NASA's gorgeous music video for Claude Debussy's "Clair de Lune"

The scientist/artists in NASA's Scientific Visualization Studio created this magnificent video to accompany a recent performance by the National Symphony Orchestra Pops of Claude Debussy's "Clair de Lune." From NASA:

The visuals were composed like a nature documentary, with clean cuts and a mostly stationary virtual camera. The viewer follows the Sun throughout a lunar day, seeing sunrises and then sunsets over prominent features on the Moon. The sprawling ray system surrounding Copernicus crater, for example, is revealed beneath receding shadows at sunrise and later slips back into darkness as night encroaches...

The visualization uses a digital 3D model of the Moon built from Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter global elevation maps and image mosaics. The lighting is derived from actual Sun angles during lunar days in 2018.

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Photos from space of the northern California fires

Astronaut Alexander Gerst captured the above photo of Northern California's Carr and Ferguson fires five days ago. Below is the blanket of smoke from the Mendocino Complex Fire, the largest fire in California's history, as imaged by the Aqua satellite. Horrifying and tragic no matter how you see it.

From NASA:

Details of the actual fire as well as the ground are obscured in NASA's Aqua satellite image due to the heavy smoke coming off the Mendocino Complex fires as well as several other extremely large fires across California.

Today's total of acreage consumed by the River and Range fires is 300,086 and the fires are 47% contained. The Mendocino Complex Fire doubled in size over the last few days and the Ranch and River Fires combined near Clear Lake to form the largest fire in California history. Weather concerns continue with a warm and dry ridge of high pressure continuing over the fire areas today. Fuel moisture recovery continues to be poor overnight. A red flag warning is predicted from Thursday through Saturday. This is the 13th day of this ongoing blaze. Over 4,000 firefighters have been involved in fighting this fire. There are still over 10,000 structures that are in danger. Yosemite National Park has been closed indefinitely due to the fire.

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Hear the sounds of the Sun

NASA scientists listen to the low-frequency pulsing hum of the Sun to gain insight into the star's atmosphere over time. The raw data comes from the ESA (European Space Agency) and NASA’s Solar and Heliospheric Observatory (SOHO) launched back in 1995. Researchers from Stanford Experimental Physics Lab then process and filter the data and speed it up "a factor 42,000 to bring it into the audible human-hearing range."

From NASA:

“Waves are traveling and bouncing around inside the Sun, and if your eyes were sensitive enough they could actually see this,” said Alex Young, associate director for science in the Heliophysics Science Division at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland...

Data from SOHO, sonified by the Stanford Experimental Physics Lab, captures the Sun’s natural vibrations and provides scientists with a concrete representation of its dynamic movements.

“We don’t have straightforward ways to look inside the Sun. We don’t have a microscope to zoom inside the Sun,” Young said. “So using a star or the Sun’s vibrations allows us to see inside of it..."

These vibrations allow scientists to study a range of complex motions inside the Sun, from solar flares to coronal mass ejections.

“We can see huge rivers of solar material flowing around. We are finally starting to understand the layers of the Sun and the complexity,” Young said. “That simple sound is giving us a probe inside of a star. I think that’s a pretty cool thing.”

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NASA's infrared map of Titan

Composed from 13 years of Cassini probe mission data, NASA's infrared-based map of Titan shows off one of the solar system's most promising worlds. Read the rest

What do they mean by "enhanced color" in space images?

The striking enhanced color image of blue-hued sand dunes on Mars led some readers to ask what that means. Above is a side-by-side image in what scientists call "true color" on the left and enhanced on the right. The color humans would perceive is probably somewhere between the two, depending on conditions. Here's the difference: Read the rest

Mars has blue-hued sand dunes

Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter snapped this giant Martian sand dune that has a turquoise blue hue in enhanced color. Read the rest

Hi rez images from NASA's 1967/8 Lunar Orbiters were withheld to hide US spying capabilities

In 1967, the Lunar Orbiter missions sent back exciting -- but grainy and low-rez -- photos of the moon's surface. Read the rest

Life's building blocks discovered on Mars

NASA's Mars rover Curiosity has dug up organic molecules, the raw building blocks of life. The robot drilled out the organic carbon samples from 3-billion-year-old sediments in Mars’s Gale Crater that was once filled with water. From the New York Times:

That does not prove that life has ever existed on Mars. The same carbon molecules, broadly classified as organic matter, also exist within meteorites that fall from space. They can also be produced in chemical reactions that do not involve biology.

But the discovery, published on Thursday by the journal Science, is a piece of the Mars puzzle that scientists have long been seeking. In 1976, NASA’s two Viking landers conducted the first experiments searching for organic matter on Mars and appeared to come up empty.

“Now things are starting to make more sense,” said Jennifer L. Eigenbrode, a biogeochemist at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md., and lead author of the Science paper. “We still don’t know the source of them, but they’re there. They’re not missing any more.”

"Life on Mars? Rover’s Latest Discovery Puts It ‘On the Table’" by Kenneth Chang (NYT) Read the rest

The Right Stuff: Adam Savage and astronaut Jim Newman talk with Ariel Waldman

On Tested's Offworld, Boing Boing pals Ariel Waldman and Adam Savage talk with astronaut Jim Newman about the 1983 film The Right Stuff, early NASA missions, and how "astronaut culture" has changed over the years.

Alan Shepard: Dear Lord, please don't let me fuck up.

Gordon Cooper: I didn't quite copy that. Say again, please.

Alan Shepard: I said everything's A-OK.

