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Astronomy

A glimpse into a new, yet ancient world

A glimpse into a new, yet ancient world

By now I’m sure you have all heard about Rosetta, and the long awaited arrival at its destination, and you’ve all seen the stunning images of comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko that are being returned to Earth, giving an unprecedented hires insight to a piece of our ancient history. Rosetta’s arrival to its comet is one of those rare happy occasions, when Space achievements are widely reported in general press. Tons of scientific, and not-so-scientific ;-) , reports have already been posted all over the internet and dozens of arguably more qualified than me people have explained most of what is to be explained.

The moment the signal of Rosetta arrival's reached Earth

Arrival signal obtained!

I was there at ESA’s ESOC facilities in Darmstadt, Gremany to witness the moment when at 09:30 UTC, the ground based stations received the signal confirming the successful execution of the first of a series of maneuvers that will eventually bring the spacecraft into a 50 klm orbit around the comet. You can view an animation of Rosetta’s maneuvers planned for the coming weeks here. Although clearly the arrival at the comet was not the biggest achievement in this project, I chose to be there because it felt to me as a big moment. A moment to pause and reflect. Reflect on what was done, what it took to do it, and how this fits into the history of the world, into the story of us.

Exploring a comet on location (in situ, as the scientists call it) was a dream conceived three decades ago, inspired by the one of the most fundamental human needs, the need to understand, to explain and thus to explore. Composed from the primordial ingredients of the early Solar System, comets have been roaming interplanetary space since its birth unchanged “by the elements” or by time. They are hoped to contain the answers to our questions. Here is a video created by NASA JPL explaining more on why we think comets are important.

Since the beginning, the Rosetta project had to endure scientific skepticism, political turmoil, financial uncertainties, and unprecedented technological challenges. Yet it succeeded. It survived NASA’s withdrawal from the project, a last minute change in target-comet selection, and a most-feared 2-year-long hibernation during its 10 year and 6.4 billion kilometer journey into the cold inhospitable Solar System. Constructed on what is now considered obsolete technology, by engineers who have long since retired, Rosetta proved to be a marvel of engineering and a triumph of knowledge transfer and process continuity between generations of team members. It became the little space-engine that could, and in the words of ESA Director General Jean-Jacques Dordain, somewhere between Jupiter and Mars, Rosetta’s drivers proved to be the best drivers in the world.

Comet 67P (aka the Rubber Duckie) on August 11

Comet 67P (aka the Rubber Duckie) on August 11

While the bulk of the engineer’s work is now completed, the mission is far from an end. As eloquently put by ESA representatives, this is not the beginning of the end, but the end of the beginning. The scientists’ work is only now starting. I was amazed to hear how must science has already been done on the comet. Comet 67P-Churyumov-Gerasimenko, which is not even the comet originally targeted for, is an unexpected jewel. It’s rubber-duck-like shape indicates that it might actually consist of two pieces (the head and the body) fused together, providing to be a buy-one-get-one-free bonus for research.

Named after astronomers Klim Churyumov and Svetlana Gerasimenko, who discovered it in 1969, comet 67P is one of numerous short period comets which have orbital periods of less than 20 years and a low orbital inclination. Since their orbits are controlled by Jupiter’s gravity, they are also called Jupiter Family comets. These comets are believed to originate from the Kuiper Belt, a large reservoir of small icy bodies located just beyond Neptune. As a result of collisions or gravitational perturbations, some of these icy objects are ejected from the Kuiper Belt and fall towards the Sun.

67P has been observed from Earth on seven approaches to the Sun – 1969 (discovery), 1976, 1982, 1989, 1996, 2002 and 2009. As most of these comets, 67P is pitch-black and not reflective, so very difficult to observe. As you are admiring the spectacular photographs, keep in mind that they are false-color images composed for better comprehension of the very subtle color variations observed on the surface. ESA is releasing new images from Rosetta’s navigational camera on a daily basis.

