Carl Sagan's Pale Blue Dot image is 30 years old today

Thirty years ago today, the Voyager 1 spaceprobe had completed its ncounters with the outer planets and was careening out of our solar system. The time came to shut off the probes' cameras to preserve power and memory for the other onboard scientific instruments. But before engineers flipped the switch, one last photo opportunity was not to be missed. From my liner notes to the Voyager Golden Record vinyl box set:

Astronomer and educator Carl Sagan, a member of the Voyager Imaging Team, had persuaded NASA engineers to turn Voyager 1’s cameras back toward the sun and take the first-ever portrait of our solar system from beyond its outer boundary. Sixty frames, taken on Valentine’s Day, February 14, 1990, were combined into a single mosaic, known today as the “Solar System Portrait,” albeit with Mars and Mercury lost in the sun’s glare. Centered in a ray of scattered light in the camera’s optics is a tiny speck, just .12 pixels in size: Earth from 6 billion kilometers away—a “pale blue dot,” as Sagan called it. It’s an iconic image that holds the power to shift our perspective in an instant.

“There is perhaps no better demonstration of the folly of human conceits than this distant image of our tiny world,” Sagan wrote in Pale Blue Dot (1994). “To me, it underscores our responsibility to deal more kindly with one another, and to preserve and cherish the pale blue dot, the only home we’ve ever known.”

Please join us in celebrating Carl Sagan's valentine to humanity:

(image: NASA) Read the rest

The scientific secrets inside a single grain of moon dust

While scientists have studied Moon rocks for 50 years, researchers have for the first time conducted deep analysis on a single grain of lunar dust, atom by atom. Using a common materials science technique called atom probe tomography that's not widely used by geologists, the Chicago Field Museum's Jennika Greer and colleagues probed the grain of soil -- about the width of a human hair -- and were able to learn about the Moon's surface its elemental composition. From the Field Museum:

In that tiny grain, she identified products of space weathering, pure iron, water and helium, that formed through the interactions of the lunar soil with the space environment. Extracting these precious resources from lunar soil could help future astronauts sustain their activities on the Moon...

Once the sample was inside the atom probe at Northwestern University, Greer zapped it with a laser to knock atoms off one by one. As the atoms flew off the sample, they struck a detector plate. Heavier elements, like iron, take longer to reach the detector than lighter elements, like hydrogen. By measuring the time between the laser firing and the atom striking the detector, the instrument is able to determine the type of atom at that position and its charge. Finally, Greer reconstructed the data in three dimensions, using a color-coded point for each atom and molecule to make a nanoscale 3D map of the Moon dust...

Studying soil from the moon's surface gives scientists insight into an important force within our Solar System: space weathering.

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NASA reports a "potentially hazardous" asteroid will come close to Earth on February 15, 2020

NASA's Center for Near-Earth Object Studies (CNEOS) said a "potentially hazardous" asteroid is headed our way. Read the rest

Florida fisherman catches parachutes and capsule door from SpaceX crew capsule

Last week, charter fishing boat captain David Stokes was fishing off the Daytona Beach coast when he reeled in a capsule door and two parachutes that were part of a SpaceX Crew Dragon spacecraft. On January 19, SpaceX conducted a successful in-flight abort test of their Crew Dragon that involved exploding the Falcon 9 rocket and releasing the capsule to carry the crew to safety. From UPI:

Stokes said he has attempted to contact SpaceX and tagged Elon Musk in a tweet about the discovery in the hopes of bringing it to their attention.

"I'd like for SpaceX to come check it out to see what they think about it ... any damage to it," Stokes told WKMG-TV. "It would also be awesome to have Elon Musk autograph it."

