Mars Bound | I Have My Boarding Pass

My bags are packed. I am ready to join 2.4 million other passengers as we begin our journey to Mars in May 2018 aboard the INSIGHT spacecraft. The trip will take about 7 months. It is a one-way journey.

Click to read the fine print. My flight miles award will be enormous.

INSIGHT is the acronym for Interior Exploration using Seismic Investigations, Geodesy and Heat Transport. NASA loves acronyms. Previous Mars missions have studied intensively the surface and atmosphere of the planet. This spacecraft is the first designed to study the interior in hopes of finding clues to the formation of the rocky inner planets. The spacecraft will use seismology, heat flow equipment, and very precise tracking to probe the planet below ground.

The opportunity to sign up for the mission ended on November 1. There were over 2.4 million people who did so. In this link are examples which include children from an elementary school, mission and science managers, as well as famous people like William Shatner.

Clinton Prairie Elementary School | Frankfort, Indiana

Our names will be placed on silicon microchips and attached to the spacecraft. I think it is cool that so many names will be planted on another planet. Perhaps future space travelers will find them. Would you be willing to make the actual trip knowing it was one-way?


SDO | Solar Temps | Hot to Hotter

The sun’s output in the visible spectrum peaks around yellow. Our eyes are most sensitive to that part of the visible spectrum. The sun also radiates in a broad range of other wavelengths invisible to our eyes. Each comes from dynamics taking place on the surface and in the atmosphere of the sun.

I’ve written about NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory (SDO) earlier in a previous post. SDO observes and images the sun several times a minute at ten different wavelengths to give a more complete picture of the activity at and near the surface. A description of those wavelengths is available here. I used the images from the SDO site to render this image of the sun at those ten wavelengths. The yellow center represents the sun’s surface. Each ring of color is at a higher altitude and temperature in the atmosphere of the sun.

Original images used from: NASA/GSFC/Solar Dynamics Observatory

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C/2015 V2 | Comet Johnson

During 2017, the inner solar system has been joined by several comets. Most are not bright enough for the casual observer to see. Those with dark skies and large enough telescopes have enjoyed one of these visitors, comet C/2015 V2 (Johnson). The discovery was by Jess Johnson in late November of 2015.

Comet naming is systematic. The letter C means it is a one time visitor. A letter P would be used if the comet returned periodically such as Halley. Discoveries are denoted by the half-month in which they occur. The first comet found in the first half of January would have A1 at the end of the label. If another was found in the first half of January it would be A2, etc. The fourth one found in the second half of February would be labeled with D4. The V2 for Comet Johnson means it was the second comet discovered in the second half of November. The eleventh month means the 21st and 22nd letters of the alphabet (U and V) are used for those half-months.

One of the better images of C/2015 V2 is from Tenagra Observatories in Arizona. Details of their observation is at this link. Click to embiggen.

I was curious what the orbit looked like. I found a web site by Dominic Ford called In-The-Sky. His simulation showed the orbits of the inner planets and the comet which could be rotated and viewed from different perspectives. Here is a short screen video capture from his site. The video shows the comet on 30 May 2017.

I requested an image of Comet Johnson from the University of Iowa Gemini robotic telescope in Sonoita, Arizona. It was taken at 12:42 am CDT the morning of 30 May. The 60 sec exposure in visible light showed the halo and faint tail. Click to embiggen.

Storm in Nature and Life

Some things we keep over the years carry strong ties and meaning in our lives. In our house, we try to not keep very many things, only the most important. Given the chance, we part with some of the things we’ve kept that might not have much meaning any more. When we die, we don’t want to leave the job of sorting through our stuff to our children.

I sorted some books on the shelves to see which could be donated to the public library for their sale. I decided to keep this one. The book and I have connections that goes back several decades. I will explain.

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Hurricanes | Zooniverse Helps Relief Efforts

Zooniverse is a citizen science network. Hundreds of thousands of volunteers worldwide who take part in science projects online. I participate in several and wrote about Zooniverse in a previous post. Researchers invite volunteers to take part in many types of projects from astronomy to zoology.

Recent hurricanes in the Caribbean islands caused much loss of life and damage to property and ecosystems. Zooniverse volunteers were asked to help relief efforts by examining satellite images of the islands before and after the hurricanes. By comparing before-after images of the same places, structural damages, flooding, road blockage, and temporary housing were assessed. Color coded maps were made from the assessments showing the places most in need of relief efforts. Rapid response was extremely important. Here is an example of one of those ‘heat maps’ of the island of St. Thomas. Red and purple show the greatest need for help.

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