“Dreams of Other Worlds”: Stardust and SOHO #WSW2013

Houston, we have lift off!

All week long for World Space Week, we will be posting exclusive excerpts from Chris Impey and Holly Henry’s new book, Dreams of Other Worlds: The Amazing Story of Unmanned Space Exploration. Each day will include an excerpt from a different chapter(s) about a different unmanned spacecraft, along with a picture of the craft that doubles as an iPhone background!

Today we have two excerpts. The first is from Chapter 6, and our excerpt talks about how Stardust was able to keep up with the intense speed of the Wild 2 comet to photograph it. The second excerpt is from Chapter 7, which describes “space weather”, which SOHO is able to track to warn us of any changes in our solar system.

Tomorrow will bring another chapter and another adventure, so stay tuned!

StardustMission controllers tried to sneak up behind Wild 2 to minimize the relative speed of the two objects. Even so Stardust was moving 13,000 mph, or five times the speed of a rifle bullet, as it flew through the glowing coma of the comet. It took seventy-two close-up photographs. That may not seem like many, but keeping the relatively small comet in the camera field of view during such a fleeting and high-speed encounter was a major feat.10 The images showed a surface riddled with depressions with flat bottoms and sheer walls, ranging in size from dozens of meters to several kilometers. The comet itself is irregular in shape and five kilometers in diameter. The features are impact craters and gas vents; ten vents were active when Stardust flew by.
The neatest trick Stardust had up its sleeve was gathering material from the comet tail. [...] All of the solid objects in the universe were built from microscopic dust particles—stardust. The probe was designed to capture material too small to see in its eight-minute ride through the comet’s tail and then its long ride home.
SOHOData from SOHO, and increasing concern over the impact of space weather, caused NASA to commission a new study in 2009. The resulting report provides clear economic data to quantify the risk to the near-Earth environment from episodes of intense solar activity. Extreme space weather is in a category with other natural hazards that are rare but have far-reaching consequences, like major earthquakes and tsunamis.34 It’s likely that more than once in the next twenty years there will be an “electro-jet disturbance” that disrupts the national power grid. In the 1989 event, the loss of some portions of the grid put stress on others and led to a cascade affect. The end result was power outages affecting more than 130 million people and covering half the country.
SOHO cannot prevent these natural disasters, but it can give two or three days’ notice of Earth-directed disturbances. And as we become more accurate in anticipating space storms, operators can place satellites in protective modes, shut down or limit power grids, redirect commercial flights, warn oceanic cruise and cargo ships, and place astronauts working on the International Space Station in the safest possible location on the station. Such steps will not only save lives but also protect the information systems that sustain our electronically fragile and networked global community.

Think you know all about these missions? Take our quiz and find out!
Proud of your score? Tweet it! #WSW2013

“Dreams of Other Worlds”: Voyager and Cassini #WSW2013

Houston, we have lift off!

All week long for World Space Week, we will be posting exclusive excerpts from Chris Impey and Holly Henry’s new book, Dreams of Other Worlds: The Amazing Story of Unmanned Space Exploration. Each day will include an excerpt from a different chapter(s) about a different unmanned spacecraft, along with a picture of the craft that doubles as an iPhone background!

Today we have two excerpts. The first is from Chapter 4, and our excerpt does its best to describe exactly how far away the Voyager spacecrafts are, and how completely wild that is. The second excerpt is from Chapter 5, which describes the way in which Cassini travels around Saturn without getting sucked into its gravitational pull.

Tomorrow will bring another chapter and another adventure, so stay tuned!

