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?
Two days earlier I posted some photos of Venus and Mars in the pre-dawn light. The positions of Venus and Mars were getting closer each morning. October 5th was to be the day they would be closest at 1/4˚ apart. For comparison, the Moon’s diameter is only 1/2˚ wide.
Our weather forecast said it would be raining on the morning of the 5th. I assumed that previous post was going to be all I would get to share about their conjunction. Today I looked outside before 6 am and was thrilled to see a clear sky. I got the camera and tripod to capture the unexpected scene.
First is a screen capture from my planetarium software showing the planets on the 3rd and the 5th of October.
Next is my photograph of Venus and Mars at 6 am on the 3rd of October. It is adjusted to be the same scale as the first image.
Finally, my photograph of the two at 6 am on the 5th of October. It is adjusted to be the same scale as the first image. They were about half the width of a full moon apart. Mars was hard to see without the aid of binoculars. By 6:30 am, the sky was too bright to see Mars. Venus remained bright and easily seen. In fact, in clear skies, Venus is not hard to see in the daytime if you know where to look.
Venus has been gracing the morning pre-dawn sky for several weeks. It raced past Earth in its orbit around the Sun and is receding from us quickly. It will pass behind the Sun early in 2018 before emerging as an evening apparition.
Mars is positioned farther away from us than Venus and nearly along the same line of sight. On 5 October, early morning risers can see the two nearest to each other. Look at about 6 am low in the eastern sky on a clear morning. Binoculars will help spot dim Mars. It appears we will suffer from cloudy skies here in the midwest.
This morning I was up early and looked for Venus. It was hidden by low clouds to the east. I waited and was able to see both Venus and Mars emerge from the clouds. Notice the faint outline of a tree on the right side of the image. All images have been slightly modified to make them more easily viewed. They look best enlarged on a monitor screen. You might not see anything on a phone or tablet.
Show me more…
The astronomy community is active with posts and anticipation of the end of the Cassini Mission to Saturn early in the morning of 15 Sep 2017. This post serves as a brief reminder that you can witness the ending moments live by going online or via the NASA channel on cable. Set your calendar or clock.
Time to show up for the broadcast is 7 am Eastern Time, 6 CT, 5 MT, or 4 PT. I will leave the time calculation to others who live across the oceans.
Online sources include YouTube, NASA-TV, UStream, and Facebook. The table in the link includes links to each of those. You get to choose.
Consult your cable provider to see if they provide the NASA-TV channel.
For a huge number of links to current and past information about the Cassini Mission, please go to the Media Kit provided for reporters by NASA-JPL. It is loaded with terrific sources and deserves to be bookmarked for future reference beyond the end of this mission.
The Cassini-Huygens mission has delivered an enormous amount of new scientific findings about Saturn, its rings, and the surrounding many moons. Design work on the mission started in the 1980s as a joint effort by NASA, the European Space Agency ESA, and the Italian space agency Agenzia Spaziale Italiana ASI. Launch was on 15 October 1997. It reached Saturn orbit 1 July 2004 after flybys of Venus, Earth, and Jupiter to adjust the orbit speed and direction via gravity assist. My previous posts about many of the findings by Cassini and Huygens are listed here.
On 15 September 2017, the Cassini spacecraft ends the mission by plunging into the atmosphere of Saturn. It will not be left in orbit for fear of collision with a Saturnian moon and possible contamination of the moon. Future missions to the Saturn system need to be free of any potential contaminants from Earth.
Some scientists and mission specialists have worked on Cassini for their entire careers. This video highlights a few of them and how they feel about the legacy of the mission. I congratulate them all for a job well done. I will be watching NASA-TV at 6 am CDT September 15 to see the final moments of the plunge into Saturn. I hope you will be watching, too.
NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter LRO circles the Moon in a polar orbit. The LRO instruments return data on the lunar surface. Temperature maps, a mapping grid, high-resolution images cover the entire surface. The polar regions of the Moon are of particular interest. Water may exist in the permanently shadowed craters at the pole. These water resources may assist future returns to the Moon by humans and even exploration farther into the solar system. Previous posts about LRO are found here.
NASA | Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter
Show me more…
Dark Matter and Dark Energy have again been in the news. They can be confusing concepts as I pointed out in a previous post. The recent news is important, especially to cosmologists and astrophysicists, because it provides very strong evidence that previous studies and theory are in close agreement with this new evidence. It adds confidence in our understanding of the structure and behavior of the universe since the Big Bang.
The Dark Energy Survey team of over 400 scientists from 25 institutions in 7 countries reported results from the first year of a five year study of 26 million galaxies which cover 1/30th of the sky. Their map shows the distribution of the dark matter. Red shows regions of more dark matter while blue indicates less than average.
Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory | Click to embiggen
Show me more…