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Archive for January, 2011

That Was the Week that Was, January 24-28, 2011. . . A Digest of Goddard People, Science, & Media, PLUS Historical Tidbits and Our Best Stuff in the Blogpodcastotwitterverse

January 28th, 2011 Comments off



voyager image of planet uranusMONDAY January 24: Twenty-five years ago today, in 1986, Voyager 2 made its closest approach – within 81,500 kilometers (50,600 miles) of the cloud tops of Uranus.

MABEL’s maiden voyage: An instrument team from NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center is using the Multiple Altimeter Beam Experimental Lidar (MABEL) to test a technique that will someday fly on a satellite to measure Earth’s surface with great precision.

More awesomeness: The NASA Blueshift blog comments on wintry weather at Goddard, the Optimus Prime video contest, blazing galaxies, and the latest 2012 apocalypse foolishness.


TUESDAY January 25: On this day in 1984, President Ronald Reagan made an Apollo-like announcement to build a Space Station within a decade as part of the State of the Union Address before Congress. What came to be called Space Station Freedom evolved into a new program: the International Space Station, now complete after $100 billion and 11 years of construction — and 27 years since Reagan’s announcement. Early concepts for the station look nothing like today’s ISS.

“America has always been greatest when we dared to be great. We can reach for greatness again. We can follow our dreams to distant stars, living and working in space for peaceful, economic, and scientific gain. Tonight, I am directing NASA to develop a permanently manned space station and to do it within a decade.”— President Ronald Reagan, 1984.



MD_spacestation_PANORAMA

satellite image of arkhangelsk in russia New eyes on the sky: On this day in 1983, NASA launched the Infrared Astronomical Satellite (IRAS) mission. During its ten months of operation, IRAS scanned more than 96 percent of the sky four times, discovering a half-million new infrared sources for subsequent exploration and discovery.

Go to the SORCE: On this day in 2003, NASA launched the SOlar Radiation and Climate Experiment (SORCE) satellite to mske precise measurements of the amount of energy Earth receives from the sun.

Russian beauty: The ASTER Featured Image released today shows Arkhangelsk (or Archangel in English), the administrative capital of Archangelsk Oblast, Russia. It is situated on both banks of the Dvina River near where it flows into the White Sea.

My darling Clementine: On this day in 1994, NASA launched the joint Department of Defense/NASA Clementine mission. It mapped most of the lunar surface at a number of resolutions and wavelengths from ultraviolet to infrared.


WEDNESDAY January 26: The leading NASA science news of the week: The Hubble Space Telescope has spotted the most distant object ever seen in the universe.

Bright idea: Beautiful night shining clouds grace the NASA Earth Observatory Featured Image today.


chart of distant galaxy discoveries by hubble space telescope

THURSDAY January 27: Today NASA holds a Day of Remembrance for the space explorers who died in the line of duty on Apollo 1 and the space shuttles Challenger and Columbia. On January 27, 1967, the Apollo 1 crew of Gus Grissom, Ed White, and Roger Chaffee were killed in a fire in the Apollo Command Module during a preflight test at Cape Canaveral. On January 28, 1986, the space shuttle Challenger exploded shortly after liftoff. On February 1, 2003, the shuttle Columbia was lost shortly before landing.

“The last week of January every year brings us the opportunity to reflect on the sobering realities of our space exploration enterprise. Each time men and women board a spacecraft, their actions carry great risk along with the opportunity for great discoveries and the chance to push the envelope of our human achievement. Today, we honor the Apollo 1, Challenger and Columbia crews, as well as other members of the NASA Family who lost their lives supporting NASA’s mission of exploration. We thank them and their families for their extraordinary sacrifices in the service of our nation.” — Charles Bolden, NASA Administrator



red rover cartoon referring to deceased astronauts


FASTSAT update: Two of FASTSAT’s three instruments are collecting data; a third comes online February 1.

A blast: NASA Earth Observatory features the latest image of the eruption of Mexico’s Colima Volcano.


FRIDAY January 28: See the latest images and video of this week’s East Coast snow storm!
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OH AND DID I MENTION? All opinions and opinionlike objects in this blog are mine alone and NOT those of NASA or Goddard Space Flight Center. And while we’re at it, links to websites posted on this blog do not imply endorsement of those websites by NASA.