voyager77-13To see why these spacecraft represented such a leap in our voyaging through space, consider a scale model of the Solar System where the Earth is the size of a golf ball. On this scale, the Moon is a grape where the two objects are held apart with outstretched arms. That gap is the farthest humans have ever traveled, and it took $150 billion at 2011 prices to get two dozen men there. Mars on this scale is the size of a large marble at the distance of
1,100 feet at its closest approach. As we’ve seen, it took an arduous effort spanning more than a decade before NASA successfully landed a probe on our nearest neighbor. A very deep breath is needed to explore the outer Solar System. In our scale model, Jupiter and Saturn are large beach balls 1.5 and 3.5 miles away from Earth, respectively, and Uranus and Neptune are soccer balls 7 and 12 miles from the Earth. This large step up in distance was a great challenge for spacecraft designers and engineers. On this scale, the Voyager 1 and 2 spacecraft are metallic “motes of dust” 48 and 37 miles from home, respectively.
cassini97-13Over its core mission, Cassini orbited Saturn 140 times. To see Saturn, its rings, its largest moons, and its magnetosphere from all conceivable angles, Cassini is using its rockets and seventy gravity-assist flybys of Titan to tweak its orbit size, period, velocity, and inclination from Saturn. As the largest moon, Titan isthe most useful in “steering” Cassini around the Saturnian system. Each Titan flyby is engineered to return Cassini into the proper trajectory for its next Titan flyby. Encounters with other moons are performed opportunistically with what’s called a targeted flyby. About fifteen are planned by the end of the mission, half to the intriguing small moon Enceladus. From 2004 through 2011, Cassini did a dizzying hundred flybys, with another dozen completed in 2012. NASA hosts a clock counting down the time until the next swooping visit to a moon and coyly calls these “Tour Dates” to appeal to a younger generation.26 By clever planning, NASA engineers have doubled the length of the mission even though just a quarter tank of fuel remains.

Think you know all about these missions? Take our quiz and find out!
Proud of your score? Tweet it! #WSW2013

“Dreams of Other Worlds”: The Mars Rovers #WSW2013

MERHouston, we have lift off!

All week long for World Space Week, we will be posting exclusive excerpts from Chris Impey and Holly Henry’s new book, Dreams of Other Worlds: The Amazing Story of Unmanned Space Exploration. Each day will include an excerpt from a different chapter about a different unmanned spacecraft, along with a picture of the craft that doubles as an iPhone background!

Today’s excerpt is from Chapter 3, and it talks about our strategy for learning more about Mars, and what the Mars Rovers, Spirit and Opportunity, are doing to help us with that.

Tomorrow will bring another chapter and another adventure, so stay tuned!

Decoding the Red Planet

As we saw in the last chapter, Mars seems dead to the orbiters that daily send back images of the surface. The atmosphere is tenuous, ultraviolet radiation and cosmic rays scorch the soil, and it rarely gets above freezing even on the balmiest summer day.15 It’s unlikely any form of life could exist on the surface now, but Mars has not always been so inhospitable. NASA’s strategy in searching for life in the Solar System is to “follow the water,” and even if there’s no surface water now, there was in the past. Each of the Mars Exploration Rovers, Spirit and Opportunity, was designed for just a ninety-day mission. In the end, they have vastly exceeded expectations with their indomitable traverses of the forbidding Martian terrain. Think of them as twin robotic field geologists whose primary goal is to search for the signposts of water.16 The record of past water can be found in the rocks, minerals, and landforms on Mars, particularly those that could only have formed in the presence
of water.

Think you know all about these missions? Take our quiz and find out!
Proud of your score? Tweet it! #WSW2013

“Dreams of Other Worlds”: A Chapter A Day #WSW2013

VikingHouston, we have lift off!

All week long for World Space Week, we will be posting exclusive excerpts from Chris Impey and Holly Henry’s new book, Dreams of Other Worlds: The Amazing Story of Unmanned Space Exploration. Each day will include an excerpt from a different chapter about a different unmanned spacecraft, along with a picture of the craft that doubles as an iPhone background!

Today’s excerpt is from Chapter 2, and it discusses what it was like when, in 1976, we first landed a spacecraft on Mars.

Tomorrow will bring another chapter and another adventure, so stay tuned!

