NASA will be releasing the 1st MESSENGER photos from orbit around Mercury tomorrow, March 29th. There will be more photos released during a news conference on the 30th. The photos will include areas never seen before.
I am looking forward to seeing these "up close and personal" photos as they will be the best ever of Mercury.
The groundbreaking STARDUST-NEXT spacecraft has finished its operational life. On March 24th at about 7 p.m. EDT, the spacecraft fired its engines until all fuel was expended. This last act will allow spacecraft engineers to know exactly how much fuel was expended during the entire lifetime of the mission and use this information to design future spacecraft and missions.
This will also send the spacecraft into an uncontrolled status which means that it will not be able to keep its antenna aligned with Earth or its solar arrays aligned with the Sun. Without this two way link the spacecraft is no longer able to transmit and receive with ground controllers and it will lose power - it will be non-operational destined to roam the solar system.
This spacecraft was revolutionary in its accomplishments - capturing cometary material that was returned to Earth for study as well as detailed photographs of two cometary nucleii. It has helped shape our knowledge of comets, spacecraft design and operations. Read More About It: http://stardustnext.jpl.nasa.gov/index.html
Just so you know, I do not leave lights on outside like my entire neighborhood does; I use CFC bulbs and I unplug each electrical appliance I do not use....this saves a lot of electricity over the year. I also recycle everything I can and I have insulated my home to save more electricity.
I hope you will do these things at the very least.
GLOBE at Night encourages citizen-scientists worldwide to record the brightness of the night sky. During 2 weeks of moonless evenings, children and adults match the appearance of a constellation (Leo in the northern hemisphere and Crux or Leo in the southern hemisphere) with 7 star charts of progressively fainter stars found at www.globeatnight.org. They then submit their choice of star chart on-line with their date, time and location to help create a light pollution map worldwide.
The GLOBE at Night 2011 campaign dates are March 22 – April 4 (for the Northern Hemisphere) and March 24 – April 6 (for the Southern Hemisphere). Over 60,000 measurements have been contributed from more than 100 countries over the last 5 years of two-week campaigns, thanks to everyone who participated!
This year children and adults can submit their measurements in real time if they have a smart phone or tablet. To do this, you can use the web application at www.globeatnight.org/webapp/. With smart phones and tablets, the location, date and time are put in automatically. And if you do not have a smart phone or tablet, there are user-friendly tools on the GLOBE at Night report page to find latitude and longitude.
Weather will nip any observations in the DC area this weekend so try for next week.
Space Shuttle Endeavour is on the pad for her last mission, STS-134. Commanded by Captain Mark Kelly, USN, husband of Rep. Gabby Gifford, the mission is scheduled for liftoff to the ISS on April 19th. The mission is taking supplies and parts to the station; Read More About It: http://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/shuttle/main/index.html
Want to see something tat hasn't been seen in 18 years? How about the closest Full Moon in that time as well as the closest one for 2011? The 'net has been alive with stories about tonight's (March 19th) "Super Moon" an adjective created supposedly by an astrologer to describe a regular astronomical event.
Tonight's Full Moon will be 14% larger and 30% brighter as a result of being at a very favorable perigee (the closest distance to the Earth in a lunar orbit cycle) within one hour of the Full Moon actually occuring.
This is best seen when the Moon rises in the East and has objects in the foreground to amplify the "Moon Illusion" - the phenomenon of the Moon looking far larger to our eyes than it really is. When the Moon is just above the horizon and has trees, buildings or the horizon in our field of view the Moon looks much larger than when it is up high in the sky. Read More About It: http://science.nasa.gov/science-news/science-at-nasa/2011/16mar_supermoon/
Enjoy the "Full Worm Moon" view - the name for this month's Full Moon - so called in recognition of spring and the appearance of worms in the warming soil.
Don't forget to say hello to MESSENGER over in the west as Mercury is climbing to its highest point in the sky this week.