Here Comes the Sun in STEREO

January 27th, 2011 Comments off



For the past 4 years, the two STEREO spacecraft have been moving away from Earth and gaining a more complete picture of the sun. On Feb. 6, 2011, NASA will hold a press conference to reveal the first ever images of the entire sun and discuss the importance of seeing all of our dynamic star.


Let me bottom-line it for you: The Solar TErrestrial RElations Observatory (STEREO) mission consists of two nearly identical spacecraft. One follows Earth around the sun; the other leads us. When those two craft are 180 degrees apart from each other, they will be able to see the ENTIRE sun simultaneously.

The time has almost come.

Below is a screen shot I took from the STEREO website. As you can see, Stereo A and Stereo B are almost 180 degrees from each other — on opposite sides of the sun — and 90 degrees from Earth. The orbits have been migrating gradually into this configuration for years, since the mission’s 2006 launch.


map of stereo spacecraft orbital positions around the sun

You’ll be hearing much more about this from NASA and gogblog as we approach February 9.
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OH AND DID I MENTION? All opinions and opinionlike objects in this blog are mine alone and NOT those of NASA or Goddard Space Flight Center. And while we’re at it, links to websites posted on this blog do not imply endorsement of those websites by NASA.

Hubble hits the Red Limit. Next up: Webb Telescope

January 26th, 2011 Comments off

hubble space telescope in orbit
The day had to come, and we all knew it. Hubble Space Telescope has been squinting for years, and now it’s reached the limit of its power to see back to the earliest epochs of cosmic time. As in Cosmic Time, or the amount of time elapsed since the Big Bang.

Today, a team of scientists made this exciting announcement:

SANTA CRUZ, CA–Astronomers studying ultra-deep imaging data from the Hubble Space Telescope have found what may be the most distant galaxy ever seen, about 13.2 billion light-years away. The study pushed the limits of Hubble’s capabilities, extending its reach back to about 480 million years after the Big Bang, when the universe was just 4 percent of its current age.

A story on Bad Astronomy explains the details, as does a NASA press release and one from the University of California, Santa Cruz. And the First Galaxies website provides even deeper scientific background in plain English.

As light from a distant galaxy speeds toward us, it gets stretched, or “redshifted,” by the expansion of space itself. Astronomers measure redshift with a quantity called “z.” The paper in Nature reports a redshift of z=10. 3. The first galaxies probably formed 200 to 300 million years post-Big Bang, which is more z’s than Hubble can deliver. To get to that redshift, Hubble would need instruments that can see even redder — more redshifted — light than it can now. So, in short, Hubble is at the “red limit” of what it can see.

I asked Jason Tumlinson, a galaxy researcher at the Space Telescope Science Institute to explain:

“My opinion is that we’re very near the limits of what HST can do in terms of pushing back the redshift frontier, and in fact have been operating at HST’s limits for several years. Everything depends on the performance of the cameras, and the major upgrade provided by the new Wide Field Camera 3 (WFC3) in 2009 has made a big difference.”

The upgraded WFC3 was installed on Hubble during the final servicing mission in May 2009.

I asked Amber Straughn, a Goddard astrophysicist in the Observational Cosmology Laboratory and a member of the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) team, to explain why Hubble has reached the “red limit” of its seeing ability:

“The short answer is, at z~10, we are AT the limit of HST’s ability to look back in time. The reason for this is simply due to HST’s wavelength coverage. The light from these very distant galaxies is very, very red — and HST’s (Wide Field Camera 3) filters cut off at around 1.7 microns. . . .That’s the ‘red limit’ of HST.”

See Dr. Straughn talk to a TV reporter about the Webb Telescope.

Another issue, Tumlinson says, is the amount of Hubble telescope time available. The light-sensing detectors on Hubble contribute a certain amount of electronic “noise” that can swamp the signal from whatever you happen to be observing. To overcome this, astronomers have to schedule enough “Hubble time” to make sure the signal from the astronomical target is sufficiently stronger than the background noise – sort of like the way you have to raise your voice to be heard in a noisy room.

Tumlinson explains:

“The detector itself adds noise to the measurement — called readout noise, generally — which is an important factor in setting the faintest observable source. Of course, HST users could go deeper and push further with longer observations so that they collect more source counts relative to this noise term, but only so much time is available. “

NASA and the scientific community saw Hubble’s red limit coming. So they invented the James Webb Space Telescope. With its huge collecting mirror — 6.5 meters (21.3 feet) in diameter — and ultrasensitive infrared detectors, Webb can see longer, redder wavelengths of light, and “redder” translates to “more distant.”

