Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Close to Earth Asteroid Update

NEWS RELEASE: 2008-014 Jan. 25, 2008
NASA Scientists Get First Images of Earth Flyby Asteroid
Scientists at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif., have obtained the first images of asteroid 2007 TU24 using high-resolution radar data. The data indicate the asteroid is somewhat asymmetrical in shape, with a diameter roughly 250 meters (800 feet) in size. Asteroid 2007 TU24 will pass within 1.4 lunar distances, or 538,000 kilometers (334,000 miles), of Earth on Jan. 29 at 12:33 a.m. Pacific time (3:33 a.m. Eastern time).
"With these first radar observations finished, we can guarantee that next week's 1.4-lunar-distance approach is the closest until at least the end of the next century," said Steve Ostro, JPL astronomer and principal investigator for the project. "It is also the asteroid's closest Earth approach for more than 2,000 years."
Scientists at NASA's Near-Earth Object Program Office at JPL have determined that there is no possibility of an impact with Earth in the foreseeable future.
Asteroid 2007 TU24 was discovered by the NASA-sponsored Catalina Sky Survey on Oct. 11, 2007. The first radar detection of the asteroid was acquired on Jan. 23 using the Goldstone 70-meter (230-foot) antenna. The Goldstone antenna is part of NASA's Deep Space Network Goldstone station in Southern California's Mojave Desert. Goldstone's 70-meter diameter (230-foot) antenna is capable of tracking a spacecraft traveling more than 16 billion kilometers (10 billion miles) from Earth. The surface of the 70-meter reflector must remain accurate within a fraction of the signal wavelength, meaning that the precision across the 3,850-square-meter (41,400-square-foot) surface is maintained within one centimeter (0.4 inch).
Ostro and his team plan further radar observations of asteroid 2007 TU24 using the National Science Foundation's Arecibo Observatory in Puerto Rico on Jan. 27-28 and Feb. 1-4.
The asteroid will reach an approximate apparent magnitude 10.3 on Jan. 29-30 before quickly becoming fainter as it moves farther from Earth. On that night, the asteroid will be observable in dark and clear skies through amateur telescopes with apertures of at least 7.6 centimeters (three inches). An object with a magnitude of 10.3 is about 50 times fainter than an object just visible to the naked eye in a clear, dark sky.
Scientists working with Ostro on the project include Lance Benner and Jon Giorgini of JPL, Mike Nolan of the Arecibo Observatory, and Greg Black of the University of Virginia.
NASA detects and tracks asteroids and comets passing close to Earth. The Near Earth Object Observation Program, commonly called "Spaceguard," discovers, characterizes and computes trajectories for these objects to determine if any could be potentially hazardous to our planet. The Arecibo Observatory is part of the National Astronomy and Ionosphere Center, a national research center operated by Cornell University, Ithaca, N.Y., for the National Science Foundation. JPL is a division of the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena.
For more information, visit http://neo.jpl.nasa.gov .

