One Planet Hunter to Another

It wasn’t long after the discovery of exo-solar planets that scientists sent up spacecraft to look for them.  The Kepler Space Telescope (KST) was NASA’s first planet finder, which has been exceeding expectations since 2009.  It likely won’t get to continue on that road, as it is nearing the end of it’s life.  At the same time, the Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS) is just starting to open it’s eyes.  Today we say goodbye to one great planet hunter and hello to another.   KST is part of NASA’s early 2000s spacecraft approvals that saw relatively inexpensive missions pushed forward...

A Dusty Martian Opportunity

Mars is a planet wide desert with underground and polar cap water, but it’s general arid environment and occasional wind give rise to dusty weather events such as tornado-like dust devils and local dust storms.  Every so often, one of these little dust storms expands and becomes a planet wide phenomena, and in early June this is exactly what happened. So what does it mean for our rovers and orbiters? Global dust storms are a recurring phenomenon on Mars, and happen regularly about the planet regardless of season.  Every 3-4 Martian years (6-8 Earth years) one of these smaller storms...

Navigation by Pulsar

On the golden record that accompanies the Voyager spacecraft, there is a map showing the location of Earth.  It’s not a road map that you might pull out when navigating a city, but a 3D map showing the location of a star, the Sun, in a populous galaxy.  But just how would this map work? And more importantly, what are the map markers? If you notice the lines at the bottom left of the golden record image, they all intersect at a common center point.  This is the Sun, and the lines extend out showing relative distances to the nearest...

Cassini – A Fond Farewell

I remember vividly my first astronomy class in university.  Winter 2004, only months before the Cassini spacecraft was set to arrive at Saturn after a seven year journey.  On several occasions in that class we talked about what we might see when Cassini reached it’s destination.  The first dedicated mission to the jewel of the solar system, originally conceived right after the voyager flyby in 1982, would give us a chance to study more than just a planet, but an entire system of interaction between a planet and it’s moons.  Beyond that, it included the Huygens probe, to land at...

Rosetta’s Final Mission

Tomorrow, one way or another, the ESA’s Rosetta mission is coming to an end.  In a final maneuver, the craft will attempt to land on the surface of the comet, following in the footsteps of the Philae lander, though hopefully with more success. The video shows the final orbit plan, and really highlights how amazing mission scientists are to be able to plan a landing site when the comet is rotating so quickly, relative to the craft’s motion. You can follow the link to watch the live broadcast of the event here.  The mission will end around 7:20am EST tomorrow,...

Juno July

As Canadians start up Canada day celebrations and Americans get ready for their independence day, the world of space exploration holds its breath and hopes for a good result.  On July 4th, the Juno spacecraft will arrive at Jupiter after a five year long journey.  NASA continued its recent theme of producing movie-trailer-like videos to promote the mission. Although I love the imagery and the design of the trailer, it feels cheesy to me.  Maybe it’s because I find movie trailers cheesy in general, and this is trying to appeal to the general public.  Though regardless of how I feel,...

Martian Water is Quick-Boil

At this stage of our understanding of the planet Mars, we have seen salty water flowing (recurring slope lineae), found evidence of ancient riverbeds, and seen seasonal changes in the polar caps.  But an important question is how does water behave on Mars? A bit of science here on Earth gives some insight. Water at sea level on Earth boils at 100 degrees Celsius, which actually defined the Celsius scale.  But as pressure changes, liquids boil at different temperatures.  As the atmosphere gets thinner, the boiling temperature of water decreases.  On Mars, with it’s extremely thin atmosphere, this means that water...

Ceres and Photoshop

NASA has been zeroing in on certain features of dwarf planet Ceres and looked at them in more detail.  Here are the most surprising as well as what we know so far. There are a few other great videos in this playlist, but the first one gives a great summary of what has been seen so far.  The most surprising and interesting feature of Ceres in my opinion has been the Occator crater.  With the enigmatic bright spots that have been observed since the Dawn spacecraft approached Ceres, we are seeing them in finer detail than ever before, and we...

An Astronaut Hits the Ground

After falling continuously for an entire year, Scott Kelly is ready to hit the ground.  With the goal of studying the long-term effects of microgravity on humans, his year is space has been something to keep an eye on.  Always in good spirits, he is probably excited to come home, albeit apprehensive due to the dangers of returning to gravity after such a long time.  Next Tuesday, March 1st, he will experience significant forces once again as he undocks from the ISS and is ferried home by the Soyuz capsule. Like wearing a weighted suit, coming home will be an...

This May be the End for Philae

I remember being so happy back in mid-2015 when I heard that ESA made contact with the Philae lander.  The little lander that could was thought to be lost to the cold of space, not receiving enough sunlight to power itself.  But when the comet approached the Sun, the sunlight became intense enough to wake it back up and allow it to move some of the data it captured.   But now, as the comet 67P has moved further from the Sun in its orbit, the likelihood that Philae will ever communicate again is slim. When the landing originally happened, the little...