhammad — launched the weather balloon from a local field and captured some stunning video and pictures along the way.
“Upon launch we were very relieved. But we had a lot of anxiety on launch day because there were high winds when we were going up after all the hard work,” said Ho in a studio interview at the time on Canadian news channel CTV.
“We were also scared because now we would have to retrieve it back after it came down,” Asad said.
“We had no idea it would capture photos like that and would be so good,” said Ho. “We were blown away when we saw them back home.”
It’s a teddy bear party in the sky! A group of English 11-13-year-olds designed the spacesuits on these stuffed animals, which were sent aloft to 30,085 meters (101,066 feet) in 2008. While at first glance the purpose looks esoteric, the goal was to test which spacesuit materials best insulated against the -53 degrees Celsius (-63 Fahrenheit) temperatures the teddies endured.
Student-run Cambridge University Spaceflight helmed the project along with a science club and community college.
“We want to offer young people the opportunity to get involved in the space industry whilst still at school and show that real-life science is something that is open to everybody,” stated Iain Waugh, then chief aeronautical engineer of CU Spaceflight.
“High altitude balloon flights are a fantastic way of encouraging interest in science. They are easy to understand, and produce amazing results,” added Daniel Strange, treasurer of CU Spaceflight.
Sometimes the aim is more artistic, such as this German project that created a beautiful video showing the views from more than 100,000 feet (30,480 meters). You can see in the video above the careful preparations that go into launch, plus some of the side benefits — such as getting to make funny voices using helium! But it was the engineering challenges that attracted these students, they wrote Universe Today in 2011.
“Our challenge was to survive ambient air pressures as low as 1/100th of an atmosphere, temperatures as low as -60°C and finally to locate and recover the camera,” Tobias Lohf wrote . “We had a HD-Cam, GPS tracker and a heating pad on board, and all the construction had a total weight of about 1kg.”
The students emphasized that it doesn’t take a big budget or a lot of engineering to get that high. “All you need need is a camera, weather balloon and duct tape,” they said.
In astronomy we love focusing on the bigger picture. We’re searching for exoplanets in the vast hope that we may begin to paint a picture of how planetary systems form; We’re using the Hubble Space Telescope to peer into the earliest history of the cosmos; And we’re building gravitational wave detectors in order to better understand the physical laws that dominate our universe.
All the while we continue to learn about our very own neighborhood. Only recently we learned that Europa has geysers, Mars was perhaps once a lush planet, and comets can in fact disintegrate. Discoveries in our solar system alone never cease to amaze.
For the first time researchers are able to probe the hidden interiors of gas giants such as Jupiter and Saturn. With very little experimental knowledge about the hydrogen deep within such planets, we have always had to rely on mathematical models. But now, researchers have simulated the lower atmospheric layers of these planets in the lab.
The team of physicists led by Dr. Ulf Zastrau from the University of Jena heated cold liquid hydrogen to resemble the dense liquid hydrogen deep within a gas giant’s atmospheric layers.
The team used an X-ray laser operated by a national research center in Germany, Deutsches Elektronen-Synchrotron (DESY), to heat the liquid hydrogen, nearly instantaneously, from -253 to +12,000 degrees Celsius. Initially the X-ray heats only the electrons. But because each electron is bound to a proton, they transfer heat to the proton until a thermal equilibrium is reached. The molecular bonds break during this process, and a plasma of electrons and protons is formed.
In just under a trillionth of a second, physicists are able to create a plasma that’s thought to be radically similar to the plasma deep within the atmospheres of our beloved gas giants.
But first the team had to create cold hydrogen. While it’s abundant throughout the universe, it’s hard to get our hands on the stuff here on Earth. Instead researchers cooled gaseous hydrogen to -253 degrees Celsius using liquid helium. This was a very temperamental process, requiring precise temperature control. If the hydrogen got too cold it would freeze and the researchers would have to use a small heater to re-liquefy it. At the end of the day a jet of cold liquid hydrogen with a diameter no greater than 20 micrometers would flow into a vacuum.
Physicists would then shoot intense pulses of the X-ray laser at the cold hydrogen. They could control the precise timing of the X-ray laser’s “flash” in order to study the properties of liquid hydrogen. The first half of the flash heats up the hydrogen, but the second half of the flash is delayed by varying lengths, which allows the team to understand exactly how thermal equilibrium is established between the electrons and the protons.
The experimental results provide information on the liquid hydrogen’s thermal conductivity and its internal energy exchange, which are both crucial to better understanding gas giants. The experiments will have to be repeated at other temperatures and pressures in order to create a detailed picture of the entire planetary atmosphere.
