Tuesday, September 26, 2023

Asteroid Autumn


NASA has named the next season in 2023 “Asteroid Autumn”. Here’s why.

  • On September 26, we celebrated the 1-year anniversary of the DART impact of the 160-meter asteroid, Dimorphos, that orbits the larger 780-meter asteroid Didymos, changing its orbital period and proving that direct impact could be a means to avoid future Earth impacts from asteroids.
  • On October 5. NASA plans to launch a probe to explore the metallic 253 km asteroid, Psyche. The asteroid is primarily iron and nickel but contains many other precious metals and would have a value on earth of $10 quintillion ($10,000,000,000,000,000,000).
  • On November 1, the Lucy spacecraft will fly-by the 700-meter main-belt asteroid, Dinkinesh, on its way to exploring 6 Trojan asteroids that are ahead and behind the planet Jupiter in its orbit and one more main-belt asteroid for a total of 8 asteroids.

You have to admit, NASA has a lot of asteroid missions on its plate.

 It has been a while since I posted and Keith is experimenting with some Tik Toc videos, so I wrote a couple of short blurbs and thought they would also make good posts. Here is the first.

It was an exciting Sunday morning, September 24, 2023 with the landing of the sample return from the asteroid, Bennu, on the Osiris-Rex capsule. The probe was launched in 2016 and took a 2-year journey to the 500 meter or 1/3 mile wide asteroid. It orbited the asteroid for about 2 years setting the record for the smallest body ever orbited and then performed a touch-a-go sampling with the robotic arm penetrating over a foot into the asteroid’s surface, surprising scientists with fragility of its composition.

The probe then took 2 years to return to Earth, dropping off the sample capsule so it could scream into the atmosphere at 27,650 mph and decelerate at a maximum of 32 G’s and finally parachute down to the Utah desert at a sedate 11 mph.

Scientists hope that the capsule contains as much as 250 grams, a sample about one and a half times the size of a baseball, of pristine 4.5-billion-year-old rocks from the original formation of the Solar System.

The rest of the Osiris-Rex probe after dropping off the sample return capsule, fired its thrusters to avoid collision with Earth and will go on to orbit the 340-meter asteroid, Apophis, which will make an uncomfortably close fly-by of the Earth in 2029.

Monday, July 24, 2023


Blog for Monday, July 24, 2023

Summer seems to be starting to wind down but you wouldn’t think it was based on the high temperatures. The grass has recovered from the drought and is growing like a jungle. Thanks for the aerobic exercise opportunity each week, Nature.

In fact, grass cutting is the cause of the day late post this week, after cutting a neighbor’s grass on Sunday I couldn’t muster the energy to compose the post.

As a long term “heads-up”, I wanted to say that Joe DalSanto, astronomer at COD, is planning to give a talk titled, “The View From Earth, 400 Years of Astronomical Adventure” on Saturday, Oct 14 at 7:30 to 9 PM at the college. Reserve the date if the talk is of interest to you. It is free.

3 unmanned lunar landers will be heading for the moon – On July 20 we celebrated 54 years since Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin walked on the moon, now there soon will be 3 probes headed back for a soft landing. India successfully launched their Chandrayaan-3 probe on July 14 and it is scheduled to land at the moon’s south pole on August 23. Russia will soon be launching Luna25 on August 11. It has been over 45 years since their last moon mission. It will be headed for the Buguslavsky crater near the south pole and intends to search for signs of water ice. Finally, Japan’s SLIM Sniper probe is targeting an August 26 launch. The name, Sniper, comes from the spacecraft’s unique onboard camera’s ability to identify craters, measure positioning and pinpoint a landing. The primary goal is to demonstrate precise navigation and its shock absorbing landing legs. The US won’t be completely shut-out from lunar landings this year, we have 2 upcoming CLIPS (Commercial Lunar Payload Services) missions scheduled later this year. In the third quarter, Intuitive Machines will be launching its Nova-C lander on a Falcon 9 rocket and landing at Malapert A crater near the south pole and Astrobotic is planning a fourth quarter mission to land its Peregrine Lander. Peregrine is launching on the new Vulcan rocket and intends to land near the Gruithuisen Domes.