At 9:48 pm EDT, the announcement was made by Johns Hopkins University that MESSENGER was safely and accurately in orbit around Mercury. Over 4.9 BILLION miles and 6 1/2 years, MESSENGER will soon begin a year long exploration of the planet nearest the Sun using 7 science instruments. More details can be seen at http://www.nasa.gov/messenger.
Here is a picture of the planet - Jupiter is low, Mercury is high - taken just minutes before the 15 minute orbital engine burn.
NASA and Johns Hopkins' MESSENGER (MErcury Surface, Space ENvironment, Geochemistry, and Ranging) spacecraft is on autopilot for orbital insertion around Mercury on March 17th at 8:45 p.m. EDT. The spacecraft is flying itself using commands stored in memory. If successful this will be a triumph of spaceflight history that was almost 5 billion miles and 6 1/2 years in the making - the distance travelled and time since launch. To read more about MESSENGER: http://messenger.jhuapl.edu/index.php and http://science.nasa.gov/science-news/science-at-nasa/2011/15mar_messenger/
The weather around the Washington D.C. area should be great for viewing Mercury live just before orbital insertion. See my previous blog on spotting the planet closest to the Sun. My pic below shows you what Jupiter and Mercury look like - Mercury is dimmer and to the right of Jupiter. Since this picture was taken Mercury is higher up and to the right of Jupiter.
I will get back to Mercury tomorrow but I have to bring this exquisite and moving video of Saturn to your attention. It was made using real images from NASA's Cassini spacecraft that continues to explore the ringed planet: http://saturn.jpl.nasa.gov/spacecraft/overview/
Starting tonight (the 13th) and lasting through next week is your best chance to view the elusive planet closest to the Sun, Mercury. It has been estimated that less than 1% of the ENTIRE human race has ever recognized Mercury when seen in the morning or evening sky. The reason for this is simple - Mercury, although bright, is never very far from the horizon or in dark skies.
What makes this week a GREAT week for seeing this planet is twofold. First, Mercury will be keeping much brighter Jupiter company in the sky which will make finding Mercury pretty easy. Second, on the 17th the MESSENGER spacecraft goes into orbit around the planet - a first in spaceflight and planetary exploration history. See http://messenger.jhuapl.edu/
To see Jupiter and Mercury you will need to find a view of the western horizon that is free of buildings and trees. After the Sun goes down, wait about 30 minutes and start looking for a bright "star" in the west - to the left of where the Sun set. As it gets a bit darker you should see Jupiter and depending on the date - see the diagrams below - Mercury. I viewed both last night (the 12th) with relative ease. Monday andTuesday the two planets will be at their closest in the sky even though they are millions of miles apart. See http://www.skyandtelescope.com/about/pressreleases/117533339.html
I may have a surprise for you later this week......
Let me know if you are successful in seeing this "dynamic planetary duo".
Hey Space Placers! **Tune in tomorrow for a Sky Guy VIEWING ALERT for Mercury**
The Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO) has studied and photographed the Moon to a degree of detail never acheived before. The data and photographs obtained have provided a bonanza to lunar scientists and will keep them busy for years to come.
We now have the most detailed views ever of the lunar farside and one of the most impressive features is Mare Orientale. This impact basin looks like a bulls-eye and resulted from a comet or asteroid impact billions of years ago. The LRO image is a mosaic that reveals very fine details.
We can only see a portion of the basin from Earth, namely the ridges that form the outer boundary of the basin when Earth-Moon alignments are favorable.
I will be giving details soon about next week's activities surrounding Mercury. From the 13th to the 16th Mercury will be in close proximity to bright Jupiter low in the west. This will be an excellent opportunity to see this elusive planet.
On the 17th Mercury gets a permanent visitor - the MESSENGER spacecraft will go into orbit around the planet closest to the Sun. This will be an historic first made all the better by being able to see Mercury for yourself.