More Space Ship 2 News


New Storms on Jupiter

NEWS RELEASE: 2008-013 Jan. 24, 2008
Giant Storm Eruption at Jupiter Unearths a Buried PastScientists around the globe have observed an astonishing and rare change in Jupiter's atmosphere -- a huge disturbance churning in the middle northern latitudes of the planet as two giant storms erupted.
Jupiter's winds are the strongest at middle northern latitudes, reaching about 600 kilometers per hour (370 miles per hour). Similar phenomena occurred in 1975 and 1990, but this event has never been observed before with high-resolution modern telescopes.
The storm eruption was captured in late March 2007 by NASA's Hubble Space Telescope, the NASA Infrared Telescope Facility in Hawaii and telescopes in the Canary Islands (Spain). A network of smaller telescopes around the world also supported these observations.
An international team coordinated by Agustín Sánchez-Lavega from the Universidad del País Vasco in Spain presents their findings about this event in the January 24 issue of the journal Nature. The team monitored the new eruption of cloud activity and its evolution with unprecedented resolution.
"Fortuitously, we captured the onset of the disturbance with Hubble, while monitoring the planet to support the New Horizons flyby observations of Jupiter in its route to Pluto. We saw the storm grow rapidly since its beginning, from about 400 kilometers [250 miles] to more than 2,000 kilometers [1,245 miles] in size in less than one day," said Sánchez-Lavega.
The atmosphere of the gaseous giant planet Jupiter is always turbulent. Its circulation is dominated by a pattern of cloud bands alternating with latitude, and by a persistent system of jet streams, both of unknown origin. Changes in the cloud bands are sometimes violent, starting from a localized eruption and followed by the development of a planetary-scale disturbance. The nature of these disturbances and the power source for these jets remains a controversial matter among planetary scientists and meteorologists. The phenomena could be powered by the sun, as is Earth, by the strong internal heat source emanating from Jupiter's interior, or by a combination of both.
According to the analysis, the bright plumes were storm systems triggered in Jupiter's deep water clouds that vigorously moved upward in the atmosphere and injected a fresh mixture of ammonia ice and water about 30 kilometers (20 miles) above the visible clouds. The storms moved in the peak of a jet stream in Jupiter's atmosphere at 600 kilometers per hour (375 miles per hour). They disturbed the jet and formed in their wake a turbulent planetary-scale disturbance containing red cloud particles.
"The infrared images distinguish the plumes from lower-altitude clouds and show that the plumes are lofting ice particles higher than anyplace else on the planet," said Glenn Orton of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif. Orton is second author of the paper.
In spite of the energy deposited and the stirring and turmoil generated by the storms, the jet remained practically unchanged when the disturbance ceased, keeping steady against these storms. Models of the disturbance indicate that the jet stream extends deep in the buried atmosphere of Jupiter, more than 100 kilometers (62 miles) below the cloud tops where most sunlight is absorbed.
"This confirms previous findings by the Galileo probe when it descended through Jupiter's upper atmosphere in December 1995. Although both regions are meteorologically different, all the evidence points to a deep extent for Jupiter's jets and suggest that the internal heat power source plays a significant role in generating the jet," said Sánchez-Lavega.
A comparison of this disturbance with the two previous events in 1975 and 1990 shows surprising similarities and coincidences, all of which remain unexplained. All three eruptions occurred with a periodic interval of about 15 to 17 years. The plumes always appear in the jet peak; the disturbance erupted with exactly two plumes. Finally, the plumes moved with the same speed of the jet peak in all three events. Understanding this outbreak could be the key to unlocking the mysteries buried in the deep Jovian atmosphere.
Understanding these phenomena is important for Earth's meteorology, where storms are present everywhere and jet streams dominate the atmospheric circulation. In this way, Jupiter represents a natural laboratory where atmospheric scientists study the nature and interplay of the intense jets and severe atmospheric phenomena.
For images, visit: http://www.nasa.gov/topics/solarsystem/features/hubble20080123c.html and http://hubblesite.org/newscenter/ .

Spaceship 2 update


It is good to see Rutan passing the torch a little.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

