Astonishing new portrait and video of Jupiter

NASA has just released this incredible image of Jupiter taken by the Hubble Space Telescope on June 27, 2019. From NASA:

This new Hubble Space Telescope view of Jupiter, taken on June 27, 2019, reveals the giant planet's trademark Great Red Spot, and a more intense color palette in the clouds swirling in Jupiter's turbulent atmosphere than seen in previous years. The colors, and their changes, provide important clues to ongoing processes in Jupiter's atmosphere. The new image was taken in visible light as part of the Outer Planets Atmospheres Legacy program, or OPAL. The program provides yearly Hubble global views of the outer planets to look for changes in their storms, winds and clouds. Hubble's Wide Field Camera 3 observed Jupiter when the planet was 400 million miles from Earth, when Jupiter was near "opposition" or almost directly opposite the Sun in the sky....

This animation (below) of a rotating Jupiter was assembled from a Hubble Space Telescope photographic mosaic of almost the entire planet. The resulting flat map was computer-projected onto a sphere to create a rotating globe (excluding the polar regions above 80 degrees latitude). Jupiter completes one rotation every 9.8 hours. The giant planet's trademark Great Red Spot is the orange-colored oval that is as big as Earth. Distinct parallel bands of roiling clouds dominate our view above Jupiter's deep hydrogen/helium atmosphere. The colorful cloud bands are confined by jet streams blowing in opposite directions at different latitudes. A characteristic string of white oval-shaped anticyclones appears along one latitude band in the planet’s southern hemisphere.

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Wonderful new Snoopy astronaut watches from Timex

Snoopy has been a NASA mascot for more than 50 years going back to the Apollo missions. Now, Timex has released a wonderful "Snoopy In Space" collection of wristwatches. The watches in the line start at $89. Here's NASA on the space agency's history with the Peanuts gang:

NASA has shared a proud association with Charles M. Schulz and his American icon Snoopy since Apollo missions began in the 1960s. Schulz created comic strips depicting Snoopy on the Moon, capturing public excitement about America’s achievements in space. In May 1969, Apollo 10 astronauts traveled to the Moon for a final checkout before lunar landings on later missions. Because the mission required the lunar module to skim the Moon’s surface to within 50,000 feet and “snoop around” scouting the Apollo 11 landing site, the crew named the lunar module Snoopy. The command module was named Charlie Brown, Snoopy’s loyal owner.

'All Systems Are Go!' with Timex 'Snoopy In Space' watch collection (collectSPACE)

NASA image below: "Headed for the launch pad, Apollo 10 Commander Tom Stafford pats the nose of a stuffed Snoopy held by Jamye Flowers (Coplin), astronaut Gordon Cooper’s secretary."

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Explore 100,000 stars in the browser

100,000 stars has apparently been around for years, but I loved how much fun it makes zooming in and out of the Milky Way and checking out nearby stars. I could name a half-dozen recent video games that attempt this exact UI and don't do it as well! They should update it with all the lovely planets we've found since 2012. Read the rest

Whose rocket was bigger?

Insert phallic joke here. Read the rest

How the Apollo 11 rocket was projected onto the Washington Monument

Earlier this month, I was in Washington DC during the Smithsonian's festivities around the 50th anniversary of Apollo 11 and the first human moon landing. As you likely saw, UK-based creative studio 59 Productions and the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum collaborated on an astonishing audiovisual experience centered around a lifesize Saturn V rocket projected onto the Washington Monument. Read the rest

NASA fed moonrocks to cockroaches and injected moon dust into mice

When the Apollo 11 crew brought home a big stash of moon rocks in 1969, NASA scientists immediately kicked off a series of carefully-planned tests to ensure that even tiny amounts of lunar dust wouldn't be bad news for Earth's biosphere. "We had to prove that we weren't going to contaminate not only human beings, but we weren't going to contaminate fish and birds and animals and plants and you name it," said Charles Berry, who was in charge of medical operations for the Apollo missions. From Space.com:

First, NASA chose the species it would use. In addition to the mice, the agency and its partners also selected other representative species: Japanese quail to represent birds, a couple of nondescript fish, brown shrimp and oysters for shellfish, German cockroaches and houseflies for creepy-crawlies, and more....

Then, the agency tapped into its precious cache of 49 lbs. (22 kilograms) of newly delivered lunar material. Scientists ground everything to dust, half of which they baked to sterilize and half of which they left as it was. The prescription varied a little with animal type: mice and quail got the lunar sample as an injection, insects had the sample mixed into their food and aquatic animals had the moon dust added to the water they lived in.

