Light Reflection: a brilliant fan of cryogenics venting from a relief valve on STS-122 Atlantis' ET (external tank) post-separation. Also see this handheld video of the ET, with money shots at 2:15 and 3:55. [more inside]
A tour around Discovery STS-120 and the International Space Station with Paolo Nespoli and Dr. Scott Parazynski. Tomorrow, Parazynski will be perched at the end of a robot arm and sensor boom assembly, stitching up a damaged solar array in what might be one of the riskiest EVAs since Skylab 2.
Tvashtar in Motion. Awesome five-frame GIF of fountaining sulfuric lava on Io courtesy New Horizons as it swung by Jupiter earlier this year. Found via Planetary Society Blog (Thank you, Emily). More on Tvashtar.
RIP Wally Schirra, 1923-2007. One of the original Mercury Seven "Right Stuff" astronauts (just two left now), Schirra flew on Sigma 7, Gemini 7, and Apollo 7. From there on, it's stationkeeping.
ESA's Rosetta probe just flew by Mars en route to a deep space rendezvous with Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko. During the 200 km close flyby, the Rosetta's Philae Lander camera got this lovely view of the craft's solar panel backdropped by the Martian arc, plus an animation of the moon Phobos' shadow on the Martian surface, and more lovely Mars imagery.
A hoop, to draw the Earth's shadow: illustrating yesterday's partial lunar eclipse with a hoop and some creative camera positioning. Start here and work your way towards the painter. Via Spaceweather. More photos of the eclipse on Flickr.
Crash. Tiny SMART-1, ESA's first lunar probe (also a compact spacecraft technology test bed), has been in lunar orbit since November 2004. Following the success of its primary and secondary missions, ESA now plans to crash SMART-1 into the moon, with a hard landing on the near side which may be visible from Earth. More stuff on ESA's little lunar trooper: SMART-1 lunar imagery, SMART-1 NASA Master Catalog entry, Planetary Society's SMART-1 category, and SMART-1 on Wikipedia.
There was a lovely total solar eclipse over parts of Africa, Europe, and Asia yesterday. See the photo galleries from Spaceweather, BBC, various Flickr users, and the International Space Station.
Stunningly beautiful photo of Dione and Saturn with rings. Such a sensation of depth and grandeur. Thanks, Cassini/JPL/NASA. [animation] [planetary photojournal entry] [B/W mirror from kokogiak] [now you play fun Flash spaceship game].
Cassini Flies by Tethys and Hyperion, and the photos so far have been awesome and weird. I especially want to point out this fascinating view, which, if you look at it closely, reveals what appears to be a string of small impact craters, in a straight line over older terrain. What kind of meteor impact could have produced such an excellent formation of craters? Hyperion photos are coming. (Kokogiak's got backup in case the JRUNS strike.)
Two Moons Passing in the Night. Mars rover Spirit took these sequential photos of Martian moons Phobos and Deimos passing overhead in the night sky. Those rovers are still going strong!
Ecological impact of Space Shuttle launch exhaust. Aluminum oxide powder, hydrogen chloride, and of course, water vapor, which can form noctilucent clouds. The environmental impact is supposedly minimal.
Liftoff! Discovery is in orbit, and STS-114 is well and fully underway. The fuel sensor problem which had previously delayed the launch was not an issue this morning. Mission timeline, mission updates, and the Wikipedia entry.
Rocks Among the Rings. The Planetary Society's Emily Lakdawalla has compiled some of the loveliest imagery of Saturn's ring-and-moon system from Cassini. More on Saturn from the Planetary Society here. Also see the Cassini at Saturn photoset, from our very own kokogiak, and watch for updates on the latest Enceladus flyby.
The Pioneer Anomaly. Something's up in deep space: the Pioneer spacecraft, now out of contact, have shown an unexplained Doppler drift, indicating sunward acceleration, effectively decelerating the probes cumulatively. The effect may be be nongravitational, and could be explained by any number of factors: an undiscovered twist in Newtonian physics, localized cosmological contraction issues, or just venting gas. Other deep space probes may have experienced the anomaly as well, and a new mission could explore the puzzle; but for now, all we have is past Pioneer data, and that's stored on old 9 track tape which can only be read by antique readers. What's to be done? (Also see Pioneer Odyssey for a nostalgic romp through those early days of deep space exploration. And NASA, bring back the original Pioneer home page plz, kthx.)
Getting there, landing, getting back. And here's a panorama. Happy 35th Moonshot Day. (For real this time.)
