Hanging out beyond the moon, this weekend? Watch out!


A couple of these are wandering by, this weekend [credit ESA]

Two skyscraper-size asteroids are zooming toward Earth this weekend, with one making its closest approach on Friday (July 29) and the second whizzing by on Saturday (July 30).

The first asteroid, dubbed 2016 CZ31, will fly by around 7 p.m. ET (23:00 GMT) on Friday, whizzing at an estimated 34,560 mph (55,618 km/h, according to NASA.

Astronomers estimate that the asteroid measures about 400 feet (122 meters) across at its widest point, making it about as wide as a 40-story building is tall. The asteroid will safely miss our planet…According to NASA, this space rock makes close approaches to Earth every few years, with the next one scheduled for January 2028.

On Saturday, a second, ever larger asteroid will skim past our planet, albeit at a greater distance from Earth. That asteroid, named 2013 CU83, measures approximately 600 feet (183 m) across at its widest visible point, and will pass by about 4,320,000 miles (6,960,000 km) from Earth, or about 18 times the average distance between Earth and the moon…

…Space agencies take planetary defense very seriously. In November 2021, NASA launched an asteroid-deflecting spacecraft called the Double Asteroid Redirection Test (DART), which will slam directly into the 525-foot-wide (160 m) asteroid Dimorphos in autumn 2022. The collision won’t destroy the asteroid, but it may change the space rock’s orbital path slightly, Live Science previously reported. The mission will help test the viability of asteroid deflection, should some future asteroid pose an imminent danger to our planet.

Just in case you were worried. Or needed something more than politics to worry about.

Blood Moon Tonight


Click to enlarge

❝ The viewing circumstances for the eclipse of the full moon tonight will be as good as they can get for much of the United States and Canada. The eastern side of the continent has the best view, but the spectacle of the moon completely immersed in Earth’s shadow will be readily visible from coast to coast. The duration of totality will be longer than normal, too: It will last 1 hour and 2 minutes.

❝ The total phase of the eclipse will be visible from the Western Hemisphere, Europe and the western part of Africa, as well as the northernmost portions of Russia. In all, assuming good weather conditions, this shady little drama will have a potential viewing audience of some 2.8 billion people.

Everyone in our wee Santa Fe County Compound is reminded to remind me to get my butt outside to check this out, tonight.

Lunar farside


Click to enlargeNASA/GSFC/ASU/Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter

Tidally locked in synchronous rotation, the Moon always presents its familiar nearside to denizens of planet Earth. From lunar orbit, the Moon’s farside can become familiar, though. In fact this sharp picture, a mosaic from the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter’s wide angle camera, is centered on the lunar farside. Part of a global mosaic of over 15,000 images acquired between November 2009 and February 2011, the highest resolution version shows features at a scale of 100 meters per pixel.

Surprisingly, the rough and battered surface of the farside looks very different from the nearside covered with smooth dark lunar maria. The likely explanation is that the farside crust is thicker, making it harder for molten material from the interior to flow to the surface and form the smooth maria.

Thanks, UrsaRodinia

Photo gems from the Moon


Click to enlarge

From October 2007 to June 2009, Japan’s SELENE (SELenological and ENgineering Explorer) mission orbited the moon. The mission consisted of three spacecraft. The largest was better known by the nickname the public had chosen for it: Kaguya, honoring a lunar princess of Japanese legend.

During its expedition, the SELENE mission returned a wealth of scientific information from its polar orbit, such as the most detailed map of the moon’s gravity field ever obtained up until that time.

The Kaguya spacecraft also carried cameras, including one with a pair of 2.2 megapixel HDTV sensors that captured the first high-definition video from the moon. Thanks to this clear-eyed video camera, many of Kaguya’s images — especially the shots showing the Earth rising and setting at the lunar horizon — are moving in both senses of the word.

Now the Japanese space agency, JAXA, has publicly released the entire data set from Kaguya’s HDTV cameras. The iconic views are all there…plus some gems that haven’t been widely seen before.

Click through to the blog post and follow any other links along the way. Entertaining, beautiful.

Abundant water on Jupiter’s moon, Ganymede – underground


Click to enlargeNASA/JPL

Astronomers have found the most conclusive evidence yet that a large watery ocean lies beneath the surface of Jupiter’s moon Ganymede…With the discovery, Ganymede joins Enceladus and Europa as another moon in the solar system with a confirmed subterranean ocean.

