Pluto

Pluto
Photo:NASA / JHUAPL / SwRI

Planet or not, roughly 100 years after the first powered flight, we’ve sent a vehicle equipped with a camera to Pluto to take pictures and wirelessly transmit them back. That’s nothing short of amazing.

Upcoming Comet To Be Brighter Than Moon

From Astronomy Now:

A new comet has been discovered that is predicted to blaze incredibly brilliantly in the skies during late 2013. With a perihelion passage of less than two million kilometres from the Sun on 28 November 2013, current predictions are of an object that will dazzle the eye at up to magnitude —16. That’s far brighter than the full Moon. If predictions hold true then C/2012 S1 will certainly be one of the greatest comets in human history…

Well, guess I should mark the calendar. This sounds like something I won’t want to miss. How could you miss something that will be “one of the greatest _____ in human history”?

Russia’s War On 99942 Apophis

Back in 2004 I mentioned 99942 Aphophis, a near earth asteroid who was calculated to have a 1 in 37 (2.7%) chance of hitting earth in 2029. That was subsequently ruled a non-existent risk however if it passed through a gravitational keyhole in 2029 it would have a 1 in 250,000 chance in 2036 or 1 in 12.3 million in 2037. Most of us have other terrestrial things to worry about. There’s also a chance something else from the heavens is on a collision course and we just don’t see it. We only monitor a tiny portion of the sky.

Russia however sounds like it may want to make an attempt to divert the course of this asteroid in 2029. If that idea sounds familiar from somewhere, you’re right. It’s the plot for Armageddon. Bruce Willis might be a little to old for the job by 2029 though.

Unless the trajectory data in 2029 substantially changes the odds, it seems like it would be a bad idea to even attempt something like this. The odds of a human failure would likely be higher than the risk of the asteroid without human meddling. Being prepared may not be such a bad idea however, odds are we’d be able to reuse the technology as an impact is inevitable given enough time.

Philip Plait, Ph.D. of Bad Astronomy mentions this specific asteroid and the idea of moving or blowing it up in Death From The Skies. The movies are bogus, it’s not easy. Density and composition of the asteroid are important. It may just be a giant chunk of iron, or a “garbage pile” of rock.

We Choose To Go To The Moon

Moon Landing 40th Anniversary

It started during a Joint Session of Congress on May 25, 1961 with John F. Kennedy challenging the United States to put a man on the moon by the end of the decade. 1969, 6 years after JFK was assassinated Apollo 11 landed on the moon and this famous newscast with the late Walter Cronkite who coincidentally passed away on Friday.

For the 40th anniversary NASA restored some of the old video of the landing, now available in H.264 to view. It’s not true HD in today’s terms but still impressive to see. NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO) also manged to snap a few pictures of the landing sites of the Apollo missions just in time. I believe this is the first time they have ever been identified since the actual landings. 2-3X higher resolution images are under way.

Lastly The John F. Kennedy Library launched “We Choose the Moon” a clever “live” broadcast of the Apollo 11 mission in its entirety with exactly a 40 year delay.

Now 40 years later NASA is embarking on Constellation which even in vehicle design parallels what was done in Apollo. We may be back on the moon by 2020 assuming Constellation, Aries IV or DIRECT succeed.

NASA Constellation Program

NASA Constellation Ares V/Altair

NASA has posted a very cool video showing the status, and some renderings of the Constellation program. The parallels to the Apollo program are obvious and intentional as they are trying to minimize cost and risk by utilizing what was learned a generation ago. In just 3 years they seem to have done a lot of work, though there’s still years to go until the first flight, and a while longer until we’re looking at a return to the moon. That’s of course assuming that the program isn’t canceled or modified by then.

Altair in a sense is a modernized enlarged version of the lunar lander and Orion is in many ways a larger Apollo Command Module.

The Ares V rocket is a real monster of a rocket. It will be able to lift more than even the Saturn V (famous for being the rocket that shot the Apollo missions into space). Interestingly the Saturn V used the J-2 rocket for the second and third stage (the first used the F-1). The Ares V will use the J-2X rocket which is a modernized version for it’s second stage.

It Must Be Ice

Phoenix has found ice on Mars:

June 19, 2008 — Dice-size crumbs of bright material have vanished from inside a trench where they were photographed by NASA’s Phoenix Mars Lander four days ago, convincing scientists that the material was frozen water that vaporized after digging exposed it.

“It must be ice,” said Phoenix Principal Investigator Peter Smith of the University of Arizona, Tucson. “These little clumps completely disappearing over the course of a few days, that is perfect evidence that it’s ice. There had been some question whether the bright material was salt. Salt can’t do that.”

You can see an image here. Awesome.

This is pretty historic. The US has hopes of putting a man on Mars sometime in the 2030 time frame (well after a return to the moon). Water on Mars will likely have an impact on how that mission is designed, and possibly it’s success.

Mars has ice caps, that’s been known for a long time. Subterranean ice was suspected, and now confirmed.

Night Launch Of Discovery

I noticed this last night, but apparently I wasn’t the only one as Robert Gale over at A Welsh View and Digg also agree that this is one amazing picture of the shuttle launch. The comments on Digg also point out a few other pictures from this and another launch that are similar, as well as pinpoint (by Google Maps) where the pic was taken.

Of course NASA has more, including some in high resolution. Something about a rocket at night makes for some great pictures.