“Hopefully the results will provide us among others with an experimentally based answer to the question, why the planets discovered outside our solar system do not exist in all imaginable combinations of properties as age, mass, size or elemental composition, but may be allocated to certain groups,” said Dr. Thomas Tschentscher, scientific director of the European XFEL X-ray laser in a press release.
The paper has been accepted in the scientific journal Physical Review Letters and is available for download here.
Researchers at NASA’s Goddard Spaceflight Center and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology have identified a fascinating natural process by which the magnetosphere of our fair planet can — to use a sports analogy — “shot block,” or at least partially buffer an incoming solar event.
The study, released today in Science Express and titled “Feedback of the Magnetosphere” describes new process discovered in which our planet protects the near-Earth environment from the fluctuating effects of inbound space weather.
Our planet’s magnetic field, or magnetosphere, spans our world from the Earth’s core out into space. This sheath typically acts as a shield. We can be thankful that we inhabit a world with a robust magnetic field, unlike the other rocky planets in the inner solar system.
But when a magnetic reconnection event occurs, our magnetosphere merges with the magnetic field of the Sun, letting in powerful electric currents that wreak havoc.
Now, researchers from NASA and MIT have used ground and space-based assets to identify a process that buffers the magnetosphere, often keeping incoming solar energy at bay.
The results came from NASA’s Time History Events and Macroscale Interactions during Substorms (THEMIS) constellation of spacecraft and was backed up by data gathered over the past decade for MIT’s Haystack Observatory.
Observations confirm the existence of low-energy plasma plumes that travel along magnetic field lines, rising tens of thousands of kilometres above the Earth’s surface to meet incoming solar energy at a “merging point.”
“The Earth’s magnetic field protects life on the surface from the full impact of these solar outbursts,” said associate director of MIT’s Haystack Observatory John Foster in the recent press release. “Reconnection strips away some of our magnetic shield and lets energy leak in, giving us large, violent storms. These plasmas get pulled into space and slow down the reconnection process, so the impact of the Sun on the Earth is less violent.”
The study also utilized an interesting technique known as GPS Total Electron Content or GPS-TEC. This ground-based technique analyzes satellite transmitted GPS transmissions to thousands of ground based receivers, looking for tell-tale distortions that that signify clumps of moving plasma particles. This paints a two dimensional picture of atmospheric plasma activity, which can be extended into three dimensions using space based information gathered by THEMIS.
And scientists got their chance to put this network to the test during the moderate solar outburst of January 2013. Researchers realized that three of the THEMIS spacecraft were positioned at points in the magnetosphere that plasma plumes had been tracked along during ground-based observations. The spacecraft all observed the same cold dense plumes of rising plasma interacting with the incoming solar stream, matching predictions and verifying the technique.
Launched in 2007, THEMIS consists of five spacecraft used to study substorms in the Earth’s magnetosphere. The Haystack Observatory is an astronomical radio observatory founded in 1960 located just 45 kilometres northwest of Boston, Massachusetts.
How will this study influence future predictions of the impact that solar storms have on the Earth space weather environment?
“This study opens new doors for future predictions,” NASA Goddard researcher Brian Walsh told Universe Today. “The work validates that the signatures of the plume far away from the Earth measured by spacecraft match signatures in the Earth’s upper atmosphere made from the surface of the Earth. Although we might not always have spacecraft in exactly the correct position to measure one of these plumes, we have almost continuous coverage from ground-based monitors probing the upper atmosphere. Future studies can now use these signatures as a proxy for when the plume has reached the edge of our magnetic shield (known as the magnetopause) which will help us predict how large a geomagnetic storm will occur from a given explosion from the Sun when it reaches the Earth.”
Understanding how these plasma plumes essentially hinder or throttle incoming energy during magnetic reconnection events, as well as the triggering or source mechanism for these plumes is vital.
“The source of these plumes is an extension of the upper atmosphere, a region that space physicists call the plasmasphere,” Mr. Walsh told Universe Today. “The particles that make the plume are actually with us almost all of the time, but they normally reside relatively close to the Earth. During a solar storm, a large electric field forms and causes the upper layers of the plasmasphere to be stripped away and are sent streaming sunward towards the boundary of our magnetic field. This stream of particles is the ‘plume’ or ‘tail’”
Recognizing the impacts that these plumes have on space weather will lead to better predictions and forecasts for on- and off- the planet as well, including potential impacts on astronauts aboard the International Space Station. Flights over the poles are also periodically rerouted towards lower latitudes during geomagnetic storms.
