Total Pageviews

Tuesday, 30 June 2009

Volcanic Sunset Alert

Space Weather News for June 30, 2009

VOLCANIC SUNSETS:  The Russian volcano that erupted directly beneath the International Space Station on June 12th is now causing beautiful lavender sunsets across parts of the northern USA and Europe.  A plume of ash and sulfur dioxide from the Sarychev Peak eruption is circulating through the stratosphere,  and when parts of the plume pass over an area at sunset, the sky fills with delicate white ripples, sometimes-colorful streamers, and a telltale hue of purple.  Check today's edition for observing tips and a photo gallery.

Shuttle launch and noctilucent clouds point to Tunguska comet



Posted: 29 June, 2009

The exhaust plume of a shuttle launch that created noctilucent clouds similar to those seen after the Tunguska event supports the theory that a comet, and not a meteoroid, exploded over Siberia one hundred years ago.

"It's almost like putting together a 100-year-old murder mystery," says Cornell University's Michael Kelley, who led the research.

Following the event at Tunguska, and various shuttle launches, brilliant, night-visible clouds, or noctilucent clouds were observed. Noctilucent clouds, or NLCs for short, are high altitude thin sheets of clouds that reflect sunlight when the Sun is between six and sixteen degrees below the horizon.

The shuttle's launch exhaust creates a dazzling view over the Vehicle Assembly Building an hour after liftoff. Image: Ben Cooper/Spaceflight Now.

After the June 1908 explosion the night skies shone brightly for many days, notably in the UK, almost 5,000 kilometres away. Recent interpretations suggest these "glowing skies" were the result of NLCs.

The same NLC phenomenon was also observed after space shuttle launches in 1997, 2003 and 2007. A single space shuttle flight injects 300 metric tons of water vapor into the Earth's upper atmosphere, and the water particles have been found to travel to the Arctic and Antarctic regions, where they form clouds after settling at lower altitudes.

According to Kelley and colleagues, the shuttle exhaust plume resembled the same action as a comet breaking up and depositing vast amounts of water vapor into the atmosphere. They contend that the Tunguska comet would have started to break up at about the same altitude as the release of the exhaust plume from the space shuttle following launch. Just as the water particles from the shuttle found themselves in the polar regions, the cometary ice would have been swept up in eddies in the atmosphere and transported thousands of kilometres around the globe.

Felled trees as seen by one of the first expeditions to the Tunguska blast area. Image: University of Bologna,

The scientists have attempted to answer how this water vapor traveled so far without scattering and diffusing, as conventional physics would predict. "There is a mean transport of this material for tens of thousands of kilometres in a very short time, and there is no model that predicts that," says Kelley. "It's totally new and unexpected physics."

This "new" physics, the researchers contend, is tied up in
counter-rotating eddies with extreme energy that distributes the water around the globe extremely rapidly. "Our observations show that current understanding of the mesosphere-lower thermosphere region is quite poor," says co-author Charlie Seyler. The Earth's atmosphere is split into layers, with the troposphere extending from the surface, followed by the stratosphere, mesosphere, thermosphere and exosphere. The International Space Station orbits in the thermosphere at an altitude of around 350 kilometres.

Scientists have long argued the composition of the Tunguska impactor, falling into the two main camps of asteroid or comet. Either way, the explosion of the body was enough to flatten some two thousand square kilometres of forest and provide one hundred years worth of study and speculation.

The Cornell University researchers will present their research in the Geophysical Research Letters journal.

Monday, 29 June 2009

Let’s go back to the moon – and beyond

Monday 29 June 2009

As the 40th anniversary of the first manned moon landing approaches, backward attitudes here on Earth have tainted our view of lunar exploration.
James Woudhuysen

America, Japan, China and India have all begun what the Wall Street Journal calls 'The new race for the moon' (1). No doubt their motives aren't wholly pure; but it is those who attack the whole idea of lunar missions who most deserve criticism right now, for they too are in the ascendant. A popular, of-the-moment example is the new anti-capitalist movie, Moon. Describing it as a warning 'that couldn't be more timely', a contributor to the influential online magazine Slate insists, simply, 'Stay off the moon!' (2).

One thing unites the critics of lunar exploration. Forty years after man first landed on the moon – on 20 July 1969 – they share a disdain for the grandeur of extra-terrestrial endeavour; for the scale of human ambition involved; for the very idea that human beings should climb into space, as up a mountain, 'because it is there'.

