Tag Archives: Asteroid

NASA Night Sky Notes for December 2018: Observe Apollo 8’s Lunar Milestones

Poster’s Note: One of the many under-appreciated aspects of NASA is the extent to which it publishes quality science content for children and Ph.D.’s alike. Your tax dollars help promote science! The following article was provided for reprinting by the Night Sky Network in December, 2018.

By David Prosper

December marks the 50th anniversary of NASA’s Apollo 8 mission, when humans first orbited the Moon in a triumph of human engineering. The mission may be most famous for “Earthrise,” the iconic photograph of Earth suspended over the rugged lunar surface. “Earthrise” inspired the imaginations of people around the world and remains one of the most famous photos ever taken. This month also brings a great potential display of the Geminids and a close approach by Comet 46P/Wirtanen.

You can take note of Apollo 8’s mission milestones while observing the Moon this month. Watch the nearly full Moon rise just before sunset on December 21, exactly 50 years after Apollo 8 launched; it will be near the bright orange star Aldebaran in Taurus. The following evenings watch it pass over the top of Orion and on through Gemini; on those days five decades earlier, astronauts Frank Borman, Jim Lovell, and Bill Anders sped towards the Moon in their fully crewed command module. Notice how the Moon rises later each evening, and how its phase wanes from full on Dec 22 to gibbous through the rest of the week. Can you imagine what phase Earth would appear as if you were standing on the Moon, looking back? The three brave astronauts spent 20 sleepless hours in orbit around the Moon, starting on Dec 24, 1968. During those ten orbits they became the first humans to see with their own eyes both the far side of the Moon and an Earthrise! The crew telecast a holiday message on December 25 to a record number of Earthbound viewers as they orbited over the lifeless lunar terrain; “Good night, good luck, a merry Christmas and God bless all of you – all of you on the good Earth.” 50 years later, spot the Moon on these holiday evenings as it travels through Cancer and Leo. Just two days later the astronauts splashed down into the Pacific Ocean after achieving all the mission’s test objectives, paving the way for another giant leap in space exploration the following year.

The Geminids, an excellent annual meteor shower, peaks the evening of December 13 through the morning of the 14th. They get their chance to truly shine after a waxing crescent Moon sets around 10:30 pm on the 13th. Expert Geminid observers can spot around 100 meteors per hour under ideal conditions. You’ll spot quite a few meteors by avoiding bad weather and light pollution if you can, and of course make sure to bundle up and take frequent warming breaks. The Geminids have an unusual origin compared to most meteor showers, which generally spring from icy comets. The tiny particles Earth passes through these evenings come from a strange “rock comet” named asteroid 3200 Phaethon. This dusty asteroid experiences faint outbursts of fine particles of rock instead of ice.

You can also look for comet 46P/Wirtanen while you’re out meteor watching. Its closest approach to Earth brings it within 7.1 million miles of us on December 16. That’s 30 times the average Earth-Moon distance! While passing near enough to rank as the 10th closest cometary approach in modern times, there is no danger of this object striking our planet. Cometary brightness is hard to predict, and while there is a chance comet 46P/Wirtanen may flare up to naked eye visibility, it will likely remain visible only via binoculars or telescopes. You’ll be able to see for yourself how much 46P/Wirtanen actually brightens. Some of the best nights to hunt for it will be December 15 and 16 as it passes between two prominent star clusters in Taurus: the Pleiades and the V-shaped Hyades. Happy hunting!

Catch up on all of NASA’s past, current, and future missions at nasa.gov.

Caption: Earthrise, 1968. Note the phase of Earth as seen from the Moon. Nearside lunar observers see Earth go through a complete set of phases. However, only orbiting astronauts witness Earthrises; for stationary lunar observers, Earth barely moves at all. Why is that? Credit: Bill Anders/NASA

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NASA News Digest: Space Science For 4 February – 19 February 2016

Greetings fellow astrophiles,

The NASA News Service provides up-to-date announcements of NASA policy, news events, and space science. A recent selection of space science articles are provided below, including direct links to the full announcements. Those interested in receiving these announcements from NASA can subscribe to their service by sending an email to: hqnews-request@newsletters.nasa.gov?subject=subscribe

NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope Primary Mirror Fully Assembled

RELEASE 16-013 (Click here for the full article) – 4 February 2016

2016feb19_16-013bThe 18th and final primary mirror segment is installed on what will be the biggest and most powerful space telescope ever launched. The final mirror installation Wednesday at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland marks an important milestone in the assembly of the agency’s James Webb Space Telescope.