“This study defines new tools for the toolbox we use to predict how large or how dangerous a given solar eruption will be for astronauts and satellites,” Walsh said. “This work offers valuable new insights and we hope these tools will improve prediction capabilities in the near future.”
And speaking of which, there’s a common misconception out there that we see reported every time auroral activity makes the news… remember that aurorae aren’t actually caused by solar wind particles colliding with our atmosphere, but the acceleration of particles trapped in our magnetic field fueled by the solar wind.
And speaking of solar activity, there’s also an ongoing controversy in the world of solar heliophysics as to the lackluster solar maximum for this cycle, and what it means for concurrent cycles #25 and #26.
It’s exciting times indeed in the science of space weather forecasting…
and hey, we got to drop in sports analogy, a rarity in science writing!
As more and more exoplanets are identified and confirmed by various observational methods, the still-elusive “holy grail” is the discovery of a truly Earthlike world… one of the hallmarks of which is the presence of liquid water. And while it’s true that water has been identified in the thick atmospheres of “hot Jupiter” exoplanets before, a new technique has now been used to spot its spectral signature in yet another giant world outside our solar system — potentially paving the way for even more such discoveries.
Researchers from Caltech, Penn State University, the Naval Research Laboratory, the University of Arizona, and the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics have teamed up in an NSF-funded project to develop a new way to identify the presence of water in exoplanet atmospheres.
Previous methods relied on specific instances such as when the exoplanets — at this point all “hot Jupiters,” gaseous planets that orbit closely to their host stars — were in the process of transiting their stars as viewed from Earth.
This, unfortunately, is not the case for many extrasolar planets… especially ones that were not (or will not be) discovered by the transiting method used by observatories like Kepler.
So the researchers turned to another method of detecting exoplanets: radial velocity, or RV. This technique uses visible light to watch the motion of a star for the ever-so-slight wobble created by the gravitational “tug” of an orbiting planet. Doppler shifts in the star’s light indicate motion one way or another, similar to how the Doppler effect raises and lowers the pitch of a car’s horn as it passes by.
But instead of using visible wavelengths, the team dove into the infrared spectrum and, using the Near Infrared Echelle Spectrograph (NIRSPEC) at the W. M. Keck Observatory in Hawaii, determined the orbit of the relatively nearby hot Jupiter tau Boötis b… and in the process used its spectroscopy to identify water molecules in its sky.
“The information we get from the spectrograph is like listening to an orchestra performance; you hear all of the music together, but if you listen carefully, you can pick out a trumpet or a violin or a cello, and you know that those instruments are present,” said Alexandra Lockwood, graduate student at Caltech and first author of the study. “With the telescope, you see all of the light together, but the spectrograph allows you to pick out different pieces; like this wavelength of light means that there is sodium, or this one means that there’s water.”
Previous observations of tau Boötis b with the VLT in Chile had identified carbon monoxide as well as cooler high-altitude temperatures in its atmosphere.
Now, with this proven IR RV technique, the atmospheres of exoplanets that don’t happen to cross in front of their stars from our point of view can also be scrutinized for the presence of water, as well as other interesting compounds.
“We now are applying our effective new infrared technique to several other non-transiting planets orbiting stars near the Sun,” said Chad Bender, a research associate in the Penn State Department of Astronomy and Astrophysics and a co-author of the paper. “These planets are much closer to us than the nearest transiting planets, but largely have been ignored by astronomers because directly measuring their atmospheres with previously existing techniques was difficult or impossible.”
Once the next generation of high-powered telescopes are up and running — like the James Webb Space Telescope, slated to launch in 2018 — even smaller and more distant exoplanets can be observed with the IR method… perhaps helping to make the groundbreaking discovery of a planet like ours.
“While the current state of the technique cannot detect earthlike planets around stars like the Sun, with Keck it should soon be possible to study the atmospheres of the so-called ‘super-Earth’ planets being discovered around nearby low-mass stars, many of which do not transit,” said Caltech professor of cosmochemistry and planetary sciences Geoffrey Blake. “Future telescopes such as the James Webb Space Telescope and the Thirty Meter Telescope (TMT) will enable us to examine much cooler planets that are more distant from their host stars and where liquid water is more likely to exist.”
The findings are described in a paper published in the February 24, 2014 online version of The Astrophysical Journal Letters.
