Kepler Ready!

kepler planet seekerI learned* that the Kepler craft (NASA artist sketch on right – this is the device that will look for “other earths” – see below) is all go to try for launch later today! Extract from an announcement that went around:

On 6 March (EST, 7 March in UTC) there are two opportunities for a launch into the Earth trailing orbit. The first window is at 6 March, 10:49:57 p.m. EST (UTC: 7 March, 03:49:57) and the second window is at 11:17:44 p.m. EST (UTC: 7 March, 04:17:44). If Kepler is not launched tonight there is a another possibility at approximately the same time tomorrow night.

Countdown will begin 3 hours before launch and Kepler separation into Earth trailing solar orbit will take place 3709 sec into flight. First contact after separation is expected 4640 sec into flight.

For more information, and to follow the launch live, here are some links: NASA TV, Launch Blog, Spaceflight.

I noticed that Amy Mainzer is over at the Kennedy Space Center to see the launch. She begins to talk about it here on her (excellent) blog. You might want to check back there in case she does a nice report on it. Check out Phil’s Bad Astronomy blog for more on this too. He says he’ll be tweeting and all. (Yes. Tweeting. There, I have used that word in its recent new context/meaning in a sentence for the first time. I feel a bit silly.)

What is this all about? It is very exciting. Here are some sources of information for […] Click to continue reading this post

Phoenix Goes Dark

phoenix mars landerAs you may have heard, the Phoenix craft on Mars (remember? seven minutes of terror?) which had already been running beyond its design lifetime, has probably sent its final message from Mars. There is not enough daily solar energy (now that it is Winter) coming in to support its energy needs.

There’s a NASA press release here, with links to the mission pages for a reminder of […] Click to continue reading this post

Images From Afar

extrasolarplanet orbiting starThis is quite remarkable. There’s actually been an image (see left) taken of a planet orbiting another star. There are hundreds of known extrasolar planets in orbit around other stars (see lots of earlier posts), and evidence for them has been indirect, since they are too tiny and too dim (having no light of their own) to image directly. You can learn of their existence by their effects on their parent star, and/or on the light it casts. (The image left is courtesy of the Gemini Observatory. The University of Toronto scientists used the Gemini North telescope on Mauna Kea in Hawaii and its adaptive optics technology to make the image.)

But this is different, and a bit of a milestone. These astronomers released an actual […] Click to continue reading this post

Ice, Ice, Baby

Phoenix trench showing suspected uncovered iceHave you been keeping track of what Phoenix has been finding on Mars? There’s been lots of digging of holes, baking, peering at things under microscopes, and so forth. And, wonderfully, it has all been guided, monitored, and watched from here on earth. From all of this, there’s now very direct evidence for ice, for example. (Dig a hole, find white flaky chunks which disappear after exposure to sunlight…) (Image left (click for larger) is from the mission (credit: JPL/Caltech/NASA) and shows the before and after. Keep your eye on the darker corner, blown up in the inset.)

There’s a story from the AFP here, and one by Alicia Chang (AP) here. There’s a photo […] Click to continue reading this post

Pluto’s Journey Continues…

poor pluto mathias pedersen I don’t need to remind you about the Pluto reclassification episode of a while back, I’m sure. See posts here, here, and here otherwise.

(Right: Mathias Pedersen‘s “Poor Pluto” poster, used with permission. Discussed here previously.)

The International Astronomical Union (IAU) felt the need to reclassify Pluto in the light of ongoing scientific discovery – it’s just one of probably thousands of small objects out there beyond the orbit of Neptune. This area of science is very much alive- we’re learning a lot about the solar system and other planetary systems. (See my post entitled “Clues in the Blood Splatter Patterns”.) The “demotion” led to lots of angry opinion, you may recall.

Well, the IAU’s Committee on Small Body Nomenclature (I love that!) has now decided […] Click to continue reading this post

Bowled Over

One of the Phoenix images that has most captivated has been the one that shows the rest of the background of that startling image of the parachute part of the landing phase that was taken by the Reconnaissance orbiter’s HiRiSE camera. I showed it a few days ago here, and it is amazing, for all the reasons I said back then and more. I’m still buzzed by the idea that we have cameras from another craft photographing the landing of a new craft. Well, a while later, the mission released the photo showing the larger backdrop to that image. There’s the (giant 10 km) Heimdall crater in the background! (See the little inset bottom left showing where the previous image focussed; credit: NASA/JPL).

Phoenix landing on Mars  with Heimdall crater in background

Rather dramatic, wouldn’t you agree? It’s not really as close to the crater as it […] Click to continue reading this post

Photo Finish

Marvellous. It is good to get the chance to use the word in its most basic sense, and fully mean it. You know how there’s a lot of reliance on artist’s impressions to depict aspects of space missions (such as landing) that we can’t get photos of because, well, there’s nothing else there to take the photo (unlike the movies and TV)? Well look at this:

Phoenix lander in the act of landing, using its parachute to slow down during the \"seven minutes of terror\". Photo by High Resolution Imaging Science Experiment (HiRISE) camera on NASA\'s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter
It may not look like much to some, but I’m really impressed with this. It is a first. It is the Phoenix lander during the act of landing during the “Seven Minutes of Terror” yesterday! NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter was in the right position to take a […] Click to continue reading this post

She Stuck The Landing!!!

16:56 or so: Yep. That was a tense seven minutes. But it is over and they are getting signals. I watched the live feed from the JPL control room. Wow. Who knew this could be so exciting from so far away?! Anybody else watch it?

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P.S. Yes, with my choice of title, I’m clearly practicing for the commentary on the Olympic gymnastics… Click to continue reading this post

Seven Minutes of Terror

Phoenix Lander making a soft landing on Mars - depiction by JPL artist Corby Waste

The phoenix lander making (we all hope) a soft landing on Mars – Artist’s depiction by JPL Mars program artist Corby Waste

Remember the launch of the Phoenix spacecraft last summer? I mentioned it in earlier posts (including talking about the mural for it – see here and here) and Phil did a lovely post on the launch here. Have a look at the mission website. Here is a article that gives an update on the mission so far.

Well, today’s the day it approaches and (it is hoped) lands on Mars!! So, the landing. The landing, the landing the landing. It’s all about the landing. The craft has to slow down from 12500 miles per hour to make a soft landing on the surface. In a matter of […] Click to continue reading this post

JPL Open House!

Oh! It is the open house for the Jet Propulsion Laboratory this weekend! I almost missed it since it was two weekends later last year. Image composite brazenly taken from their website.

JPL Open House

I went last year and had a great time and so I strongly recommend it. Go along for your own interest, of course, but if you have any kids, take ’em along*. If interested, have a look at my detailed post from last year entitled “JPL the new Disneyland?”

As I said there: […] Click to continue reading this post