Comet close-up on August 6, 2014 from Rosetta’s OSIRIS narrow-angle camera

Comet close-up on August 6, 2014 from Rosetta’s OSIRIS narrow-angle camera

Close-up of 67P from Rosetta’s OSIRIS narrow-angle camera on August 6, 2014

Close-up of 67P from Rosetta’s OSIRIS narrow-angle camera on August 6, 2014

Rosetta scientists have already been able to determine that the comet’s rotation is stable with little or no wobbling, on a tilted rotational axis running down between the head and the body of comet. The spacecraft began feeling the comet’s gravity two weeks ago. Not being a spherical object, 67P’s gravity is not pulling exactly surface-down on most locations, which will prove a challenge for the second stage of the experiment, a hard-docking type of landing on the surface, which is planned for November this year.  In the next weeks the comet’s mass and gravity will be precisely calculated by measuring the bending of the spacecraft’s triangular trajectory.

The first images of the coma

The first images of the coma

Although still at a distance of more than 140 million klm from the Sun, 67P is already active, venting water gas at a rate of 0.3kg/sec which is the equivalent of a soda can of water per second. Water spectra from the tail of the comet show a Doppler redshift, indicating the direction and speed at which it is moving away from the Earth.  They also reveal very little gas activity on the dark side, i.e. the side facing away from the Sun.

The next challenge is choosing a suitable place to land! The computer graphic below was created from Rosetta OSIRIS and NavCam images and shows the first estimations of possible landing sites. Yellow and orange indicate what are so far considered the best landing areas, while the green circles and ellipses mark provisional landing sites. The red areas are parts of the comet’s northern hemisphere in constant sun: the Comet 67P/Churyumov–Gerasimenko summer. The blue areas are now in constant darkness, either due to the weird shape of the comet and/or the side being in the Comet 67P/Churyumov–Gerasimenko winter.

Potential landing sites on Comet 67P

Potential landing sites on Comet 67P

It was originally envisaged that the nucleus of the comet would be rock hard, and so in order to avoid re-bouncing on impact, the lander Philae is designed to immediately transform all kinetic energy in its legs to electric energy, while its harpoons immediately drill in the comet’s surface to secure the lander in position. Now that 67P is within reach, its surface is thought to be more soft than originally expected.  The max temperature measured indicates a surface that is porous and has little water. Dust particles from the comet have also started to be analysed, revealing a density equal to or perhaps even higher of that predicted by the models.

But landing on the comet is not the primary objective of Rosetta. And it also is not a sure thing, especially now that 67P has revealed itself to be a more complex structure than ever dreamed of. Rosetta will be orbiting the comet for the next two years as it gets closer and closer to the Sun. Rosetta’s instruments will be measuring the comet’s transformation getting all the data  required from the orbiter. Any measurements obtained from the lander, if it manages to successfully dock, will be an added bonus.

Following the tales of this little spacecraft will be a fabulous journey. In an era when space exploration looks rather stagnant, Rosetta is giving us back the hope that the best is yet to come.

 

Credit for all images on this post belongs to ESA and the Rosetta instrument teams.

We *are* going to Mars, so why are we denying it?

We *are* going to Mars, so why are we denying it?

Ever since the retirement of the Shuttle and the completion of Station assembly, the most current question in the Space world has been “what’s next?“. The obvious answer in everybody’s mind seems to be “Mars“. Yet, Space organisations around the world, policy makers, and even scientists and astronauts, are going out of their way to offer reasons why Mars, while not excluded, should not be the next step. They go to great lengths to explain why Mars is not the obvious answer.

The reasons offered are logical and well founded in science, economics and politics, yet totally contradictory to actual practice. The same institutions and individuals advocating against Mars are ever more vigorously preparing for taking humans to the Red Planet.

The numbers speak for themselves: Since 1960, there have been seven flyby attempts and seven successful flyby missions; eleven orbit attempts and eight successful orbit missions; seven landing attempts and eight successful landings on Mars, and one on its moon Phovos. During this time, four man-made rovers have walked the surface of Mars.

No other planetary body is being looked at, measured and poked, as much as Mars is.

On this day, Mars is being orbited by three spacecraft, while an equal number of rovers are at work on its surface, all actively researching current and past conditions on the planet and resources available:

The 2001 Mars Odyssey – Artist’s impression
Credit: NASA

 

The 2001 Mars Odyssey has been mapping minerals and chemical elements, identifying pockets of buried water ice, measuring the surface temperature, determining radiation levels in low-Mars orbit, and supporting ongoing exploration performed by the rovers on the ground.