The Windy Planet

NEWS RELEASE: 2008-111 Jan. 23, 2008
Orbiting Camera Details Dramatic Wind Action on Mars
Mars has an ethereal, tenuous atmosphere with less than one-percent the surface pressure of Earth, which challenges scientists to explain complex, wind-sculpted landforms seen with unprecedented detail in images from NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter.
One of the main questions has been if winds on present-day Mars are strong enough to form and change geological features, or if wind-constructed formations were made in the past, perhaps when winds speeds and atmospheric pressures were higher.
The eye-opening new views of wind-driven Mars geology come from the University of Arizona's High Resolution Imaging Science Experiment camera (HiRISE). As the orbiter flies at about 3,400 meters per second (7,500 mph) between 250 and 315 kilometers (155 to 196 miles) above the Martian surface, this camera can see features as small as half a meter (20 inches).
"We're seeing what look like smaller sand bedforms on the tops of larger dunes, and, when we zoom in more, a third set of bedforms topping those," said HiRISE co-investigator Nathan Bridges of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif. "On Earth, small bedforms can form and change on time scales as short as a day."
There are two kinds of "bedforms," or wind-deposited landforms. They can be sand dunes, which are typically larger and have distinct shapes. Or they can be ripples, in which sand is mixed with coarser particles. Ripples are typically smaller and more linear.
HiRISE also shows detail in sediments deposited by winds on the downwind side of rocks. Such "windtails" show which way the most current winds have blown, Bridges said. They have been seen before, but only by rovers and landers, never by an orbiter. Researchers can now use HiRISE images to infer wind directions over the entire planet.
Scientists discovered miles-long, wind-scoured ridges called "yardangs" with the first Mars orbiter, Mariner 9, in the early 1970s. New HiRISE images reveal surface texture and fine-scale features that are giving scientists insight into how yardangs form.
"HiRISE is showing us just how interesting layers in yardangs are," Bridges said. "For example, we see one layer that appears to have rocks in it. You can actually see rocks in the layer, and if you look downslope, you can see rocks that we think have eroded out from that rocky layer above."
New images show that some layers in the yardangs are made of softer materials that have been modified by wind, he added. The soft material could be volcanic ash deposits, or the dried-up remnants of what once were mixtures of ice and dust, or something else. "The fact that we see layers that appear to be rocky and layers that are obviously soft says that the process that formed yardangs is no simple process but a complicated sequence of processes," Bridges said.
"HiRISE keeps showing interesting things about terrains that I expected to be uninteresting," said Alfred McEwen of the University of Arizona Lunar and Planetary Laboratory, HiRISE principal investigator. "I was surprised by the diversity of morphology of the thick dust mantles. Instead of a uniform blanket of smooth dust, there are often intricate patterns due to the action of the wind and perhaps light cementation from atmospheric volatiles."
Paul Geissler of the U.S. Geological Survey, Flagstaff, Ariz., has discovered from HiRISE images that dark streaks coming from Victoria Crater probably consist of streaks of dark sand blown out from the crater onto the surface. Scientists had wondered if wind might have blown away lighter-colored surface material, exposing a darker underlying surface. Geissler is comparing HiRISE images to images taken by NASA's Mars Exploration Rover Opportunity rover at Victoria Crater.
Bridges is lead author and McEwen is a co-author on the paper titled "Windy Mars: A dynamic planet as seen by the HiRISE camera" in Geophysical Research Letters in December.
Information about the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter spacecraft is online at http://www.nasa.gov/mro . The mission is managed by JPL, a division of the California Institute of Technology, Pasadena, for the NASA Science Mission Directorate, Washington, D.C. Lockheed Martin Space Systems, Denver, is the prime contractor and built the spacecraft. Ball Aerospace & Technologies Corp., Boulder, Colo., built the HiRISE camera operated by The University of Arizona, Tucson.

Sunday, January 20, 2008

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Vision For Space Exploration Four Year Scorecard


Fair shape, but slipping behind. I hope the next President doesn't slow it down more.

Science versus Exploration


More on the Presidential Candidates


Looks about the same:
Clinton: good
Obama: weasel words with 5 year delay in Constellation
Things are looking better for McCain:
John McCain, also in Florida back in February, said he “strongly supports” missions to Mars and Florida’s role in space exploration,

Moon Dust Will Be A Problem


Ulysses' Odyssey

around the Sun:


Mars Cloud Mystery





Comet Update


Global Warming...

at Saturn's Poles:

Mars Rover Birthday Story


Space Race Update


The more countries racing the better!

Presidental Candidates on Space


I edited out the ones who are out or have no chance:

Hillary Clinton
"Hillary will enhance American leadership in space, including:
Pursuing an ambitious 21st century Space Exploration Program, by implementing a balanced strategy of robust human spaceflight, expanded robotic spaceflight, and enhanced space science activities.
Developing a comprehensive space-based Earth Sciences agenda, including full funding for NASA's Earth Sciences program and a space-based Climate Change Initiative that will help us secure the scientific knowledge we need to combat global warming.
Promoting American leadership in aeronautics by reversing funding cuts to NASA's and FAA's aeronautics R&D budget."
Source: HillaryClinton.com

Sounds good.
Barack Obama
"Barack Obama's early education and K-12 plan package costs about $18 billion per year. He will maintain fiscal responsibility and prevent any increase in the deficit by offsetting cuts and revenue sources in other parts of the government. The early education plan will be paid for by delaying the NASA Constellation Program for five years"
Source: BarackObama.com