“Scientists and engineers have been working tirelessly to install these incredible, nearly perfect mirrors that will focus light from previously hidden realms of planetary atmospheres, star forming regions and the very beginnings of the Universe,” said John Grunsfeld, associate administrator for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate in Washington. “With the mirrors finally complete, we are one step closer to the audacious observations that will unravel the mysteries of the Universe.”

Using a robotic arm reminiscent of a claw machine, the team meticulously installed all of Webb’s primary mirror segments onto the telescope structure. Each of the hexagonal-shaped mirror segments measures just over 4.2 feet (1.3 meters) across — about the size of a coffee table — and weighs approximately 88 pounds (40 kilograms). Once in space and fully deployed, the 18 primary mirror segments will work together as one large 21.3-foot diameter (6.5-meter) mirror.

To watch the Webb telescope being built at Goddard, visit the “Webb-cam” page at: www.jwst.nasa.gov/webcam.html

NASA Administrator Remembers Apollo-Era Astronaut Edgar Mitchell

RELEASE 16-014 (Click here for the full article) – 5 February 2016

2016feb19_edgar_mitchell_portraitThe following is a statement from NASA Administrator Charles Bolden on the passing of NASA astronaut Edgar Mitchell:

“On behalf of the entire NASA family, I would like to express my condolences to the family and friends of NASA astronaut Edgar Mitchell. As a member of the Apollo 14 crew, Edgar is one of only 12 men to walk on the moon and he helped to change how we view our place in the universe.

“Edgar spoke poetically about seeing our home planet from the moon saying: ‘Suddenly, from behind the rim of the moon, in long, slow-motion moments of immense majesty, there emerges a sparkling blue and white jewel, a light, delicate sky-blue sphere laced with slowly swirling veils of white, rising gradually like a small pearl in a thick sea of black mystery. It takes more than a moment to fully realize this is Earth … home.’

“He believed in exploration, having been drawn to NASA by President Kennedy’s call to send humans to the moon. He is one of the pioneers in space exploration on whose shoulders we now stand.”

For more information about Mitchell’s NASA career, and his agency biography, visit:

www.nasa.gov/feature/apollo-astronaut-edgar-mitchell-dies-at-age-85

NASA, University Study Shows Rising Seas Slowed by Increasing Water on Land

RELEASE 16-015 (Click here for the full article) – 11 February 2016

2016feb19_16-015New measurements from a NASA satellite have allowed researchers to identify and quantify, for the first time, how climate-driven increases of liquid water storage on land have affected the rate of sea level rise.

A new study by scientists at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena, California, and the University of California, Irvine, shows that while ice sheets and glaciers continue to melt, changes in weather and climate over the past decade have caused Earth’s continents to soak up and store an extra 3.2 trillion tons of water in soils, lakes and underground aquifers, temporarily slowing the rate of sea level rise by about 20 percent.

The water gains over land were spread globally, but taken together they equal the volume of Lake Huron, the world’s seventh largest lake. The study is published in the Feb. 12 issue of the journal Science.

For more on NASA’s sea level rise research: sealevel.nasa.gov

More information on the GRACE mission can be found at: grace.jpl.nasa.gov/mission/grace/

For more on how NASA studies Earth: science.nasa.gov/earth-science/

Record Number of Americans Apply to #BeAnAstronaut at NASA

RELEASE 16-018 (Click here for the full article) – 19 February 2016

2016feb19_16-018_0More than 18,300 people applied to join NASA’s 2017 astronaut class, almost three times the number of applications received in 2012 for the most recent astronaut class, and far surpassing the previous record of 8,000 in 1978.

“It’s not at all surprising to me that so many Americans from diverse backgrounds want to personally contribute to blazing the trail on our journey to Mars,” said NASA Administrator Charlie Bolden, himself a former astronaut. “A few exceptionally talented men and women will become the astronauts chosen in this group who will once again launch to space from U.S. soil on American-made spacecraft.”