Sunday, July 16, 2023


Blog for Sunday, July 16, 2023

I’m glad that our MASS meeting was scheduled a week earlier, otherwise we would have been hunkered down in my basement last Friday at 9PM waiting for the tornado sirens to cease. Hope everyone finds themselves ok from our recent rash of violent weather.

SpaceX sets new record for booster reuse – SpaceX started the week with the launch on July 9 of 22 StarLink satellites and setting a new record with the 16th reuse of one of its booster rockets. Core 1058 set the record but many other cores are right behind with 15 and 14 reuses. The number of StarLink satellites launched is quickly approaching 4800. It was the 44th launch of the Falcon 9 rocket in 2023 and the 47th launch for SpaceX this year. They have a good chance of reaching their goal of 100 launches.

By the time I published this accomplishment, SpaceX tied the record of 16 launches with a booster on Saturday night, July 15. This time booster core 1060 launched 54 more Starlink satellites. With their booster landings on a barge at sea (now at 207 successful landings on both land and barge), SpaceX launches continues to amaze me.

Rho Ophiuchi Star Forming Region

Webb Telescope celebrates 1 year of operation – On July 12, 2023, JWST dropped a new picture of the star forming region called Rho Ophiuchi 390 light-years from earth. Even at that distance, it is the closest star forming region to earth. There are about 50 stars breaking out of their dust cocoons (yellow in the image). Molecular hydrogen is colored red in the image. The Sun probably formed out of a similar cloud with 10’s of siblings about 4.5 billion years ago. Astronomers hope that JWST will give us 20 years of great pictures.

Indian launches Chandrayaan 3 to the moon – On July 14, Indian launched its second attempt at a moon landing. This time the probe will attempt a landing near the south pole of the moon and it carries a small rover. Landing is anticipated on August 23. The considerable time between launch and landing is due to the low energy trajectory that the probe will take, making numerous ever-increasing orbits around the earth and then making ever-decreasing orbits around the moon. The lander is expected to last only 1 lunar day of 14 earth days. If successful, India will be the 4th country to soft land on the moon, joining the US, Russia and China.

Sunday, July 9, 2023

 Blog for Sunday, July 9, 2023

Going to keep today’s blog short. I’m working on last Friday’s MASS Meeting notes on our website and hope to be done and have them posted by mid-week.

We had a great meeting. The discussion about UAP’s (Unidentified Anomalous Phenomena) went well. Dean shared his early morning mysterious experience from some years back and Don relayed a strange observation he had had. We took the full 3 hours to discuss various other topics.

I did want to add that Beth’s recent trip in May to Washington, DC, where she posted a picture of her in front of the Einstein statue on the Mall, reminded me of a similar photo opportunity Carol and I had a few years back.

Here is Beth in May 2023

Here I am in Nov 2010

Just goes to show that science-oriented minds migrate to the same statue. Although, I might have been a little more aggressive with my hand placement.

Sunday, July 2, 2023


Blog for Sunday, July 2, 2023

It started out as a rough week with computer problems but fortunately my younger son supplied me with a newer computer and some infrastructure modifications and all seems to be working well except for my Uverse TV which is doing a lot of pixelating. But that will be a problem for the coming week.

Virgin Galactic first commercial flight – On June 29, Virgin Galactic flew 4 persons of the Italian Air Force and 2 Virgin Galactic employees. The Italians were all space rookies and they brought the total of people in space up to 659. The flight lasted only 14 minutes from the dropping of VSS Unity from the carrier plane, the powered flight up to 85.1 km (52.9 miles) and finally the landing on the New Mexico runway. So far in 2023, the number of sub-orbital people (12) outnumber the orbital ones (11) for a total of 23 this year.