The Vikings Reach Mars

On July 20, 1976, a small spacecraft emerged from a cloudless, apricot-colored Martian sky and fell toward the western Chryse Planitia, the “Golden Plain.” Its heat shield glowed as it buffeted through the tenuous atmosphere.27 About four miles up, the parachutes deployed, the heat shield was jettisoned, and three landing legs unfolded like a claw. At one mile up, the retrorockets fired, and less than a minute later the Viking 1 lander decelerated to six miles per hour, reaching the surface with a slight jolt.28 It was a landmark of technological prowess, the first time humans had ever soft-landed an emissary on another planet.
The twin Viking missions were the most complex planetary probes ever designed. Their total price tag was around $1 billion, equivalent to $4 billion today after adjusting for inflation. That can be compared to the $80 million cost of Mariner 4. Mission planners were well aware of the challenges; the Soviets had previously failed four times to soft land on Mars.29 Each Viking consisted of an orbiter designed to image the planet and a lander equipped to carry out detailed experiments on the surface.30 For the most part, the hardware worked flawlessly, but there were tense moments for the engineers and scientists on the team. After ten months and 100 million miles of traveling, the Vikings reached Mars two weeks apart.

Think you know all about these missions? Take our quiz and find out!
Proud of your score? Tweet it! #WSW2013

Welcome to World Space Week! #WSW2013

In honor of the 2013 World Space Week, we are celebrating all week long with all sorts of space-themed articles, quizzes, pictures, and more! To start of the week, which last from October 4th-10th, we put together a little quiz about some of the most famous and important unmanned space explorations in our nation’s history.
Feeling a little stumped? Fear not! Pick up a copy of Chris Impey and Holly Henry’s brand new book, titled Dreams of Other Worlds: The Amazing Story of Unmanned Space Exploration, which talks all about spacecrafts, probes, telescopes, rovers, and of course, the solar system.



Comment what your score is below and if you want to see the answers, click here.
Proud of your score? Tweet it! #WSW2013

Happy Space Week!

William H. Waller Brings the Stars to The Huffington Post

William H. WallerWilliam H. Waller, astronomist and author of The Milky Way: An Insider’s Guide, recently wrote an article that was picked up by The Huffington Post for their blog. Based on this bio page that was also posted for Waller on HuffPost, we’re hoping this means he will be writing regularly about science and the stars, especially with some of the amazing pictures included in the article.


The post, which focuses on our ability to visibly see the Milky Way with all of the light pollution in the air, starts by saying:

The Milky Way“For most of human history, the night sky demanded our attention. The shape-shifting Moon, wandering planets, pointillist stars, and occasional comet enchanted our sensibilities while inspiring diverse tales of origin. The Milky Way, in particular, exerted a powerful presence on our distant ancestors. Rippling across the firmament, this irregular band of ghostly light evoked myriad myths of life and death among the stars. In 1609, Galileo Galilei pointed his telescope heavenward and discovered that the Milky Way is “nothing but a congeries of innumerable stars grouped together in clusters.” Fast forward 400 years to the present day, and we find that the Milky Way has all but disappeared from our collective consciousness. Where did it go?”

To read the rest of the article on The Huffington Post, click here.


This book offers an intimate guide to the Milky Way, taking readers on a grand tour of our home Galaxy’s structure, genesis, and evolution, based on the latest astronomical findings. In engaging language, it tells how the Milky Way congealed from blobs of gas and dark matter into a spinning starry abode brimming with diverse planetary systems–some of which may be hosting myriad life forms and perhaps even other technologically communicative species.

Waller makes the case that our very existence is inextricably linked to the Galaxy that spawned us. Through this book, readers can become well-informed galactic “insiders”–ready to imagine humanity’s next steps as fully engaged citizens of the Milky Way.

William H. Waller is an astronomer, science educator, and writer. He lives with his family in Rockport, Massachusetts, where he can still see the Milky Way on dark moonless nights.

“Heart of Darkness: Unraveling the Mysteries of the Invisible Universe” Named One of CHOICE’s Editor’s Picks for 2013

Jeremiah P. Ostriker & Simon Mitton – Heart of Darkness: Unraveling the Mysteries of the Invisible Universe
One of Choice’s Editors’ Picks for 2013

The editors of CHOICE Review Online rave over Heart of Darkness: Unraveling the Mysteries of the Invisible Universe, saying: “Here is a new and welcome perspective on modern cosmology that any reader can easily grasp and appreciate. Excellent archival photos and a very useful appendix that clearly and simply explains some of the essential mathematical concepts add to the pleasure of reading this book. Written with authority and flair, this is one of the very best books on the topic. Recommended reading for any science buff! Summing Up: Essential.”