This visible image of the winter storm over the U.S. south and East Coast was taken by NOAA’s GOES-13 satellite on Feb. 13 at 1455 UTC/9:45 a.m. EST. Snow covered ground can be seen over the Great Lakes region and Ohio Valley. Image Credit: NASA/NOAA GOES Project
A deadly monster storm is battering virtually the entire US Eastern seaboard today, Thursday, Feb. 13, as it moves from the Southeast to the Northeast and into the New England states, wreaking havoc and causing miserable weather conditions for over 100 million Americas.
This afternoon, NASA and NOAA published a new image taken by a GOES satellite that showed the extent of the clouds associated with the massive winter storm over the US East Coast – see above and below.
Blizzard, white out and slippery conditions have already caused more than 18 deaths.
The killer storm has brought relentless waves of snow, sleet and ice over the past two days covering a vast swath stretching from inland to coastal areas as it moved up from the southern to northern states.
More than a foot of snow has already fallen in many areas today stretching from the Mid-Atlantic into the entire Northeast region.
Several states have declared states of emergency.
This is the season’s 12th snow storm. In many Northeast localities, the accumulated snowfall totals are three times the normal average. As a result many municipalities are running out of road salt.
And to add insult to injury, much more icy snow is falling overnight into Friday on top of the massive existing mounds and piles of frozen ice and snow that’s accumulated over the past few weeks of subfreezing temperatures.
There are also predictions for patches of “thunder snow” — which is a snow storm mixed with thunder and lightning!
Incredibly, another round of snow is forecast for Saturday.
Much of the I-95 corridor where I also live has been especially hard hit.
The image above was created from data captured by NOAA’s GOES-East satellite today, Feb. 13 at 1455 UTC/9:45 a.m. EST by a team from the NASA/NOAA’s GOES Project at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md.
“The clouds and fallen snow data from NOAA’s GOES-East satellite were overlaid on a true-color image of land and ocean created by data from the Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer or MODIS instrument that flies aboard NASA’s Aqua and Terra satellites,” said NASA in a statement.
An eight months pregnant 36 year old women was tragically killed in New York City accident today by a snowplow. Thank God the unborn baby was saved and delivered by cesarean section.
The storm has caused thousands of traffic accidents and several deaths.
Video Caption: This animation of NOAA’s GOES satellite data shows the progression of the major winter storm in the U.S. south from Feb. 10 at 1815 UTC/1:15 p.m. EST to Feb. 12 to 1845 UTC/1:45 p.m. EST. Credit: NASA/NOAA GOES Project, Dennis Chesters
Hundreds of thousands of customers have lost power due to fallen tree limbs on exposed power lines, mostly in the southeast. In recent days, hundreds of thousands of us here in the Northeast lost power after a severe ice storm.
Most of those affected were left with no heat in subfreezing temperatures. It’s definitely no fun when you can see you exhaled breath – indoors.
Many school districts were closed today. But not in NYC where the new Mayor Bill DeBlasio kept schools open, and faced a hail of criticism – including from NBC News weatherman Al Roker.
Over 6500 airplane flights have been cancelled, stranding over a half million people.
So after days of shoveling, even more is on tap for the morning. Be careful, pace yourself and don’t overdo it – as several people died from heart attacks digging out the heavy slushy mess
Here is this evenings forecast (Feb 13) from the National Weather Service (NWS):
STORM SUMMARY NUMBER 09 FOR SOUTHERN PLAINS TO EAST COAST WINTER STORM
NWS WEATHER PREDICTION CENTER COLLEGE PARK MD – – 1000 PM EST THU FEB 13 2014
…LOW PRESSURE CENTER HAS MOVED OFF THE NEW JERSEY COAST AND IS
RAPIDLY INTENSIFYING…HEAVY SNOW BANDS IMPACTING INTERIOR
NORTHEAST AND I 95 CORRIDOR…WINDS INCREASING ACROSS THE AFFECTED
WINTER STORM WARNINGS AND WINTER WEATHER ADVISORIES ARE IN EFFECT
FOR THE NORTHERN MID ATLANTIC AND NORTHEAST….
FOR A DETAILED GRAPHICAL DEPICTION OF THE LATEST
WATCHES…WARNINGS AND ADVISORIES…PLEASE SEE WWW.WEATHER.GOV
AT 900 PM EST…THE MAIN CENTER OF A RAPIDLY INTENSIFYING LOW
PRESSURE SYSTEM WITH ESTIMATED CENTRAL PRESSURE OF 986 MB…29.12
INCHES…WAS LOCATED JUST EAST OF THE SOUTHERN NEW JERSEY COAST.