I have no special preference for size, thrust during lift-off, or the traverse across vast distances. The development of the integrated circuit in the late 1950s, so important to the Apollo programme, was a tribute to miniaturisation rather than to high energy or physical scale. No, my admiration for both Saturn boosters and tiny electronics grows from a respect for open-ended curiosity, for human achievement, and for taking risks. With space travel, a lot of bravery was also at stake. And with both space and the development of semiconductors, there is much teamwork to celebrate – teamwork that, in the case of Apollo, involved not just three astronauts, but the efforts of hundreds of thousands of people.

List of Apollo moon landings:

Apollo 11:
16 July 1969 Success - first manned landing on the Moon (manual landing required), exploration on foot in direct vicinity of landing site.

Apollo 12:
14 Nov 1969 Success - mission almost aborted in-flight after lightning strike on takeoff caused telemetry loss, successful landing within walking distance (less than 200 meters) of the Surveyor 3 probe.

Apollo 13:
11 April 1970 Successful Failure - problematic oscillations on start, unrelated explosion in service module during Earth-Moon transition caused mission to be aborted - crew took temporary refuge in lunar module and eventually returned to Earth with command module after single pass around Moon and made it through reentry.

Apollo 14:
31 Jan 1971 Success - software and hardware problems with lunar module almost caused landing abort during lunar orbit, first color video images from the Moon, first materials science experiments in space.

Apollo 15:
26 July 1971 Success - first longer (3 days) stay on Moon, first use of lunar rover to travel (total of 17.25 miles (27.76 km), more extensive geology investigations.

Apollo 16:
16 April 1972 Success - malfunction in a backup yaw gimbal servo loop almost aborted landing (and reduced stay duration on Moon by one day to three for safety reasons), only mission to target lunar highlands.

Apollo 17:
7 Dec 1972 Success - last (and still most recent) manned landing on the Moon, only mission with geologist.

Reasons to stay earthbound

Today's anti-celestial prohibitions haven't really emerged because of new developments off-Earth. Of course, there is more 'space junk' for misanthropes, concerned always with mankind's filthy footprints, to bemoan (3). Also, American and Chinese militarists have redoubled their interest in space warfare (4). However, the main changes informing today's hostility toward space travel relate to terra firma.

Exceeding seven miles per second, the velocity needed to escape gravity, is no longer regarded as a dignified challenge in itself. Instead, even those who favour ventures into space fret about lunar travel today. Back in 2004, as NASA returned to the red planet with its Mars Exploration Rovers, then US president George W Bush tried to don the mantle of John F Kennedy in calling for a renewed conquest of the heavens, and the free-enterprise Hoover Institution, Stanford University, looked forward to 'a new American empire in space'. Yet despite the (very short lived) post-Iraq War atmosphere of American triumphalism in 2004, the Hoover Institution worried about US 'vulnerabilities':

'Entrepreneurial terrorists (pirates, in eighteenth-century terms) will attack the power lines and communications channels on Earth – and eventually in space – that make exploration possible. Space travel will also create vast new energy demands on fossil fuels and other non-renewable resources on Earth. Successful space policy requires that we take serious measures to protect vulnerable communications networks and pursue alternative energy sources.' (5)

Here the attractions of space travel were vitiated, in part, by fears – now reviving, in the face of buoyant oil prices – of 'peak oil'.

In keeping with the new century's premonitions of doom, getting into space is also now seen in desperate, instrumental terms. People worry excessively about energy shortages, and do not have the confidence to believe that solutions are available on Earth – not least, by harnessing the tidal power set off by the moon. As a result, there is more talk, à la Moon, of going lunar to mine an isotope of helium, 3He, as a low-radiation, cheap-to-engineer alternative, in nuclear fusion reactors, to the hydrogen isotopes deuterium and tritium (6). Going into space is also hawked as a means of protecting humanity from cosmic impacts, freakish weather, famine or nuclear war (7).

There's more. America's original space flight programme is seen as prompted not only, and in the main, by the military imperative of beating the Soviet Union in missile and related technology (which it was), but also by the thirst for knowledge about astronomy, space travel and extra-terrestrial life – by a 'burning drive to know new things' which itself, we're told, 'is a form of hubris' (8). And, consonant with today's reduction of politics to taxes and expenditure programmes, there is a renewed emphasis on what are felt to be the enormous financial costs of the original Apollo mission. These are contrasted with its allegedly 'minuscule' benefits (9). A similar tactic is to argue that going into space is all very well, but… why not use cheap robots instead of expensive human beings? (10)

Finally, there is a fashionable feminist angle to the criticism. Back in 1970, in his typical style, the American novelist Norman Mailer detected sex and the phallus everywhere around Apollo 11 (Apollo 11 was the first manned ship to land on the moon, followed by 12 to 17 between 1969 and 1972) (11). Ever since, feminists have joined him in identifying rocketry in general as an infantile male pursuit. In the 1980s, the slogan of the petit-bourgeois Greenham Common protesters against Cruise missiles was 'take the toys from the boys!'. More recently, a contributor to America's left-Democrat weekly The Nation attacked George W Bush's plans for space exploration by lamenting the 48 per cent of Americans that favoured them, adding that such people were 'disproportionately men, but you knew that' (12).