Spirit & Opportunity – Artist’s impression
Credit: NASA

 

 

 

 

The Spirit and Opportunity rovers have trekked for miles across the Martian surface, conducting field geology and making atmospheric observations, and have found evidence of ancient Martian environments where intermittently wet and habitable conditions existed.

Mars Express – Artist’s Impression
Credit: ESA

 

 

The Mars Express has been orbiting Mars since 2003. Its main objective is to search for sub-surface water and perform a series of remote-sensing observations designed to shed new light on the Martian atmosphere, the planet’s structure, geology and composition.

 

The MRO on a polar orbit – Artist’s impression
Credit: NASA

 

 

The Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter is seeking out the history of water on Mars, while also testing a new telecommunications system that serves as the first link in an “interplanetary Internet” between the Earth and the Solar System.

Curiosity self-portrait
Credit: NASA

 

 

 

The Curiosity rover, a full-blown laboratory, is analyzing samples scooped from the soil and drilled from rocks of Mars, to detect chemical building blocks of life (e.g., forms of carbon) on Mars and assess what the Martian environment was like in the past.

 

 

Only two weeks ago, India launched it’s first mission to orbit Mars, the Mars Orbiter Mission and, as these lines are being written, NASA is preparing to launch the MAVEN spacecraft which will explore the Red Planet’s upper atmosphere, ionosphere and interactions with the sun and solar wind in an effort to acquire insight into the history of Mars’ atmosphere and climate, liquid water, and its habitability.

And there’s still more to come.

Elements of the ExoMars program 2016-2018
Credit: ESA

ESA, in partnership with Roscosmos, has now embarked on an ambitious long-term robotic exploration programme, called ExoMars. An ESA-led orbiter – the ExoMars Trace Gas Orbiter – capable of tracing methane in the Martian atmosphere, will be launched in 2016, followed by the Agency’s flagship ExoMars rover, in 2018. ExoMars will have the ability to drill up to 2 metres beneath the Martian surface searching for chemical evidence that might have been preserved from solar radiation.

Also in the near future, NASA’s InSight mission will place a single geophysical lander on Mars to study its deep interior. By using sophisticated geophysical instruments, InSight will delve deep beneath the surface of Mars, detecting the fingerprints of the processes of terrestrial planet formation, as well as measuring the planet’s “vital signs”: Its “pulse” (seismology), “temperature” (heat flow probe), and “reflexes” (precision tracking).

Clearly, mankind has been going, and is still going to Mars! The scientific objectives  of all the above missions may vary in their specifics, yet they all seem to be pointing to the same general goal: sustainability of life on Mars. “Life as we know it”, that is.

At the same time, back on Earth and in orbit,  numerous experiments are being performed researching and advancing human ability to withstand long duration space flight from a physiological and psychological perspective. Mars spacesuits are being built and tested. And desert or arctic locations are being used to simulate the inhospitable environment of the Martian surface.

Finally, institutions and industry are racing to develop the technical capabilities to launch us beyond LEO and into the Solar System. NASA next space vehicle, for example, is being built with the explicit parameter of being able to carry humans to Mars.

All the pieces of the puzzle are pointing in one direction: The commitment to put humans on Mars has already been made. The denial phase is over. Let’s move into acceptance.

 

Additional sources: NASA’s Mars Exploration ProgramThe Planetary SocietyWikipediaRussian Space Web 

 

LADEE, first flight to the moon from Wallops Flight Facility

Of course everyone reading this knows about the #NASASocial event for the launch of the LADEE mission to Lunar orbit happening this week on Thursday (9/5) and Friday (9/6).  Follow NASASocial/lists/ladee-launch-social plus @NASA_Wallops, @NASALADEE, @NASAAmes, @NASAGoddard, and also @LRO_NASA for updates.

A nice piece of Wallops history was raised by @TeresaR_WV: “Explorer 9 was the first spacecraft placed in orbit by an all-solid rocket and the first spacecraft successfully launched into orbit from Wallops Island.” (1961, NSSDC).

The LADEE social will be covering a huge range of subjects, including the following.

