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Posts Tagged ‘NASA’

The latest findings on the star-eating black hole

August 24th, 2011 Comments off

swift star eater


Phil Evans, an X-ray astronomer in England and frequent guest blogger for Geeked On Goddard, sends us this report on some exciting new findings of the NASA Swift observatory.

Back in March this year the Swift satellite detected a massive explosion in space. That in itself is nothing new. Indeed, it’s what Swift was designed to do. But, as I posted back in April, this one was a bit strange. Whereas Gamma Ray Bursts — Swift’s bread-and-butter (how cool, by the way, to be describing the most powerful explosions known in such an off-hand way) — explode and then fade away, this object flared up again, and again and then a fourth time, and even now is a bright source of X-rays.

So what was it? As I noted in that post, just 3 weeks after the event, a consensus has already formed that this was an extremely rare event: a star being torn apart by a black hole. Two papers have today (August 25) been published in the journal Nature, arguing for this interpretation, one of them led by Prof. David Burrows — the head of the X-ray Telescope (XRT) team on the Swift satellite. Here is a University of Leicester press release on the discovery.

The aftermath of such an event has been seen before (occasionally), but only well after the event, where all that can be seen are the last dregs of material being gobbled up: the black hole licking its lips, if you like. With Swift, for the first time, we’ve now seen the process actually starting, the black hole taking its first bite.

And, in doing so, we found something new: the light we saw can’t be explained by the standard models of a star being torn apart by a black hole. Incidentally, the black hole was a few million times more massive than the Sun!

Instead, the process must have resulted in the light coming out along a narrow ‘jet’ of material. Keen followers of Swift will notice that this is also how Gamma Ray Bursts emit their light.

Setting GRBs aside, jets from black holes at the center of a galaxy are a very common phenomenon, seen in Active Galactic Nucleii for example, but we’ve never seen such a jet actually ‘turn on’, until now. This once again highlights how awesome it is to working on Swift. At any moment I could be interrupted by an SMS from the spacecraft. Maybe it will be ‘only’ a huge explosion from the other side of the universe. Or maybe it will be something completely new.

Follow Phil Evans on twitter: @swift_phil




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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.



Watching the Juno launch at NASA Goddard

August 5th, 2011 Comments off




Here are more than 200 of us at NASA/Goddard watching the Juno Mission blast off to Jupiter. A team of our scientists and engineers built an instrument Juno will use to study Jupiter’s mighty magnetic field.

To learn all the amazing stuff Juno will do when it reaches Jupiter in 5 years, see the excellent and detailed web feature by my friend Liz Zubritsky.


atlas rocket launching juno mission

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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.



So long, Discover AQ!

August 1st, 2011 Comments off

I seem to have a talent for being at the right place at the right time to witness NASA’s pollution-sniffing P-3B aircraft pass over Maryland commuter routes. A couple weeks ago, I snapped a quick pic of the turboprop aircraft soaring north along I-95.

On Friday, while driving home, it happened again. Ergo, this final salute to the the first phase of the Discover AQ field campaign, which occurred at roughly 6 p.m. Friday afternoon as I was driving north on the Baltimore-Washington Parkway, within sight of the Rt. 32 exit.

It appeared that the plane was slowly turning west. I turned of and headed west, toward home. Bizarrely, while driving north on Route 1, I saw the P-3B off to my left, apparently following the Interstate southward! I just can’t shake that P-3B.

Coincidence? Or do I just spent waaaay too much time commuting? Ironically, it is because there are so many of us motoring between the Baltimore-Washington corridor that Discover-AQ has lots of air pollution to measure.

The day before, one of my Goddard colleagues, Rebecca Roth, caught the P-3B on video as it passed over the Greenbelt, Maryland area.

Can you see it?

Can you see it?


NOW can you see it?

NOW can you see it?




Discover AQ P-3B (the blip above the gas station), heading south... farewell.

Discover AQ P-3B (the blip above the gas station), heading south... farewell.