Tumlinson explains:

“Discovering galaxies at high redshift is one of the top reasons NASA is building JWST. Being much larger and optimized for this sort of work, Webb should make z ~ 10 detections routine, and could push the frontier to z = 12, 15, or even higher.”

Z=15 is around 275 million years after the Big Bang — the sweet spot for observing the first stars and galaxies forming. Stay tuned!

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OH AND DID I MENTION? All opinions and opinionlike objects in this blog are mine alone and NOT those of NASA or Goddard Space Flight Center. And while we’re at it, links to websites posted on this blog do not imply endorsement of those websites by NASA.

That Was The Week that Was, January 17-21, 2011. . . A Digest of Goddard People, Science, & Media, PLUS Historical Tidbits and Our Best Stuff in the Blogpodcastotwitterverse

January 21st, 2011 Comments off

artist's concept of mars science laboratory on mars
technicians at work on SAM instrument package in clean roomTUESDAY January 18: Read about Sample Analysis at Mars, the largest instrument on NASA’s next Mars rover, the Mars Science Laboratory “Curiosity.” SAM was built and tested right here at Goddard Space Flight Center. “It has been a long haul getting to this point,” said Paul Mahaffy, the scientist in charge of SAM. “We’ve taken a set of experiments that would occupy a good portion of a room on Earth and put them into that box the size of a microwave oven.”

Amino acids in space: A wider range of asteroids were capable of creating the kind of amino acids used by life on Earth, according to new NASA research.

WEDNESDAY January 19: On this day in 2006, the New Horizons mission launched from Cape Canaveral, beginning its nine-year trek toward Pluto and the Kuiper Belt. The first spacecraft to visit Pluto, New Horizons was the first in NASA’s New Frontiers program of medium-class planetary missions. The spacecraft is now more than halfway to its target. Only 1634 days until closest approach to Pluto!

artist's concept of active galactic nucleusPrime contest: NASA has opened online voting for the agency’s OPTIMUS PRIME Spinoff Award student video contest. The public is invited to vote for their favorite videos, made by students in grades three through eight, developed to help educate America’s youth about the benefits of NASA’s technologies.

Missing in action: NASA science solves the mystery of the missing galaxies.

On View: The new Goddard View newsletter is available, featuring the SOHO birthday, Webb Telescope model builders, and Goddard Web Producer Holly Zell’s Halloween and Christmas hijinks.





THURSDAY January 20: The NASA Earth Observatory Picture of the Day is an orbital portrait of St. John in the U.S. Virgin Islands, captured by NASA’s Earth Observing-1 (EO-1) satellite.

Glorious: Get ready for NASA’s next major earth science mission to launch: Glory.


satellite image of st john in virgin islands
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OH AND DID I MENTION? All opinions and opinionlike objects in this blog are mine alone and NOT those of NASA or Goddard Space Flight Center. And while we’re at it, links to websites posted on this blog do not imply endorsement of those websites by NASA.


Gogblogcast #5: Marc Kuchner and the Search for Other Earths

January 20th, 2011 Comments off




Marc Kuchner is an astrophysicist at Goddard Space Flight Center who studies planetary systems around other stars. As he explains in this video, the trouble is that when you point a telescope — even one as powerful as the Hubble Space Telescope — at a star with a planetary system, you can’t see the actual planets very clearly. At best you see a glowing dot.

But what you CAN see very clearly is the thin dusty disk that occupies a vast volume of space around the star. Our solar system has one, too: It’s called the zodiacal cloud.

Marc and his students — most notably, Christopher Stark, now at the Carnegie Institution for Science in Washington, D.C. — have developed computer simulations of planetary dust. This is what the simulations show: Although it may be some time before we have a space telescope powerful enough to directly image the face of an alien planet, we should be able to detect the presence of planets by the effects they have on dusty disks. Most likely those planetary telltales will be structures such as rings and dimples.

Want to know more about dust simulations? See a previous gogblog post and the computer visualization below for the details.

By the way, when Marc mentions during the interview that there are “about 400 planets known,” it was accurate. But since this interview was recorded, the count has risen to 500!