Heart of DarknessHeart of Darkness describes the incredible saga of humankind’s quest to unravel the deepest secrets of the universe. Over the past thirty years, scientists have learned that two little-understood components–dark matter and dark energy–comprise most of the known cosmos, explain the growth of all cosmic structure, and hold the key to the universe’s fate. The story of how evidence for the so-called “Lambda-Cold Dark Matter” model of cosmology has been gathered by generations of scientists throughout the world is told here by one of the pioneers of the field, Jeremiah Ostriker, and his coauthor Simon Mitton.

From humankind’s early attempts to comprehend Earth’s place in the solar system, to astronomers’ exploration of the Milky Way galaxy and the realm of the nebulae beyond, to the detection of the primordial fluctuations of energy from which all subsequent structure developed, this book explains the physics and the history of how the current model of our universe arose and has passed every test hurled at it by the skeptics. Throughout this rich story, an essential theme is emphasized: how three aspects of rational inquiry–the application of direct measurement and observation, the introduction of mathematical modeling, and the requirement that hypotheses should be testable and verifiable–guide scientific progress and underpin our modern cosmological paradigm.

The story is far from complete, however, as scientists confront the mysteries of the ultimate causes of cosmic structure formation and the real nature and origin of dark matter and dark energy.

Jeremiah P. Ostriker is professor of astrophysical sciences at Princeton University. His books include Formation of Structure in the Universe and Unsolved Problems in Astrophysics (Princeton).

Simon Mitton is affiliated research scholar in the history and philosophy of science and a fellow of St. Edmund’s College, University of Cambridge. His books include Fred Hoyle: A Life in Science and The Young Oxford Book of Astronomy.

Donald K. Yeomans Wins the 2013 Carl Sagan Medal

Donald K. Yeomans, the author of Near-Earth Objects: Finding Them Before They Find Us
Winner of the 2013 Carl Sagan Medal, American Astronomical Society

The Sagan Medal recognizes a planetary scientist for excellence in public communication. Yeomans will receive the medal during the AAS Division for Planetary Sciences annual meeting, Oct. 6 to 11 in Denver, and will be giving a talk on his book, Near-Earth Objects.
To read more about the award, check out NASA’s website here.

Near Earth ObjectsOf all the natural disasters that could befall us, only an Earth impact by a large comet or asteroid has the potential to end civilization in a single blow. Yet these near-Earth objects also offer tantalizing clues to our solar system’s origins, and someday could even serve as stepping-stones for space exploration. In this book, Donald Yeomans introduces readers to the science of near-Earth objects–its history, applications, and ongoing quest to find near-Earth objects before they find us.

In its course around the sun, the Earth passes through a veritable shooting gallery of millions of nearby comets and asteroids. One such asteroid is thought to have plunged into our planet sixty-five million years ago, triggering a global catastrophe that killed off the dinosaurs. Yeomans provides an up-to-date and accessible guide for understanding the threats posed by near-Earth objects, and also explains how early collisions with them delivered the ingredients that made life on Earth possible. He shows how later impacts spurred evolution, allowing only the most adaptable species to thrive–in fact, we humans may owe our very existence to objects that struck our planet.

Yeomans takes readers behind the scenes of today’s efforts to find, track, and study near-Earth objects. He shows how the same comets and asteroids most likely to collide with us could also be mined for precious natural resources like water and oxygen, and used as watering holes and fueling stations for expeditions to Mars and the outermost reaches of our solar system.

Donald K. Yeomans is a fellow and senior research scientist at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, where he is manager of NASA’s Near-Earth Object Program Office and supervisor of the Solar System Dynamics Group. He is the author of Comets: A Chronological History of Observation, Science, Myth, and Folklore.

