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]
July 20th, 2010
Darryl Cunningham's The Moon Hoax is, in essence, the comics equivalent of Phil Plait's original Bad Astronomy site. Nice work.
May 15th, 2010
Like James Nicoll and most of his commenters, I read this update on a problem with Voyager 2 and thought V'Ger:
The mission has zeroed in on a flipped or bad bit in the flight data system being the likely culprit for the spacecraft's current problem with formatting science data properly. Remember that computers store information as strings of ones and zeroes or "on" and "off" bits. Once in a while, a passing cosmic ray can evade the radiation protection on a spacecraft and slam into a memory bit; when that happens, the bit may change value, from zero to one or vice versa. It's a lot like a transcription error in DNA; it's a sort of mutation of the code. It's possible that the flipped bit will have no or insignificant effect on the spacecraft, but once in a while, a flipped bit happens in a very important location and causes serious problems, and that's what the Voyager team thinks happened within Voyager 2's flight data systems.
April 21st, 2010
April 5th, 2010
The view from the International Space Station as it flies through an Aurora at 28,000km/hr.
Never mind the image quality, feel the speed.
[Via Bad Astronomy]
March 30th, 2010
I've seen still images of Daphnis causing a perturbation in Saturn's A Ring before, but this Cassini video of Daphnis ploughing through the rings was new to me. Seriously cool.
[Via Joe Haldeman, via Kevin Riggle]
March 5th, 2010
What self-respecting geek could resist an RSS feed notifying you every time another star falls within your light cone?
72 Herculis is 46.9 light years from Earth. It was enveloped by your light cone 2 months ago.
Nu-2 Lupi, here I come…
[Via James Nicoll]