Aquanauts test space tools under water

A group of NASA aquanauts headed under water for 16 days to carry out research during a simulated space mission.

The NASA Extreme Environment Mission Operations (NEEMO) 21 mission began on July 21, 2016, as an international crew of aquanauts splashed down to the undersea Aquarius Reef Base, located 62 feet below the surface of the Atlantic Ocean in the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary. The NEEMO 21 crew will perform research both inside and outside the habitat during a 16-day simulated space mission.

During simulated spacewalks carried out underwater, they will evaluate tools and mission operation techniques that could be used in future space missions. Inside the habitat, the crew’s objectives include testing a DNA sequencer, a medical telemetry device, and HoloLens operational performance for human spaceflight cargo transfer.

NASA aquanauts
Pictured at the end of Mission Day 1 are the NEEMO 21 aquanauts, clockwise from top: Matthias Maurer (ESA), Marc O Griofa (Teloregen/VEGA/AirDocs), NASA astronaut Megan McArthur, NASA astronaut Reid Wiseman, Dawn Kernagis (Institute for Human & Machine Cognition), and Noel Du Toit (Naval Postgraduate School). Inside the Aquarius habitat are Florida International University Habitat Technicians Hank Stark (left) and Sean Moore (right). Image Credit: NASA/Karl Shreeves

Juno reaches Jupiter’s magnetosphere

NASA’s Juno spacecraft entered Jupiter’s magnetosphere and recorded what it sounds like:

Juno’s Waves instrument recorded the encounter with the “bow shock” over the course of about two hours on June 24, 2016.”Bow shock” is where the supersonic solar wind is heated and slowed by Jupiter’s magnetosphere.

It is analogous to a sonic boom on Earth.The next day, June 25, 2016, the Waves instrument witnessed the crossing of the magnetopause. “Trapped continuum radiation” refers to waves trapped in a low-density cavity in Jupiter’s magnetosphere.

Jupiter’s magnetosphere is enormous: the largest structure in the solar system, says NASA:

“If Jupiter’s magnetosphere glowed in visible light, it would be twice the size of the full moon as seen from Earth,” said William Kurth of the University of Iowa in Iowa City, lead co-investigator for the Jupiter Waves investigation.

“And that’s the shorter dimension of the teardrop-shaped structure; the dimension extending outward behind Jupiter has a length about five times the distance between Earth and the sun.”

http://www.nasa.gov/juno
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Two more years for Curiousity Rover

The Curiosity Rover has been exploring the surface of Mars for four years and is still going strong. The unit is in such good shape that it’s going to keep exploring for another two years.


Curiosity got off to a good start, as Space.com’s Mike Wall writes:

The rover found that the area near its landing site harbored a lake-and-stream system long ago, showing that at least some parts of the Red Planet could have supported microbial life in the ancient past.

The main goal of the $2.5 billion Curiosity mission is to answer that very question.

“It was just an early home run that kind of took the pressure off, and allowed us to expand on that [discovery] for the next few years,” Curiosity project scientist Ashwin Vasavada, of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena, California, told Space.com.”

Back in 2012, it wasn’t clear if Curiosity Rover would survive the “7 minutes of terror” involved in hitting Mars’s atmosphere and landing on the surface of the planet.

This is how you test a launch system rocket booster

Just for the wow factor: NASA tested its new space launch system rocket booster in Utah. Watch to the end to see the ‘quench tool’ in action.

Published on 11 Mar 2015

The largest, most powerful rocket booster ever built successfully fired up Wednesday for a major-milestone ground test in preparation for future missions to help propel NASA’s Space Launch System (SLS) rocket and Orion spacecraft to deep space destinations, including an asteroid and Mars. The booster fired for two minutes, the same amount of time it will fire when it lifts the SLS off the launch pad, and produced about 3.6 million pounds of thrust. The test was conducted at the Promontory, Utah test facility of commercial partner Orbital ATK.

For more information, visit: http://go.nasa.gov/1C7abZl

Earth’s other ‘moon’ and its crazy orbit could reveal mysteries of the solar system

A fantastic piece about Earth’s ‘other moon’ from Duncan Forgan on The Conversation. I’m reproducing the story here because I can: The Conversation has published it with a Creative Commons CC-BY-ND licence, and made it exceptionally easy to republish via a one-click button that gives you HTML ready to drop straight into your content management system. All hail The Conversation!

Republish button

Earth’s other ‘moon’ and its crazy orbit could reveal mysteries of the solar system

By Duncan Forgan, University of St Andrews

We all know and love the moon. We’re so assured that we only have one that we don’t even give it a specific name. It is the brightest object in the night sky, and amateur astronomers take great delight in mapping its craters and seas. To date, it is the only other heavenly body with human footprints.

What you might not know is that the moon is not the Earth’s only natural satellite. As recently as 1997, we discovered that another body, 3753 Cruithne, is what’s called a quasi-orbital satellite of Earth. This simply means that Cruithne doesn’t loop around the Earth in a nice ellipse in the same way as the moon, or indeed the artificial satellites we loft into orbit. Instead, Cruithne scuttles around the inner solar system in what’s called a “horseshoe” orbit.

