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, 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
After their splashdown in the Pacific, the Apollo 11 astronauts had to fill in their customs paperwork upon their arrival at Honolulu airport, just like every other inbound traveller.
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.)
June 1st, 2011
Two images from the final flight of Space Shuttle Endeavour: shortly after lift-off, and docked with the ISS.
That second image gives a marvellous sense of just how quickly the ISS and the Shuttle are moving. I know it's the long exposure that causes the cities below to turn into a streak of light, but even so they're moving at a fair old clip up there.
[Image of Endeavour docked with the ISS via Bad Astronomy]
May 28th, 2011
April 25th, 2011
Yet another version of Carl Sagan's Pale Blue Dot – this time in animated form. Still worth a look.
March 9th, 2011
January 30th, 2011
Scale shows how the night sky would look if the Moon was replaced by various other planetary bodies.
I'm a little disappointed we don't get to see Saturn close up, but it's still a neat concept, well executed.
[Via Wis[s]e Words]
January 19th, 2011
With Voyager 1 crossing the (somewhat fuzzy) border between the solar system and interstellar space over the next few years, here's another way to grasp the scale of the mission. Not by the immense number of miles Voyager has travelled, nor by the number of megabytes of data it has sent back to Earth, but by the age of the scientists who worked on the project as young men:
[Voyagers 1 and 2...], now 33 years into their mission, continue to explore new territory as far as 11 billion miles from Earth. And they still make global news. Scientists announced last month that Voyager 1 had outrun the solar wind, the first manmade object to reach the doorstep to interstellar space.
It's amazing even to Stamatios "Tom" Krimigis, of the Johns Hopkins University's Applied Physics Lab near Laurel. He's one of just two principal investigators of the mission's original 11 still on the job 40 years after Voyager was approved by NASA.
"Needless to say, none of us expected it was going to be operating for so long," said Krimigis, now 72. "We were all praying to get to Neptune [in 1989]. But after that? Who thought we could be with this 33 years [after launch]?"
Here's hoping that Krimigis and his colleagues (and the Voyager probes themselves) are still active for years to come.
[Via Ghost in the Machine]
October 23rd, 2010
I'd really like to see "Cold Faithful" on Enceladus, or the Loki Patera Planetary Park for myself someday. In the meantime, I'll just have to make do with the posters.
October 7th, 2010
I knew the Soviet Union had abandoned their plans for a manned lunar landing after Apollo 11, but I didn't know there was still a surviving Lunar Craft in a Russian museum:
All the activities done by two astronauts is done by one. To make the craft lighter, the LK only fits the one cosmonaut, who was supposed to peer through a tiny window on the side of the craft to land it. After landing the vehicle the pod separates from the landing gear, as with the Apollo Lunar Module, but uses the same engine for landing as it does for take off as another weight savings.
The L2 Lunar Orbit Module designed to transport the LK into orbit around the Moon was similarly stripped down. There's no internal connection between the two craft so the cosmonaut had to space walk outside to get into the LK and head towards the surface. When the LK rejoined the L2 for the return trip home, the now likely exhausted would then climb back out into the abyss of space. The LK would then be thrown away.
I do like the more rounded look of the Russian vehicle by comparison with the Apollo LEM; fittingly, the LK bears a family resemblance to the Soyuz spacecraft.
September 29th, 2010
Emily Lakdawalla's latest What's up in the solar system post incorporates a new feature this month: a chart created by Olaf Frohn showing the location of every active space probe.
September 18th, 2010
The late Carl Sagan, reading a passage from his book about the Pale Blue Dot. Sobering stuff.
[Via MeFi user schmod, posting to this thread]
September 6th, 2010
AFGL 3068 might just be the oddest-looking stellar system humans have laid eyes on.
August 28th, 2010
NASA have invited the public to choose a wakeup song for the final Space Shuttle flight. So far, it looks to be a two-horse race:
||% of total
|Star Trek Theme Song
|Magic Carpet Ride
||Big Head Todd
I'm a little surprised that the Star Wars theme has garnered just 0.9% of the vote. I have to assume that once their online fandom gears up they'll crush the likes of Steppenwolf and Rush. Whether the rebel scum can defeat the fandom that managed to get the prototype Space Shuttle named after their favourite starship is another question.
(For the record, my vote went to ELO's Mr Blue Sky, but with just 0.2% of the vote it's got an awful lot of ground to make up.)
[Via The Awl]
August 24th, 2010
The MESSENGER space probe, well on the way to a rendezvous with Mercury next March, looked back and caught a glimpse of home.
July 29th, 2010
During the early years of manned spaceflight, NASA found it impossible to arrange life insurance for the astronauts. The solution to this problem was both ingenious and impeccably market-oriented:
The answer was provided by NASA in the form of 'Insurance Covers', [...] a number of which were given to every crew member and subsequently signed by every astronaut involved, as close to launch as possible. Its value would instantly be high, but would no doubt sky-rocket (no pun intended) should the astronauts never return; the deceased's surviving family then at least safe in the knowledge that in future they could cash-in their makeshift insurance policy if required.
By the time of the Columbia disaster in 2003, NASA had come up with a different approach:
The Americans who died aboard the space shuttle Columbia were eligible for the standard life insurance offered to military personnel and federal employees, but NASA carried no special coverage specifically for astronauts, officials say.
The 12 children of the Columbia astronauts will also be able to receive assistance from the Space Shuttle Children's Trust Fund. The private, nonprofit fund raised about $1.2 million after the 1986 Challenger explosion to provide for the needs of the astronauts' children.
[Via The Null Device]