“The solar system is now looking like a pretty soggy place,” said Jim Green, director of planetary science at NASA. “The more we look at individual moons, the more we see that water is really in enormous abundance.”

And where there’s water, there’s a chance of life.

Scientists have suspected for decades that a subterranean ocean might slosh between the rocky mantle and icy crust of Ganymede, the largest moon in our solar system, but they had not been able to prove it definitively until now.

Using the Hubble Telescope, a team of researchers has detected slight fluctuations in two bands of glowing aurorae in Ganymede’s atmosphere that they say could occur only if the moon contained a salty body of water…

Saur figured that…regular shifts in Jupiter’s magnetic field would affect the position of the aurorae in Ganymede’s atmosphere differently depending on whether or not the moon has a subsurface ocean.

Computer models show that if Ganymede did not have a subsurface ocean, the changes in Jupiter’s magnetic field should cause the bands of hot, electrically charged gas to rock six degrees over a 10-hour period. However, if the moon contained a salty ocean, it would reduce the rocking of the auroras to just two degrees.

The reason for the difference is that a saltwater ocean is electrically conductive and creates a secondary magnetic field that would suppress the effects of Jupiter’s magnetic field.

Saur looked at measurements taken by the Hubble Telescope in 2010 and 2011 of auroras over both the north and south poles of Ganymede and saw that the auroras only moved two degrees over a seven-hour period…

As astronomers continue their search for life elsewhere, this technique could help them to identify what other bodies might harbor water and, perhaps, life forms beyond Earth.

Interesting stuff. Yes, I’d love to be in on the trip to Ganymede for a walkabout. See if we can find some subsurface beachfront property.

China’s Chang’e-3 mission to the moon sends back first photos


Lunar lander viewed from Jade Rabbit rover

Jade Rabbit rolled down a ramp lowered by the lander and on to the volcanic plain known as Sinus Iridum at 04:35 Beijing time on Saturday (20:35 GMT).

It moved to a spot a few metres away, its historic short journey recorded by the lander.

On Sunday evening the two machines began photographing each other…


Image of the rover taken from the lunar probe/lander

The first soft landing on the Moon since 1976 is the latest step in China’s ambitious space programme, says BBC science reporter Paul Rincon.

The lander will operate there for a year, while the rover is expected to work for some three months…

According to Chinese space scientists, the mission is designed to test new technologies, gather scientific data and build intellectual expertise. It will also scout valuable mineral resources that could one day be mined.

After this, a mission to bring samples of lunar soil back to Earth is planned for 2017. And this may set the stage for further robotic missions, and – perhaps – a crewed lunar mission in the 2020s.

Bravo. As I mentioned in an earlier post, building a moon base always made more sense to me than the orbiting International Space Station.

China’s jade rabbit soft-lands on the moon

China’s lunar probe Chang’e-3, with the country’s first moon rover onboard, successfully landed on the moon on Saturday night, marking the first time that China has sent a spacecraft to soft land on the surface of an extraterrestrial body.

The lunar probe began to carry out soft-landing on the moon at 9 p.m. Saturday and touched down in Sinus Iridum, or the Bay of Rainbows, 11 minutes later, according to Beijing Aerospace Control Center.

During the process, the probe decelerated from 15 km above the moon, stayed hovering at 100 meters from the lunar surface to use sensors to assess the landing area to avoid obstacles and locate the final landing spot, and descended slowly onto the surface.

The success made China the third country, after the United States and the Soviet Union, to soft-land on the moon…

Chang’e-3 relied on auto-control for descent, range and velocity measurements, finding the proper landing point, and free-falling…

Chang’e-3 includes a lander and a moon rover called “Yutu” (Jade Rabbit).

Yutu’s tasks include surveying the moon’s geological structure and surface substances and looking for natural resources. The lander will operate there for one year while the rover will be there for three months.

Chang’e-3 is part of the second phase of China’s lunar program, which includes orbiting, landing and returning to the Earth. It follows the success of the Chang’e-1 and Chang’e-2 missions in 2007 and 2010.