NATIONAL WEATHER SERVICE DOPPLER RADAR AND SURFACE OBSERVATIONS
INDICATED THAT OVER THE PAST FEW HOURS…A BAND OF HEAVY SNOW WAS
IMPACTING CENTRAL PENNSYLVANIA ACROSS NORTHERN NEW ENGLAND TO
NORTHERN MAINE. MEANWHILE…ANOTHER BAND OF MODERATE TO HEAVY
SNOW WAS LOCATED ALONG THE I 95 CORRIDOR FROM WASHINGTON DC TO NEW YORK CITY. EAST OF I 95 THE PRECIPITATION TYPE IS MAINLY RAIN…BUT A CHANGEOVER BACK TO SNOW IS EXPECTED.
Stay tuned here for Ken’s continuing planetary and human spaceflight news.
And if the spectacular new image of billions of Earth’s children captured by India’s Mars Orbiter Mission (MOM) is any indication (see above), then we can expect absolutely gorgeous scenes of the Red Planet once the groundbreaking probe arrives there in September 2014.
But despite all that’s been accomplished so far, the space drama is still in its infant stages – because MOM still needs to ignite her thrusters this weekend in order to achieve escape velocity, wave good bye to Earth forever and eventually say hello to Mars!
The picture – snapped from Earth orbit – is focused on the Indian subcontinent, the probes origin.
MOM has captured the imagination of space enthusiasts worldwide.
During testing of the MOM probes payloads – while it’s still flying in a highly elliptical orbit around our Home Planet – engineers from India’s space agency turned the crafts camera homewards to capture the “First ever image of Earth Taken by Mars Color Camera,” according to the Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO).
The beautiful image was taken on Nov. 20 at around 1350 hrs (IST) from a height of almost 70,000 km above earth and has a spatial resolution of 3.5 km, said ISRO.
The image also gives a rather good approximation of what MOM’s color camera will actually see from apoapsis after reaching the Red Planet since the probe will enter a similarly highly elliptical orbit around Mars – ranging in altitude from 366 kilometers (km) x 80,000 kilometers (km).
Following a 10 month interplanetary cruise, MOM is due to arrive in the vicinity of Mars on September 24, 2014 to study the Red Planets’ atmosphere.
At that time, the 440 Newton liquid fueled main engine must fire precisely as planned during the absolutely essential Mars orbital insertion burn to place the probe into orbit about Mars.
But before MOM can accomplish anything at Mars, she must first successfully fire her main engine – to complete the crucial departure from Earth and Trans Mars Insertion (TMI) scheduled for this Saturday!
MOM’s picture perfect Nov. 5 liftoff atop India’s highly reliable four stage Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle (PSLV) C25 from the ISRO’s Satish Dhawan Space Centre SHAR, Sriharikota, precisely injected the spacecraft into an initial elliptical Earth parking orbit of 247 x 23556 kilometers with an inclination of 19.2 degrees.
Since then the engine has fired 6 times to gradually raise the spacecrafts apogee.
The most recent orbit raising maneuver occurred at 01:27 hrs (IST) on Nov 16, 2013 with a burn time of 243.5 seconds increased the apogee from 118,642 km to 192,874 km.
The nail-biting final main engine burn of 1351 seconds is set for this weekend on Dec. 1. It will place MOM on a precise interplanetary trajectory to the Red Planet.
If all continues to goes well, India will join an elite club of only four who have launched probes that successfully investigated the Red Planet from orbit or the surface – following the Soviet Union, the United States and the European Space Agency (ESA).
The low cost $69 Million MOM mission is the first of two new Mars orbiter science probes from Earth that flawlessly blasted off for the Red Planet this November.
Both MAVEN and MOM’s goal is to study the Martian atmosphere, unlock the mysteries of its current atmosphere and determine how, why and when the atmosphere and liquid water was lost – and how this transformed Mars climate into its cold, desiccated state of today.
The MAVEN and MOM science teams will “work together” to unlock the secrets of Mars atmosphere and climate history, MAVEN’s top scientist Prof. Bruce Jakosky told Universe Today.
Stay tuned here for continuing MOM and MAVEN news and Ken’s MAVEN and SpaceX Falcon 9 launch reports from on site at the Kennedy Space Center press center and Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida.
KENNEDY SPACE CENTER, FL – NASA’s Lunar Atmosphere and Dust Environment Explorer (LADEE) has descended to its planned low altitude orbit and begun capturing science data on its ground breaking mission to study the Moon’s ultra tenuous atmosphere and dust using a spacecraft based on a revolutionary new design aimed at speeding development and cutting costs.
