One of the Most Exciting Parts of InSight is Actually the Tiny Cubesats Tagging Along for the Ride and Their Role in the Mission

Yesterday, NASA’s Mars InSight lander successfully touched down on the Martian surface after spending seven long months in space. Over the course of the next few hours, the lander began the surface operations phase of its mission, which involved deploying its solar arrays. The lander also managed to take some pictures of the surface, which showed the region where it will be studying Mars’ interior for the next two years.

In the midst of all that, another major accomplishment received only passing attention. This was the Mars Cube One (MarCO) mission, an experiment conducted by NASA to see if two experimental CubeSats could survive the trip to deep space. Not only did these satellites survive the journey, they managed to relay communications from the lander and even took some pictures of their own.

Continue reading “One of the Most Exciting Parts of InSight is Actually the Tiny Cubesats Tagging Along for the Ride and Their Role in the Mission”

Hubble’s First Picture After Returning to Service. The Telescope is Fully Operational Again with Three Working Gyros

Hubble's first image after returning to service is of a field of galaxies in the constellation Pegasus. Image Credit: NASA, ESA, and A. Shapley (UCLA)

The Hubble Space Telescope is a hero in the astronomy world. And when it suffered a malfunctioning gyro on October 5th, it took a heroic effort on the part of the Hubble team to get it working again. Now we have Hubble’s first picture after its return to service.
Continue reading “Hubble’s First Picture After Returning to Service. The Telescope is Fully Operational Again with Three Working Gyros”

InSight Deploys its Solar Cells, Prepared for Surface Operations on Mars!

Yesterday, NASA’s Interior Exploration using Seismic Investigations, Geodesy and Heat Transport (InSight) lander reached Mars after a seven months journey. NASA broadcast the landing live, showing the mission control team eagerly watching as the spacecraft entered the Martian atmosphere and began the nail-biting entry, descent and landing (EDL) process.

At exactly 11:52:29 am PST (2:52:59 pm EST) mission controllers received a signal via the Mars Cube One (MarCO) satellites that the lander had successfully touched down. About a minute later, InSight began to conduct surface operations, which involved the deployment of its solar arrays and prepping its instruments for research.

Continue reading “InSight Deploys its Solar Cells, Prepared for Surface Operations on Mars!”

InSight Lander Touches Down! Begins Mission to Unlock the Secrets of Mars

On of May 5th, 2018, NASA’s Interior Exploration using Seismic Investigations, Geodesy and Heat Transport (InSight) lander launched from Vandenburg Air Force Base atop an Atlas V rocket. Over the next seven months, the mission traveled some 458 million km (300 mi) to Mars for the sake of studying its deep interior and learn how this planet – and all the other terrestrial planets of the Solar System (like Earth) – formed.

At 11:47 am PST (2:47 pm EST), after a seven month journey, NASA’s InSight Lander entered the Martian atmosphere to begin the entry, descent and landing (EDL) phase of its mission. Over the course of the next five minutes, the mission controllers at NASA-JPL watched eagerly as the spacecraft went through the careful process of conducting a textbook landing.

Continue reading “InSight Lander Touches Down! Begins Mission to Unlock the Secrets of Mars”

Messier 72 – the NGC 6981 Globular Cluster

Welcome back to Messier Monday! Today, we continue in our tribute to our dear friend, Tammy Plotner, by looking at the globular cluster known as Messier 72.

During the 18th century, famed French astronomer Charles Messier noticed the presence of several “nebulous objects”  while surveying the night sky. Originally mistaking these objects for comets, he began to catalog them so that others would not make the same mistake. Today, the resulting list (known as the Messier Catalog) includes over 100 objects and is one of the most influential catalogs of Deep Space Objects.

One of these objects is Messier 72, a globular cluster about 54,570 light years away in the direction of the Aquarius constellation. Originally discovered by French astronomer Pierre Méchain a few years prior, Messier would go on to include this star cluster in his catalog. Located in close proximity to Messier 73, this globular cluster is one of the smaller and fainter Messier objects in the night sky. Continue reading “Messier 72 – the NGC 6981 Globular Cluster”

Name Change Alert! SpaceX’s BFR is Now Just Called “Starship”

In September of 2016, Musk treated the world to an early sneak-peak at his proposed super-heavy launch vehicle. Previously known as the Mars Colonial Transporter, the renamed Interplanetary Transport System (ITS) was the centerpiece to Musk’s long-term vision of conducting commercial trips to orbit, to the Moon, and even to Mars. Since that time, the mission architecture and even the name of the system have changed a few times.

