Pale Blue Dot

“There is perhaps no better demonstration of the folly of human conceits than this distant image of our tiny world. To me, it underscores our responsibility to deal more kindly with one another and to preserve and cherish the pale blue dot, the only home we’ve ever known.”


Repost: Apollo 13: Eyewitness to the Explosion

By Mike Klesius

Odyssey, You Have a Problem.”
If five men in Houston had realized what they were seeing through a telescope on the evening of April 13, 1970, they could have radioed those words to the crew of Apollo 13, who was still trying to grasp what had just happened: an oxygen tank on their spacecraft had exploded en route to the moon.George Wyckliffe Hoffler was at the time a young NASA flight surgeon assigned to study cardiovascular data gathered from the Apollo astronauts during their spaceflights. On the second night of the mission, Hoffler was taking a break from studying for his medical boards, and had joined four other NASA employees on the roof of building 16A at the Manned Spacecraft Center, now the Johnson Space Center. There they watched a television monitor hooked up to a 16-inch Schmidt-Cassegrain telescope with a television camera mounted in place of the eyepiece. The monitor showed two dots flying in formation on their way to the moon: the brighter of the two was the spent third stage of the Saturn V launch vehicle; the dimmer one was the Apollo 13 spacecraft, which had separated from the third stage two days earlier.

The Apollo 13 spacecraft, as seen through the telescope, immediately after the oxygen tank blew. Credit: NASA

Every ten seconds the TV camera integrated, or updated, the image. “Between one ten-second integration and the next one,” says Hoffler, now retired in Titusville, Florida, “we can’t say exactly what second that was, the less bright dot was not a dot anymore. It was an expanded sphere, reflecting light. A disc. And I remember the guy who was in charge of the thing, Andy Saulietis,…he said, ‘What in the world is that?’ Every ten seconds it continued to grow a bit, and then started to fade as the gas dissipated into the vacuum of space. We watched it for two or three minutes I guess. In retrospect, none of us had the presence of mind to call next door to Mission Control and say, ‘Hey guys, you’ve got a problem.’ ”

What they were seeing was oxygen from the ruptured tank venting into space. In the vacuum, there was no atmospheric pressure to contain the expanding vapor. “We calculated the diameter of that reflecting sphere of gas surrounding the spacecraft to be approximately 25 miles. And it just blew out in just a few seconds,” says Hoffler. “It was under pressure, and when the cannister blew, the gas molecules jetted out with enormous velocity.” In this extended recording, astronauts Jim Lovell, Jack Swigert and Fred Haise remain calm as they report various readings to mission control. Lovell finally looks out the window to say that he sees some sort of gas being vented into space.

Hoffler notes that the anniversary of Apollo 13, which launched on April 11, overlaps with the April 12 anniversary of Yuri Gagarin’s flight as the first human in space in 1961, as well as the first flight of the space shuttle, launched on April 12, 1981. When offered the suggestion that April was a good month for human spaceflight, he says: “It was a bad month too.”

Read more:

Saturns shadows and rings

Click to *Picard voice* Zoom in

Shadows and Rings

Among the interplay of Saturn’s shadow and rings, Mimas, which appears in the lower-right corner of the image, orbits Saturn as a set of the ever-intriguing spokes appear in the B ring (just to the right of center).

Scientists expect that spokes will soon cease to form as Saturn approaches northern equinox. The exact mechanism of spoke formation is still the subject of debate, but ring scientists do know that spokes no longer appear when the Sun is higher in Saturn’s sky. It is believed that this has to do with the ability of micron-sized ring grains to maintain an electrical charge and levitate above the rings, forming spokes. Thus, these may be some of the last spokes ever imaged by Cassini.

This view looks toward the unilluminated side of the rings from about 38 degrees below the ringplane. The image was taken in visible light with the Cassini spacecraft wide-angle camera on Oct. 22, 2013.

The view was obtained at a distance of approximately 1.6 million miles (2.6 million kilometers) from Saturn and at a Sun-Saturn-spacecraft, or phase, angle of 146 degrees. Image scale is 93 miles (150 kilometers) per pixel.

The Cassini-Huygens mission is a cooperative project of NASA, the European Space Agency and the Italian Space Agency. The Jet Propulsion Laboratory, a division of the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena, manages the mission for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate in Washington. The Cassini orbiter and its two onboard cameras were designed, developed and assembled at JPL. The imaging team is based at the Space Science Institute, Boulder, Colo.

For more information about the Cassini-Huygens mission visit or . The Cassini imaging team homepage is at .

Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Space Science Institute

That’s some moon

On 18 June 2009, NASA launched the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO) to map the surface of the Moon. Since then it’s brought back some spectacular images thanks to its cameras including the Apollo landing sites.