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Breathtaking image of a red giant star swallowing another star

Astronomers captured this incredible image of a double-star system where a red giant star appears to have "engulfed the other (star) which, in turn, spiraled towards its partner provoking it into shedding its outer layers." The scientists spotted this astounding event using the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA) radio telescope in the Chilean Andes. From the European Southern Observatory's (ESO) announcement:

Thanks to new observations with ALMA, complemented by data from the ESO-operated Atacama Pathfinder EXperiment (APEX), Olofsson and his team now know that what happened in the double-star system HD101584 was akin to a stellar fight. As the main star puffed up into a red giant, it grew large enough to swallow its lower-mass partner. In response, the smaller star spiralled in towards the giant’s core but didn’t collide with it. Rather, this manoeuvre triggered the larger star into an outburst, leaving its gas layers dramatically scattered and its core exposed.

The team says the complex structure of the gas in the HD101584 nebula is due to the smaller star’s spiralling towards the red giant, as well as to the jets of gas that formed in this process. As a deadly blow to the already defeated gas layers, these jets blasted through the previously ejected material, forming the rings of gas and the bright bluish and reddish blobs seen in the nebula.

A silver lining of a stellar fight is that it helps astronomers to better understand the final evolution of stars like the Sun.

Here's the scientific paper: HD 101584: circumstellar characteristics and evolutionary status (Astronomy Astrophysics) Read the rest

The Jovian Dragon

Philosophia-47: "On the occasion of the Chinese New Year, here is a PJ17 image as seen through the eyes of famous Song Dynasty artist Chen Rong."

The source image is from the Juno Mission's processing page.

This is where we will post raw images. We invite you to download them, do your own image processing, and we encourage you to upload your creations for us to enjoy and share. The types of image processing we’d love to see range from simply cropping an image to highlighting a particular atmospheric feature, as well as adding your own color enhancements, creating collages and adding advanced color reconstruction.

With the important caveat: "Please refrain from direct use of any official NASA or Juno mission logos in your work, as this confuses what is officially sanctioned by NASA and by the Juno Project." Read the rest

First 'baked in space' cookies: 2 hours at 325º in zero-g oven

SPOILER: Nobody got baked. Not that kind of space cookies. Sorry.

“How do they taste? No one knows.” Read the rest

New Lego International Space Station model kit

Lego fan Christophe Ruge's design for an International Space Station model was selected for production in celebration of the Lego IDEAS site's tenth anniversary. The 864-piece set also includes a NASA space shuttle, three cargo spacecraft, and two astronaut minifigures. It's $69.99 and will be available next month. From the press release:

The realistic set features a posable Canadarm2 and two rotating joints that coincide with eight adjustable solar panels, to replicate the out-of-this-world complexity of the real space station that orbits the Earth sixteen times a day!

Measuring over 7” (20cm) high, 12” (31cm) long and 19” (49cm) wide, the LEGO Ideas International Space Station makes an eye-catching display model that will perfectly compliment any LEGO brick space collection.

The set comes complete with a 148-page illustrated instruction booklet, packed with interesting facts and information about the International Space Station itself and the LEGO fan who created the original design for the set.

Lego International Space Station (Lego.com)

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First asteroid found inside orbit of Venus: Caltech

Some extra-planetary Caltech news to take your mind off Earth

Reports Caltech: “A rare asteroid orbiting snugly within the inner confines of our solar system has been discovered by Caltech's Zwicky Transient Facility, or ZTF, a survey camera based at Palomar Observatory. The newfound body, named 2020 AV2, is the first asteroid found to orbit entirely within the orbit of Venus.” Read the rest

Excellent animation comparing the rotations of the planets in our solar system

James O'Donoghue, a planetary scientist at JAXA (Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency), made this excellent clip comparing the rotations, tilts, and sidereal day lengths of the eight planets and two of the dwarf planets in our solar system.

There are many more dwarf planet candidates, but they aren't mapped so aren't included," O'Donoghue writes. "More space missions would be a good idea."

Agree!

Below, another one of O'Donoghue's fantastic videos:

(via Cliff Pickover) Read the rest

Astronaut Helen Sharman: extraterrestrials exist and they may be here now

Helen Sharman was the first British astronaut and in 1991 became the first woman to visit the Soviet Mir space station. In an interview published in The Guardian yesterday, she made a comment about extraterrestrials, the latter part of which is an eyebrow raiser:

"Aliens exist, there’s no two ways about it. There are so many billions of stars out there in the universe that there must be all sorts of different forms of life. Will they be like you and me, made up of carbon and nitrogen? Maybe not. It’s possible they’re here right now and we simply can’t see them."