For example, in September of 2017 – during a presentation titled “Making Life Interplanetary” – Musk presented the world with an updated design of launch system, which had been renamed the Big Falcon Rocket (BFR) and the Big Falcon Spacecraft (BFS). And just recently, Musk announced the system will henceforth be known as the “Starship”, and its rocket the “Super Heavy“.

Continue reading “Name Change Alert! SpaceX’s BFR is Now Just Called “Starship””

Massive Triple Star System Creates this Bizarre Swirling Pinwheel of Dust. And it Could be the Site of a Gamma Ray Burst

When stars reach the end of their lifespan, many undergo gravitational collapse and explode into a supernova, In some cases, they collapse to become black holes and release a tremendous amount of energy in a short amount of time. These are what is known as gamma-ray bursts (GRBs), and they are one of the most powerful events in the known Universe.

Recently, an international team of astronomers was able to capture an image  of a newly-discovered triple star system surrounded by a “pinwheel” of dust. This system, nicknamed “Apep”, is located roughly 8,000 light years from Earth and destined to become a long-duration GRB. In addition, it is the first of its kind to be discovered in our galaxy.

Continue reading “Massive Triple Star System Creates this Bizarre Swirling Pinwheel of Dust. And it Could be the Site of a Gamma Ray Burst”

Lakes on Mars Filled up so Quickly They Would Overflow Catastrophically Carving Canyons Within Weeks

Roughly 4.2 billion years ago, Mars was a much different place than it is today. It’s atmosphere was thicker and warmer and its surface much wetter. Unfortunately, the planet’s atmosphere was stripped away by solar wind over the next 500 million years, causing the surface to become so cold and dry that it makes Antarctica look balmy by comparison!

As a result, most of Mars’ water is currently locked away in its polar ice caps. But billions of years ago, water still flowed freely across the surface, forming ancient rivers and lakes. In fact, new research led by The University of Texas at Austin indicates that sometimes these lakes would fill so fast that they would overflow, causing massive floods that had a drastic impact on the surface.

Continue reading “Lakes on Mars Filled up so Quickly They Would Overflow Catastrophically Carving Canyons Within Weeks”

Astronomers Detect Water in the Atmosphere of a Planet 179 Light-Years Away

The HR 8799 system contains the first exoplanet be directly imaged. Image Credit: NRC-HIA/C. MAROIS/W. M. KECK OBSERVATORY

Gathering detailed information on exoplanets is extremely difficult. The light from their host star overwhelms the light from the exoplanet, making it difficult for telescopes to see them. But now a team using cutting-edge technology at the Keck Observatory has taken a big leap in exoplanet observation and has detected water in the atmosphere of a planet 179 light years away.

Continue reading “Astronomers Detect Water in the Atmosphere of a Planet 179 Light-Years Away”

Astronomers Find One of the Sun’s Sibling Stars. Born From the Same Solar Nebula Billions of Years Ago

According to current cosmological theories, the Milky Way started to form approximately 13.5 billion years ago, just a few hundred million years after the Big Bang. This began with globular clusters, which were made up of some of the oldest stars in the Universe, coming together to form a larger galaxy. Over time, the Milky Way cannibalized several smaller galaxies within its cosmic neighborhood, growing into the spiral galaxy we know today.

Many new stars formed as mergers added more clouds of dust and gas and caused them to undergo gravitational collapse. In fact, it is believed that our Sun was part of a cluster that formed 4.6 billion years ago and that its siblings have since been distributed across the galaxy. Luckily, an international team of astronomers recently used a novel method to locate one of the Sun’s long-lost “solar siblings“, which just happens to be an identical twin!

Continue reading “Astronomers Find One of the Sun’s Sibling Stars. Born From the Same Solar Nebula Billions of Years Ago”