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OH AND DID I MENTION? All opinions and opinionlike objects in this blog are mine alone and NOT those of NASA or Goddard Space Flight Center. And while we’re at it, links to websites posted on this blog do not imply endorsement of those websites by NASA.



That Was The Week that Was, January 10-14, 2011. . . A Digest of Goddard People, Science, & Media, PLUS Historical Tidbits and Our Best Stuff in the Blogpodcastotwitterverse

January 14th, 2011 Comments off

image of coronal hole on sunOn January 10, the Solar Dynamics Observatory snapped this image of the sun in extreme ultraviolet light, capturing a dark coronal hole.

image of hanny's voorwerpMONDAY January 10: Observations of distant galaxies help solve a centuries-old molecular mystery.

Gateway to space: Goddard scientist Harley Thronson, University of Texas partner Dan Lester, and aerospace industry colleague Ted Talay explain today in the Space Review how the United States can maintain a presence in space after the Shuttle and the ISS programs conclude.

Hanny’s what? You probably can’t pronounce it correctly, but the Hubble Space Telescope has snapped a picture of Hanny’s Voorwerp.

Hubble says: Tiny red dwarf stars, smaller than our sun, can unleash powerful eruptions that may release the energy of more than 100 million atomic bombs.

Fermi surprise: Thunderstorms spew antimatter into space!


TUESDAY January 11: The latest Earth-observing satellite developed by NASA, Glory, arrived Tuesday at Vandenberg Air Force Base, Calif., in preparation for a Feb. 23 launch.

Tropical storm warning: NASA’s Aqua satellite flew over the low pressure area known as System 93P in the Southern Pacific Ocean early today and saw rainfall already occurring over Vanuatu.


photo of snow on plant stemWEDNESDAY January 12: Global surface temperatures in 2010 tied 2005 as the warmest on record. And also get the science behind the news: Do annual temperature rankings matter?

Inconstant Crab: X-ray emission from the Crab Nebula is weakening.

Magnificent magnification: As many as 20 percent of the most distant galaxies currently detected appear brighter than they actually are because of the magnifying effect of gravity from other galaxies.

Comet rendezvous: On this day in 2005, NASA launched Deep Impact, the first space mission to probe beneath the surface of a comet. Six months later, on July 3, the spacecraft jettisoned an impactor that crashed into comet Tempel 1. The crash provided the most up-close data and images of a comet in the history of space exploration.

The white stuff: Goddard gets a light dusting of the white stuff. It was no Snowpocalypse, but it was pretty.


photograph of technician and webb telescope mirrorsTHURSDAY January 13: On this day in 1997, NASA scientists announced the discovery of three black holes in three normal galaxies, suggesting that nearly all galaxies may harbor supermassive black holes.

La Nina: A new Ocean Surface Topography Mission (OSTM)/Jason-2 satellite image of the Pacific Ocean captures stronger La Nina cooling in the Pacific.

Two-faced: Hubble Space Telescope captures two radically different views of the Whirlpool Galaxy.

Not-so-heavy metal video: Learn about beryllium, the wonder metal at the heart of the Webb Telescope.

ICESat away: On this day in 2003, NASA launched the ICESat mission. It was the first mission specifically designed to study Earth’s polar regions with a space-based laser altimeter. The mission led to advances in measuring changes in the mass of the Greenland and Antarctic ice sheets, polar sea ice thickness, vegetation-canopy heights, and the heights of clouds and aerosol particles. The ICESat mission ended in February 2010 with the failure of the last of its three lasers. After a controlled maneuver to bring the craft out of orbit, ICESat entered Earth’s atmosphere over the Barents Sea on August 30, 2010. A follow-on mission, ICESat-2, is slated for launch in 2015.

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OH AND DID I MENTION? All opinions and opinionlike objects in this blog are mine alone and NOT those of NASA or Goddard Space Flight Center. And while we’re at it, links to websites posted on this blog do not imply endorsement of those websites by NASA.


After the International Space Station: A gateway to deep space

January 12th, 2011 Comments off
A "gateway" station between Earth and the moon could be a stepping stone out of Earth orbit for future deep-space exploration. (Artist concept of gateway station courtesy John Frassanito & Associates.) http://www.frassanito.com

A "gateway" station between Earth and the moon could be a stepping stone out of Earth orbit for future deep-space exploration. (Artist concept of gateway station courtesy John Frassanito & Associates.)