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NASA photographer's camera cooked by last week's SpaceX rocket launch

Senior NASA photographer Bill Ingalls apparently set up his Canon EOS 5DS at an unlucky spot near yesterday's SpaceX rocket launch. He placed it outside the pad perimeter yet the launch sparked a small brush fire that cooked the camera. "I had many other cameras much closer to the pad than this and all are safe," Ingalls wrote.

Fortunately, the SD cards didn't melt and he was able to access the final photos taken by the camera before its untimely death. Two of them are below.

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New hi-res scans of NASA's 1970s dreams of space colonies

NASA's groovy imagining of space settlements were put in the public domain in 2007, and now space antropologist Michael Oman-Reagan has shared these remarkable hi-res scans created by David Brandt-Erichsen. Read the rest

NASA is sending a helicopter to Mars

Joining the Mars 2020 rover mission to the Red Planet will be a small helicopter. The Mars Helicopter, with a softball-size fuselage, the autonomous chopper will be solar powered and integrate a small heater so it doesn't seize up at night. From NASA:

Once the rover is on the planet’s surface, a suitable location will be found to deploy the helicopter down from the vehicle and place it onto the ground. The rover then will be driven away from the helicopter to a safe distance from which it will relay commands. After its batteries are charged and a myriad of tests are performed, controllers on Earth will command the Mars Helicopter to take its first autonomous flight into history.

“We don’t have a pilot and Earth will be several light minutes away, so there is no way to joystick this mission in real time,” said (Mimi Aung, Mars Helicopter project manager at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory.) “Instead, we have an autonomous capability that will be able to receive and interpret commands from the (rover on the) ground, and then fly the mission on its own.”

“The ability to see clearly what lies beyond the next hill is crucial for future explorers,” said Zurbuchen. “We already have great views of Mars from the surface as well as from orbit. With the added dimension of a bird’s-eye view from a ‘marscopter,’ we can only imagine what future missions will achieve.”

Mars 2020 will launch on a United Launch Alliance (ULA) Atlas V rocket from Space Launch Complex 41 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida, and is expected to reach Mars in February 2021.

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Here's what this week's Mars space mission will observe

NASA successfully launched the InSight mission to Mars this week. This is a great overview of what scientists will be learning about Martian geology. Read the rest

Watch this 'blooper reel' of astronauts falling on the Moon

Gravity isn't always your friend, even when you're on the Moon.

Watch as a series of Apollo mission astronauts fall down on the job in this compilation video by YouTuber Martian Archaeology. The footage is originally from NASA's archive.

(Neatorama, Tastefully Offensive) Read the rest

NASA's new jet will fly faster than the speed of sound without the supersonic boom

NASA recently gave Lockheed Martin 247.5-million dollars to create a supersonic plane – without the supersonic boom. Read the rest

Launching today: NASA's new satellite seeking "alien" Earths

Today, SpaceX expects to launch a Falcon 9 rocket to deliver NASA's Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS) into orbit. Scientists expect TESS to find thousands of exoplanets by detecting when they pass in front of their host stars, briefly blocking the light of those suns.

“A few months after TESS launches, we will be able to point out the first ones of these familiar stars, which host planets that could be like ours,” says Cornell University astronomer Lisa Kaltenegger, director of the Carl Sagan Institute.

From Nadia Drake's excellent FAQ on TESS in National Geographic:

The search for life beyond Earth is necessarily constrained by what we know. Life as we don’t know it could be anywhere, and it doesn’t care that we haven’t deigned to imagine it yet. To help focus the hunt, astronomers are starting by looking for something familiar. And we know that at least once, life evolved on a warm, rocky planet orbiting a relatively stable star.

That being said, many of the stars TESS will scrutinize will be smaller and dimmer than our own: the cool, reddish M dwarfs that are the most common types of stars in the Milky Way. Planets orbiting these stars at a distance that’s neither too hot nor too cold for liquid water to exist are going to be snuggled in quite close—orbiting near enough to their stars for scientists to find them on months-long time scales.

In addition, the worlds TESS expects to find will be better situated for observations that could reveal whether alien metabolisms are churning away on their surfaces, beneath their seas, or in their clouds.

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Trippy infrared flyover of Jupiter's swirling north pole

NASA just released this fascinating and gorgeous video of Jupiter's north pole -- and its wild, swirling storms.

They're not some CGI mockup; these are actual images of the real planet. They were taken by Juno probe that's currently orbiting Jupiter; Juno has an infrared mapping device that's able to probe up to 45 miles below Jupiter's surface, capturing this lush 3D detail.

Jupiter's north pole is dominated by a cluster of cyclones: One large central one, surrounded by eight smaller ones – though on Jupiter, "smaller" means these ones are up to 2,900 miles in size. Jupiter is biiiiig man!

This second video zooms out a bit further and lets you see how the main cyclone and the eight smaller ones are positioned ...

These videos are so trippy, I could stare at them all day.

Figuring out how Jupiter works means figuring out what's happening beneath the surface, so this new phase of infrared imaging is crucial. The planet is still awfully mysterious, because as NASA notes, we're still not sure why Jupiter's atmosphere is divided the way it is:

The map Connerney's team made of the dynamo source region revealed unexpected irregularities, regions of surprising magnetic field intensity, and that Jupiter's magnetic field is more complex in the northern hemisphere than in the southern hemisphere. About halfway between the equator and the north pole lies an area where the magnetic field is intense and positive. It is flanked by areas that are less intense and negative. In the southern hemisphere, however, the magnetic field is consistently negative, becoming more and more intense from the equator to the pole.

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