Applications opened Dec. 14, and closed Thursday, but that is just the beginning of an 18-month process that will end with the selection of 8-14 individuals for the opportunity to become astronaut candidates. NASA expects to announce its selections in mid-2017.

For more information about NASA astronauts, visit: www.nasa.gov/astronauts

For information about other NASA job opportunities, visit: www.nasa.gov/about/career

NASA Invites Public to Send Artwork to an Asteroid

RELEASE 16-019 (Click here for the full article) – 19 February 2016

2016feb19_16-019NASA is calling all space enthusiasts to send their artistic endeavors on a journey aboard NASA’s Origins, Spectral Interpretation, Resource Identification, Security-Regolith Explorer (OSIRIS-REx) spacecraft. This will be the first U.S. mission to collect a sample of an asteroid and return it to Earth for study.

OSIRIS-REx is scheduled to launch in September and travel to the asteroid Bennu. The #WeTheExplorers campaign invites the public to take part in this mission by expressing, through art, how the mission’s spirit of exploration is reflected in their own lives. Submitted works of art will be saved on a chip on the spacecraft. The spacecraft already carries a chip with more than 442,000 names submitted through the 2014 “Messages to Bennu” campaign.

“The development of the spacecraft and instruments has been a hugely creative process, where ultimately the canvas is the machined metal and composites preparing for launch in September,” said Jason Dworkin, OSIRIS-REx project scientist at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland. “It is fitting that this endeavor can inspire the public to express their creativity to be carried by OSIRIS-REx into space.”

For details on how to include your submission on the mission to Bennu, go to: www.asteroidmission.org/WeTheExplorers

For more information on OSIRIS-Rex, visit: www.nasa.gov/osiris-rex

NASA News Digest: Space Science For 26 March – 6 April 2015

Greetings fellow astrophiles,

The NASA News service provides up-to-date announcements of NASA policy, news events, and space science. A recent selection of space science articles are provided below, including direct links to the full announcements. Those interested in receiving these news announcements directly from NASA can subscribe to their service by sending an email to:

hqnews-request@newsletters.nasa.gov?subject=subscribe

NASA Asteroid Hunter Spacecraft Data Available To Public

RELEASE 15-051 (Click here for the full article) – 31 March 2015

15-051_0Millions of images of celestial objects, including asteroids, observed by NASA’s Near-Earth Object Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer (NEOWISE) spacecraft now are available online to the public. The data was collected following the restart of the asteroid-seeking spacecraft in December 2013 after a lengthy hibernation.

The collection of millions of infrared images and billions of infrared measurements of asteroids, stars, galaxies and quasars spans data obtained between December 13, 2013, and December 13, 2014.

“One of the most satisfying things about releasing these cutting-edge astronomical data to the public is seeing what other exciting and creative projects the scientific community does with them,” said Amy Mainzer, principal investigator for NEOWISE at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL), in Pasadena, California.

To view the NEOWISE data, visit: wise2.ipac.caltech.edu/docs/release/neowise/

For more information about NEOWISE, visit: www.nasa.gov/neowise

More information about asteroids and near-Earth objects is at available online at: www.jpl.nasa.gov/asteroidwatch

For more information about the Asteroid Redirect Mission, visit: www.nasa.gov/asteroidinitiative

Curiosity Sniffs Out History Of Martian Atmosphere

RELEASE 15-055 (Click here for the full article) – 31 March 2015

15-055NASA’s Curiosity rover is using a new experiment to better understand the history of the Martian atmosphere by analyzing xenon.

While NASA’s Curiosity rover concluded its detailed examination of the rock layers of the “Pahrump Hills” in Gale Crater on Mars this winter, some members of the rover team were busy analyzing the Martian atmosphere for xenon, a heavy noble gas.

Curiosity’s Sample Analysis at Mars (SAM) experiment analyzed xenon in the planet’s atmosphere. Since noble gases are chemically inert and do not react with other substances in the air or on the ground, they are excellent tracers of the history of the atmosphere. Xenon is present in the Martian atmosphere at a challengingly low quantity and can be directly measured only with on-site experiments such as SAM.

