May 13th, 2013
Two spectacularly colourful images: one looking up into the sky, the other one looking down from space:
May 6th, 2013
One day I'll get tired of sequences of time lapse images taken from the International Space Station. Not today.
[Via Bad Astronomy]
May 4th, 2013
It looks as if when NASA's New Horizons probe arrives at Pluto in 2015 it's going to find weather that is both relatively simple and yet quite difficult to predict:
To establish context: Pluto, like Earth and Titan, has a nitrogen-rich atmosphere. It's a very thin atmosphere, its pressure measured in microbars. Earth's atmospheric pressure is, of course, about one bar. Titan's is 1.6 bars. Mars' is a hundred times more tenuous, less than 10 millibars. Pluto's is about a hundred times more tenuous again, less than 100 microbars. Which is really thin; but it's way thicker than the essentially airless exospheres at Mercury and the Moon. Pluto has plenty enough atmosphere for the world to have wind and weather and clouds, just like Venus and Earth and Mars and Titan.
Nitrogen in Pluto's air is in equilibrium with nitrogen frost or ice on the ground. Broadly speaking, when Pluto warms up, ice sublimates to gas, and the atmospheric pressure goes up. When Pluto cools, you get frost and a lower atmospheric pressure. Changing seasons remove ice from the summer pole, and may re-deposit it at the winter pole.
Emily Lakdawalla's post goes into much more detail about why it's so hard to predict what New Horizons will find, even taking into account what we know from probes to destinations elsewhere in the solar system. Which, as she notes, is exactly why it's necessary to send a spaceship out to Pluto – to tell us which theories are right and which are wrong (and in turn to fuel a couple of decades-worth of scientific papers figuring out whether the theories that gave the right answers did so for the right reasons.)
In the meantime, New Horizons will be heading on out to the Kuiper Belt, which promises to be interesting in an entirely different way.
April 13th, 2013
Emily Lakdawalla has posted a fascinating account, translated from the Russian original, of how a group of space enthusiasts combed images of the surface of Mars. Their aim: to find the Mars 3 lander that managed to transmit radio signals for 14 seconds back on 2 December 1971 before falling silent.
April 3rd, 2013
- Who, reading the documentation these covers contained back in the 1960s and even the early 1970s, would have believed that forty years on manned space travel still wouldn't have ventured further out into the solar system than the Apollo missions did? Don't get me wrong, I know the human race has plenty of robots exploring various interesting corners of the solar system and peering out into the wider universe. That's all well and good and I love reading about the things they're finding, but let's cut to the chase: we're running way behind schedule if I'm to live out my retirement years in a modest little cottage with a view out over the Mare Crisium! ↩
October 10th, 2012
For thousands of years the Borg cubes tore across the empty wastes of space and finally dived screaming on to the first planet they came across – which happened to be the Earth – where due to a terrible miscalculation of scale the entire Borg battle fleet was accidentally swallowed by a small dog.
Misquoted from Douglas Adams, The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy.
The real story is a tad less dramatic, and nobody needs to get assimilated. The cubes are actually amateur radio satellites deployed from the ISS:
NASA have released photographs of the amateur radio CubeSats TechEdSat, F-1 and FITSAT-1 taken by an Expedition 33 crew member on the International Space Station (ISS).
The small satellites were transported to the ISS in the HTV-3 (Kounotori 3) cargo vessel that blasted off on an H-IIB rocket from the Tanegashima Space Center on Saturday, July 21 at 0206 UT.
The cargo vessel arrived at the ISS on July 27 and the ISS Canadarm2 robotic arm was used to install the HTV-3 to its docking port on the Earth-facing side of the Harmony module at 1434 UT. The CubeSats were then unloaded by the Expedition 32 crew.
[Via Bad Astronomy]
September 22nd, 2012
June 22nd, 2012
I've seen CGI simulations of Curiosity's Seven Minutes of Terror before, but it does no harm to be reminded of just how insane a ride the Curiosity rover is going to have on the 5th of August when it lands on Mars.