NASA watched the menagerie for a month in case anything seemed to suffer from the lunar exposure. The German cockroaches that were fed moon dust — true to the insects' reputation — thrived despite the exotic diet.

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Solar sail test successful so far!

Yesterday, a satellite smaller than a shoebox unfurled a solar sail making it the first spacecraft to orbit the Earth powered by sunlight. LightSail2 is a project of the Planetary Society, a fantastic nonprofit organization co-founded by astronomer and science educator Carl Sagan. From the New York Times:

For centuries, it was only a dream: traveling through space propelled by the sun’s photons. It was first imagined in the 1600s by Johannes Kepler, the German astronomer who described the laws of the planets’ orbits. In 1964, Arthur C. Clarke moved it into the realm of science fiction in “Sunjammer,” a short story. Carl Sagan, the cosmologist, believed it could be more than a speculative fantasy, and in the 1970s began promoting the building of solar sails for space exploration.

After 10 years of planning and over 40,000 private donations worth $7 million, that idea took flight on Tuesday, as LightSail 2, a spacecraft built for the Planetary Society, co-founded by Mr. Sagan, began what its creators hope will be a year of sailing around Earth.

“This is still one of the most feasible pathways to have real interstellar space travel in the future,” said Sasha Sagan, a writer as well as the daughter of the astronomer.

If it succeeds in its mission, it will contribute to overcoming one of the greatest limitations on the outer bounds of space travel — that the power that steers spacecraft, usually hydrazine fuel, eventually runs out.

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Sweet new moon rover from Toyota and the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency

No, this isn't a concept design for a Space: 1999 reboot but rather an illustration of the new moon rover in development by Toyota and the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA). Toyota has just signed a three year agreement with JAXA and created a Lunar Exploration Mobility Works department that they will staff up with 30 people in the next few months. Unlike NASA's 1970s Apollo moon buggies, this vehicle will be pressurized so astronauts won't need to wear oxygen-supplying spacesuits when tooling around the lunar surface. It'll be powered by "fuel cell electric vehicle technologies." From Space.com:

If all goes according to plan, Toyota and JAXA will build a full-scale prototype in the 2022 time frame, design the flight model and build and test an engineering model about two years later, and build and test the flight model around 2027.

Launch would follow in 2029.

"The rover will be used for missions to explore the moon's polar regions, with the aim both of investigating the possibility of using the moon's resources ― such as frozen water ― and of acquiring technologies that enable exploration of the surfaces of massive heavenly bodies," Toyota representatives wrote in the statement.

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Watch CBS News coverage of the Apollo 11 moon launch from 50 years ago today

Fifty years ago today, a Saturn V rocket launched with Neil Armstrong, Edwin "Buzz" Aldrin and Michael Collins on board. On July 19, Armstrong became the first human to step onto the moon. Above is almost five hours of CBS News's coverage of the historic Apollo 11 mission to the moon. And that's the way it was.

More: "Apollo 11 launch: Watch the most memorable moments from CBS News' coverage" Read the rest

Wonderful vintage snapshots showing our love for the moon

In celebration of the 50th anniversary of the first human Moon landing on July 20, Vernacular photography collector Robert E. Jackson curated a lovely collection of vintage snapshots related to the Moon. I've always gotten a kick out of how TV viewers around the world used to snap photos of their screens to commemorate momentous moments.

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Chuck Klosterman on space rock

In Technology Review, author and essayist Chuck Klosterman delivers a short introduction to the stars of space rock, from Pink Floyd (above) to Hawkwind to Spacemen 3:

Space is a vacuum: the only song capturing the verbatim resonance of space is John Cage’s perfectly silent “4'33".” Any artist purporting to embody the acoustics of the cosmos is projecting a myth. That myth, however, is collective and widely understood. Space has no sound, but certain sounds are “spacey.” Part of this is due to “Space Oddity”; another part comes from cinema, particularly the soundtrack to 2001 (the epic power of classical music by Richard Strauss and György Ligeti). Still another factor is the consistent application of specific instruments, like the ondes martenot (a keyboard that vaguely simulates a human voice, used most famously in the theme to the TV show Star Trek). The shared assumptions about what makes music extraterrestrial are now so accepted that we tend to ignore how strange it is that we all agree on something impossible.

The application of these clichés is most readily seen in the dawn of heavy metal. The 1970 Black Sabbath song “Planet Caravan” processed Ozzy Osbourne’s vocals through a Hammond organ to create a sprawling sense of ethereal distance. Deep Purple’s 1972 “Space Truckin’” used ring modulation to simulate a colossal spacecraft traveling at high speed. The lyrical content of Led Zeppelin’s “No Quarter” is built on Norse mythology, but the dreamlike drone of John Paul Jones’s mellotron and Jimmy Page’s ultra-compressed guitar mirrored the sensation of exploring an alien landscape.