Check out the Viz — a new way to explore the planet and beyond

July 26th, 2011 Comments off

photo of ipad with nasa viz app displayed

In the past year or so, I was involved in a project here at Goddard to create a new iPad app and it’s finally out. It’s called the NASA Visualization Explorer.

I know, I know — what do they mean by “visualization”? Pardon the jargon. It’s the local industry around here.

“Visualization” is sorta what it sounds like. It’s the process of making something visual. In this case, the thing being visualized is data from NASA’s fleet of scientific satellites.

The crack team of scientist-artists at NASA Goddard’s Scientific Visualization Studio crank this stuff out, and some of it is truly amazing work. But it doesn’t necessarily reach the public. The new iPad app will help to spread the good news: “We got viz!”

If you have an iPad, check this thing out and let us know what you think.


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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.



Paul Richards took one look at the first Space Shuttle launch and thought, “That’s my ride.”

July 22nd, 2011 Comments off
NASA Goddard engineer Paul Richards in 2001, spaking to the media about his upcoming flight on the Space Shuttle mission STS-102.

NASA Goddard engineer Paul Richards in 2001, speaking to the media about his upcoming flight on the Space Shuttle mission STS-102.

What did the Space Shuttle program mean to you?

NASA engineer Paul Richards knew from the moment he saw the first one roar off the pad in 1981.

“The first launch was 1981. I was a junior in high school. I wanted to be an astronaut since I was 5 years old. So as soon as I saw that first Shuttle launch, my thoughts were, ‘That’s my ride. I’m going up on that thing.’”

And he did — once — in 2001. It changed his life.

Yesterday, Richards was one of the speakers at NASA Goddard Space Flight Center who recalled their experiences and contributions to the U.S. Space Transportation System, a.k.a., the Space Shuttle. Richards, currently Observatory Manager of the GOES-R satellite program at Goddard, flew in space in 2001 on the STS-102 mission to the International Space Station.

The video below, about 15 minutes long, contains the portion of Richards talk where he walks through his changing “perspectives” on the Shuttle, starting with that first launch in 1981: hearing of the Challenger accident while in college; coming to Goddard and using the Shuttle to launch payloads; getting to know the astronauts; becoming an astronaut; watching friends and colleagues die in the 2003 Columbia accident. And finally, yesterday, watching the final Shuttle land.

Richards was candid, honest, and humble in his storytelling. It seems to me that he and others like him are one of the most precious legacies of the Shuttle era — the NASA people who did great things and took great risks to be true to their belief in the redeeming adventure of human spaceflight.



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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.

Discover AQ, 12 o’clock high!

July 14th, 2011 Comments off
photo of p3 aircraft flying over I 95

Much-magnified view of P-3B flying over Maryland July 14, 2011.



It’ a small world after all. Yesterday at around 5 p.m., I tweeted out the following message for Goddard:

NASA DISCOVER-AQ will conduct air quality flights over NE Maryland Thursday 7/14, 8am-4pm EDT. #MDsmogstudy go.usa.gov/Zle



This morning, 8:38 a.m., I was driving south on I-95, just a couple miles north of Rt. 32, and what to my wondering eyes should appear but the distinctive silhouette and quadraphonic exhaust plumes of a P-3B aircraft — the P-3B that NASA is using to sniff pollution over the region.

I grabbed my handy Canon digital Elph and snapped two photos before the craft roared overhead at low altitude, heading due north. I reckon it was 500 to 1,000 feet above the ground.

Check out the Discover AQ website for all the details on the mission.

Here is the actual “cockpit view” of what the camera saw outside my rolled-down car window:


photo of p3 craft flying over I 95
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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.

Getting ready to take the robots to the beach

July 6th, 2011 Comments off

This summer, Geeked On Goddard is reporting on Engineering Boot Camp, a program run by NASA engineer Mike Comberiate. In the program, new and aspiring young engineers work on technology programs to support NASA science.


photo of interns working in building 25


There was a full house of apprentice engineers in Building 25 the past few days, getting ready for a planned trip to NASA Wallops Flight Facility and Assateague State Park. Today, the boot campers are showing off their robotic projects at Wallops, taking a tour, and having a beach party. Tomorrow morning (Thursday), at 5 a.m., they will take the GROVER2 rover to Assateague beach for his first field trials.

