NASA Cassini Spacecraft Makes Final Approach to Saturn, 'Grand Finale' set for Fri. Sep. 15

The Cassini spacecraft is on final approach to Saturn, following confirmation by mission navigators that it is on course to dive into the planet’s atmosphere on Friday, Sept. 15.

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Photo of New York City from space on September 11, 2001

On September 11, 2001, this was astronaut Frank Culbertson's view of New York City from the International Space Station.

"The world changed today," Station Commander Culbertson wrote the next day. "What I say or do is very minor compared to the significance of what happened to our country today when it was attacked...

"It's horrible to see smoke pouring from wounds in your own country from such a fantastic vantage point. The dichotomy of being on a spacecraft dedicated to improving life on the earth and watching life being destroyed by such willful, terrible acts is jolting to the psyche, no matter who you are."

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Five minute video: five space probes farthest from Earth

In space hacker Ariel Waldman's latest video, she introduces "The 5 Farthest Space Probes in 5 Minutes!" Of course my favorite space probe is the farthest from Earth, Voyager 1, that launched this week back in 1977 carrying the Golden Record!

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Juno's breathtaking images of Jupiter

The Juno probe is recording incredible image data of Jupiter. Not least are the new aurora studies that are shaking up what we know of the planet's extreme weather systems. But it's the sheer painterly beauty of the world, up-close, that is most breathtaking. And then there's actual paintings, too... Read the rest

NASA released these free Voyager 40th anniversary posters

"In celebration of Voyagers' Interstellar voyage, we've added these Posters and Infographics for you to download, print, and share." Read the rest

How to decode the images on the Voyager Golden Record

Editor's note: Forty years ago today, NASA launched Voyager 1, the second of two spacecraft on a grand tour of the solar system and into the mysteries of interstellar space. Attached to each spacecraft is a Golden Record containing Earth's greatest music, spoken greetings, "Sounds of Earth," and more than 100 images encoded as audio signals, a technological feat at the time. Technical director Frank Drake had always planned to encode the photos in the audio spectrum for the record. The challenge was finding technology capable of the task. While flipping through an electronics catalog, Valentin Boriakoff, Drake’s colleague at the National Astronomy and Ionosphere Center, stumbled upon Colorado Video, a small television equipment firm in Boulder that had built a unique device for encoding television images as audio signals that could be transmitted over telephone lines. Donating their time and expertise to the project, engineers at Colorado Video projected each Voyager slide onto a television camera lens, generating a signal that their machine converted into several seconds of sound per photo. A diagram on the aluminum cover of the Golden Record explains how to play it and decode the images. Four decades later, Ron Barry followed the instructions.

How I decoded the images on the Voyager Golden Record

The video above is a decoding of more than 100 images that were packed into the audio channels of a record that was placed on each of the Voyager spacecraft. How does one pack data into audio? (Remember modems?) This article doesn’t answer that question directly, but it does attempt to reproduce the efforts an alien would go through to recover those images. Read the rest

Voyager's Golden Record still plays on

Boing Boing editor and partner David Pescovitz has an op-ed up at CNN about the Voyager probe's golden record. Even in the cold and distant darkness of space, this exemplar of human culture plays on.

It's a story of our planet expressed in sounds, images, and science: Earth's greatest music from myriad peoples and eras, from Bach and Blind Willie Johnson to Benin percussion to Solomon Island panpipes. Natural sounds — birds, a train, a baby's cry, a kiss — are collaged into a lovely audio poem called "Sounds of Earth." There are spoken greetings in dozens of human languages— and one whale language — and more than 100 images encoded in analog that depict who, and what, we are. A diagram on the aluminum cover of the record explains how to play it and where it came from.

As an objet d'art and design, the Voyager Record represents deep insights about communication, context, and the power of media. In the realm of science, it raises fundamental questions about our place in the universe.

