World Space Week Round-Up #WSW2013

All this week for World Space Week, we’ve been posting excerpts from Chris Impey and Holly Henry’s new book, Dreams of Other Worlds: The Amazing Story of Unmanned Space Exploration, and while that’s an amazing book, we decided that in order to give World Space Week all of the cosmic attention it deserves, we would put together an interstellar round-up to fire up your engines and blast you to infinity… and beyond!

Beyond UFOs
Beyond UFOs: The Search for Extraterrestrial Life and Its Astonishing Implications for Our Future

By: Jeffrey Bennett

This book describes the startling discoveries being made in the very real science of astrobiology, an intriguing new field that blends astronomy, biology, and geology to explore the possibility of life on other planets. This book goes beyond UFOs to discuss some of the tantalizing questions astrobiologists grapple with every day: What is life and how does it begin? What makes a planet or moon habitable? Is there life on Mars or elsewhere in the solar system? How can life be recognized on distant worlds? Is it likely to be microbial, more biologically complex–or even intelligent? What would such a discovery mean for life here on Earth?

Titan Unveiled
Titan Unveiled: Saturn’s Mysterious Moon Explored

By: Ralph Lorenz and Jacqueline Mitton

In the early 1980s, when the two Voyager spacecraft skimmed past Titan, Saturn’s largest moon, they transmitted back enticing images of a mysterious world concealed in a seemingly impenetrable orange haze. Titan Unveiled is one of the first general interest books to reveal the startling new discoveries that have been made since the arrival of the Cassini-Huygens mission to Saturn and Titan.

From Dust To Life
From Dust to Life: The Origin and Evolution of Our Solar System

By: John Chambers & Jacqueline Mitton

The birth and evolution of our solar system is a tantalizing mystery that may one day provide answers to the question of human origins. This book tells the remarkable story of how the celestial objects that make up the solar system arose from common beginnings billions of years ago, and how scientists and philosophers have sought to unravel this mystery down through the centuries, piecing together the clues that enabled them to deduce the solar system’s layout, its age, and the most likely way it formed.

Fly Me to the Moon
Fly Me to the Moon: An Insider’s Guide to the New Science of Space Travel

By: Edward Belbruno
With a foreword by Neil deGrasse Tyson

Belbruno devised one of the most exciting concepts now being used in space flight, that of swinging through the cosmos on the subtle fluctuations of the planets’ gravitational pulls. His idea was met with skepticism until 1991, when he used it to get a stray Japanese satellite back on course to the Moon. The successful rescue represented the first application of chaos to space travel and ushered in an emerging new field. Part memoir, part scientific adventure story, Fly Me to the Moon gives a gripping insider’s account of that mission and of Belbruno’s personal struggles with the science establishment.

The Milky Way
The Milky Way: An Insider’s Guide

By: William 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. It 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.

Universe
The Universe in a Mirror: The Saga of the Hubble Space Telescope and the Visionaries Who Built It

By: Robert Zimmerman
With a new afterword by the author

The Hubble Space Telescope has produced the most stunning images of the cosmos humanity has ever seen. It has transformed our understanding of the universe around us, revealing new information about its age and evolution, the life cycle of stars, and the very existence of black holes, among other startling discoveries. But it took an amazing amount of work and perseverance to get the first space telescope up and running. The Universe in a Mirror tells the story of this telescope and the visionaries responsible for its extraordinary accomplishments.

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

“Dreams of Other Worlds”: Chandra and HST #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 10, and it describes some of the leaps and bounds we have been able to make in black hole exploration thanks to Chandra. The second excerpt is from Chapter 11, which talks about what is probably the most famous spacecraft, the Hubble Space Telescope.