Imagine it’s New Year’s Day, 2021. The previous year, NASA officially shuttered the International Space Station. The last astronaut has turned off the lights and landed safely.

Then what? Then WHERE?

This week, one of our senior civil servant scientists, Harley Thronson, University of Texas partner Dan Lester, and aerospace industry colleague Ted Talay published an intriguing scenario in the online journal Space Review. They explain how the United States could continue to field astronauts in space despite the recent decision to abandon the return-to-the-moon plan that reigned though most of the last decade.

The idea would be to establish a “gateway” deep-space station between Earth and the moon as a stepping stone out of low-Earth orbit for our astronauts. The coolest thing is: It could be done without the Space Shuttle, using existing launch systems such as the Delta 4, that routinely and reliably launch heavy payloads already. To save on weight, much of the station’s inhabitable space would be a thick-walled, multi-layer inflatable donut-shaped structure.

A TransHab inflatable module

A TransHab inflatable module

Thronson, Talay, and Lester are by no means the first or the only ones to propose an inflatable gateway station. The concept has been in development in various guises and by various people – from NASA itself to the private “space hotel” company Bigelow Aerospace – since the late 1990s. Catch up on the tech here at the Wikipedia article about the “TransHab” concept for the lunar gateway.

Thronson is Associate Director for Advanced Concepts and Planning in the Astrophysics Division at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, and is involved in major initiatives to develop future large optical systems for use in space and the capabilities to build them. He started thinking about the space gateway concept in 1999, while serving on NASA’s Decade Planning Team. The group sketched out a number of next-generation concepts for human space exploration — including inflatable space habitat designs.

Thronson is still at it a decade later, and will be presenting his team’s ideas at various journals and conferences in the near future. In this week’s article, they describe their latest formulation for the gateway station. An earlier article, published in February 2010, gives additional background.

“Such a ‘Gateway’ could be the first step beyond [low-Earth orbit] in a flexible path, including returning humans to the Moon and supporting surface operations there. These habitats have also been proposed to demonstrate next-generation systems developed on the ISS that will be necessary for missions beyond the Earth-Moon system. This ‘beachhead’ for longer-range human operations at these libration points may eventually provide opportunities for other missions. For example, assembly and upgrade of complex science facilities and support for space depot systems may be carried out at these sites.”

Here are the basic bullet points for Thronson, Lester, and Talay’s gateway concept:

  • Launch a fuel tanker into low-Earth orbit.
  • Launch the station into orbit and refuel the Delta’s liquid-fuel second stage.
  • Boost outward to L1 or L2, locations between Earth and the moon where their gravity balances out and it thus requires minimal fuel to maintain the station’s position. This would be about 60,000 kilometers (37,300 miles) from the moon.
  • Send a crew of three to the station. Up to four crews could go to the station per year, each requiring two Delta 4 Heavy launches.
  • The pressurized interior volume of the station would be 170 cubic meters. (The space shuttle orbiter has 71.5 cubic meters, NASA’s Skylab had 283, and the ISS has around 1,000.)
  • The crew could remain for a few months at a time. This would be an opportunity to continue learning how to live and work in deep space in anticipation of future trips to near-Earth asteroids or Mars.

But here’s the really cool part. The station would be close enough to the moon to allow near-instantaneous communication with robots. Astronauts could explore the lunar surface using telepresence technology. Their view would be unhindered by bulky helmets ands suits, allowing them to experience and explore the environment in a way undreamt by the pioneering Apollo moon walkers.

That, my friends, would be Very Cool, not to mention electrifying to the public and to students.

In the end, the gateway model is a way of laying smaller, more achievable (not to mention affordable) “stepping stones” into space. And there’s still plenty to explore.

In the first of a series of articles, “The Case for the Moon: Why We Should Go Back Now,” running this week on Space.com. The reporter interviewed one of our solar system scientists for the article:

“The Apollo astronauts made only brief visits to only six places on the moon, all near the equator,” said Richard Vondrak, deputy director of the Solar System Exploration Division at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md. “Our most recent missions, such as LRO and LCROSS, are revealing new secrets of the moon and helping us to identify new places to go, such as the polar regions.”

