NASA satellite provides breathtaking new view of Earth

Click to enlarge

NASA’s Deep Space Climate Observatory (DSCOVR) has returned a breathtaking image of planet Earth from a distance of roughly one million miles from the homeworld. The image captures the full disk of our planet showing a stunning sunbathed vista of blue oceans and swirling clouds, with glimpses of the North and Central America land masses.

Thanks to the proliferation of Earth observation platforms coupled with the all-pervading reach of social media, images of our planet from space are easy to come by. However, most Earth imaging observatories are too close to the planet to capture a complete picture of the complex ecosystem that we call home…

DSCOVR…having reached its planned orbit in February, is capable of snapping regular high detail portraits of spaceship Earth from a staggering 1 million miles above its surface. This new image is a near perfect example of DSCOVR’s capabilities, displaying Earth hanging against the infinite blackness of space, granting a notion of the fragility of our planet, with a beauty to rival any image of Earth’s full disk taken to date…

The image was captured from the orbiter’s Earth Polychromatic Imaging Camera (EPIC), which boasts the capacity to observe our planet with the use of 10 narrowband filters between the ultraviolet to near infrared spectrums. In this case, three separate images were combined to create a finished piece with near photographic-quality.

My new favorite Blue Marble photograph.

Doomed – I say “Dooomed!” – Russian probe crashes today!

An artist’s conception shows the breakup of the Phobos-Grunt probe in the atmosphere

Russia’s botched Mars probe mission Phobos-Grunt is fast approaching a fiery death, with just one or two days remaining before it falls from space…

“The European Space Agency’s current re-entry prediction for Phobos-Grunt … points to the early evening (Central European Time) on Sunday, Jan. 15, with an uncertainty of plus/minus five orbits,” equal to plus or minus 7.5 hours, said Heiner Klinkrad, head of the space debris office at ESA’s European Space Operations Center in Darmstadt, Germany…

A statement from Russia’s Federal Space Agency (Roscosmos) also pegged Sunday as the crash day for Phobos-Grunt, but went even further. According to the statement, released in Russian, the 14-ton spacecraft filled with fuel is expected to fall on Sunday and may crash in the Pacific Ocean, off the coast of Chile.

Russian space officials pegged the potential crash time as occurring at about 4:51 p.m. ET Sunday, although major uncertainties still remain. There is a chance the spacecraft could fall earlier in the day, or on Monday…

As Phobos-Grunt draws closer and closer to its fiery finale, a worldwide team of skywatchers is on standby alert in the hopes of spotting the fall.

Experienced observers know that the probability of seeing any given satellite re-entry is very small, so they maintain very low expectations,” said Canada-based Ted Molczan, a leader in the citizen network of observers.

RTFA for beaucoup details.

Yes, I’m one of those people who will go outdoors and look around the expected atmosphere impact time.

Close encounter with Asteroid 2005 YU55 – passing by on Tuesday

Radar image and projected path

A huge asteroid will pass closer to Earth than the moon Tuesday, giving scientists a rare chance for study without having to go through the time and expense of launching a probe. Earth’s close encounter with Asteroid 2005 YU 55 will occur at 6:28 p.m. EST (2328 GMT) Tuesday, as the space rock sails about 201,000 miles from the planet.

It is the first time since 1976 that an object of this size has passed this closely to the Earth. It gives us a great — and rare — chance to study a near-Earth object like this,” astronomer Scott Fisher, a program director with the National Science Foundation, said Thursday during a Web chat with reporters…

Thousands of amateur and professional astronomers are expected to track YU 55’s approach, which will be visible from the planet’s northern hemisphere. It will be too dim to be seen with the naked eye, however, and it will be moving too fast for viewing by the Hubble Space Telescope.

“The best time to observe it would be in the early evening on November 8 from the East Coast of the United States,” Don Yeomans said. “It is going to be very faint, even at its closest approach. You will need a decent-sized telescope to be able to actually see the object as it flies by.”

Scientists suspect YU 55 has been visiting Earth for thousands of years, but because gravitational tugs from the planets occasionally tweak its path, they cannot tell for sure how long the asteroid has been in its present orbit…

Computer models showing the asteroid’s path for the next 100 years show there is no chance it will hit Earth during that time, added Yeomans…

Previous studies show the asteroid, which is blacker than charcoal, is what is called a C-type asteroid that is likely made of carbon-based materials and some silicate rock.

More information about its composition and structure are expected from radar images and chemical studies of its light as the asteroid passes by the planet.

A brief and fascinating passage of objects in space, nearing then parting, the objects themselves sharing no consciousness of each other. Those living in so-called civilization with a communications network that reaches into the parcels and portions concerned with the science behind everything – will watch and listen to the discussion even if they haven’t the means to track the traverse of YU55.

Pretty much everyone else won’t notice much of anything happening in the space between the Moon and Earth. Will they?

Thanks, Ursarodinia

Watch Out! — another dead satellite falling to Earth this weekend

If you see a large glowing object plummeting from the sky late Saturday or early Sunday, duck.

A defunct European satellite called ROSAT is headed straight for Earth this weekend—and chances are even higher that a piece of space debris could hit someone than the odds placed on a NASA satellite that fell from orbit last month.

The German Aerospace Center, which led the development and construction of ROSAT, estimates that the chance of anyone being harmed by debris from the satellite is 1 in 2,000. For NASA’s UARS, the injury risk was roughly a third lower, at 1 in 3,200.

