Mercury Mars Conjunction | June 2019

I like to watch movements of the planets which bring them into close encounters, or conjunctions. Some conjunctions are at a time and position in the sky so images taken over a few days can show their movements. Such was the case June 2019. A big challenge to getting well-timed images is cloud cover. We have had too much of it.

This image is a composite of three evenings of images looking west-northwest at 9:30pm. The camera was on a tripod at the same spot framing two light poles. I cut and pasted the locations of Mercury and Mars from the images taken on June 7 and June 20 onto this image taken on June 11. The dates for each are labeled. Click here or on the image to embiggen in a separate tab.

Note that Mercury, in yellow highlight, moved toward the upper left between June 7 and 11. It moved farther to the upper left by June 20. Mars, in white, moved down to the right between June 7 and 11. It continued down to the right by June 20. I hoped to image the two planets on June 17 or 18 when they appeared very close together, the width of a full moon. But clouds happened.

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NASA Twins Study | Results Published

The NASA Twins Study Science teams published their final stages of integrated research in the journal Science 12 April 2019. This video provides a short summary. More extensive details from each of the ten studies are explained in this article from NASA.


The Twins Study

How does an extended mission in space lasting as long as a year affect the human body? To answer that question, NASA used astronaut twins Mike Kelly and Scott Kelly as subjects. Scott spent 340 days aboard the Space Station from 27 March 2015 to 1 March 2016. Mike remained on Earth. Each was tested in a variety of ways by the research teams in order to compare results of long duration space flight.

Scott Kelly (left) and Mike Kelly (right) | NASA

Scott Kelly wrote the book Endurance about his experience. It is an excellent account of the lives of Mark and Scott, how they became astronauts, and behind the scenes events in the space program.

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An Opportunity To Be Missed

I knew it would happen someday. NASA officially declared the Mars Opportunity Rover mission was over. It was active for nearly 15 years and had driven more than 26 miles exploring craters, various rock features, and the weather. Last year, a global dust storm on Mars darkened the skies for many weeks. Opportunity went into a hibernation to save power. After the dust settled and the sun returned, multiple efforts to make contact failed. This is the final transmitted image back in June 2018.

Previously in 2010, Spirit, the other identical rover, had succumbed to the harsh Martian conditions. Both were launched in 2003. They landed with the aid of airbags to soften the impact. They were ‘warranted’ for 90 day missions. Spirit exceeded that by 20x.

Randall Munroe of xkcd published a nice commemorative cartoon for the occasion. Thanks to the intrepid rover for taking us along during its explorations.

Randall Munroe | xkcd.com

NASA published this short video showing some of the highlights of the Opportunity mission.

I Made It to Mars

UPDATE: InSight landed successfully on Mars on 26 Nov 2018. The microchip with my name and 2.4 million others is now resting on Mars attached to the spacecraft.


6 Nov 2017: 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.

Moon Visits the Planets

The sky has been graced by four planets in recent weeks shortly after sunset. Farthest west has been Venus. Next toward the east has been Jupiter, then fainter Saturn, and brilliant Mars in the southeast. This view from Starry Nite desktop software shows their arrangement in mid-August soon after sunset.

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The Moon was a new thin crescent on 11 Sep soon after sunset here photographed by Heiko Ulbricht in Germany.

Heiko Ulbricht | September 11, 2018 | @ Mt. Lerchenberg, Saxony, Germany

Each successive night after 11 Sep, the Moon appeared farther east in the evening sky as it orbited Earth. Our weather forecast predicted a series of clear days which gave me hope of capturing an image of the Moon near each of the four planets during the coming week.

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ISS Passed by Saturn and Mars

The International Space Station approached from the northwest at 9 pm on 8 Aug 2018. It went high overhead in a southeasterly direction. It tracked above Saturn and the Teapot in Sagittarius before disappearing near Mars. There it entered the darkness of Earth’s shadow.

Taken on iPad with NightCap | ISS mode | 189 sec exp

Here is the same image annotated. Can you also see the light trails left by two passing jets? Tap images for more detailed views.

Looking SE at 9 pm