I know there's no way NASA could afford to do it, but it's a shame that they couldn't have landed a smaller, simpler lander in the vicinity of the landing site just before Curiosity is due to descend from orbit. A lander with just one job: providing us with real-time moving pictures of Curiosity coming in to land. Fail or succeed, it's going to be quite some spectacle, and it's a damned shame that we're never going to get to get a proper look at what happened.
May 13th, 2012
The flight of a Space Shuttle as seen from a Solid Rocket Booster. I've posted links to this sort of film before, but in this film instead of providing a musical accompaniment to the SRB's descent, Skywalker Sound1 enhanced the sound from the SRB-mounted cameras; stark, bright images and the sound of a rocket tumbling from the upper atmosphere combine to mesmerising effect.2
[Via More Words, Deeper Hole]
April 8th, 2012
What strikes me is how small the Gemini capsule was; more or less the size of a small car. When they wanted to try a spacewalk, the astronauts would just suit up, then wind down a window2 to get direct access to space.
March 12th, 2012
The Scale of the Universe Interactive: think of it as a Flash version of Powers of Ten, crossed with a Total Perspective Vortex.
March 6th, 2012
It seems this is turning into Bingo Week @ Sore Eyes.
Today, James Nicoll invites us to play a quick round of Space Bingo.
December 7th, 2011
Emily Lakdawalla reports from the 2011 Fall Meeting of the American Geophysical Union:
Voyager 1 is very close to the heliopause. Last year at this time, the Voyager team reported that the outward-directed speed of the solar wind had dropped nearly to zero. With this observation and a mental model of the way the boundary between the solar wind and the interstellar medium should work, they formed a hypothesis: we are near the heliopause, and the direction of the energetic particles that Voyager 1 can measure should be shifting from the outward and east-west directed flow to a north-south one, the direction of the interstellar medium. So the simple experiment that the scientists needed to do to test their hypothesis was to measure the north-south flow of energetic particles. They predicted that they should be seeing increased north-south flow, matching the interstellar medium.
There are three cool aspects to what happened next.
- In order to perform the experiment the scientists would have to get Voyager 1 to change orientation – something it last managed 21 years ago. Not only did Voyager 1 pull this off, but it did so four times so that they could check their findings.
- The scientists found that their eminently plausible hypothesis was completely unsupported by the evidence Voyager produced. Cue much scratching of heads, and the formulation of a new hypothesis.
- With any luck,1 Voyager still will be around to test that hypothesis in due course.
Given that Voyager 1 was launched in 1977 and is still producing worthwhile scientific data thirty-plus years on, it must be the most cost-effective satellite in the history of space exploration.
November 13th, 2011
Link to Earth | Time Lapse View from Space | Fly Over seems to be the thing to do this weekend.
It is well worth a look, mind.
October 9th, 2011
I can't help but notice that the one section of this paperwork that might have been considered of some practical importance – i.e. the part asking about the possibility of spreading disease – had to be answered TO BE DETERMINED, what with the astronauts still being in quarantine at that point.
[Via The Brooks Review]
September 9th, 2011
A British team of scientist and engineers are planning to revive the Prospero satellite forty years after it was launched:
Prospero was the first UK satellite to be launched on a UK launch vehicle; it would also be the last.
Ministers had cancelled the rocket project in the run up to the flight.
However, as the Black Arrow was ready, the programme team decided to go-ahead anyway. Prospero was blasted into orbit from the remote Woomera base in the Australian desert. It turns out, the satellite is still up there.
Am I the only one reminded of this classic xkcd cartoon?
[Via The Morning News]
June 3rd, 2011
Chris Abbas has stitched together a vast number of still images from NASA's Cassini probe to produce Cassini Mission, a stylish, impressionistic piece that looks nothing at all like your typical NASA video. (And I mean that in a good way.)