The successful landing shows China has the ability of in-situ exploration on an extraterrestrial body, said Sun Huixian, deputy engineer-in-chief in charge of the second phase of China’s lunar program…

Chang’e-3 is the world’s first soft-landing of a probe on the moon in nearly four decades. The last such soft-landing was carried out by the Soviet Union in 1976…

For an ancient civilization like China, landing on the moon embodies another meaning. The moon, a main source for inspiration, is one of the most important themes in Chinese literature and ancient Chinese myths, including that about Chang’e, a lady who took her pet “Yutu” to fly toward the moon, where she became a goddess.

“Though people have discovered that the moon is bleached and desolate, it doesn’t change its splendid role in Chinese traditional culture,” said Zhang Yiwu, a professor with Peking University.

“Apart from scientific exploration, the lunar probe is a response to China’s traditional culture and imagination. China’s lunar program will proceed with the beautiful legends,” Zhang said.

Bravo! The space geeks in my extended family have always preferred the concept of eventually building a moonbase instead of the International Space Station. Since that is the plan of China’s combined space agency, we’ll get a chance to see if we were as farsighted as we absolutely think we are. 🙂

From the Cold War 1.0 – United States planned to nuke the moon

You could easily skip by it in an archive search: a project titled “A Study of Lunar Research Flights.” Its nickname is even more low-brow: “Project A-119.”

But the reality was much more explosive. It was a top-secret plan, developed by the U.S. Air Force, to look at the possibility of detonating a nuclear device on the moon.

It was hatched in 1958 – a time when the United States and the Soviet Union were locked in a nuclear arms race that would last decades and drive the two superpowers to the verge of nuclear war. The Soviets had also just launched Sputnik 1, the world’s first satellite. The U.S. was falling behind in the space race, and needed a big splash.

“People were worried very much by (first human in space Soviet cosmonaut Yuri) Gagarin and Sputnik and the very great accomplishments of the Soviet Union in those days, and in comparison, the United States was feared to be looking puny. So this was a concept to sort of reassure people that the United States could maintain a mutually-assured deterrence, and therefore avoid any huge conflagration on the Earth,” said physicist Leonard Reiffel, who led the project…

The military considerations were frightening. The report said a nuclear detonation on the moon could yield information “…concerning the capability of nuclear weapons for space warfare.” Reiffel said that in military circles at the time, there was “discussion of the moon as military high ground.”

That included talk of having nuclear launch sites on the moon, he said. The thinking, according to Reiffel, was that if the Soviets hit the United States with nuclear weapons first and wiped out the U.S. ability to strike back, the U.S. could launch warheads from the moon.

“These are horrendous concepts,” Reiffel said, “and they are hopefully going to remain in the realm of science fiction for the rest of eternity…”

Or the platform of the Arizona Republican Party

By 1959, Project A-119 was drawing more concern than excitement…

Project planners also weren’t sure of the reliability of the weapons, and feared the public backlash in the U.S. would be significant,” Reiffel said…

Contacted by CNN, the Air Force would not comment on Project A-119.

Has there ever been a branch of anyone’s military willing to admit how truly stupid and useless some of their projects may be?

Milestone: Launch of private rocket heralds new era


 
A new era in space exploration dawned Tuesday as a slender rocket shot into the dark Florida sky before sunrise, carrying the first private spacecraft bound for the International Space Station…

The unmanned SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket blasted off from Cape Canaveral, Florida, at 3:44 a.m., carrying 1,300 pounds of food, clothing and scientific experiments on a demonstration mission to gauge the company’s ability to safely and efficiently deliver supplies to astronauts staffing the orbiting station…

Tuesday’s launch marks the culmination of six years of preparation to bring commercial flights to the space station following the retirement of NASA’s space shuttle fleet last year. It’s backed by entrepreneur Elon Musk, the founder of PayPal…

The rocket launched without a hitch following a flawless countdown that came three days after a faulty valve on one of the rocket’s engines forced a last-second postponement.

At 180 feet tall and 12 feet around, the Falcon 9 rocket is tiny in comparison to the football-field-long Saturn V rockets that carried Apollo spacecraft into orbit. It carries the company’s Dragon cargo capsule capable of carrying 13,228 pounds of supplies into orbit…

The capsule is scheduled to perform a series of maneuvers that should bring it within reach of the space station’s robotic arm on Friday. If NASA gives the go-ahead, the crew will use the arm to attach the capsule to the station and begin unloading supplies, according to SpaceX.

It will remain attached to the station for two weeks before it plummets back into the atmosphere and splashes into the Pacific Ocean off the California coast.

Bravo!