Stuart Mitchner on Princeton University Press: “The University Publisher”

Stuart Mitchner has a very nice piece on Princeton University Press in the most recent issue of Princeton Magazine, which includes mention of several recent books and authors. To give you a feel, here is the introductory paragraph:

Princeton University Press celebrated its 100th anniversary in 2005 with the publication of A Century in Books, which showcased 100 volumes that “best typify what has been most lasting, most defining, and most distinctive about our publishing,” according to the introduction by outgoing director Walter Lippincott, who was succeeded in March of that year by the current director Peter J. Dougherty. The co- chair of the search committee at the time was University Provost Christopher Eisgruber, the University’s newly installed twentieth president and the subject of this issue’s cover story. What the provost said about the new director eight years ago could be said by the president today, that he’s looking forward to working with Dougherty “to sustain the healthy relationship between the Press and the University.”

To illustrate the depth of the rest of Mitchner’s piece, here is a slideshow of the important books featured in the article:

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

 

To read Mitchner’s full article in Princeton Magazine, click here.

Hello Earth — a photograph from the Cassini probe

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Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Space Science Institute

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This image has been circulating around the internet this week. It shows the view from Saturn’s rings, looking homeward to Earth (that tiny, fuzzy blue dot in the lower right corner of the photograph).

On the NASA site, they write:

In this rare image taken on July 19, 2013, the wide-angle camera on NASA’s Cassini spacecraft has captured Saturn’s rings and our planet Earth and its moon in the same frame. It is only one footprint in a mosaic of 33 footprints covering the entire Saturn ring system (including Saturn itself).  At each footprint, images were taken in different spectral filters for a total of 323 images: some were taken for scientific purposes and some to produce a natural color mosaic.  This is the only wide-angle footprint that has the Earth-moon system in it.

We have images like this and tremendous amounts of scientific data about the far reaches of our solar system and universe thanks to unmanned space expeditions like Cassini, Voyager, the Viking and Mars Exploration Rovers, and telescopes like Spitzer, Chandra, and Hubble.

I spite of our fascination with astronauts and manned expeditions, the heavy lifting these days is done via remote by unmanned missions and technology. To get the soup-to-nuts history of how unmanned exploratory missions have expanded our knowledge of the universe and our place in it, please check out the forthcoming book Dreams of Other Worlds: The Amazing Story of Unmanned Space Exploration by Chris Impey and Holly Henry.

Watch the Ring of Fire Solar Eclipse!

Tonight and tomorrow there will be a spectacular ring of fire solar eclipse; however unless you live in Australia, Papua New Guinea, or the Solomon Island you’re out of luck and won’t be able to view it in real life. Still, thanks to technology anyone can stream the eclipse live online! The Los Angeles Times are featuring live coverage of the eclipse if you’re in an area where you won’t be able to see it in person.
For everything you need to know about this type of solar eclipse, Space.com has a cool video explaining what will be happening:

And finally, for all things space related, check out these PUP titles:
The Milky Way: An Insider’s Guide byWilliam H. Waller

This book offers an intimate guide to the Milky Way, taking readers on a grand tour of our home Galaxy’s structure, genesis, and evolution, based on the latest astronomical findings. In engaging language, it tells how the Milky Way congealed from blobs of gas and dark matter into a spinning starry abode brimming with diverse planetary systems–some of which may be hosting myriad life forms and perhaps even other technologically communicative species.
William Waller vividly describes the Milky Way as it appears in the night sky, acquainting readers with its key components and telling the history of our changing galactic perceptions. The ancients believed the Milky Way was a home for the gods. Today we know it is but one galaxy among billions of others in the observable universe. Within the Milky Way, ground-based and space-borne telescopes have revealed that our Solar System is not alone. Hundreds of other planetary systems share our tiny part of the vast Galaxy. We reside within a galactic ecosystem that is driven by the theatrics of the most massive stars as they blaze through their brilliant lives and dramatic deaths. Similarly effervescent ecosystems of hot young stars and fluorescing nebulae delineate the graceful spiral arms in our Galaxy’s swirling disk. Beyond the disk, the spheroidal halo hosts the ponderous–and still mysterious–dark matter that outweighs everything else. Another dark mystery lurks deep in the heart of the Milky Way, where a supermassive black hole has produced bizarre phenomena seen at multiple wavelengths.
Waller makes the case that our very existence is inextricably linked to the Galaxy that spawned us. Through this book, readers can become well-informed galactic “insiders”–ready to imagine humanity’s next steps as fully engaged citizens of the Milky Way.