Pesco helped Kickstart a re-issue of the disc; you can still get in line and pre-order one here. Read the rest

What the solar eclipse looked like from the Moon

If you were on the Moon during last week's solar eclipse, you would have seen the Moon's shadow moving across Earth. This image was taken by the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO) satellite. From Arizona State University's Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter Camera (LROC) site:

As LRO crossed the lunar south pole heading north at 1600 meters per second (3579 mph), the shadow of the Moon was racing across the United States at 670 meters per second (1500 mph). A few minutes later, LRO began a slow 180° turn to look back at the Earth and capture an image of the eclipse very near the location of maximum length of totality. The LROC Narrow Angle Camera (NAC) began scanning the Earth at 18:25:30 UTC and completed the image 18 seconds later (UTC is 4 hours ahead of Eastern Daylight Time, or 7 hours ahead of Pacific Daylight Time).

The NAC builds up an image line-by-line rather than the more typical "instantaneous" framing camera (i.e. your cell phone camera). Each line of the image is exposed for 0.338 milliseconds, and since the camera acquires 52224 lines, the total time to acquire the image is about 18 seconds. The line exposure time was set at the lowest possible value to prevent bright clouds from saturating the CCD (charge coupled device) sensor.

Rendering of the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter:

LROC Narrow Angle Camera (NAC):

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The Atlantic: "Forty Years Later, the Golden Record Goes Vinyl"

The Atlantic's Marina Koren wrote about the Voyager Golden Record vinyl box set that I co-produced with Tim Daly and Lawrence Azerrad. From Koren's article, titled "Forty Years Later, the Golden Record Goes Vinyl":

Even though they had the tapes, Pescovitz and the rest of the team still needed to secure permission to use copyrighted material. Getting the rights to songs from major record labels or images from national publications was easy, since such institutions usually have a process in place. Tracking down the owners of some of the more obscure content, like melodies by indigenous groups, proved more difficult, Pescovitz said. Notes from the time of the record’s original production were sometimes lacking or wrong, and online searches for some of the names listed turned up obituaries instead of contact information. “It came to the point where I was calling Papua New Guinea at 2 o’clock in the morning, and working with amazing ethnomusicologists around the world to try to track down as much information as possible, to find out about who these people were, what the music was, who collected it and when,” Pescovitz said.

The owner of one musical piece featuring panpipes was listed as the Solomon Islands Broadcasting Corporation, so Pescovitz called. The staff didn’t know the name of the song or who played it, but a young woman who was at the radio station overheard them talking about it (and told them the music came from her village and her grandfather would know the players.

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Some of NASA's best shots from the 2017 solar eclipse

There should be a giant eclipse photo contest for all the wonderful images, with a $700 million prize and everyone gets to vote. Until then, here's a terrific NASA compilation of some of the coolest shots from professional and amateur alike. Read the rest

Video of the International Space Station passing in front of the solar eclipse

SmarterEveryDay's Destin Sandlin captured this astonishing video of the International Space Station transiting Monday's solar eclipse. Fast forward to 3:50 for the magical moment. And in case you missed it, below is NASA's still photo of the ISS transiting the sun at five miles per second.

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How the Voyager Golden Record happened (and no, The Beatles actually weren't on the wishlist)

Today marks the 40th anniversary of the launch of Voyager 2, the first of the two spacecraft that carried the Golden Record on a grand tour of the solar system and into the mysteries of interstellar space. Science journalist Timothy Ferris produced this enchanting phonograph record that tells a story of our planet expressed in sounds, images, and science for any extraterrestrial intelligence that may encounter it. Tim wrote a beautiful essay telling the story behind the Voyager record for the Voyager Golden Record vinyl box set that I co-produced. And today you can read an adaptation of it over at The New Yorker. Happy anniversary to Voyager 2 and the Golden Record! From the New Yorker:

I’m often asked whether we quarreled over the selections. We didn’t, really; it was all quite civil. With a world full of music to choose from, there was little reason to protest if one wonderful track was replaced by another wonderful track. I recall championing Blind Willie Johnson’s “Dark Was the Night,” which, if memory serves, everyone liked from the outset. Ann stumped for Chuck Berry’s “Johnny B. Goode,” a somewhat harder sell, in that Carl, at first listening, called it “awful.” But Carl soon came around on that one, going so far as to politely remind Lomax, who derided Berry’s music as “adolescent,” that Earth is home to many adolescents. Rumors to the contrary, we did not strive to include the Beatles’ “Here Comes the Sun,” only to be disappointed when we couldn’t clear the rights.

