This last week we said goodbye to a truly pioneering space telescope. The Kepler mission was designed to find exoplanets, planets that orbit around other stars. The mission succeeded beyond everyone’s expectations.
This little space telescope monitored over 500,000 stars during it’s mission, watching for the minuscule dip in brightness as a panet passed in front of the star. For nine years Kepler stared at those thousands of stars, during that time it discovered over 2,600 exoplanets. Along with the planets came a long list of other discoveries such as binary stars, variable stars, and novae.
After nine productive years this engine of discovery has come to an end. With the spacecraft out of fuel NASA flight engineers sent the last commands, shutting the spacecraft down.
The Keck Observatory and the Kepler Spacecraft had a great partnership. It was not possible to confirm most Kepler’s possible exoplanets using only data from the spacecraft. A large telescope using a high resolution spectrograph, like HIRES on Keck 1, would allow astronomers to not only confirm Kepler’s discovery, but to learn more about each exoplanet.
Early science results from NASA’s Juno mission to Jupiter portray the largest planet in our solar system as a complex, gigantic, turbulent world, with Earth-sized polar cyclones, plunging storm systems that travel deep into the heart of the gas giant, and a mammoth, lumpy magnetic field that may indicate it was generated closer to the planet’s surface than previously thought.
“We are excited to share these early discoveries, which help us better understand what makes Jupiter so fascinating,” said Diane Brown, Juno program executive at NASA Headquarters in Washington. “It was a long trip to get to Jupiter, but these first results already demonstrate it was well worth the journey.”
Juno launched on Aug. 5, 2011, entering Jupiter’s orbit on July 4, 2016. The findings from the first data-collection pass, which flew within about 2,600 miles (4,200 kilometers) of Jupiter’s swirling cloud tops on Aug. 27, are being published this week in two papers in the journal Science, as well as 44 papers in Geophysical Research Letters.
As the New Horizons data trickles back to Earth we are being treated to ever better images of this distant dwarf planet. Soaring mountains, glaciers of nitrogen ice flowing into ice caps that cover huge areas, a hazy and layered atmosphere, Pluto has turned out to be a surprise to just about every one. Those who expected an ancient cratered terrain have been presented with a surprisingly dynamic world.
Click on the image for more information, click again for the big version to really appreciate…
So last night a Russian satellite burns up over Waikoloa… And I miss it!!
Some of my friends and co-workers did not, asking me what it was this morning after personally witnessing it. There are videos all over Facebook. I am so envious!
The satellite was Cosmos 1315, a Russian signals intelligence mission launched in 1981. It re-entered just west of the Big Island about 11pm HST last night.
I have embedded a video below, the language is more than a bit rough, a few f-bombs. The language goes to illustrate just how dramatic the event was. Aside from the unfortunate choice of vertical format, the video is surprisingly good.
Several items stand out in the video… The giveaway that it is man made is the very slow speed of the object, not the high speed typical of most meteors. You can also see the satellite coming apart, fragments breaking away. Larger meteors can also do this, breaking up upon re-entry.
The guy (I believe Chris Jardine) identifies the object as a meteor, a good guess. I first thought meteor when I saw the video. I received word a bit later from Steve Cullen who passed along a link to information on the satellite. The gal thinks comet? We need to do more public outreach and education around the island!
NASA’s Dawn spacecraft has returned new images captured on approach to its historic orbit insertion at the dwarf planet Ceres. Dawn will be the first mission to successfully visit a dwarf planet when it enters orbit around Ceres on Friday, March 6.
“Dawn is about to make history,” said Robert Mase, project manager for the Dawn mission at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California. “Our team is ready and eager to find out what Ceres has in store for us.”
Recent images show numerous craters and unusual bright spots that scientists believe tell how Ceres, the first object discovered in our solar system’s asteroid belt, formed and whether its surface is changing. As the spacecraft spirals into closer and closer orbits around the dwarf planet, researchers will be looking for signs that these strange features are changing, which would suggest current geological activity.
“Studying Ceres allows us to do historical research in space, opening a window into the earliest chapter in the history of our solar system,” said Jim Green, director of NASA’s Planetary Science Division at the agency’s Headquarters in Washington. “Data returned from Dawn could contribute significant breakthroughs in our understanding of how the solar system formed.”
Dawn began its final approach phase toward Ceres in December. The spacecraft has taken several optical navigation images and made two rotation characterizations, allowing Ceres to be observed through its full nine-hour rotation. Since Jan. 25, Dawn has been delivering the highest-resolution images of Ceres ever captured, and they will continue to improve in quality as the spacecraft approaches.