In December 2011 the orbiter was put into an elliptical orbit with the  periapsis (point where the LRO is closest to the surface) near the south pole, and the apoapsis (point where LRO is furthest from the surface) near the north pole.
This allowed the LROC (Lunar Reconnaissance orbiter cameras) to take extensive and highly detailed images of the northern hemisphere of the Moon, from 60°N latitude to the pole itself, and came up with this:

You saw the whole of the moon

Now that’s some detail, but wait, it gets better.
Now the LROC are clearly able to pick up something as small as a lunar rover and the trails from the astronauts in pretty good detail considering the height of the orbiter. So what happens when you use them on nearly half the moon?

You end up with a 931,070 x 931,070 image of the moon. It contains 681 BILLION pixels
The LROC Northern Polar Mosaic (LNPM) is likely one of the world’s largest image mosaics in existence, or at least publicly available on the web, with over 680 gigapixels of valid image data covering a region of the Moon (2.54 million km², 0.98 million miles²) slightly larger than the combined area of Alaska (1.72 million km²) and Texas (0.70 million km²) — at a resolution of 2 meters per pixel!

You can explore it over at the LROC site here.

Cosmos II: Electric boogaloo

As people know I absolutely love Carl Sagan, Cosmos for me is the greatest TV programme ever made and I was over the moon when I heard a few years ago that they were making a new one.

As it’s aired in the US and since I couldn’t wait until the 16th for it to be shown on National Geographic (and Sky1) I managed to just finish watching it. And what can I say about a show that I have built up in expectation? Mind blowingly brilliant!

It begins fittingly enough with Carl Sagan speaking the opening lines from the original version
“The cosmos is all that is or ever was or ever will be” followed by the original ship of the imagination. Then the baton is passed to Neil DeGrasse Tyson, standing on the same spot Sagan stood when he took us on his personal voyage.
Like the first episode we begin by journeying into deep space, starting with our home, through the solar system and out into the Milky Way, the local group, the Virgo cluster and the observable universe, where it departed from the original was the introduction of the multiverse theory and the stunning CGI. During the voyage we passed the Voyager 1 probe, the music of Blind Willie Johnson playing into the void

Following the grand tour NDT tells us through an animated segment the sad story of Giordano Bruno a monk who theorised that the stars were other suns, each with their own planets and life despite stating his ideas did not contradict scripture, Bruno was tried by the Roman inquisition and burned at the stake for heresy, in the show he is shown escaping the bonds of earth and even as he was being led to his death his head was in the stars.

I cleave the heavens and soar to the infinite.
And while I rise from my own globe to others
And penetrate ever further through the eternal field,
That which others saw from afar, I leave far behind me.”

Like the first episode we deal with the cosmic calendar, updated with the new CGI that is becoming the main focus of the show (while Sagan himself was the focus of his)  this is the part that is always mind blowing. By putting the 13 billion years of our universe into one year and realising that the dinosaurs died on December 30, and all of human history happened in the last 14 seconds of December 31. During this segment while dealing with the Big Bang, and how all matter in the universe was created in that moment NDT utters the immortal line about how we are star stuff. This is one of many quotes of Sagans that permeate the show, in a way it’s Carl Sagan talking to us through NDT. When explaining the 14 seconds of Humanity he paraphrases the ‘Pale Blue Dot’ speech about everyone, every king, queen and migration being in that spot.

The ending was beautiful, NDT takes from his bag Carl’s diary for 1975 and under December 20 this is written:

At the time deGrasse Tyson was just a 17-year-old kid from the Bronx with dreams of being a scientist, but Sagan had invited him to spend a Saturday with him in Ithaca at Cornell University, after seeing his application to attend University there. He toured their labs there, and Sagan gave him a book, “The Cosmic Collection” and inscribed it “to a future astronomer”

NDT recounts how he became the scientist and communicator he is by reminiscing about the encounter:
“At the end of the day, he drove me back to the bus station. The snow was falling harder. He wrote his phone number, his home phone number, on a scrap of paper. And he said, “If the bus can’t get through, call me. Spend the night at my home, with my family.”I already knew I wanted to become a scientist, but that afternoon I learned from Carl the kind of person I wanted to become. He reached out to me and to countless others. Inspiring so many of us to study, teach, and do science. Science is a cooperative enterprise, spanning the generations.”

The cooperative enterprise sentence is lifted from the original in which Carl links the works of Galileo, and  Percival Lowell to the work of the Viking project and one of his friends who had recently died.

“”Science is a collaborative enterprise, spanning the generations. When it permits us to see the far side of some new horizon, we remember those who prepared the way – seeing for them also.”
so Neil DeGrasse Tyson is peering at the horizon, ready to go again.

Neil Armstrong (1930 – 2012)

Neil Armstrong, the first man to walk on the moon, is dead. His family have said it was through complications from heart surgery earlier this month.

Neil was a hero, a word that is used far too often these days. He was a naval aviator flying 78 missions in Korea. He received the Air Medal for 20 combat missions, a Gold Star for the next 20, and the Korean Service Medal and Engagement Star. He flew experimental aircraft including the X-15 where he went to 207,500 ft and Mach 5.