The LADEE mission will be collecting data on the Lunar Exosphere, specifically tightening the boundaries on gas and dust types and quantities found at altitudes under 50 km so that future work can develop an understanding of the surface boundary exospheric processes that occur on inert rocky bodies like the Moon and Mercury. And the LADEE mission will be flight qualifying the LLCD free space optical communications link. Data collection in the Lunar Exosphere will employ three instruments.

The Neutral Mass Spectrometer (NMS) determines captured (Lunar Exosphere) gas particle types (element) using a kind of electromagnetic filter called an RF Quadrupole or Quadrupole mass analyzer, or Mass Spectrometer. Instruments very similar to this one have flown on many deep space missions including CASSINI. In determining gas types with fairly high frequency (many per second), gas quantity and distribution can be determined over time.

The Ultraviolet – Visible Spectrometer (UVS) will determine observed (Lunar Exosphere) gas types by the characteristic electromagnetic emission spectra of gas particles impacted by solar radiation. It is also capable of a few additional modes (that I haven’t groked yet) that provide information about gas and dust processes in the exosphere.

The Lunar Dust Experiment (LDEX) captures larger “dust” particles to determine composition and distribution over time, not entirely unlike the NMS. Also not entirely unlike the NMS, it employs an electromagnetic process to do so.

The NMS and LDEX are forward facing, while the UVS is rearward facing, in LADEE’s direction of flight. That is, LADEE flies sideways relative to its Lunar Capture rocket engine which it points out of the way otherwise.

The NASA TV broadcast schedule includes events on Thursday and Friday.

September 5, Thursday

10 -11:30 a.m. – NASA Social for LADEE Mission Live from the Wallops Flight Facility – HQ/WFF (Education Channel)


3 p.m. – LADEE Prelaunch Mission Briefing – HQ/WFF (All Channels)

4 p.m. – LADEE Mission Science and Technology Demonstration Briefing – HQ/WFF (All Channels)

September 6, Friday

6-10 a.m. –Live Interviews on the LADEE Mission – HQ/WFF (All Channels)

4-6 p.m. – Live Interviews on LADEE Mission – HQ/WFF (All Channels)

9:30 p.m. – Live Launch Coverage and Commentary on LADEE Mission – HQ/GSFC/WFF (Public and Media Channels)

9:30 p.m. – Simulcast of NASA EDGE Live Webcast of LADEE Mission and Launch – LARC/HQ/WFF (Education Channel)

September 7, Saturday

2 a.m. – LADEE Post Launch News Conference –HQ/WFF (All Channels)

The LADEE Mission Pages have info for viewing the launch from the US East Coast, and most importantly how to get involved in citizen science!

I tweeted my way to ESO’s Very Large Telescope!

As an introduction, let’s just say that ESO – the European Southern Observatory – basically builds and operates the most advanced and powerful telescopes observing from our planet. For their 50th anniversary, they had the awesome idea to get one of their followers to tweet their way to the VLT… I came back a few days ago, and it was a beautiful life-changing experience.

Striking a pose on the VLT platform

The Very Large Telescope is located on top of a Chilean mountain, Cerro Paranal, at an altitude of about 2600 meters. Cerro Paranal is in the Atacama Desert, the driest region on Earth, 2 hours away by car from the nearest town. ESO chose the southern hemisphere to install their telescopes because it enables them to observe the center of the Milky Way and the Magellanic Clouds… and they chose Chile because the “seeing”, the quality of the observations is excellent. The atmosphere is very stable, the skies are almost always clear, there is no light pollution whatsoever.

Cerro Paranal is often nicknamed the astronomers’ paradise by those who visit it… and with reason; one of them even told me that if he was not married, he would never want to leave! The conditions up there are harsh, and of course observations last all night long, 365 days a year, but Paranal is nonetheless an amazing place to work and live. ESO did a great job when they built the Residencia,  which is beautifully integrated in the surrounding landscape. From the outside, it looks a bit like the underground lair of a James Bond villain… which may explain why the Residencia was chosen as a filming location for Quantum of Solace!