Although the future of U.S. human space flight is somewhat uncertain right now, the dream of space exploration burns as brightly as ever.

Robonaut, a telepresence robot under development at NASA.

Robonaut, a telepresence robot under development at NASA.

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OH AND DID I MENTION? All opinions and opinionlike objects in this blog are mine alone and NOT those of NASA or Goddard Space Flight Center. And while we’re at it, links to websites posted on this blog do not imply endorsement of those websites by NASA.


Phil Evans’ Swift Universe: Contemplating the inconstancy of the Crab

January 12th, 2011 Comments off

New results from NASA space observatories have revealed something surprising about the Crab Nebula: This famous supernova remnant — long considered a veritable “old faithful” of X-ray sources for the constancy of it energy output — appears to be dimming over time. We asked Phil Evans, gogblog’s on-call X-ray scientist and a member of the NASA Swift Observatory science team, to tell us why the inconstancy of the Crab is so important to astronomers.

image of crab nebulaThe Crab Nebula has a prestigious history. It formed when a star exploded in a supernova, and was first observed and recorded by Chinese observers in 1054 AD. The glow of the supernova was so bright, people could see it during the day for more than 3 weeks!

The material which was blown off the star has been expanding since then in a complex structure with leg-like filaments that earned it its name. It’s also a very bright source of X-rays, and — particularly usefully — its brightness and spectrum don’t change; so astronomers can (and do) use it to calibrate their X-ray instruments. In fact, “a Crab” is an internationally recognized unit of measurement.

The problem is, these new results suggest that the Crab is not constant after all, according to a press release issued today by NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center. The measurements taken over the last few years by the Fermi, Swift, RXTE and INTEGRAL satellites show that the Crab actually varies by a few percent every year. This is not too disastrous right now: It’s pretty hard to calibrate high-energy instruments to an accuracy of 1 percent or so, and the definition of “a Crab” as a unit of measurement has a fixed definition. But as technology advances, we will probably find that the Crab is no longer the ideal calibration source.

This type of finding, by the way, is not unusual. It is often the case that an object described as the “protoype” of its class turns out to be atypical! Indeed the star Vega, long used as a standard in optical astronomy, was recently found not to be standard. The exciting thing about all of this is it shows us how much we still have to learn. The Crab is among the brightest X-ray sources in the sky, and yet it is able to jump out and surprise us.

In a related point under the same press release, recently published work from the NASA’s Fermi Gamma-ray Space Telescope and the Italian Space Agency’s AGILE satellite have found large gamma-ray flares from the Crab Nebula. Investigation is ongoing, but this may indicate a really strong electric field. As study coauthor Stefan Funk said, “The strength of the gamma-ray flares shows us they were emitted by the highest-energy particles we can associate with any discrete astrophysical object,” which in themselves present plenty of challenges.

The Crab nebula: exciting and enigmatic? Yes! Constant and well understood? No! A fantastic natural laboratory? You bet.

— Phil Evans

Follow Phil on Twitter to get updates on his life and work in X-ray astronomy.
@Swift_Phil

chart of declining crab nebula x-ray output

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OH AND DID I MENTION? All opinions and opinionlike objects in this blog are mine alone and NOT those of NASA or Goddard Space Flight Center. And while we’re at it, links to websites posted on this blog do not imply endorsement of those websites by NASA.


That Was The Week that Was, January 3-7, 2011. . . A Digest of Goddard People, Science, & Media, PLUS Historical Tidbits and Our Best Stuff in the Blogpodcastotwitterverse

January 7th, 2011 Comments off

NASA season's greeting logoMONDAY January 3: Meet Wendy Moore Morgenstern, an engineer with the Solar Dynamics Observatory mission.

Last Year’s Awesomeness: NASA Blueshift’s Weekly Awesomeness Round Up features the final list of the coolest-stuff-of-the-last-week-of-2010, including season’s greetings from NASA’s chief, Charlie Bolden, and a talk about the Webb Telescope and the search for alien planets by Goddard’s Mark Clampin.

Border blow: NASA Earth Observatory features a dust storm blowing from northern Mexico across the borders of Texas and New Mexico. NASA’s Aqua satellite caught all the dusty details from orbit.