Today, it is 35 years since Apollo 11 landed on the moon. For detailed records of the events of that day, read the Apollo 11 Lunar Surface Journal. You can also take a look at the National Air and Space Museum's Apollo collection, or view photos from The Apollo Archive Image Gallery. Today, Neil Armstrong (who had meant to say "one small step for a man") leads a mostly private yet busy life, while Buzz Aldrin maintains a somewhat more public profile. Michael Collins, the much lesser-known astronaut who stayed in lunar orbit that day, went on to become Director of the National Air and Space Museum. As for those of you who still think the moon landing was faked, give it another think. Happy 35th Moon Shot Day! (Can you believe it?! The f-ing moon!!)
"Standard orbit, aye, sir." Following a nail-biting ring-plane crossing and 96-minute engine burn, Cassini has arrived, and is now in orbit around Saturn, 84 light-minutes away, sending in the first closeup pictures of the planet's rings. Also see the Planetary Society's details on the Orbit Insertion, Spaceflight Now's mission updates in weblog-like format, and raw images from the spacecraft as they come. Kudos, JPL! (Aside: the press has yet to tire of Lord of the Rings references.)
ISS-Jupiter Transit tonight. Notable space station flyover tonight for you skywatching East Coasters: the ISS will pass quite close to Jupiter, and some of you lucky ones [coordinates|map] will even see the station briefly eclipse the planet. (Side note: Remember those days when everyone was using its radio call sign "Alpha?" Now the media just say "space station." Sigh.) East Coast, 9:30pm, I'll be outside, looking up.
Mars Rover Blog, move over: SpiritRover and OpportunityGrrl are on Livejournal, along with Pathfinder(ess), Voyager 1, Cassini, GOES, FUSE, Hubble, and the Planet Mars Himself. (Educational. Sort of. And very LJ. Very, very LJ.)
Old Mars and the Sea. A salty sea may once have covered the Opportunity rover's landing site on Mars, boosting the possibility that the planet may once have evolved life. (Of course, there are those who believe NASA has been conspiring to cover it all up, but the Bad Astronomer has words on that. Bunnies and faces, my foot.)
Meanwhile, on Mars, The Spirit rover has reached Bonneville Crater, a primary mission objective, and snapped photos of the far side of the crater rim with its navcam. But what is that glint to the left side? (more within)
NASA and the Mars Bunny. I first heard about it from our own kokogiak. Then the conspiracy theorists: "They're destroying the evidence!" But now NASA has come out to tell us, "It's probably just airbag material."
How to be an Internet Woo-woo. From fake moon landings and mystery lights to Roswell Rods and Grey Aliens, the Woo-woo Credo gives you the lowdown on being an effective conspiracy theory monger.
Far, far away. Today, Voyager 1 will reach 90 AU from the sun, around which distance it is expected to cross the "termination shock," finally crossing into the fuzzy boundary between the heliosphere and true interstellar space. (Yes, it's taken that long to get there.) Some even think that the termination shock has already been reached, but then re-expanded past the spacecraft. Tears need not be shed yet for these distant explorers: both Voyagers have juice till about 2020, and the mission remains very much alive. (No word, however, on a possible return to the Creator.)
Nearer, My Galaxy, to Thee. The only thing I find more surprising than the discovery of a galactic collision-in-progress is the fact that a similar nearby galaxy had already been found last decade. I need to get up to date and throw out all my astronomy books which still cite the Magellanic Clouds as being our closest neighbors.
Ionospheric luminescence. Tonight. US East-coast skywatchers, look out for high, glowing clouds tonight between 9:30pm and 5:30am, as NASA fires rockets carrying combustible chemicals into the sky to study our planet's ionosphere. (Thank you, Spaceweather.) This reminds me, just a bit, of Projects Argus and Starfish.
Most of us were expecting that astronomers would discover a tenth planet and name it Persephone. A mostly harmless author preferred Rupert. One clique of New Age doomsayers claims that it is "Nibiru," or "Planet X,", which will come in 2003 to wreak havoc and usher in a new era under (I kid you not) our new alien overlords. Well, hang it all. Planet #9.5 has been discovered, and they called it "Quaoar." And I think Pluto is pissed.
Just FYI, it's entirely possible for a human to survive exposure to the vacuum of space for a limited time without any permanent damage -- as long as you expel all the breath from your lungs to avoid an embolism. Horrifying scenes of sudden explosive decompression or immediate freezing are, as far as I can tell, a myth. (In other words, Mission to Mars got it wrong, 2001 got it mostly right. But that's no surprise now, is it?) Link via BadAstronomy. Love that site.