Tag Archives: New Horizons

CNYO Observing Log: Friends Of Rogers, 8 August 2015

Greetings, fellow astrophiles!

“It goes to show you never can tell.” – Chuck Berry

As of 10 a.m. On Saturday, August 8th, it was pretty clear that the late evening and early night time sky wasn’t going to be. The usual complement of forecast websites and Clear Sky Clock all indicated that the night was going to go from Mostly Cloudy to Partly Cloudy after midnight. A generally bad sign for amateur astronomers on both counts:

1. There would likely be enough cloud cover to distract from observing

2. There would likely be just enough clear sky to make you regret setting up the scope

Our Friends of Rogers (FoR) session in Sherburne was scheduled as an Observing-Only event. If the sky was completely overcast, there likely wouldn’t have been any confusion as to what wasn’t going to happen that evening. The forecast of Mostly Cloudy, coupled with (1) a one-hour drive for most of us from here to there, and (2) FoR having done plenty of advertising for the event but not having an RSVP list or any way to contact people that the session wasn’t going to happen, made for a small conundrum.

For those not in the know (from the Friends of Rogers website)…

Operated and run by Friends of Rogers as a non-profit to provide outstanding educational opportunities that excite, inspire, and motivate people of all ages to enjoy, understand, and protect our natural environment.

FoR is a beautiful facility and grounds pocketed away in Sherburne, NY. Similar to our more local Beaver Lake Nature Center. The place includes lecture facilities, equipment rentals, plenty of walking space, summer classes of varied kinds for kids (for which we may host an astro-specific event next summer), and a very friendly staff (frankly, it isn’t often that staff is still ready for more at 11:00 p.m. at many of the placed we hold sessions).

The solution was for our Observing event to be announced as cancelled, but I’d head down anyway to provide some kind of indoor astronomical program for anyone who showed. I arrived around 7:40 p.m. to three staff and one visitor, followed soon by a half-dozen more attendees. With my honest-ta-goodness-totally-legit Mars and Ceres rocks and various meteor fragments and consequence pieces (desert glass, tektites, etc. I’ve also promoted Kopernik’s own Patrick Manley’s daughter’s discovery to near-legendary status in these parts) in tow, plus a 30-or-so minute lecture on 2015 Astronomy Highlights, we ended up having a two hour discussion indoors before stepping outside to talk a little bit about finding prominent constellations, navigating the circumpolar constellations, orienting ourselves in preparation for the Perseid Meteor Shower peaking this week, and then observing a total of 30 stars in the same single 26mm Nagler field of view through my NMT 12.5” Dob and the Lagoon and Trifid Nebulae through one attending’s pair of binoculars.

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The little teapot, short and stout, in the body of Sagittarius.

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Pluto, threading the 4/5 mag. needle at the tip of the teaspoon (the “needle” stars are easy in low-power binoculars. Pluto, not so much). Click the image for a larger view.

That set of 30 stars in the same field of view was crystal clear for a few minutes, and fortuitous given the lecture content. With a clear shot of the handle of the Teapot that is the body of Sagittarius, you can find your way to the teaspoon (well, to me, anyway) just above and to the left of the handle. The end star of the teaspoon is actually 2 stars, one a pure white (ksi 1) and the second a deeper orange/red (ksi 2, with a small companion off to one side). As it so happens, Pluto is threading the needle hole at the moment right between those two stars (see the image below).

While none of us actually “saw” Pluto given the conditions (and that would be a Herculean effort in a 12.5” Scope with a few surrounding lights), we all did have more than a few photons from Pluto, Charon, Kerberos, Nix, Hydra, and Styx, hit our retinas (technically, even a few from the New Horizons spacecraft itself. Isn’t statistics wonderful!).

The lesson learned for any and all future sessions (provided no rain) are as follows:

1. Always be prepared to say something (handing people a piece of another planet and/or dwarf planet makes that pretty easy).

2. An attending registry can be very helpful. In CNYO’s case, we’re going to make sure that our Facebook and Meetup events list are always up-to-date.

And, with that, we await what the weather holds for this coming week’s Perseid Meteor Shower. If it’s clear, several of us will be out most of the week hoping to spot a few at local parks. See our official announcement post for details. We hope to see you!