LADEE set sail for Earth’s nearest neighbor during a spectacular night time launch atop the maiden flight of an Air Force Minotaur V rocket on Sept. 6 from NASA’s Wallops Island launch facility on Virginia’s Eastern shore.
The flawless launch thrilled spectators up and down virtually the entire US East coast region and yielded many memorable snapshots.
Following a month long voyage and three and a half long looping orbits of the Earth, LADEE successfully fired its main engine for 4 minutes and 12 seconds on Oct. 6 and successfully entered lunar orbit, Dawn McIntosh, LADEE deputy project manager at NASA Ames Research Center, told Universe Today in an exclusive interview.
A series of engine firings over the past month gradually circularized and lowered LADEE into its final science orbit around our Moon while engineers checked out the spacecraft during the commissioning phase of the mission.
The do or die initial Lunar Orbit Insertion burn (LOI-1) allowed LADEE to be captured into a highly elliptical, equatorial lunar orbit, said McIntosh.
“Two additional LOI burns on Oct. 6 and Oct 9 lowered LADEE to an approximately 4 hour orbit with a periapsis altitude of 234 Kilometers (km) and apoapsis altitude of 250 km” McIntosh told me.
The trio of LOI main engine firings used up most of LADEE’s precious on board fuel.
“LADEE launched with 134.5 kilograms (kg) of fuel. Post LOI-3, 80% of our fuel has been consumed,” said McIntosh.
“Additional orbit-lowering maneuvers with the orbital control system (OCS) and reaction control system (RCS) of approximately 40 seconds were used to get LADEE into the science orbit.
The spacecraft finally entered its planned two hour science orbit around the moon’s equator on Nov. 20.
Its flying at an extremely low altitude ranging from merely eight to 37 miles (12-60 kilometers) above the moon’s surface.
By circling in this very low altitude equatorial orbit, the washing machine sized probe will make frequent passes crossing from lunar day to lunar night enabling it to precisely measure changes and processes occurring within the moon’s tenuous atmosphere while simultaneously sniffing for uplifted lunar dust in the lunar sky.
The remaining fuel will be used to maintain LADEE’s orbit during the approximately 100 day long science mission. The mission length is dictated by the residual fuel available for thruster firings.
The purpose of LADEE is to collect data that will inform scientists in unprecedented detail about the ultra thin lunar atmosphere, environmental influences on lunar dust and conditions near the surface. In turn this will lead to a better understanding of other planetary bodies in our solar system and beyond.
“A thorough understanding of the characteristics of our lunar neighbor will help researchers understand other small bodies in the solar system, such as asteroids, Mercury, and the moons of outer planets,” said Sarah Noble, LADEE program scientist at NASA Headquarters in Washington.
By studying the raised dust, scientists also hope to solve a 40 year old mystery – Why did the Apollo astronauts and early unmanned landers see a glow of rays and streamers at the moon’s horizon stretching high into the lunar sky.
The $280 million probe is built on a revolutionary ‘modular common spacecraft bus’, or body, that could dramatically cut the cost of exploring space and also be utilized on space probes to explore a wide variety of inviting targets in the solar system.
“LADEE is the first in a new class of interplanetary exploration missions,” NASA Ames Director Worden told Universe Today. “It will study the pristine moon to study significant questions.”
“This is probably our last best chance to study the pristine Moon before there is a lot of human activity there changing things.”
The 844 pound (383 kg) robot explorer was assembled at NASA’s Ames Research Center, Moffett Field, Calif., and is a cooperative project with NASA Goddard Spaceflight Center in Maryland.
LADEE arrived at the Moon last month in the midst of the US government shutdown – which negatively impacted a host of other NASA missions. Only a ‘skeleton crew’ was available.
“All burns went super well,” Worden told me. And he is extremely proud of the entire team of “dedicated” professional men and women who made it possible during the shutdown.
“It says a lot about our people’s dedication and capability when a skeleton crew’ can get a new spacecraft into lunar orbit and fully commissioned in the face of a shutdown!” Worden said to Universe Today.
Now the real science begins for LADEE and the team.
Super Typhoon Haiyan over the Philippines on November 9, 2013 as imaged from Earth orbit by NASA Astronaut Karen Nyberg aboard the International Space Station.Category 5 killer storm Haiyan stretches across the entire photo from about 250 miles (400 kilometer) altitude. Credit: NASA/Karen Nyberg See more Super Typhoon Haiyan imagery and video below
NASA GODDARD SPACE FLIGHT CENTER, MARYLAND – Super Typhoon Haiyan smashed into the island nation of the Philippines, Friday, Nov. 8, with maximum sustained winds estimated at exceeding 195 MPH (315 kilometer per hour) by the U.S. Navy Joint Typhoon Warning Center – leaving an enormous region of catastrophic death and destruction in its terrible wake.