Asteroid Day on June 30 – Celebrating the Tunguska event from June 30, 1908 where an asteroid flattened 2000 square kilometers of Siberian Forest. The Planetary Society did an event but otherwise it has been a relatively quiet celebration this year.

Euclid Telescope launches – The telescope launched on a Falcon 9 rocket from Florida on July 1. It will take 4 weeks to travel out to the L2 Lagrange Point 1.5 million km from earth like the JWST, but this European telescope is much different. It will be a survey telescope that will look at 1/3 of the sky detecting galaxies up to 10 billion light-years away and will use spectroscopy to determine the distance to those galaxies so that it can build a 3-D map of the universe. It will be limited to only 1/3 of the sky because dust in the plane of the Milky Way and ecliptic of the Solar System prevents observation of these faint objects. It will take Euclid 6 years to complete its survey but there will be a partial data release after 2 ½ years. The 3 major goals of the $1.8 billion telescope are: 1) how do galaxies change over time? 2) create a dark matter map by analyzing the distortion of galaxy shapes in its images; and 3) how does the expansion rate of the universe change over time? Those are all interested questions for me and I can’t wait until 2026 to start getting some answers.

Sunday, June 25, 2023


Blog for Sunday, June 25, 2023

It’s been a relatively slow week of news, but here are a couple of items I learned about recently.

OSIRIS-REx Sample Return -- In the June Planetary Society publication, they had a feature article about the return of the OSIRIS-REx (Origins, Spectral Interpretation, Resource Identification, Security- Regolith Explorer) probe with its sample of the asteroid Bennu. It’s been almost 7 years since it was launched on September 8, 2016 to the .5 km diameter carbonaceous asteroid. Scientists think the ancient surface of Bennu might have formed only 10 million years after the Sun making it about 4.5 billion years ago.

The rubble-pile asteroid surprised scientists with its rocky surface and the probe circled Bennu for 505 days before deciding where to take its sample. During the sampling process, people were stunned that the sample arm plunged 2 feet into the surface and created a flurry of dust, rocks and pebbles. Dante Lauretta, chief scientist, feels they might have gotten a 250-gram (a baseball’s mass) sample, far exceeding the 59.5-gram goal.

On Sunday, September 24, 2023, the sample return capsule will detach from the main probe, 4 hours and 60,000 miles away from Earth and then plunge into the atmosphere at a blistering 7.7 miles per second. Protected with a heat shield, the capsule will slow for 2 minutes before deploying its parachute and descending from 3200 ft to a 12 by 50-mile target ellipse in the Utah Test Range. With this heat shield protection, scientists will be able to analyze the material of the asteroid without it undergoing the heat and pressure that a meteor sample would endure.

The asteroid Bennu is known as a Potentially Hazardous Object (PHO) because its 1.2-year orbit brings it within 186,000 miles of Earth every 6 years. Astronomers calculate that it has a 1 in 1800 chance of colliding with Earth between 2178 and 2290. That’s a long shot, but the downside is it would take out an entire continent if it did hit us. The more we understand these objects, the better chance we have of doing something about it when there is a danger of collision.

Euclid Space Telescope to LaunchEuclid is scheduled to launch on a Falcon 9 rocket from Florida on Saturday, July 1. It will travel for 30 days to the L2 point beyond the moon just like the JWST. But Euclid will be a survey telescope meaning it won’t study individual objects. Over 6 years, it will survey 1/3 of the sky avoiding the plane of the Milky Way and the plane of the Solar System where dust would inhibit its observations. It will map galaxies out to 10 billion light-years away. Using spectroscopy, it will be able to estimate the distance to galaxies and create a 3-D map of the universe. It has 3 major goals: 1) how do galaxies change over time? 2) create a dark matter map by analyzing the distortion of galaxy shapes in its images; and 3) how does the expansion rate of the universe change over time? The first release of data will be 2.5 years after launch. All the mission’s questions are one of intense interest to me, so I can’t wait until 2026 for this first set of data.