NASA News Digest: Space Science For 17 July – 24 July 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’s New Horizons Discovers Frozen Plains In The Heart Of Pluto’s ‘Heart’

RELEASE 15-154 (Click here for the full article) – 17 July 2015

2015july27_pluto_heart_of_the_heart_03In the latest data from NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft, a new close-up image of Pluto reveals a vast, craterless plain that appears to be no more than 100 million years old, and is possibly still being shaped by geologic processes. This frozen region is north of Pluto’s icy mountains, in the center-left of the heart feature, informally named “Tombaugh Regio” (Tombaugh Region) after Clyde Tombaugh, who discovered Pluto in 1930.

“This terrain is not easy to explain,” said Jeff Moore, leader of the New Horizons Geology, Geophysics and Imaging Team (GGI) at NASA’s Ames Research Center in Moffett Field, California. “The discovery of vast, craterless, very young plains on Pluto exceeds all pre-flyby expectations.”

This fascinating icy plains region — resembling frozen mud cracks on Earth — has been informally named “Sputnik Planum” (Sputnik Plain) after the Earth’s first artificial satellite. It has a broken surface of irregularly-shaped segments, roughly 12 miles (20 kilometers) across, bordered by what appear to be shallow troughs. Some of these troughs have darker material within them, while others are traced by clumps of hills that appear to rise above the surrounding terrain. Elsewhere, the surface appears to be etched by fields of small pits that may have formed by a process called sublimation, in which ice turns directly from solid to gas, just as dry ice does on Earth.

Follow the New Horizons mission on Twitter and use the hashtag #PlutoFlyby to join the conversation. Live updates are also available on the mission Facebook page.

For more information on the New Horizons mission, including fact sheets, schedules, video and new images, visit: www.nasa.gov/newhorizons and solarsystem.nasa.gov/planets/plutotoolkit.cfm

NASA Satellite Camera Provides “EPIC” View Of Earth

RELEASE 15-151 (Click here for the full article) – 20 July 2015

2015july27_187_1003705_americas_dxmA NASA camera on the Deep Space Climate Observatory (DSCOVR) satellite has returned its first view of the entire sunlit side of Earth from one million miles away.

The color images of Earth from NASA’s Earth Polychromatic Imaging Camera (EPIC) are generated by combining three separate images to create a photographic-quality image. The camera takes a series of 10 images using different narrowband filters — from ultraviolet to near infrared — to produce a variety of science products. The red, green and blue channel images are used in these Earth images.

“This first DSCOVR image of our planet demonstrates the unique and important benefits of Earth observation from space,” said NASA Administrator Charlie Bolden. “As a former astronaut who’s been privileged to view the Earth from orbit, I want everyone to be able to see and appreciate our planet as an integrated, interacting system. DSCOVR’s observations of Earth, as well as its measurements and early warnings of space weather events caused by the sun, will help every person to monitor the ever-changing Earth, and to understand how our planet fits into its neighborhood in the solar system.”

For more information about NASA’s Earth science activities, visit: www.nasa.gov/earth

For more information about DSCOVR, visit: www.nesdis.noaa.gov/DSCOVR/

NASA’s Kepler Mission Discovers Bigger, Older Cousin To Earth

RELEASE 15-156 (Click here for the full article) – 23 July 2015

2015july27_452b_system_comparisonNASA’s Kepler mission has confirmed the first near-Earth-size planet in the “habitable zone” around a sun-like star. This discovery and the introduction of 11 other new small habitable zone candidate planets mark another milestone in the journey to finding another “Earth.”

The newly discovered Kepler-452b is the smallest planet to date discovered orbiting in the habitable zone — the area around a star where liquid water could pool on the surface of an orbiting planet — of a G2-type star, like our sun. The confirmation of Kepler-452b brings the total number of confirmed planets to 1,030.

“On the 20th anniversary year of the discovery that proved other suns host planets, the Kepler exoplanet explorer has discovered a planet and star which most closely resemble the Earth and our Sun,” said John Grunsfeld, associate administrator of NASA’s Science Mission Directorate at the agency’s headquarters in Washington. “This exciting result brings us one step closer to finding an Earth 2.0.”Kepler-452b is 60 percent larger in diameter than Earth and is considered a super-Earth-size planet. While its mass and composition are not yet determined, previous research suggests that planets the size of Kepler-452b have a good chance of being rocky.

For more information about the Kepler mission, visit: www.nasa.gov/kepler

A related feature story about other potentially habitable planets is online at: www.nasa.gov/jpl/finding-another-earth

NASA’s New Horizons Team Finds Haze, Flowing Ice On Pluto

RELEASE 15-158 (Click here for the full article) – 24 July 2015

2015july27_nh_01_stern_05_pluto_hazenewFlowing ice and a surprising extended haze are among the newest discoveries from NASA’s New Horizons mission, which reveal distant Pluto to be an icy world of wonders.

