NASA Twins Study | Early Results Reported

Astronaut twins Mark and Scott Kelly participated in a study conducted by ten researchers on the effects of long duration space flight. Scott was aboard the International Space Station for 340 days while Mark remained on Earth. Scott returned to Earth 1 March 2016. For details about his return, read this previous post.

Ten researchers reported preliminary results on 23 Jan 2017 in Galveston TX of their comparative studies of the twins. The NASA issued statement is here. I’ll attempt to summarize eight of their findings below.

Credit: NASA

Show me more…

Viewing Heavenly Bodies | 2017

ūüĒ≠ ¬†Updates an¬†earlier post to¬†include recent changes and information.

As an amateur astronomer, I use desktop planetarium software to plan viewing sessions and keep track of the planets and Moon. There are many products available for all computer platforms and smartphones. A Google search yields links to many sources. I downloaded and use the open source Stellarium on my desktop computer. It¬†can be customized to your location and is free. For Android and Mac phones and tablets, I like¬†SkySafari. It isn’t free.

Online planetarium sites are popular and offer many features. Below are highlights of some I find interesting. Each has multiple features, a unique look and feel, and different levels of detail. They can help satisfy your curiosity about astronomical events.

I limited this post to include only a few select sites and links. Since¬†many are available, it’s easy to be overwhelmed with too much information. I hope these few of top quality will motivate you to investigate the sky and enjoy what it has to offer. I welcome reader questions or reviews about using these tools or others you find helpful.

SaturnRingsTop

NASA

Show me more

Opportunity | Rover Enters Teenage

On 24 January 2004, NASA’s Mars Exploration Rover Opportunity landed and started exploration. It joined the Spirit Rover which landed three weeks earlier on a different part on the Martian surface. The twin rovers were designed for mission lifetimes of 90 days.

Spirit’s last communication with Earth was 22 March 2010 more than six years into the mission. Opportunity is still operating well and continues to return images and data to Earth after thirteen years. It recently completed a marathon of distance travelled. Detailed maps are available here. To celebrate entering teenage, NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory released this entertaining video about the milestone.

Dial-a-Moon | 2017

How will the Moon look today, on your birthday, or any date in 2017? Find out at NASA Dial-a-Moon. Enter any month, day, and universal time (UT) hour to see a high definition image. The composite images of Dial-a-Moon are made from those of the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO) in low altitude orbit around the Moon since 2009. Here is the link for southern hemisphere readers.

You may leave the universal time (UT) at the default 1 value. If you are a curious type, Universal time conversion¬†can be done¬†at this link. Enter UTC¬†in the lower right box if it isn’t already set. You can switch from 12 hr to 24 hr at the bottom of the entry boxes. You may also enter any other local time in the upper left box. Go back to Dial-a-Moon to enter the UT.

The collection of accurate images of the Moon for each hour have been made into a movie lasting 5 minutes. Try watching full screen and increase the speed by 2x. Speed can be changed using the gear icon ⚙  after the movie starts. Two versions of the movie are available for readers in northern and southern hemisphere.

I explain the peculiar wobble and tipping motions at this blog post.

Northern hemisphere

 

Southern hemisphere

Jupiter | Third Juno Close Flyby

The Juno spacecraft successfully made a third close flyby of Jupiter on 11 Dec 2016. It was initially captured in orbit on 4 July 2016 as I noted in this blog post. The next close pass will be in early February. This brief animation illustrates a close flyby as Juno skims barely above the cloud tops of Jupiter.

 

On board Juno is a video camera called JunoCam. During the passes, JunoCam captures images which are sent to Earth. They are available to the public for download and processing. NASA hopes the public will use the images in creative projects. The creations can then be uploaded back to the JunoCam site for others to view.

I downloaded three images in Red, Green, and Blue of the south polar region of Jupiter. The video above shows Juno approaching over the north pole, passing very close to the equator, then receding below¬†the south pole with each orbit. My three images were taken when Juno was directly below Jupiter’s south pole.

Using Photoshop, I opened the three RGB files, adjusted them for intensity, them combined them into this color composite. The program allowed me to adjust the saturation of many different colors across the face of the planet for enhancement. I uploaded it back to JunoCam. The colors are not realistic. But they do show the differences and circulations more readily. That was fun.

saturnspole

Earth and Moon | A Different Viewpoint

Position a satellite camera 1 million miles from Earth directly toward the Sun, 4x the distance to the Moon. Keep it at that location and make it stare toward Earth. Eventually, this happens.

 

The Moon orbits Earth in a 5ňö tilted plane relative to Earth’s orbit plane. Rarely does the Moon¬†pass directly between the camera location¬†and the Earth. It happened twice in the past year. This pass was captured on 5 July 2016 by the camera on the satellite. It did so once before on 16 July 2015 shortly after the satellite became operational. The Moon passed behind Earth on 27 Sept 2015 as captured in this video. A solar eclipse was captured on 9 March 2016 as the umbra of the Moon’s shadow crossed the Pacific.

These views of Earth are¬†provided by NOAA’s DSCOVR satellite. It is located at a point where the gravitational pull of Earth and Sun on the craft are equal and opposite. This stable location serves as an early warning site for geo-magnetic storms from the Sun. The Space Weather Prediction Center will begin using DSCOVR data on 27 July 2016 to monitor conditions and make predictions.

In much the same way distant off-shore sea buoys serve as early warning beacons for tsunamis, this satellite gives Earth 15-20 minutes of warning for solar storms that might affect Earth.

NOAA

 

Recent true color views of Earth are available at this site. You can navigate forward and backward in time by clicking the right and left margins of the screen.

Scientists with the DSCOVR mission have compiled a video from over 3000 images of Earth taken by the EPIC camera on board during the year from July 2015 to July 2016. Notice how the tilt of the poles changes between summer and winter.