Cerro Paranal hosts 10 active telescopes. There are four telescopes with an 8.2-meters diameter mirror, named UT-1 through 4 and a.k.a. Antu (The Sun), Kueyen (The Moon), Melipal (The Southern Cross) and Yepun (Venus) in Mapuche language. There are also 2 survey telescopes, VST with a 2.6-meters and VISTA with a 4-meters mirror and 4 “small” ones, with “only” an 1.8-meters mirror (the auxiliary telescopes). Telescopes can be combined for specific observations using a process that is called Interferometry – which makes them even more powerful. The 4 auxiliary telescopes can be moved around to any of the 30 positions available on the platform, which opens an amazing range of observation possibilities. I think the only place where I can say it this here, among spacetweeps… I sure did not expect to be so emotionally moved by these gentle giants.

The telescopes are amazing pieces of technology… powerful, silent, and gorgeous in the chilean light – sunrise, daylight, sunset, darkness, moonlight… The view from and on the VLT platform is always breathtaking. Please check out check out my pictures here if youre not convinced yet!

On my last night at Cerro Paranal, I teamed with Henri Boffin – a renowned ESO astronomer- to image Thor’s Helmet, the NGC 2359 nebula… The observation was streamed live on ESO’s website as part of a six-hours broadcast, which I can only recommend you watch if you’re interested in astronomy. The picture we took is stunning! Mathieu (outreach team), Gabriel (astronomer), Claudio (shift supervisor) and I were also live from the VLT platform a few hours later for a Q&A session…

Credit: ESO/B.Bailleul

If I had to sum up this week in Chile… I had a great time, met a lot of people who are passionate about their work, and learned a lot about astronomy and ESO. And if you’d rather read the longer version, please check out my blog entries for this trip… available in both english or french!

Can you imagine that the mirror for the future E-ELT (European-Extremely Large Telescope) will be 39 meters wide?

 

New Media Professional Development Workshop—Future Exploration of the Moon and Small Bodies

The 2012 CCLDAS New Media Practitioners Professional Development Workshop will focus on future exploration of the Moon and other small bodies in the Solar System. Here, astronaut Buzz Aldrin walks on the Moon during Apollo 11. (Courtesy NASA)

About the workshop
July 20—22, 2012
The Laboratory for Atmospheric and Space Physics (LASP)
Boulder, Colorado

The 2012 New Media Practitioners Professional Development Workshop will bring fifteen bloggers, podcasters, and other science communicators to LASP for a two-day intensive workshop with space scientists. The workshop will be a collaborative professional development opportunity for attendees to learn about current issues surrounding future exploration of the Moon and other small bodies in our Solar System.

Attendees will receive a stipend to defray travel and lodging expenses. The Colorado Center for Lunar Dust and Atmospheric Studies (CCLDAS) is sponsoring the event.

For additional details and to register, visit:
2012 New Media Workshop

TheSpaceport.us – It’s the other side of space!

Space, Astronomy, Science, NASA

It's the other side of space!

Hello Space Fans!

I wanted to take the opportunity to introduce all of you to TheSpaceport.us. We are a Space/Astronomy/Everything forum site with some really great members. We talk about everything from technology and space to politics and aviation. We discuss upcoming and current space missions including those in the private sector. We have some very educated individuals that add a lot of great knowledge and debate to the site. Along with some great aviation history buffs and former military members who actually worked with and on the aircraft!

We are always looking for some new and exciting members to share our love for technology and all things space! We are a good bunch of people that love to make new friends and discuss our passions for science and technology. Come visit us and start talking about the other side of space at TheSpaceport.us!

Keep looking up!

@mtclemente (Delphinus on TheSpaceport)

In Memory of Colin Greenhalgh, April 29, 1957 – January 24, 2012

Canis Majoris, the “Big Dog” with open cluster galaxy M41 at its heart and the brilliant star, Sirius, pointing the way, is the appropriate constellation to watch for as we contemplate the loss of our friend and fellow Space Tweep, Colin Greenhalgh; known to us all as @OriginalColin on Twitter.

Colin lost his battle with a difficult illness on January 24, 2012 in Durham, UK. As the realization of his untimely passing spread through the Twitter community, it’s become wonderfully obvious that he was truly loved by so many and especially by his fellow Space Tweeps. Second only to his devotion to and love of dogs, especially rescued dogs, Colin returned the favor, and loved us back!

Growing up in England ensured that Colin was exposed to astronomy and related subjects at a very early age. Amateur astronomy and a working knowledge of the stars and constellations remains to this day an enviable element in British education, and that exposure nurtured an early love of all things “Space” in the young Colin. As many US tweeps have learned in their interaction with so many UK tweeps, this love of “looking up” instilled in youth, lasts a lifetime.