“We knew that a mission to Pluto would bring some surprises, and now — 10 days after closest approach — we can say that our expectation has been more than surpassed,” said John Grunsfeld, NASA’s associate administrator for the Science Mission Directorate. “With flowing ices, exotic surface chemistry, mountain ranges, and vast haze, Pluto is showing a diversity of planetary geology that is truly thrilling.”

Just seven hours after closest approach, New Horizons aimed its Long Range Reconnaissance Imager (LORRI) back at Pluto, capturing sunlight streaming through the atmosphere and revealing hazes as high as 80 miles (130 kilometers) above Pluto’s surface. A preliminary analysis of the image shows two distinct layers of haze — one about 50 miles (80 kilometers) above the surface and the other at an altitude of about 30 miles (50 kilometers).

“My jaw was on the ground when I saw this first image of an alien atmosphere in the Kuiper Belt,” said Alan Stern, principal investigator for New Horizons at the Southwest Research Institute (SwRI) in Boulder, Colorado. “It reminds us that exploration brings us more than just incredible discoveries — it brings incredible beauty.”

View a simulated flyover using New Horizons’ close-approach images of Sputnik Planum and Pluto’s newly-discovered mountain range, informally named Hillary Montes, in the video below: go.nasa.gov/1MMEdTb

For more information on the New Horizons mission, including fact sheets, schedules, video and images, visit: www.nasa.gov/newhorizons

The Pluto Edition! NASA News Digest: Space Science For 1 July – 15 July 2015

Greetings fellow astrophiles,

Poster’s Note: While Tuesday, July 14th marked a momentous occasion in the history of Solar System exploration with the flyby of Pluto and its moon by New Horizons, July 15th marked the release of the first of the closest-approach images to the general public, which some of us think is much more fun! To mark the occasion on the CNYO website, this NASA News Digest contains the four most recent New Horizons updates, finishing with the first of what will be a large number of amazing images from our nearest-farthest neighbor.

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’s New Horizons Spacecraft Stays the Course to Pluto

RELEASE 15-143 (Click here for the full article) – 1 July 2015

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NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft is getting a final “all clear” as it speeds closer to its historic July 14 flyby of Pluto and the dwarf planet’s five moons.

After seven weeks of detailed searches for dust clouds, rings, and other potential hazards, the New Horizons team has decided the spacecraft will remain on its original path through the Pluto system instead of making a late course correction to detour around any hazards. Because New Horizons is traveling at 30,800 mph (49,600 kph), a particle as small as a grain of rice could be lethal.

“We’re breathing a collective sigh of relief knowing that the way appears to be clear,” said Jim Green, director of planetary science at NASA. “The science payoff will be richer as we gather data from the optimal flight path, as opposed to having to conduct observations from one of the back-up trajectories.”

Mission scientists have been using the spacecraft’s most powerful telescopic camera, the Long Range Reconnaissance Imager (LORRI), to look for potential hazards, such as small moons, rings, or dust, since mid-May. The decision on whether to keep the spacecraft on its original course or adopt a Safe Haven by Other Trajectory, or “SHBOT” path, had to be made this week since the last opportunity to maneuver New Horizons onto an alternate trajectory is July 4.

“Not finding new moons or rings present is a bit of a scientific surprise to most of us,” said principal investigator Alan Stern of the Southwest Research Institute (SwRI) in Boulder, Colorado. “But as a result, no engine burn is needed to steer clear of potential hazards. We presented these data to NASA for review and received approval to proceed on course and plan. We are ‘go’ for the best of our planned Pluto encounter trajectories.”

For more information on the New Horizons mission, including fact sheets, schedules, video and images, visit: www.nasa.gov/newhorizons or solarsystem.nasa.gov/planets/plutotoolkit.cfm

Follow the New Horizons mission on Twitter and use the hashtag #PlutoFlyby to join the conversation. Live updates will be available on the mission Facebook page.

NASA’s Three-Billion-Mile Journey to Pluto Reaches Historic Encounter

RELEASE 15-149 (Click here for the full article) – 14 July 2015

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NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft is at Pluto.

After a decade-long journey through our solar system, New Horizons made its closest approach to Pluto Tuesday, about 7,750 miles above the surface — roughly the same distance from New York to Mumbai, India – making it the first-ever space mission to explore a world so far from Earth.