He faced death regularly, on his Gemini flight the manoeuvring thrusters malfunctioned, sending the capsule into a roll. Using the re-entry system he managed to stabilise the craft but at the cost of the mission. Armstrong and Scott spent 3 hours bobbing in the swell of the Pacific waiting for their recovery. While preparing for the lunar landing he was flying a test vehicle (known as the flying bedstead) when it flipped over and hit the ground, bursting into flames. Armstrong ejected, only for the parachute to almost drop him amongst the flames.

It’ll be Apollo 11 for which Armstrong will be forever known. He was the first man to step foot on the moon. Cool under pressure even when Alarms and fuel warning were sounding he landed it gently and never panicked. He didn’t show off, he didn’t use it for personal or financial gain, he returned to teaching, then spent his days living quietly earning a reputation as a “shy” man.

He was my ultimate personal hero. I grew up with the stories of Apollo and marvelled at the images of 2 men in white dancing on a grey rock of “magnificent desolation.” Neil, Buzz, Pete, Alan, Gus, Ed, Roger, Jim, Mike all of them got me hooked on space. I owe them a hell of a lot, so in the words of the Armstrong family:

Honor his example of service, accomplishment and modesty, and the next time you walk outside on a clear night and see the moon smiling down at you, think of Neil Armstrong and give him a wink.”

Remember Neil, and that moment he slipped the surly bonds of Earth, and with outstretched fingers, touched the face of God.

High resolution images, a software update and a meteor.

Remember the panorama photo? well now the high resolution images are coming in so NASA has been able to put this together:

Click to enlarge

This is seriously cool and the detail in the blast patterns is lovely and clear. However Curiosity is now undergoing a software upgrade where the landing software is replaced with the software that will enable it to drive to its objective, one of the other staggering facts is the hardware on Curiosity isn’t some state of the art processor or terabytes of RAM, in fact it contains only a modest 2GB flash memory and a 200MHz processor. In fact it’s highly likely your phone packs more power. Because of this the images coming back will be few and far between, however as soon as they start coming in they’ll be on here.

And finally a reminder that it’s perseid time again. Keep looking to the sky over the next few nights to see some excellent meteors and check out @VirtualAstro on Twitter for the latest updates.

Curiosity on Mars

In 18 days and 13 hours an object will appear in the sky over Mars, the object will be suspended by a parachute until its about a mile above the ground then it will split in two. The back shell will then fall to the ground, the second section the “Sky crane” will slow down using small thrusters, slowing the craft down and dropping the Rover onto the ground before firing again landing well away from the rover.

The Rover, Curiosity, represents the next chapter on Martian exploration, weighing 899 kilo’s (Just under a ton) this small car sized rover is expected to help us understand more about Mars.The MSL mission has four scientific goals:

  1. Determine whether Mars could ever have supported life
  2. Study the climate of Mars
  3. Study the geology of Mars
  4. Plan for a human mission to Mars

Determine the mineralogical composition of the Martian surface and near-surface geological materials.To contribute to these goals, MSL has six main scientific objectives:[15][33]

  1. Attempt to detect chemical building blocks of life (biosignatures).
  2. Interpret the processes that have formed and modified rocks and soils.
  3. Assess long-timescale (i.e., 4-billion-year) Martian atmospheric evolution processes.
  4. Determine present state, distribution, and cycling of water and carbon dioxide.
  5. Characterize the broad spectrum of surface radiation, including galactic radiation, cosmic radiation, solar proton events and secondary neutrons.

Curiosity is expected to achieve these goals within one Martian year (98 weeks) however experience with the other two Mars rovers show that if luck is on your side you can run the rover for a lot longer (The Mars rovers were expected to last 92, but at time of writing Opportunity is still working just under 3100 days after landing.)
On board Curiosity is a multitude of Cameras, spectroscopes and other instruments to test the chemistry of Mars, and for future manned missions, the types of radiation on the surface. Unlike Spirit and Opportunity the Rover won’t be powered by Solar panels (as these can get dusty and the Spirit and opportunity Rovers have come close to being switched off by dust build up until it has been cleared by Martian wind)

Spirit showing dust build-up (Click to enlarge)

the Mars science Laboratory mission will place the rover Curiosity at the foot of a mountain of sedimentary strata, or layers, inside Gale Crater. the landing site at 4.6 degrees south latitude, 137.4 degrees east longitude will give the rover access to a field site with science targets both on the crater floor beside the mountain and in the lower layers of the mountain.
Gale Crater spans 96 miles (154 kilometers) in diameter, combined. it holds a mound, informally named Mount sharp, rising about 3 miles (5 kilometers) above the crater floor, which is higher than Mt. rainier rises above Seattle. the slopes of Mount sharp are gentle enough for Curiosity to climb, though during the prime mission of one Martian year (98 weeks), the rover will probably not go beyond some particularly intriguing layers near the base. Because of the geology the strata will give scientists a cross section of Martian geology showing the different stages in the planets life (Much like the Grand Canyon)

Landing is scheduled for 05:31 GMT on August 6.

I hope to keep this updated with what is happening on Mars as well as bring more astro stuff on here whilst complaining about coursework, work the state of my Degree and of course History and Politics.