The Red Cross estimates over 1200 deaths so far. The final toll could be significantly higher. Local media reports today say bodies of men, women and children are now washing on shore.
The enormous scale of Super Typhoon Haiyan can be vividly seen in space imagery captured by NASA, ISRO and Russian satellites – as well as astronaut Karen Nyberg flying overhead on board the International Space Station (ISS); collected here.
Super Typhoon Haiyan is reported to be the largest and most powerful storm ever to make landfall in recorded human history.
Haiyan is classified as a Category 5 monster storm on the U.S. Saffir-Simpson scale.
It struck the central Philippines municipality of Guiuan at the southern tip of the province of Eastern Samar early Friday morning Nov. 8 at 20:45 UTC (4:45 am local time).
As Haiyan hit the central Philippines, NASA says wind gusts exceeded 235 mph (379 kilometers per hour).
The high resolution imagery and precise measurements provided by the worlds constellation of Earth observing space satellites (including NASA, Roscosmos, ISRO, ESA, JAXA) are absolutely essential to tracking killer storms and providing significant advance warning to evacuate residents in affected areas to help minimize the death toll and damage.
More than 800,000 people were evacuated. The storm surge caused waves exceeding 30 feet (10 meters), mudslides and flash flooding.
NASA’s Tropical Rainfall Measuring Mission (TRMM) satellite captured visible, microwave and infrared data on the storm just as it was crossing the island of Leyte in the central Philippines, reports NASA – see image below.
TRMM data from rain rates are measured by the TRMM Precipitation Radar (PR) and TRMM Microwave Imager (TMI) and combined with infrared (IR) data from the TRMM Visible Infrared Scanner (VIRS) by science teams working at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md.
Coincidentally NASA Goddard has just completed assembly of the next generation weather satellite Global Precipitation Measurement (GPM) observatory that replaces TRMM – and where I inspected the GPM satellite inside the Goddard clean room on Friday.
“GPM is a direct follow-up to NASA’s currently orbiting TRMM satellite,” Art Azarbarzin, GPM project manager, told Universe Today during my exclusive clean room inspection of the huge GPM satellite.
“TRMM is reaching the end of its usable lifetime. GPM launches in February 2014 and we hope it has some overlap with observations from TRMM.”
“The Global Precipitation Measurement (GPM) observatory will provide high resolution global measurements of rain and snow every 3 hours,” Dalia Kirschbaum, GPM research scientist, told me at Goddard.
GPM is equipped with advanced, higher resolution radar instruments. It is vital to continuing the TRMM measurements and will help provide improved forecasts and advance warning of extreme super storms like Hurricane Sandy and Super Typhoon Haiyan, Azarbarzin and Kirschbaum explained.
Video Caption: Super Typhoon Haiyan imaged on Nov 6 – 8, 2013 by the Russian Elektro-L satellite operating in geostationary orbit. Credit: Roscosmos via Vitaliy Egorov
The full magnitude of Haiyan’s destruction is just starting to be assessed as rescue teams reach the devastated areas where winds wantonly ripped apart homes, farms, factories, buildings and structures of every imaginable type vital to everyday human existence.
Typhoon Haiyan is moving westward and is expected to forcefully strike central Vietnam in a day or two. Mass evacuations are underway at this time
Trajectory Map of Juno’s Earth Flyby on Oct. 9, 2013
The Earth gravity assist is required to accelerate Juno’s arrival at Jupiter on July 4, 2016 and will capture an unprecedented movie of the Earth/Moon system. Credit: NASA/JPL
Details on how to watch via Slooh – see below [/caption]
NASA’s solar powered Jupiter-bound Juno orbiter is careening towards Earth for an absolutely critical gravity assisted fly by speed boost while capturing an unprecedented movie view of the Earth/Moon system – on its ultimate quest to unveiling Jupiter’s genesis!
“Juno will flyby Earth on October 9 to get a gravity boost and increase its speed in orbit around the Sun so that it can reach Jupiter on July 4, 2016,” Juno chief scientist Dr. Scott Bolton told Universe Today in an exclusive new Juno mission update – as the clock is ticking to zero hour. “The closest approach is over South Africa.”
All this ‘high frontier’ action comes amidst the utterly chaotic US government partial shutdown, that threatened the launch of the MAVEN Mars orbiter, has halted activity on many other NASA projects and stopped public announcements of the safe arrival of NASA’s LADEE lunar orbiter on Oct. 6, Juno’s flyby and virtually everything else related to NASA!