“I’m delighted at this latest accomplishment by NASA, another first that demonstrates once again how the United States leads the world in space,” said John Holdren, assistant to the President for Science and Technology and director of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy. “New Horizons is the latest in a long line of scientific accomplishments at NASA, including multiple missions orbiting and exploring the surface of Mars in advance of human visits still to come; the remarkable Kepler mission to identify Earth-like planets around stars other than our own; and the DSCOVR satellite that soon will be beaming back images of the whole Earth in near real-time from a vantage point a million miles away. As New Horizons completes its flyby of Pluto and continues deeper into the Kuiper Belt, NASA’s multifaceted journey of discovery continues.”

Members of the New Horizons science team react to seeing the spacecraft's last and sharpest image of Pluto before closest approach later in the day, Tuesday, July 14, 2015 at the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory (APL) in Laurel, Maryland. Photo Credit: (NASA/Bill Ingalls)

Members of the New Horizons science team react to seeing the spacecraft’s last and sharpest image of Pluto before closest approach later in the day, Tuesday, July 14, 2015 at the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory (APL) in Laurel, Maryland. Photo Credit: (NASA/Bill Ingalls)

“The exploration of Pluto and its moons by New Horizons represents the capstone event to 50 years of planetary exploration by NASA and the United States,” said NASA Administrator Charles Bolden. “Once again we have achieved a historic first. The United States is the first nation to reach Pluto, and with this mission has completed the initial survey of our solar system, a remarkable accomplishment that no other nation can match.”

Per the plan, the spacecraft currently is in data-gathering mode and not in contact with flight controllers at the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory (APL) in Laurel, Maryland. Scientists are waiting to find out whether New Horizons “phones home,” transmitting to Earth a series of status updates that indicate the spacecraft survived the flyby and is in good health. The “call” is expected shortly after 9 p.m. EDT tonight.

Follow the New Horizons mission on Twitter and use the hashtag #PlutoFlyby to join the conversation. Live updates also will be available on the mission Facebook page.

For more information on the New Horizons mission, including fact sheets, schedules, video and images, visit: www.nasa.gov/newhorizons and solarsystem.nasa.gov/planets/plutotoolkit.cfm

NASA’s New Horizons ‘Phones Home’ Safe after Pluto Flyby

RELEASE 15-150 (Click here for the full article) – 14 July 2015

New Horizons Flight Controllers celebrate after they received confirmation from the spacecraft that it had successfully completed the flyby of Pluto, Tuesday, July 14, 2015 in the Mission Operations Center (MOC) of the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory (APL), Laurel, Maryland. Photo Credit: (NASA/Bill Ingalls)

New Horizons Flight Controllers celebrate after they received confirmation from the spacecraft that it had successfully completed the flyby of Pluto, Tuesday, July 14, 2015 in the Mission Operations Center (MOC) of the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory (APL), Laurel, Maryland. Photo Credit: (NASA/Bill Ingalls)

The call everyone was waiting for is in. NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft phoned home just before 9 p.m. EDT Tuesday to tell the mission team and the world it had accomplished the historic first-ever flyby of Pluto.

“I know today we’ve inspired a whole new generation of explorers with this great success, and we look forward to the discoveries yet to come,” NASA Administrator Charles Bolden said. “This is a historic win for science and for exploration. We’ve truly, once again raised the bar of human potential.”

The preprogrammed “phone call” — a 15-minute series of status messages beamed back to mission operations at the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory in Maryland through NASA’s Deep Space Network — ended a very suspenseful 21-hour waiting period. New Horizons had been instructed to spend the day gathering the maximum amount of data, and not communicating with Earth until it was beyond the Pluto system.

“With the successful flyby of Pluto we are celebrating the capstone event in a golden age of planetary exploration,” said John Grunsfeld, associate administrator for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate in Washington. “While this historic event is still unfolding –with the most exciting Pluto science still ahead of us — a new era of solar system exploration is just beginning. NASA missions will unravel the mysteries of Mars, Jupiter, Europa and worlds around other suns in the coming years.”

Follow the New Horizons mission on Twitter and use the hashtag #PlutoFlyby to join the conversation. Live updates also will be available on the mission Facebook page.