Space Shuttle Discovery returned to Earth landing at the Kennedy Space Center at 11:57 a.m. 3-9-11. It was the end of her operational flying career as Discovery will be removed from service and made safe during a nine-month overhaul to make her museum ready. Word has it that Discovery will go to the Smithsonian Museum which means Udvar Hazy in Chantilly. The non-flyimg shuttle Enterprise is there now. It would be something to see two shuttles side by side!
Atlantis up on deck for a mission to the ISS next month and she too will be retired upon return and maybe end up in Ohio at a DoD centric museum. Endeavour flies this summer and may stay at KSC upon retirement. Each shuttle will be sold for over $28.8 million and must be housed in a dedicated building to protect them.
The ISS under went another configuration change with the delivery of a storage module and is quite an impressive view as you can see in this picture taken by the STS-133 crew upon their departure from the ISS on Monday. ISS is scheduled to remain opeartional for at least the next 9 years.
I hope those of you in the DC area took advantage of seeing Discovery and the International Space Station (ISS) fly over tonight as they were nearly directly overhead and very, very bright. I watched them flyover from George Mason University's Observatory with Dr. Geller, the Observatory's Director.
I took some pics of the observatory and got one of the flyover but it will take some processing as it is overexposed which it had to be to catch both spacecraft in the same frame. The crew was scheduled for their sleep period to begin just as they flew over.
Discovery is due to land at Kennerdy Space Center at 11:57 a.m. on Wednesday.
Tuesday night, 3-8-11, Space Shuttle Discovery will be flying over the Washington, D.C. area at 7:23 PM with the International Space Station (ISS) flying over at 7:24 PM. This will be our LAST opportunity to see Discovery in orbit so please, please make an effort to see her.
I went out tonight and was able to see the two spacecraft fly over low on the horizon in and out of clouds. It was not as good a flyby as Tuesday night as the two will pass nearly overhead. I have to tell you I was SO EXCITED to see 12 humans, 1 robonaut and over 1 million pounds of beautiful spacecraft fly over. I waved and toasted the crews. I hope to get a picture tomorrow night - couldn't do it tonight as there was way too much light pollution. I will never forget the sight though - it was incredible.
This was one of those lifelong observing memories Space Placers. Next time I see Discovery she will be in a museum.
Oh, almost forgot in the excitement of tonight - William Shatner, aka Captain James T. Kirk, USS Enterprise (Star Trek of 60's fame) woke up the 12 astronauts doing his famous monologue introduction that started each episode, complete with the accompanying music. Check it out - gave me more goose bumps on top of those I already had:
The Sun rises in the east and sets in the west and provides a steady and almost constant amount of energy. It also goes through an 11-year cycle in which solar activity reaches a minimum and a maximum....see my 2-18-11 blog.
NASA thinks the mystery of why the Sun went through such a deep and lasting minimum has to do with the flow of plasma currents deep within the Sun.
Have you ever seen a bright fireball streak across the sky? If you have , you know how awe inspiring and a bit disconcerting it can be at the same time! Wonder where they come from?
It has been estimated that over 100 tons, that is over 200,000 POUNDS of space debris - cometary and asteroid material - hits the Earth every single day! That is a lot of cosmic debris over the course of a year, decades, centuries and eons!
NASA has started a network of all sky camera monitoring stations that are designed to record bight fireballs and thereby gain enough data to allow the computing of the orbit for the incoming body.
Over time we should collect enough data to know where these objects are coming from and perhaps their origin - comet or asteroid or space junk.
As an added bonus, if the incoming object is bight enough - translation = bigger - analyzing the data and images might lead to the recovery of any material that ay have hit the ground - meteorites!
Space Shuttle Discovery and her crew have been busy aboard the International Space Station (ISS). The mission has been going so well that it has been extended for an extra day. Discovery will detach from the ISS on Monday, March 7th and is now slated to return to Earth on Wednesday, March 9th.