Before the end of the Space Shuttle Program, Colin, like the rest of us, participated enthusiastically in the excitement and electricity of following the launches and landings of the Space Shuttle in real time, with the Space Tweep Community (on at least two or more continents) through Twitter, and frequently through @SpaceFlightNow. But his love of space, fascination with space flight and knowledge of astronomy were not all that made Colin a likely member of the Space Tweeps. Colin was an all-round science geek! From Star Trek to Star Wars to “Apollo 13” to anything associated with NASA, or its counterpart the ESA; from the SDO and its warnings of oncoming CME’s and their spectacular aurora; to a deep love for and profound respect for those lucky enough to leave this planet and return to it he loved it all. That was Colin’s way.

It took the modern miracle of Twitter, and the community of tweeps who coalesced around the US Space Program and NASA, together with the tireless leadership of Jen Scheer (@flyingjenny) to bring forth the “Space Tweep Society.” It took about 5 minutes for Colin to sign up!

A charming story, shared by Colin’s beloved younger sister Ros, explains how an early adventure sealed the deal: Ros writes “ . . . I take enormous comfort knowing how much he loved the ‘company’ of his tweet friends and I was delighted when he went to London to meet some of them as this was a ‘big’ journey for him as he had very little money and rarely traveled. He couldn’t stop talking about it when he returned home. His love of Space started when he became friends with an American boy called Randy at the age of 14 (when he was visiting his Aunt in Seaham where we lived). Randy’s family invited him to Michigan for a holiday which included a trip to Florida and subsequent visit to the Space Centre. From that point on he was forever ‘hooked’ :) ” I think we can see that joy on Colin’s face in this photo!

One of Colin’s biggest thrills occurred this past year, when he traveled to London and met with @Craftlass, @SpaceKate, @leslieberg @herrea and @flyingjenny at The Lyric Pub. He’d traveled 270 miles south by train and, but for his lack of wings, could have flown back to Durham on his own!

His experience was memorialized by Jen’s presentation of treasured NASA patches and, of course, Space Tweep Society patches of which he was so proud! His tweet accompanying this picture was “You can’t just buy these. You have to be given them!” And he was.

Colin’s interests were so much deeper and broader than can be given proper due here. He was, first and foremost completely in love with “his” dogs! For reasons which no one can fail to understand, Colin was the trusted walker and care provider for dogs belonging to others, whether they were simply unable to spare the time, or away from Durham for days or weeks. There was almost nothing in his life that pleased him so much as to be out walking with them through the beautiful area of fields and streams not far from his home.

As you can see from the images above and the sunset following, even though he underplayed it, Colin had a talent and an eye for photography; a gift from his late father of whom he was very proud. His dad was a professional photographer and, in the days before the digital camera came along, film needed development. When he was old enough, Colin helped his dad in the darkroom and once mentioned that the experience drew him to the study of chemistry. That education eventually took him to Durham University, where he was a long time technician in the Chemistry Department.

Colin’s heart, his intelligence, his talent for snarky British humor, his progressive passions, his sheer charm – even his cranky “arse” moodiness made him so dear to so many of us. 54 years and change was not enough!