For more information on the New Horizons mission, including fact sheets, schedules, video and images, visit: www.nasa.gov/newhorizons and solarsystem.nasa.gov/planets/plutotoolkit.cfm

From Mountains to Moons: Multiple Discoveries from NASA’s New Horizons Pluto Mission

RELEASE 15-152 (Click here for the full article) – 15 July 2015

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Icy mountains on Pluto and a new, crisp view of its largest moon, Charon, are among the several discoveries announced Wednesday by NASA’s New Horizons team, just one day after the spacecraft’s first ever Pluto flyby.

“Pluto New Horizons is a true mission of exploration showing us why basic scientific research is so important,” said John Grunsfeld, associate administrator for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate in Washington. “The mission has had nine years to build expectations about what we would see during closest approach to Pluto and Charon. Today, we get the first sampling of the scientific treasure collected during those critical moments, and I can tell you it dramatically surpasses those high expectations.”

“Home run!” said Alan Stern, principal investigator for New Horizons at the Southwest Research Institute (SwRI) in Boulder, Colorado. “New Horizons is returning amazing results already. The data look absolutely gorgeous, and Pluto and Charon are just mind blowing.”

A new close-up image of an equatorial region near the base of Pluto’s bright heart-shaped feature shows a mountain range with peaks jutting as high as 11,000 feet (3,500 meters) above the surface of the icy body.

The mountains on Pluto likely formed no more than 100 million years ago — mere youngsters in a 4.56-billion-year-old solar system. This suggests the close-up region, which covers about one percent of Pluto’s surface, may still be geologically active today.

Follow the New Horizons mission on Twitter and use the hashtag #PlutoFlyby to join the conversation. Live updates also will be available on the mission Facebook page.

For more information on the New Horizons mission, including fact sheets, schedules, video and all the new images, visit: www.nasa.gov/newhorizons and solarsystem.nasa.gov/planets/plutotoolkit.cfm

Two New Horizons/Pluto Articles Available On syracuse.com

Greetings fellow astrophiles,

nh-pluto-7-11-15-1024x1024With the New Horizons flyby of Pluto occurring on July 14th, two articles on the syracuse.com website have helped bring the news to a Central New York focus.

The first – Pluto flyby: New Horizons probe sends stunning photos as it nears a close encounter” – was posted very early this morning and is from Michigan meteorologist Mark Torregrossa.

The second (posted just in time for morning coffee) – “Pluto mission: NASA spacecraft New Horizons will have close encounter this week” – is from significantly closer to home by Glenn Coin (who also helped to keep much of CNY in the loop with his articles about potential aurora activity a few weeks past. The CNYO website had 1,453 hits that day because of it!).

While Torregrossa’s article sticks close to some specifics about the surface features on Pluto now coming into increasingly finer detail, Glenn’s is full of some very handy comparisons to put the whole flyby into a bit more perspective as we sit and wait for better images (such as “The spacecraft will be as close to Pluto as New York is to South Africa.“ and “It’s only 1,500 miles in diameter — the distance from New York City to Dallas — but it has five moons.” – And some handy further reading links are included as well).

Kudos to Glenn, Mark, and syracuse.com for providing some local color to the *other* great NASA (dwarf) planet mission happening this year. CNYO already has a few lectures scheduled in the Fall where both the New Horizons/Pluto and Dawn @ Ceres missions will be presented. Stay tuned for further announcements!

Bob Piekiel’s Yearly Nighttime Summer Session At Green Lakes State Park – Friday, 10 July 2015, 8:00 p.m. – ???

UPDATE: Friday, 4:00 p.m. – Green Lakes is ON for tonight. We hope to see you!

Greetings, fellow astrophiles!

All predictions so far hint at Friday Night being clear and nearly wind-less, making this Green Lakes session the first really good scheduled observing event this year.

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Bob aligning at the 2014 Green Lakes session.

And the timing couldn’t be better! We’ve still Venus and Jupiter (now comfortably post-June 30th-conjunction) lower in our Western Skies after sunset, Saturn appearing soon thereafter, we can look in the direction of Pluto as we await the New Horizons closest-approach on July 14th, and the best of the Summer Messiers are out in full force within the band of the Milky Way.

This event is free and open to the public (if you arrive around 8:00 p.m., usually they do not even charge a parking fee). We’ll be there by 8:00 p.m. to get our location finalized and to start the layers of bug spray. The attendance at this event is usually considerable for the first hour (lots of kids), then a significant exodus occurs as dusk ends and night begins (and the observing and discussion gets a bit more involved). Typically, everyone packs up around 11:00 p.m., but that may depend on the skies and the seeing. Finally announcement on the CNYO page by 5:00 p.m. Friday evening.

We hope you can join us!