I’ll be there to capture it on video. In the meantime, here is a glimpse into Engineering Boot Camp as the teams hurried to get their ‘bots running.





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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 Space Telescope: one in a million

July 6th, 2011 1 comment

The Hubble Space Telescope has captured its one-millionth scientific observation. To commemorate, here is more than 200 of the most spectacular Hubble images, set to music from the Planets album by the New York City band One Ring Zero. Many thanks to One Ring Zero co-leader Michael Hearst for extending permission to use the song Pluto in this video. And thanks to NASA fan Alex Grzybowski of Glenelg Country School for right-clicking more than 200 Hubble images off Hubblesite for this project.


Download the video (.m4v, 28 Mb)

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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.

GROVER2 gets a set of (aluminum) bones

July 3rd, 2011 Comments off

This summer, Geeked On Goddard is reporting on Engineering Boot Camp, a program run by NASA engineer Mike Comberiate. In the program, new and aspiring young engineers work on technology programs to support NASA science.


guillermo and kyle in shop

The other day I stopped by Building 25 — ground zero for NASA Engineering Boot Camp — and was happy to see the ice-crawling robot, GROVER2, taking shape in the shop. Mechanical systems lead engineer Guillermo Diaz (above, right) took me out to a small brick building neat the main building.

In a marathon 36-hour session, slightly bleary-eyed Guillermo helped assemble and weld GROVER2′s aluminum bones together. Fellow Engineering Boot Camper Kyle Hobin (above, left), an undergraduate engineering student at Worcester Polytechnic Institute in Massachusetts, took the lead on welding the components together. The team had recently cut them from large aluminum sheets using high-pressure water jet cutting machinery.

Guillermo has also been working overtime to make sure that critical components, such as wheel bearings, arrive in time to complete GROVER2 for a trip to the beach next week for field testing.

As planned, the new rover is narrower and more compact, just 54 inches wide, 60 inches high, and 65 inches long, by my measurements. The two 1/4 horsepower electric motors that will drive GROVER2′s caterpillar tracks (adapted from racing snowmobile components) are already bolted to the frame.

With luck, we’ll be on the beach next Wednesday to put GROVER2 through his paces. In the meantime, here’s a slide show of images from the shop.





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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.

Fill’er up! Animation of NASA’s robotic refueling mission

June 29th, 2011 1 comment
Take me to your (out of fuel) satellite!

Take me to your (out of fuel) satellite!


Next week’s final launch of the space shuttle Atlantic will be bittersweet for all of us at NASA and for space fans the world over. It will be the end of something very, very big in many people’s lives, and in the life of the United States space program. Something to be proud of; something to mourn. STS-135 is an end and a beginning. I suspect there won’t be a dry eye in the house around here when she goes into orbit.

But for our part, Goddard’s going out in style. The shuttle Atlantis will deliver to the International Space Station a package of gear developed here in a fury of activity and inspiration and hard work over the past 18 months. It’s called the Robotic Refueling mission.

Tools and supporting gear bolted to the space station will, later in the year, allow astronauts operators using the Special Purpose Dexterous Manipulator (SPDM/Dextre) to explore an utterly new technology to repair or refuel satellites in orbit.

[Many thanks to NASA's Alex Janas for clarifying how the tools will be used on orbit, and by whom. Dextre, the space station's two-armed Canadian robotic "handyman," will manipulate the tools developed at Goddard. Operations will be entirely remote controlled by collaborating teams of flight controllers at Goddard Space Flight Center, Johnson Space Center, Marshall Space Flight Center,  and the Canadian Space Agency's control center in Quebec.]

The animation below says it all: NASA at its best: It seems-like-science-fiction-but-it’s-not.

On Tuesday last, gogblog tagged along on a media tour of the robotic refueling mission, led by veteran Goddard public affairs stalwart Dewayne A. Washington.

We met the brains and muscle behind the mission at the Building 7-10-15-29 complex, where many a great mission has been developed and tested. More details and photos in future posts……



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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.