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Students pay $1.20 for 5 vintage NASA flight suits at thrift store

Talia Rappa and Skyler Ashworth spotted a nondescript box at a Florida thrift store's going-out-of-business sale. They found five NASA flight suits, worth tens of thousands of dollars, and paid just $1.20 for the lot. Read the rest

A map for extraterrestrials to find Earth

In 1971, astronomer Frank Drake, the father of the search for extraterrestrial intelligence, drew a map pinpointing Earth in our galaxy. That diagram, a "pulsar map," was etched on a plaque designed by Frank and Carl Sagan and first carried into space in 1972 by the Pioneer 10 and 11 spacecraft. In 1977, the pulsar map would appear again etched on the covers of the golden records affixed to the the Voyager probes. These days, Frank's original pencil drawing of the map is stored in an old tomato box at his house. (In fact, Frank kindly allowed us to scan it for our book included in our new Voyager Golden Record vinyl box set!) Over at National Geographic, Nadia Drake, one of my favorite science journalists who also happens to be Frank's daughter, tells the fascinating story of this iconic piece of cosmic cartography. From National Geographic:

The question was, how do you create such a map in units that an extraterrestrial might understand?

...To my dad, the answer was obvious: pulsars. Discovered in 1967 by Jocelyn Bell Burnell, these dense husks of expired stars were perfect blazes in both space and time.

For starters, pulsars are incredibly long-lived, staying active for tens of millions to multiple billions of years.

Also, each pulsar is unique. They spin almost unbelievably fast, and they emit pulses of electromagnetic radiation like lighthouses. By timing those pulses, astronomers can determine a pulsar’s spin rate to a ridiculous degree of accuracy, and no two are alike.

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The Voyager Golden Record on NBC Nightly News

Last night, NBC Nightly News aired the wonderful video below about the Voyager Golden Record vinyl box set I produced with my friends Tim Daly and Lawrence Azerrad! Forty years ago this month, NASA launched two spacecraft, Voyager 1 and 2, on a grand tour of the solar system and beyond, into the mysteries of interstellar space. Mounted to each spacecraft is a golden phonograph record, a message to introduce our civilization to extraterrestrials, perhaps billions of years from now. The Voyager Golden Record tells a story of our planet expressed in sounds, images, and science. As Lawrence said in the video, "it's a lovely reminder of what it means to be a human." Thank you to NBC Nightly News!

(GIF via Electric Space Kool-Aid)

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Seriously detailed NASA map of August 21st eclipse over North America

Fascinating and detailed map of the eclipse path. Read the rest

Why NASA's Voyager mission almost didn't happen

On August 20 and September 5, 1977, NASA launched two spacecraft, Voyager 1 and 2, on a grand tour of the solar system and into the mysteries of interstellar space. It was an incredibly audacious mission, and it's still going. My friend Timothy Ferris produced the Voyager golden record that's attached to each of the spacecraft and went on to write a dozen enlightening books about science and culture. (Tim also wrote the liner notes for the Voyager Golden Record vinyl box set I co-produced that's now available here.) In the new issue of National Geographic, Tim tells the remarkable story of the Voyager mission and why "it almost didn’t happen." From National Geographic:

The prospect of a “grand tour” of the outer planets emerged in 1965 from the musings of an aeronautics graduate student named Gary Flandro, then working part-time at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Southern California, the world’s preeminent center for interplanetary exploration. At age six, Flandro had been given Wonders of the Heavens, a book that showed the planets lined up like stepping-stones. “I thought about how neat it would be to go all the way through the solar system and pass each one of those outer planets,” he recalled.

Assigned at JPL to envision possible missions beyond Mars, Flandro plotted the future positions of Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, and Neptune with paper and pencil. He found that they would align in such a way that a spacecraft could tap the planets’ orbital momentum to slingshot from one to the next, gaining enough velocity to visit all four planets within 10 or 12 years rather than the decades such a venture would require otherwise.

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