“Xenon is a fundamental measurement to make on a planet such as Mars or Venus, since it provides essential information to understand the early history of these planets and why they turned out so differently from Earth,” said Melissa Trainer, one of the scientists analyzing the SAM data.

For more information about SAM, visit: ssed.gsfc.nasa.gov/sam/

SAM experiment data are archived in the Planetary Data System, online at: pds.nasa.gov/

For more information about Curiosity, visit: www.nasa.gov/msl

You can follow the mission on Facebook and Twitter at: www.facebook.com/marscuriosity and www.twitter.com/marscuriosity

NASA’s OSIRIS-REx Mission Passes Critical Milestone

RELEASE 15-056 (Click here for the full article) – 31 March 2015

15-056NASA’s groundbreaking science mission to retrieve a sample from an ancient space rock has moved closer to fruition. The Origins Spectral Interpretation Resource Identification Security Regolith Explorer (OSIRIS-REx) mission has passed a critical milestone in its path towards launch and is officially authorized to transition into its next phase.

Key Decision Point-D (KDP-D) occurs after the project has completed a series of independent reviews that cover the technical health, schedule and cost of the project. The milestone represents the official transition from the mission’s development stage to delivery of systems, testing and integration leading to launch. During this part of the mission’s life cycle, known as Phase D, the spacecraft bus, or the structure that will carry the science instruments, is completed, the instruments are integrated into the spacecraft and tested, and the spacecraft is shipped to NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida for integration with the rocket.

“This is an exciting time for the OSIRIS-REx team,” said Dante Lauretta, principal investigator for OSIRIS-Rex at the University of Arizona, Tucson. “After almost four years of intense design efforts, we are now proceeding with the start of flight system assembly. I am grateful for the hard work and team effort required to get us to this point.”

For more information about the OSIRIS-REx mission, visit: www.nasa.gov/osiris-rex and asteroidmission.org

For more information about the ARM and NASA’s Asteroid Initiative, visit: www.nasa.gov/asteroidinitiative

NASA Celebrates Earth Day With #NoPlaceLikeHome Event

RELEASE 15-055 (Click here for the full article) – 6 April 2015

m15-055_0This Earth Day, April 22, NASA is asking people around the world to share pictures and videos on social media that show there is no place like home – planet Earth.

NASA’s Earth Day #NoPlaceLikeHome project seeks to get the public involved in highlighting the great diversity of the places, landscapes and ecosystems of our home planet. Participants are invited to post photos and videos that answer a simple question: What is your favorite place on Earth?

Images can be shared using the hashtag #NoPlaceLikeHome on Twitter, Instagram, Vine, Facebook, Google+ and Flickr. Leading up to Earth Day, NASA will participate by posting its own images and videos.

For more information on the #NoPlaceLikeHome project, visit: www.nasa.gov/likehome

NASA Extends Campaign For Public To Name Features On Pluto

RELEASE 15-060 (Click here for the full article) – 6 April 2015

nh-pluto-approaches-charonThe public has until Friday, April 24 to help name new features on Pluto and its orbiting satellites as they are discovered by NASA’s New Horizons mission.

Announced in March, the agency wants to give the worldwide public more time to participate in the agency’s mission to Pluto that will make the first-ever close flyby of the dwarf planet on July 14.

The campaign extension, in partnership with the International Astronomical Union (IAU) in Paris, was due to the overwhelming response from the public.

“Due to increasing interest and the number of submissions we’re getting, it was clear we needed to extend this public outreach activity,” said Jim Green, director of NASA’s Planetary Science Division at the agency’s headquarters in Washington. “This campaign not only reveals the public’s excitement about the mission, but helps the team, which will not have time to come up with names during the flyby, to have a ready-made library of names in advance to officially submit to the IAU.”

To find out more information about how to participate in the Pluto naming contest, visit: www.nasa.gov/newhorizons

Detailed IAU guidelines for acceptable names submissions are available online at: www.iau.org/public/themes/naming/#dwarfplanets

For images and updates on the July 14 Pluto flyby, visit: www.nasa.gov/newhorizons and pluto.jhuapl.edu