ROSAT is currently estimated to make an uncontrolled reentry during the early morning hours on Sunday, Greenwich Mean Time, said Heiner Klinkrad, head of the European Space Agency’s space debris office. But Klinkrad cautions that the satellite could enter Earth’s atmosphere up to 24 hours earlier or later than the estimated time…

Unfortunately, neither Klinkrad nor anyone else can say exactly where on Earth ROSAT is headed.

Debris could come down anywhere between 53 degrees north latitude and 53 degrees south latitude, an area that includes most of Earth’s land mass…That could be a worry, because the satellite’s 1.5-ton mirror is likely to survive the superheated trip through the atmosphere all the way to the ground, where it could make a major dent in whatever it strikes…

If bits of the satellite do land in a populated area, “they will be extremely hot,” added the German Aerospace Center’s Roland Gräve. “This is why we recommend not touching any satellite parts” that do make it to the ground.

And any ROSAT debris, no matter where it’s found, belongs to the German government, he said.

There are people like Jonathan McDowell from the Center for Astrophysics who are planning reentry parties. It’s tough keeping it on a schedule. He has a blanket email ready to go when he has concrete location numbers – just fill in the blanks and send it off into the Web.

We all can go “whoopee” while it crashes and burns.

NASA’s Dawn spacecraft sends close-up of giant asteroid Vesta

NASA’s Dawn spacecraft has returned the first close-up image after beginning its orbit around the giant asteroid Vesta. On Friday, July 15, Dawn became the first probe to enter orbit around an object in the main asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter.

The image taken for navigation purposes shows Vesta in greater detail than ever before. When Vesta captured Dawn into its orbit, there were approximately 16,000 kilometers between the spacecraft and asteroid. Engineers estimate the orbit capture took place at 10 p.m. PDT Friday, July 15.

Vesta is 530 kilometers in diameter and the second most massive object in the asteroid belt. Ground- and space-based telescopes have obtained images of Vesta for about two centuries, but they have not been able to see much detail on its surface.

We are beginning the study of arguably the oldest extant primordial surface in the solar system,” said Dawn principal investigator Christopher Russell from the University of California, Los Angeles. “This region of space has been ignored for far too long. So far, the images received to date reveal a complex surface that seems to have preserved some of the earliest events in Vesta’s history, as well as logging the onslaught that Vesta has suffered in the intervening eons…”

Although orbit capture is complete, the approach phase will continue for about three weeks. During approach, the Dawn team will continue a search for possible moons around the asteroid; obtain more images for navigation; observe Vesta’s physical properties; and obtain calibration data…

Rock on, folks! Keep us ordinary folks up with what we need to keep our space curiosity bump happy.

Successful maiden flight for SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket

Daylife/AP Photo used by permission

Powered by 10 engines and the vision of an Internet entrepreneur, an untried Falcon 9 rocket blasted off Friday and successfully boosted a dummy payload into orbit on a maiden voyage intended to help pave the way for commercial missions to the International Space Station.
In a major milestone for the commercial launch industry, the two-stage Falcon 9’s nine first-stage Merlin engines, fueled by liquid oxygen and RP-1 kerosene rocket fuel, roared to life at 2:45 p.m. EDT.

After computer checks to verify engine performance, four hydraulic hold-down clamps pulled away and the 157-foot-tall Falcon 9, riding atop a torrent of orange flame, climbed away from launch complex 40 at the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station…

The initial stages of the ascent appeared normal as the rocket climbed straight up and then arced away to the northeast on a trajectory tilted 34.5 degrees to the equator…

By the time the second stage engine shut down, the roll was more rapid than is typically seen with large rockets. But in an evening teleconference with reporters, SpaceX founder Elon Musk said the second stage engine shut down on time, putting the rocket’s dummy payload, a structural test article representing the company’s planned Dragon space station cargo module, into its intended 155-mile-high orbit.

“When the rocket achieved orbit, there was tremendous relief and elation at SpaceX,” Musk said. “People have really put so much blood, sweat, and tears into Falcon 9 and bringing that to launch…Things were extremely tense here, everybody was glued to the monitors looking at the data streams and the video as I was. And then just a huge elation and relief that it reached orbit and we achieved 100 percent of the objectives on the mission…”

Musk said the success of the first Falcon 9 launch gave the company a “huge boost of confidence, really.”

“We’re really at the dawn of a new era,” he said. “You had the sort of Apollo era, the space shuttle era–and those were government eras. And the government will continue to play a significant role in the future. But I think what you’re really seeing is the rise of commercial as well, in many ways a partnership with government.

Good for you, folks. Always pleasing to see another geek succeed. A special treat to witness the result of a leaner sort of design and engineering project get off the ground.

SpaceX commercial rocket launches into orbit

An Internet entrepreneur’s latest effort to make space launch more affordable paid off Sunday when his commercial rocket, carrying a dummy payload, was lofted into orbit from the South Pacific.

It was the fourth attempt by Space Exploration Technologies, or SpaceX, to launch its two-stage Falcon 1 rocket into orbit.

Fourth time’s a charm,” said Elon Musk, the multimillionaire who started up SpaceX after making his fortune as the co-founder of PayPal, the electronic payment system.

The rocket carried a 364-pound dummy payload designed and built by SpaceX for the launch.

Musk pledged to continue getting rockets into orbit, saying the company has resolved design issues that plagued previous attempts.

Besides the Falcon 1, SpaceX is developing for NASA a larger launch vehicle, Falcon 9, capable of flying to the international space station when the current space shuttle fleet retires in 2010.

Musk is probably doing better than some countries have at achieving orbital flight. Though, like anyone who enters a developed field, he has the advantage of the work accomplished by those who preceded him.