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Rare image of US Air Force's secretive space plane in orbit

Astrophotographer Ralf Vandebergh captured an image of the US Air Force's X-37B space plane in orbit. The reusable, uncrewed space vehicle, designated OTV-5, is on a secret testing mission since its launch in September 2017. From Vandebergh's post at Spaceweather.com:

I have been hunting for the OTV-5 since months and saw it visually in May. When I tried to observe it again mid June, it didnt meet the predicted time and path. It turned out to have maneuvered to another orbit. Thanks to the amateur satellite observers-network, it was rapidly found in orbit again and I was able to take some images on June 30 and July 2. This most recent pass was almost overhead. The OTV is a small version of the classic Space Shuttle, it is really a small object, even at only 300 km altitude, so dont expect the detail level of ground based images of the real Space Shuttle. Considering this, the attached images succeeded beyond expectations. We can recognize a bit of the nose, Payload Bay and tail of this mini-shuttle with even a sign of some smaller detail.

Images were taken through a 10 inch F/4,8 aperture Newtonian telescope with an Astrolumina ALccd 5L-11 mono CMOS camera. Tracking was fully manually through a 6x30 finderscope.

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Star Trek's Nichelle "Uhura" Nichols checks out the Space Shuttle Enterprise (1977)

After Star Trek was cancelled, Nichelle Nichols, aka Lieutenant Uhura, volunteered her time to help NASA recruit women and minorities to join the space agency. The 1977 reel above is from that era. In the clip, astronaut Alan Bean and Nichols check out NASA's shiny new Space Shuttle Enterprise. From The Space Archive:

In 1975 Nichols established Women in Motion, Inc., an astronaut recruitment project that helped to find over 1000 minority and 1600 women applicants, and this video reflects her significant efforts in that field. The Space Shuttle program did indeed expand the ranks of astronauts, including Sally Ride, the first woman in space, Judith Resnik, Ronald McNair, Ellison Onizuka, and Mae Carol Jemison, the first African American in space, who flew over 190 hours in space and attributed her interest in the field to seeing Nichols on television as a child. The Space Shuttles were the first spacecraft designed for reuse, and the Enterprise (originally named the Constitution until president Gerald Ford was inundated with a letter-writing campaign to change the name), was the first shuttle, performing tests to ensure the spacecraft would be able to function as gliders and land on conventional runways after missions in space.

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NASA successfully tests crew ejection system for use in aborted launches

From Kennedy Space Center:

A fully functional Launch Abort System (LAS) with a test version of the Orion spacecraft attached, launches on NASA’s Ascent Abort-2 (AA-2) atop a Northrop Grumman provided booster on July 2, 2019, at 7 a.m. EDT, from Launch Pad 46 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida. During AA-2, the booster will send the LAS and Orion to an altitude of 31,000 feet at Mach 1.15 (more than 1,000 mph). The flight test will prove that the abort system can pull crew to safety in the unlikely event of an emergency during ascent.

Note that there will be a parachute, they just didn't test it this time around. Read the rest

Mars rover has detected methane that could mean life on the Red Planet

In the New York Times, Kenneth Chang reports that NASA's Curiosity rover on Mars has detected high amounts of methane, a gas that is commonly a signature of life. From the NYT:

“Given this surprising result, we’ve reorganized the weekend to run a follow-up experiment,” Ashwin R. Vasavada, the project scientist for the mission, wrote to the science team in an email that was obtained by The Times.

The mission’s controllers on Earth sent new instructions to the rover on Friday to follow up on the readings, bumping previously planned science work. The results of these observations are expected back on the ground on Monday...

On Earth, microbes known as methanogens thrive in places lacking oxygen, such as rocks deep underground and the digestive tracts of animals, and they release methane as a waste product. However, geothermal reactions devoid of biology can also generate methane.

"NASA Rover on Mars Detects Puff of Gas That Hints at Possibility of Life" (NYT)

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NASA accused of misrepresenting costs in new GAO report, Trump's moon mission now threatened

Trump’s moon mission threatened

Star Trek Starfleet insignia found on Mars

The high resolution imaging science experiment (HiRISE) on NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter captured this image in the Red Planet's Hellas Planitia region. According to the University of Arizona researchers who operate the HiRISE camera for NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, shapes like this "are the result of a complex story of dunes, lava, and wind." But they also note that "enterprising viewers will make the discovery that these features look conspicuously like a famous logo."

They add that it's a coincidence, but we know better.

"Dune Footprints in Hellas" (University of Arizona)

Full image below depicts area 5 km across:

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