Cruithne’s orbit

To help understand why it’s called a horseshoe orbit, let’s imagine we’re looking down at the solar system, rotating at the same rate as the Earth goes round the sun. From our viewpoint, the Earth looks stationary. A body on a simple horseshoe orbit around the Earth moves toward it, then turns round and moves away. Once it’s moved so far away it’s approaching Earth from the other side, it turns around and moves away again.

Cruithne from a stationary Earth position

Horseshoe orbits are actually quite common for moons in the solar system. Saturn has a couple of moons in this configuration, for instance.

What’s unique about Cruithne is how it wobbles and sways along its horseshoe. If you look at Cruithne’s motion in the solar system, it makes a messy ring around Earth’s orbit, swinging so wide that it comes into the neighbourhood of both Venus and Mars. Cruithne orbits the sun about once a year, but it takes nearly 800 years to complete this messy ring shape around the Earth’s orbit.

Cruithne close up

So Cruithne is our second moon. What’s it like there? Well, we don’t really know. It’s only about five kilometres across, which is not dissimilar to the dimensions of the comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko, which is currently playing host to the Rosetta orbiter and the Philae lander.

The surface gravity of 67P is very weak – walking at a spirited pace is probably enough to send you strolling into the wider cosmos. This is why it was so crucial that Philae was able to use its harpoons to tether itself to the surface, and why their failure meant that the lander bounced so far away from its landing site.

Given that Cruithne isn’t much more to us at this point than a few blurry pixels on an image, it’s safe to say that it sits firmly in the middling size range for non-planetary bodies in the solar system, and any human or machine explorers would face similar challenges as Rosetta and Philae did on 67P.

Possible clash: Venus
J.Gabás Esteban, CC BY-SA

 

If Cruithne struck the Earth, though, that would be an extinction-level event, similar to what is believed to have occurred at the end of the Cretaceous period. Luckily it’s not going to hit us anytime soon – its orbit is tilted out of the plane of the solar system, and astrophysicists have shown using simulations that while it can come quite close, it is extremely unlikely to hit us. The point where it is predicted to get closest is about 2,750 years away.

Cruithne is expected to undergo a rather close encounter with Venus in about 8,000 years, however. There’s a good chance that that will put paid to our erstwhile spare moon, flinging it out of harm’s way, and out of the Terran family.

It’s not just Cruithne

The story doesn’t end there. Like a good foster home, the Earth plays host to many wayward lumps of rock looking for a gravitational well to hang around near. Astronomers have actually detected several other quasi-orbital satellites that belong to the Earth, all here for a little while before caroming on to pastures new.

Secrets: solar system
Tashal

 

So what can we learn about the solar system from Cruithne? Quite a lot. Like the many other asteroids and comets, it contains forensic evidence about how the planets were assembled. Its kooky orbit is an ideal testing
ground for our understanding of how the solar system evolves under gravity.

As I said before, it wasn’t until the end of the 20th century that we even realised that bodies would enter such weird horseshoe orbits and stay there for such a long time. The fact they do shows us that such
interactions will have occurred while the solar system was forming. Because we think terrestrial planets grow via collisions of bodies of
Cruithne-size and above, this is a big new variable.

One day, Cruithne could be a practice site for landing humans on asteroids, and perhaps even mining them for the rare-earth metals our new technologies desperately crave. Most importantly of all, Cruithne teaches us that the solar system isn’t eternal – and by extension, neither are we.

The Conversation

This article was originally published on The Conversation.
Read the original article.

This is so good: “We are dead stars, looking back at the sky”

Can’t believe I hadn’t seen this before this morning. It is the best video ever. Made in May 2014 by  The Atlantic and The Really Big Questions, the video (3:57) features NASA astronomer Dr Michelle Thaller explaining, beautifully, how “the iron in our blood connects us to one of the most violent acts in the universe—a supernova explosion—and what the universe might look like when all the stars die out.”

 


 

Two favourite visualisations of satellites orbiting earth

1. From Quartz, an interactive graphic of every active satellite orbiting earth – all 1200 of them (as at August 2014).

The graphic’s based on data from the Union of Concerned Scientists, and lets you filter by age of satellite, launch country, purpose or primary user. You can also animate the satellites into their orbits, and see which are in low, medium or high orbit.

Satellites in Low Earth Orbit

Satellites in Medium Earth Orbit

Hover over any of the dots and you’ll see a summary of the satellite’s owners, age, characteristics and purpose.

Lacrosse-Onyx Inset

Interesting facts from the piece (and elsewhere) include:

2. Over at satellitedebris.net you can see satellites using Google Earth, which taps databases from the US Space Intelligence Office (SIO), National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) (which is due to launch a new deep space climate observatory in January 2015), US Navy (due to launch a new satellite in January 2015) and others.

You start with an overview like this:

Satellites Google Earth Full

Use Google Earth’s controls to rotate the earth and zoom in to see satellites over a particular country at a particular time. In this case, New Zealand:

Satellites Over NZ

Click on any satellite to see its owners, age, characteristics and purpose.

RapidEye 3 Satellite Inset

Fascinating, no?

If you’re interested in New Zealand participation in commercial and other space activities, you might want to check out the Kiwi Space Foundation website, which is an unfinished beast but seems to be keeping track of main players and media reports.

Also, RocketLab, founded by New Zealander Peter Beck, which plans to kick off its Electron “small, fast, & agile” satellite launch system in 2015.