PlumeWatch: NASA Earth Observatory features Kizimen Volcano on Russia’s Kamchatka Peninsula. The Terra satellite watched at Kizimen belched a plume of ash and steam on December 30, 2010.

image of partial solar eclipseMars Polar Lander (not): On this day in 1999, NASA launched the Mars Polar Lander. Communication with the craft was lost just before it was to begin reentry into the planet’s atmosphere on December 3 that same year.

That’s the Spirit! On this day in 2004, the first Mars Exploration Rover, Spirit, landed on Mars. On May 1, 2009 (5 years, 3 months, 27 Earth days after landing), Spirit became stuck in soft soil, although it continued to conduct observations in place.


TUESDAY January 4: 2011′s first partial solar eclipse thrills observers in Europe, Africa, and parts of Asia. Check out a gallery of eclipse images on the Goddard Flickr page or watch the time-lapse video of images captured by Geeked On Goddard guest blogger Dr. Phil Evans.

photo of paper snowflakeWEDNESDAY January 5: See the winners of the space-themed snowflake contest sponsored by NASA Blueshift. Those Blueshift fans are crafty devils!

Shuttle dreams: On this day in 1972, NASA Administrator James C. Fletcher met with President Richard M. Nixon to discuss the future of the space program. After the meeting, they issued a statement to the media announcing the decision to “proceed at once with the development of an entirely new type of space transportation system designed to help transform the space frontier of the 1970s into familiar territory, easily accessible for human endeavor in the 1980s and ’90s.” This was a reference to the Space Shuttle, first flown in April 1981.


image of solar spiculeTHURSDAY January 6: Find out why giant plumes of gas zooming up from the sun’s surface at 150,000 mph may play a key role in heating its sizzling outer atmosphere, the corona.

Water, water, anywhere? On this day in 1998, Lunar Prospector was launched on a one-year mission to explore the moon, especially whether or not water ice is buried inside the lunar crust. Developed as part of the Discovery program of frequent, low-cost missions, Lunar Prospector carried a small payload of only five instruments.


FRIDAY January 7: The Solar Dynamics Observatory Pick of the Week is a gorgeous color portrait of an elongated dark filament of plasma on the sun’s surface. The feature appears reddish-purple when imaged in three different wavelengths of extreme ultraviolet light.

image of solar filament
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OH AND DID I MENTION? All opinions and opinionlike objects in this blog are mine alone and NOT those of NASA or Goddard Space Flight Center. And while we’re at it, links to websites posted on this blog do not imply endorsement of those websites by NASA.


Time-lapse photography of the partial solar eclipse this morning, photographed from England

January 4th, 2011 1 comment




Phil Evans, an X-ray astronomer in England and frequent guest blogger for Geeked On Goddard, sends us this report on the partial solar eclipse this morning. The video above consists of 50 still shots taken by Phil over a 15-minute period. The music is Mars, Bringer of War, by Gustav Holst, brought to you in its copyright-free glory by the U.S. Air Force Band.

Being a Brit and an astronomer is often no fun. The clouds know when something interesting is happening, or you’ve bought a new piece of equipment. Almost every lunar eclipse I’ve tried to watch has been clear until the moon was about 30% covered, and then I was clouded out until the moon was about 30% covered on the way out of eclipse.

So it was with extreme pessimism that I began my first working day of 2011 by trudging my way up to the 5th floor of a tall campus buiding, carrying my brand-new Canon EOS 500D (a Christmas present plus my savings!). Sure enough, as the sky began to glow, two large, banks of cloud were illuminated near the horizon. Typical!

Or not.

Actually, there were two small, sun-size gaps: one between the horizon and the first bank, and one between the two banks. As the Sun rose (surprisingly quickly) we were treated to a fantastic view of the crescent Sun above the trees, distorted by the atmosphere, and actually accentuated by the clouds. They added depth, colour and an extra sense of anticipation as the Sun, rather than baring all, made use of the available cover to dance suggestively, keeping us on the edge of our seats.

108 photos later and the cloud had taken over. But was it worth the climb up 5 floors at 8 a.m.? You bet it was. Nice one, Universe.

— Phil Evans

Follow Phil on Twitter to get updates on hius life and work in X-ray astronomy.
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OH AND DID I MENTION? All opinions and opinionlike objects in this blog are mine alone and NOT those of NASA or Goddard Space Flight Center. And while we’re at it, links to websites posted on this blog do not imply endorsement of those websites by NASA.