Bolton confirmed that the shutdown fortunately hasn’t altered or killed Juno’s flyby objectives. And ops teams at prime contractor Lockheed Martin have rehearsed and all set.
And some more good news is that Slooh will track the Juno Earth Flyby “LIVE” – for those hoping to follow along. Complete details below!
“The shutdown hasn’t affected our operations or plans, Bolton told me. Bolton is Juno’s principal investigator from the Southwest Research Institute (SwRI), San Antonio, Texas.
“Juno is 100% healthy.”
“But NASA is unable to participate in our public affairs and press activities,” Bolton elaborated.
97% of NASA’s employees are furloughed – including public affairs – due to the legal requirements of the shutdown!
Juno will also capture an unprecedented new movie of the Earth/Moon system.
A full up science investigation of our Home Planet by Juno is planned, that will also serve as a key test of the spacecraft and its bevy of state of the art instruments.
“During the earth flyby we have most of our instruments on and will obtain a unique movie of the Earth Moon system on our approach.
“We will also calibrate instuments and measure earth’s magnetosphere, obtain closeup images of the Earth and the Moon in UV [ultraviolet] and IR [infrared],” Bolton explained to Universe Today.
The flyby will accelerate the spacecraft’s velocity by 16,330 mph.
Where is the best view of Juno’s flyby, I asked?
“The closest approach is over South Africa and is about 500 kilometers [350 miles],” Bolton replied.
The time of closest approach is 3:21 p.m. EDT (12:21 PDT / 19:21 UTC) on Oct. 9, 2013
Watch this mission produced video about Juno and the Earth flyby:
Video caption: On Oct. 9, 2013, NASA’s Jupiter-bound Juno spacecraft is making a quick pass to get a gravity boost from the mother planet. Dr. Scott Bolton of Southwest Research Institute® is the Juno mission principal investigator, leading an international science team seeking to answer some fundamental questions about the gas giant and, in turn, about the processes that led to formation of our solar system.
NASA’s Juno spacecraft blasted off atop an Atlas V rocket two years ago from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, FL, on Aug. 5, 2011 to begin a 2.8 billion kilometer science trek to discover the genesis of Jupiter hidden deep inside the planet’s interior.
Juno is on a 5 year and 1.7 Billion mile (2.8 Billion km) trek to the largest planet in our solar system. When it arrives at Jupiter on July 4, 2016, Juno will become the first polar orbiting spacecraft at the gas giant.
During a one year science mission – entailing 33 orbits lasting 11 days each – the probe will plunge to within about 3000 miles of the turbulent cloud tops and collect unprecedented new data that will unveil the hidden inner secrets of Jupiter’s genesis and evolution.
The goal is to find out more about the planets origins, interior structure and atmosphere, observe the aurora, map the intense magnetic field and investigate the existence of a solid planetary core
Why does Juno need a speed boost from Earth?
“A direct mission to Jupiter would have required about 50 percent more fuel than we loaded,” said Tim Gasparrini, Juno program manager for Lockheed Martin Space Systems, in a statement.
“Had we not chosen to do the flyby, the mission would have required a bigger launch vehicle, a larger spacecraft and would have been more expensive.”
Viewers near Cape Town, South Africa will have the best opportunity to view the spacecraft traveling across the sky.
Juno itself will most likely not be visible to the unaided eye, but binoculars or a small telescope with a wide field should provide an opportunity to view, according to a Slooh statement.
Slooh will track Juno live on October 9th, 2013.
Check here for international starting times: http://goo.gl/7ducFs – and for the Slooh broadcast hosted by Paul Cox.
Viewers can view the event live on Slooh.com using their computer or mobile device, or by downloading the free Slooh iPad app in the iTunes store. Questions can be asked during the broadcast via Twitter by using the hashtag #nasajuno -says Slooh.
Amidst the government shutdown, Juno prime contractor Lockheed Martin is working diligently to ensure the mission success.
Because there are NO 2nd chances!
“The team is 100 percent focused on executing the Earth flyby successfully,” said Gasparrini.
“We’ve spent a lot of time looking at possible off-nominal conditions. In the presence of a fault, the spacecraft will stay healthy and will perform as planned.”
Stay tuned here for continuing Juno, LADEE, MAVEN and more up-to-date NASA news.
And be sure to check back here for my post-flyby update.
What’s not at all clear is whether Juno will detect any signs of ‘intelligent life’ in Washington D.C.!