Mars Rover’s Risky Ride

Descent of MSL

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On Monday August 6th, at 1:31 am EDT (0531 GMT), following a 254 day, 352 million mile (567 million kilometer) journey through the Solar system, NASA’s Mars Science Laboratory (MSL) will land its newest rover, “Curiosity”, on the surface of the red planet.

We hope.

In what is NASA’s most ambitious and risky Mars mission ever, the entry, descent and landing phase (EDL) is particularly hazardous. So much so, that the time from MSL’s entry into the Martian atmosphere to its landing of Curiosity on the Martian surface has even been dubbed by NASA, the ‘Seven Minutes of . . .

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Juno: Journey to Jupiter

Next Friday, the 5th of August, all things going as planned, I will be watching NASA’s latest scientific planetary mission launch into space, aboard at Atlas V rocket, from Kennedy Space Center Florida. The mission, named Juno, is a spacecraft bound for Jupiter, the largest planet in our solar system and the fifth planet from our Sun.

Juno is the second mission of NASA’s New Frontiers program, with the first being the New Horizons probe launched in 2006 and headed to Pluto. The program focuses on exploring the solar system with frequent (approximately one every 36 months) spacecraft missions . . .

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ESA’s Mars Express provides video of the week!

On June 1st of this year, the European Space Agency’s (ESA) Mars Express spacecraft was able to capture images of an unusual alignment as Mars’ moon Phobos passed in front of Jupiter (seen in background). The images were put together to form this amazing animation.

Mars has two moons – Phobos and Deimos. The origins of these names are a bit gloomy : Phobos, named after a Greek God, means “fear” and Deimos is a figure representing “dread” in Greek mythology. Phobos is the largest of the two, and the closest moon to Mars.

You can see quite . . .

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A Blast from the Past

Late last month, space and astronomy blogs and news sources were abuzz over the discovery of what may be the most distant event ever detected in the Universe.

The event was something referred to as a Gamma Ray Burst officially designated as GRB 090429B, and it was detected by the ‘Burst Alert Telescope’ which is part of NASA’s ‘Swift’ space satellite. The satellite, launched in 2004, orbits at an altitude of 600 km above the Earth.  Here, I take a closer look at what a “gamma ray burst” really is and why this observation is interesting.

A whole . . .

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The Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer: Searching the Universe for weird stuff

The Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer  (or AMS-02 for short) instrument  is a  cutting edge particle physics experiment which will make its way to the ISS for installation aboard shuttleflight STS-134, scheduled for launch on April 29th. This space based experiment is being led by Nobel Laureate Samuel Ting of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT).

According to a NASA press release in August, the AMS-02 will “use the unique environment of space to advance knowledge of the Universe, leading to a better understanding of the universe’s origin by searching for antimatter, dark matter, strange matter and measuring cosmic rays.”

So. . . .

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Endings and New Beginnings: Endeavour and the AMS

In April, the Space Shuttle Endeavour and her crew of six will make a final flight to the International Space Station.  Fans of NASA’s human spaceflight program have begun to mourn the end of an era in the retirement of the space shuttle.   

In other circles, excitement is building over the cargo Endeavour will be delivering to the ISS – the Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer or AMS-02 for short.   The AMS-02, a state of the art particle physics experiment, represents a scientific collaboration of 56 institutions from 16 countries under the banner of the United States Department of Energy (DoE).

. . .

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Fermi’s bubble find baffles astronomers

This week NASA’s Fermi space telescope made a discovery that is perplexing scientists around the world.  Fermi is a space telescope which detects gamma ray radiation - the most energetic form of electromagnetic radiation. In fact it is billions of times more energetic than the type of light visible to our eyes.

The Electromagnetic Spectrum.

This means that Fermi sees the immense energy of the most exotic and energetic phenomenon in our Universe: super massive black holes,  pulsars and streams of hot gas travelling at close to the speed of light.   This week Fermi and the astronomers at the Harvard . . .

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How to Catch a Comet

There is plenty of excitement for NASA this week with both manned and unmanned missions sharing the limelight.  Avid shuttle watchers are eagerly awaiting this week’s scheduled launch of Space Shuttle Discovery’s final mission to the International Space Station now scheduled for Nov.5th at the earliest.

Nov. 4th held a real treat: NASA’s  EPOXI mission made a very successful close encounter with a comet known as Hartley 2.  In fact this encounter is the closest a  man-made object has ever come to any comet – coming within 435 miles/700 km.  This is only the fifth time a spacecraft has . . .

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What’s NASA crashing into next?

Last year the infamous NASA LCROSS mission gained attention as the unmanned space probe was set on a collision course with the lunar surface.  On October 9 2009, viewers watched as footage of the crash event was streamed back to Earth.  The mission crashed a rocket into the moon’s southern pole while the LCROSS craft with all the sensors and recording equipment followed behind, analyzing the cloud of material kicked up by the impact, looking for water.  And water was found: on November 13 2009, scientists confirmed the presence of water in data collected from the mission.

It . . .

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Public Engagement: What’s emotion got to do with it?

A Case Study: The Pluto Effect

On the afternoon of 24th August 2006, members of the IAU present at the General Assembly in Prague were able to vote on a resolution to essentially classify what it meant to be a planet in the Solar system. 

With new so-called Kuiper Belt objects being discovered, it became apparent that the planet Pluto – heralded as the 9th planet since 1930, had company.  Astronomers were either quickly discovering several new planets or alternatively our categorization of Pluto as a planet was perhaps inappropriate.  Maybe Pluto wasn’t so special after all? This was a . . .

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