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

chandra99-13Chandra has the sensitivity to detect stellar black holes hundreds of light-years away. Only about twenty binary systems have well-enough measured masses to be sure the dark companion is a black hole, but X-ray observations can be used to identify black holes with fairly high reliability. The examples studied with X-ray telescopes are the brightest representatives of a population of about 100 million black holes in the Milky Way.
X-ray observations have also pushed the limit of our understanding of black holes. In 2007, a research team used Chandra to discover a black hole in M33, a nearby spiral galaxy. The black hole was sixteen times the mass of the Sun, making it the most massive stellar black hole known.32 Moreover, it was in a binary orbit with a huge star seventy times the Sun’s mass. The formation mechanism of the black hole that placed it in such a tight embrace with its companion is unknown. This is the first black hole in a binary system that shows eclipses, which provides unusually accurate measurements of mass and other properties. The massive companion will also die as a black hole, so future astronomers will be able to gaze on a binary black hole where energy is lost as gravitational radiation and the two black holes dance a death spiral as they coalesce into a single beast.
hubble89-13Above all scientific projects, the Hubble Space Telescope encapsulates and recapitulates the human yearning to explore distant worlds, and understand our origins and place in the universe. Its light grasp is 10 billion times better than Galileo’s best spyglass, and many innovations were needed for it to be realized: complex yet reliable instruments, the ability for astronauts to service the telescope, and the infrastructure to support the projects of thousands of scientists from around the world. The facility and its supporters experienced failure and heartache as well as eventual success and vindication.
Hubble’s legacy has touched every area of astronomy, from the Solar System to the most distant galaxies. In the public eye, it’s so well known that many people think it’s the only world-class astronomy facility. In fact, it operates in a highly competitive landscape with other space facilities and much larger telescopes on the ground. Although it doesn’t own any field of astronomy, it has made major contributions to all of them. It has contributed to Solar System astronomy and the characterization of exoplanets, it has viewed star birth and death in unprecedented detail, it has paid homage to its namesake with spectacular images of galaxies near and far, and it has cemented important quantities in cosmology, including the size, age, and expansion rate of the universe.

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

“Dreams of Other Worlds”: Hipparcos and Spitzer #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 8, which talks about the first star charts, which were created by the Greek astronomer, Hipparchus (for whom the Hipparcos was named). The second excerpt is from Chapter 9, explaining some of the adversities Spitzer had to face before it was able to go into space.

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

HipparcosFor thousands of years, all we’ve known of Hipparchus’s star guide were descriptions by Ptolemy. But astronomer Bradley Schaefer asserts that, indeed, the Farnese Atlas, a statue of the Greek figure Atlas kneeling while holding on his shoulders a globe of constellations, represents the stars and constellations known to the ancient Greeks. He contends that the statue “is the oldest surviving depiction of the set of the original Western constellations, and as such can be a valuable resource for studying their early development.”18 Schaefer realized after a detailed study of the globe that the constellations depicted match the night sky in the era and from the location where Hipparchus lived in 129 BC. As evidence in favor of this possibility, Schaefer writes: “First, the constellation symbols and relations are identical with those of Hipparchus and are greatly different from all other known ancient sources. Second, the date of the original observations is 125 ± 55 BC, a range that includes the date of Hipparchus’s star catalogue (c. 129 BC) but excludes the dates of other known plausible sources.” Schaefer concludes that “the ultimate source of the position information [of the constellations on the globe] used by the original Greek sculptor was Hipparchus’s data.”

SpitzerSpitzer, from its earliest inception, was especially designed for infrared astronomy and is sensitive enough to detect infrared signatures of stars and galaxies billions of light-years away. The space telescope has been instrumental in unveiling small, dim objects like dwarf stars and exoplanets and can even determine the temperature of their slender atmospheres. Originally proposed in the late 1970s as NASA’s Space Infrared Telescope Facility, the Spitzer Space Telescope suffered from uncertainty, a delay after the loss of the space shuttle Challenger, near-cancellation, congressional limbo, budget cuts, and “descoping.” Nevertheless, in 2003 the telescope was finally launched, after being renamed subsequent to a public opinion poll conducted by NASA. The last of NASA’s four Great Observatories, the $800 million telescope was named after Lyman Spitzer, an early advocate of the importance of orbital telescopes.13 After launch, the spacecraft took about 40 days to cool to its operating temperature of 5 Kelvin. Once cooled, it took just an ounce of liquid helium per day to maintain its detectors at their operating temperature. A solar panel facing the Sun serves to gather power and protect the telescope from radiation.

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

“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”: 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