Hmmm. I guess he is out.
Rudy Giuliani

Not much to go on.
Mike Huckabee
In response to the following question: "Is there a candidate amongst you willing to take a pledge on behalf of the Mars Society of sending an American to the surface of Mars by 2020? If not, what is your vision for human space exploration?"
"Whether we ought to go to Mars is not a decision that I would want to make, but I would certainly want to make sure that we expand the space program, because every one of us who are sitting here tonight have our lives dramatically improved because there was a space program — whether it's these screens that we see or the incredible electronics that we use, including the GPS systems that got many of you to this arena tonight.
"Some of you were late because you didn't have one, by the way. Or whether it's the medical technologies that saved many of our lives or the lives or our families, it's the direct result of the space program, and we need to put more money into science and technology and exploration.
"Now, whether we need to send somebody to Mars, I don't know. But I'll tell you what: If we do, I've got a few suggestions, and maybe Hillary could be on the first rocket to Mars."
Source: Republican Presidential Debate, November 28, 2007

Sounds promising, but mostly a platitude; no committment.
John McCain
"When asked about their candidates' positions on the moon-Mars project, a spokeswoman for Sen. John McCain (Ariz.) did not respond."
Source: Washington Post, "Clinton Favors Future Human Spaceflight"

Hmmm. Not good
Mitt Romney
"Former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney's campaign responded by providing an article from the Florida Today newspaper that said: 'During the first campaign visit to the Space Coast by a 2008 presidential candidate, Republican Mitt Romney said he supports Bush's vision for space exploration and has no reason yet to propose a new direction.'"
Source: Washington Post, "Clinton Favors Future Human Spaceflight"

Now you are talking!
Fred Thompson
Nothing I could find beyond missile defense.

He's out.
Based on this, Clinton and Romney sound the best. Obama is definitely out. If Constellation gets delayed 5 years it is dead.

Venus Update


Beyond the James Webb Space Telescope

We need a mix of sizes.

Inflatable Moon Habitat


I predict the Space Shuttle Will Fly Beyond 2010

This article talks about one reason: http://www.thespacereview.com/article/1034/1

but I think Congress and the next President won't want to take the heat for not being in space for 4 years (assuming everything goes according to plan).

Venus Lightning

NEWS RELEASE: 2007137 Nov. 28, 2007
NASA Scientist Confirms Light Show on Venus
Venus is a hellish place of high temperatures and crushing air pressure. The European Space Agency's Venus Express mission adds into this mix the first confirmation that the Venusian atmosphere generates its own lightning. The discovery is part of the Venus Express science findings that appear in a special section of the Nov. 29 issue of the journal Nature.
"In addition to all the pressure and heat, we can confirm there is lightning on Venus -- maybe even more activity than there is here on Earth," said Christopher Russell, a NASA-sponsored scientist on Venus Express from the University of California, Los Angeles, and lead author of one of the Nature papers. "Not a very good place to vacation, that is for sure."
The discovery puts Venus in elite planetary company. Scientists currently know of only three other planetary bodies in the entire universe that generate lightning -- Earth, Jupiter and Saturn. Lightning on Venus -- as well as on any other planet -- is an important discovery because the electrical discharges drive the chemistry of an atmosphere by breaking molecules into fragments that can then join with other fragments in unexpected ways. The lightning on Venus is unique from that found on Earth, Jupiter and Saturn in that it is the only lightning known that is not associated with water clouds. Instead, on Venus, the lightning is associated with clouds of sulfuric acid.
Any future missions to the second rock from the sun may have to take into account the electrical activity in the Venusian atmosphere.
The confirming measurements of the electrical discharges were made with data obtained by the Venus Express magnetometer instrument provided by the Space Research Institute in Graz, Austria. The measurements were taken once a day for two minutes, during a period when the spacecraft was closest to Venus. A Venusian day is about 117 days long.
With its primary mission completed, Venus Express will now embark upon its extended mission to watch Earth's nearest planetary neighbor for two more Venusian days. Among other things, it will look for the telltale infrared radiation from lava flows. In 2010, when a Japanese mission, Venus Climate Orbiter, also called Planet-C, arrives at Venus, scientists will be able to compare results from the two spacecraft.
More than 250 scientists and engineers across Europe are involved in the Venus Express mission, supported by their institutes and national space agencies. The mission also sees the contribution of scientists from Russia and Japan, as well as from NASA, which sponsors 15 American Venus Express scientists and provides support to the radio science investigation via its Deep Space Network antennas.
Related images and graphics are online at www.esa.int/venus .

The Dark Side of Mercury