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Video made from 400,000 photos of comet Churyumov-Gerasimenko (67p) taken by ESA's Rosetta spacecraft

In 2016 an exciting mission was ended. The Rosetta spacecraft made its final maneuver. A controlled hard-landing on the comet Churyumov-Gerasimenko (67p).

Before that, Rosetta accompanied the comet for more then 2 years. It researched valuable scientific data, brought a lander on to the comets surface, and took a vast number of pictures.

In 2017, ESA released over 40,0000 images from Rosetta's comet mission. Based on this material, Motion Designer Christian Stangl and Composer Wolfgang Stangl worked together to create this short film. The sequences are digitally-enhanced real-footage of the probe.

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Listen to the Christmas Eve message from the first humans orbiting another world (1968)

On Christmas Eve, 1968, astronauts Frank Borman, Jim Lovell and Bill Anders, the first humans to orbit another world, delivered a Christmas Eve message from above the lunar surface. From NASA:

"We were told that on Christmas Eve we would have the largest audience that had ever listened to a human voice," recalled Borman during 40th anniversary celebrations in 2008. "And the only instructions that we got from NASA was to do something appropriate." "The firs

t ten verses of Genesis is the foundation of many of the world's religions, not just the Christian religion," added Lovell. "There are more people in other religions than the Christian religion around the world, and so this would be appropriate to that and so that's how it came to pass."

The mission was also famous for the iconic "Earthrise" image, snapped by Anders, which would give humankind a new perspective on their home planet. Anders has said that despite all the training and preparation for an exploration of the moon, the astronauts ended up discovering Earth.

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Astonishing stabilized time-lapse showing the Earth's rotation from the ground

Photographer Eric Brummel created this magnificent time-lapse video of the Milky Way in which the sky is stabilized so you can experience the Earth's rotation. He captured the footage at Font's Point, Anza-Borrego Desert State Park, California. From Universe Today:

Eric created this time-lapse by using a star-tracker with his camera. A star-tracker rotates the camera at the same speed as the Earth, but in the opposite direction. It has the visual effect of stabilizing the sky. Usually, star-trackers are used to stabilize the camera during a long exposure, to avoid blurry or streaked stars in the image.

(via Daily Grail) Read the rest

Happy Hanukkah from space

Yesterday was the first night of Hanukkah. From the International Space Station, astronaut Jessica Meir tweeted the image above and the following: "Happy Hanukkah to all those who celebrate it on Earth! #HappyHanukkah"

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Randall "XKCD" Munroe has a New York Times column where he answers weird science questions

Randall Munroe's "Good Question" column in the New York Times is in the vein of his How To and What If books, in which he answers weird science questions with equally weird thoroughness. Read the rest

How to (maybe) see the Leonid meteor shower before dawn on Monday

This year's episode of the grand meteor shower the Leonids will peak on Monday morning before dawn. The meteors are bits of debris dropping off the comet Tempel-Tuttle that intersects Earth's orbit every November. Unfortunately, it may be tough to see many shooting stars because activity this year will be low and the waning gibbous moon will shine brightly. Still, it's always fun and meditative to watch the skies. From EarthSky:

In 2019, no matter where you are on Earth – and no matter when you watch, on the morning of the peak itself, or on the morning leading up to the peak – the best hours of the night for meteor-watching will be hindered by the bright moon. Those hours are between midnight and dawn, when Earth’s forward motion through space has carried your part of Earth head-on into the meteor stream.

Also in 2019, there’s really no way to avoid the moon. You’ll have to find a way to work around it. Try observing in a shadow of a large structure (like a barn), or in a mountain shadow. Just try to keep the moon out of view. Let your eyes adjust to the darkness for a period, say, 15 minutes to half an hour. Just wait and watch, don’t expect too much, and see what you see.

We hear lots of reports from people who see meteors from yards, decks, streets and especially highways in and around cities. But the best place to watch a meteor shower is always in the country.

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