Near-Earth Objects: Finding Them Before They Find Us by Donald K. Yeomans

Of all the natural disasters that could befall us, only an Earth impact by a large comet or asteroid has the potential to end civilization in a single blow. Yet these near-Earth objects also offer tantalizing clues to our solar system’s origins, and someday could even serve as stepping-stones for space exploration. In this book, Donald Yeomans introduces readers to the science of near-Earth objects–its history, applications, and ongoing quest to find near-Earth objects before they find us.
In its course around the sun, the Earth passes through a veritable shooting gallery of millions of nearby comets and asteroids. One such asteroid is thought to have plunged into our planet sixty-five million years ago, triggering a global catastrophe that killed off the dinosaurs. Yeomans provides an up-to-date and accessible guide for understanding the threats posed by near-Earth objects, and also explains how early collisions with them delivered the ingredients that made life on Earth possible. He shows how later impacts spurred evolution, allowing only the most adaptable species to thrive–in fact, we humans may owe our very existence to objects that struck our planet.
Yeomans takes readers behind the scenes of today’s efforts to find, track, and study near-Earth objects. He shows how the same comets and asteroids most likely to collide with us could also be mined for precious natural resources like water and oxygen, and used as watering holes and fueling stations for expeditions to Mars and the outermost reaches of our solar system.

What’s for Dinner in the Milky Way

While for dinner tonight I am planning on eating some pizza as per usual, the Milky Way devours hot gas.

The Register reports that “the European Space Agency’s Herschel telescope has captured far-infrared images which appear to show the black hole sucking in a huge cloud of gas.” The images show the Milky Way’s black hole eating up hot gas like I’ll be eating up my pizza tonight.

Image via www.esa.int

 

INSATIABLE black hole in Milky Way’s heart crams hot gas into cavity

Space boffins have suggested the supermassive black hole at the centre of our universe may have a powerful appetite for hot gas.

The European Space Agency’s Herschel telescope has captured far-infrared images which appear to show the black hole sucking in a huge cloud of gas.

One astronomer said it looked as if the hole was “cooking its dinner”.

Set in a region known as Sagittarius A* at the middle of the Milky Way, the scarily huge hole has a mass of four million times that of our sun and is about 26,000 light-years away from earth. Nonetheless, this is by far the closest supermassive hole and is a source of fascination for space scientists.

Now the boffins hope their discovery will allow them to learn something about these interstallar maws.

“The black hole appears to be devouring the gas,” said Paul Goldsmith, the U.S. project scientist for Herschel at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, which assists the ESA with their Herschel mission. “This will teach us about how supermassive black holes grow.”

Read the complete article here: http://www.theregister.co.uk/2013/05/08/black_hole_milky_way_gas/

For more on the mysteries of the Milky Way, check out this new book exploring all aspects of our home galaxy.

The Milky Way: An Insider’s Guide by William Waller

This book offers an intimate guide to the Milky Way, taking readers on a grand tour of our home Galaxy’s structure, genesis, and evolution, based on the latest astronomical findings. In engaging language, it tells how the Milky Way congealed from blobs of gas and dark matter into a spinning starry abode brimming with diverse planetary systems–some of which may be hosting myriad life forms and perhaps even other technologically communicative species.

William Waller vividly describes the Milky Way as it appears in the night sky, acquainting readers with its key components and telling the history of our changing galactic perceptions. The ancients believed the Milky Way was a home for the gods. Today we know it is but one galaxy among billions of others in the observable universe. Within the Milky Way, ground-based and space-borne telescopes have revealed that our Solar System is not alone. Hundreds of other planetary systems share our tiny part of the vast Galaxy. We reside within a galactic ecosystem that is driven by the theatrics of the most massive stars as they blaze through their brilliant lives and dramatic deaths. Similarly effervescent ecosystems of hot young stars and fluorescing nebulae delineate the graceful spiral arms in our Galaxy’s swirling disk. Beyond the disk, the spheroidal halo hosts the ponderous–and still mysterious–dark matter that outweighs everything else. Another dark mystery lurks deep in the heart of the Milky Way, where a supermassive black hole has produced bizarre phenomena seen at multiple wavelengths.