Next time you’re out and it’s clear, look up and find Canis Majoris. Colin is likely up there somewhere with his Big Dog.
~~~

Your grateful friend,
Maren (@OregonMJW)

1st European SpaceTweetup #Spacetacular!!

1st European SpaceTweetup #Spacetacular!!

On 18 September, the German Aerospace Centre (DLR, @dlr_en) and the European Space Agency (ESA, @esa) invited 60 lucky Twitter followers to the first European SpaceTweetup.  Among them some of our most prominent members, @flyingjenny, @herrea, @CraftLass, @travelholic, @amoroso, @marcozambi, @SpaceKate, @DrLucyRogers and @rocketman528. I (@akanel) was also lucky to be invited – and this was my first Tweetup ever!

The SpaceTweetup took place on German Aerospace Day at the joint DLR and European Astronaut Centre site in Cologne.  It was an amazing day, which not even the German grey and rainy weather could spoil!  …it did, of course, make our photographs a bit murky, but that’s about it!

The SpaceTweetup program was full and exciting.  So many thrills packed inside approx. 10 hours that could have easily been the object of two or more separate events.  For those who didn’t get to attend, a four hour (!) long selection of the best moments is available on ESA’s site.

SOFIA

Photo credit: @SimSullen

The day started very excitingly.  We visited and learned about the SOFIΑ Project (Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy), DLR and NASA’s impressive airborne telescope.  Mounted on a Boeing 747SP aircraft modified by L-3 Communications Integrated Systems, SOFIA has a 2.5 meter reflecting telescope, which makes measurements during flight!  High above the disturbances caused by Earth’s atmosphere, but also easily accessible for maintenance and modifications, SOFIA combines the advantages of space telescopes, like Herschel and Hubble, with the ease of ground based telescopes.

The science done on SOFIA is planned by the Universities Space Research Association (USRA) and the Deutsches SOFIA Institut (DSI) under the leadership of NASA Ames Research Centre.  Observing mostly in the far infrared, SOFIA will be used to study many different kinds of astronomical objects and phenomena, such as e.g. star birth and death, formation of new solar systems, identification of complex molecules in space (such as organic materials necessary for life), planets, comets and asteroids in our own solar system, nebulae and dust in galaxies and black holes at the centre of galaxies, helping to answer many fundamental questions about the creation and evolution of the Universe.

SOFIA Telescope. Photo credit: @Brigitte_Ba

(more…)

The Future of the James Webb Space Telescope

JWST

Image credit: NASA

Greetings Space Tweeps,

I just wanted to drop a quick line for all to see concerning the fate of the James Webb Space Telescope. JWST promises much for the field of Astronomy and science in general. It will be able to see far earlier into the history of the universe than ever before, provide help in examining extrasolar planets, and bring humanity answers (and indeed more questions) about our reality. Most importantly, it will provide science jobs, research and inspiration right here in the US of A. While its goals are noble, there is controversy about its cost. NASA has addressed the budgeting issue and put JWST back on track. Nevertheless, on Nov 18 2011, the US House of Representatives will be voting on that funding.

If it is of interest to you to #saveJWST then please see this link for more information. Also check out #saveJWST, #3×10, and #write4flight hashtags on Twitter.

If you do not support the telescope, then feel free to ignore this post. I do not wish to discuss the merits of JWST here. This is just a friendly reminder that you can do something to #savethistelescope .

Science and space travel are humanity’s two most important assets. The more people know about what NASA does the better off humanity will become.

@neoteotihuacan (#NASATweetup @NASAJPL alum May 6 2011)

#NASATweetup Juno Launch

Today is the launch from the Kennedy Space Center to study Jupiter. Want to know about why Jupiter is important? Follow us with the hashtag #NASAtweetup

The James Webb Space Telescope

Hello fellow members of the #spacetweepgeekdom !

It’s a great morning here. I am a #NASATweetup alum of the June 6, 2011 #NASATweetup @NASAJPL in California some weeks ago. It is a pleasure not only to be so much more involved with NASA now, but to interact with other spacetweeps. You truly are a people I grok.

I am writing this post for only one quick, simple reason. The James Webb Space Telescope is in danger of losing its funding. Congress will be voting in part to eliminate its funding this Wednesday July 13, 2011. If you are interested in the fight to prevent this, then I have some links for you:

Sign the petition to save James Webb

Facebook

Blog

I only want to bring this to your attention. Some of you no doubt are interested in this. Others may not think it is worth the time and effort to save JWST. That’s fine on both counts. If the above links are useful, then take them. If not, then please just ignore the post. There is no reason to have a discussion of the merits of saving/canceling JWST here on the Space Tweep Society website.

Thanks for your time, and do have a great day =)

@neoteotihuacan

Epic ISS Pass Last Night

Clear skys and mild temperatures and a bright ISS slicing right through the middle of the sky. Made for a perfect night to view the completed station. For the first time in my life I was able to make out the solar panels with a pair of binoculars. I snapped a few time exposures but didn’t take the time to set the camera. I was to busy talking to neighbors and explaining what they were seeing through the binoculars. It was a very exiting time. I shared my tweetup experience with all my neighbors who may now look up more often and remember that we have a presence in the sky. A million pound outpost circling the planet at over 17,000mph.