Today's inchoate, stop-the-world-I-don't-want-to-get-off-it political culture ensures that all of these criticisms come from different angles. Yet the history of assessments of the Apollo programme shows how vital it is to overturn all the negative contemporary verdicts that are now made on it. The amount and content of negativity about space has always reflected the amount and content of pessimism toward progress here on Earth.

Apollo's critics before and during Apollo

Twenty-six months before the Russians launched Sputnik in 1957, the radical American journalist IF Stone presciently anticipated something like it in America within two years, and suggested that voyages to the moon would follow. But he added that man was 'not a creature to be trusted with the free run of the universe' (13). Even, then, before Kennedy's election campaign had seen the future president warn that Soviet primacy in space could put America past its 'high noon' and into a 'long, slow afternoon' of decline, many people on the left were warning not just against missiles, but also against the whole enterprise of going into space.

In the wake of President Dwight D Eisenhower's famous 1960 warning about America's growing military-industrial complex, many other radicals failed to separate space technology, which is progressive, from its destructive military applications. A panic-struck hostility to the Cold War arms race drove hostility to the space race. Then, in 1964, the sociologist Amitai Etzioni, later an adviser to President Jimmy Carter and the inspiration for Tony Blair's reactionary ideas on communitarianism, reinforced this theme and added to it. Etzioni attacked Apollo as an escape from problems of poverty, health, education and civil rights (14). He also ridiculed the idea of useful spin-off, from Apollo, to the American economy.

We will come back to spin-off. Here we merely note that President Lyndon Johnson launched his 'Great Society' programme in the same year as Etzioni published his piece. Given that Johnson's programme shared Etzioni's themes of poverty, health, education and civil rights, it was not too surprising that the latter's idea of redistributing Apollo funds to worthy causes found few adherents. At this stage, even the threat of nuclear war was not enough to dent the optimism of American society and the hopes it had, naive or not, about moving into space. So it was, too, that Etzioni's fate also befell Martin Luther King's close collaborator and successor at the head of the civil rights movement in the US, the Reverend Ralph David Abernathy, who was the most prominent detractor from Apollo 11. Leading a modest march of his Poor People's Campaign to protest the diversion of resources to the cosmos, Abernathy found himself impressed by the actual launch of the rocket, proclaiming: 'I was one of the proudest Americans as I stood on this soil. I think it's really holy ground.' (15)

For a moment, civil rights and egalitarianism took second place to wonder. Dissent around the Cold War, and around the manifest injustices of America's economy and politics, could not overcome the allure of space.

The historiography of the Apollo programme

In 2006 the eminent space historian Roger Launius published an excellent overview of some of the main works in the enormous literature on the Apollo programme (16). For Launius, John M Logsdon's 1970 'classic' book, Decision to Go to the Moon, depicted Kennedy's policy, announced in 1961, favourably – as a neat, tidy, rational use of federal power for public good (17). As Launius notes, Logsdon's values were 'moderately liberal and for its time mainstream'.

Launius does not mention it, but the same year as Logsdon published, Senator Edward Kennedy attacked the space programme. Nixon was president, the Vietnam War was becoming bloodier and bloodier, and a major recession was mounting. Opinion began to turn against space.

The thrill of Apollo was gone, but space still had advocates. Influenced by the Club of Rome's Malthusian tract The Limits To Growth (1972), the Princeton atomic physicist Gerard O'Neill argued, in The High Frontier: Human Colonies in Space (1976), that mankind should make three 'islands' in space, because 'we suddenly find ourselves growing in numbers so fast that Earth cannot long sustain our increase' (18). Then, anticipating the presidency of Ronald Reagan, Tom Wolfe published a famous paean to America's astronauts, The Right Stuff (1979).

Despite Reagan's Strategic Defence Initiative and the can-do ethos of the 1980s, however, doubts about space multiplied – not just among radicals, but also among conservatives. Returning to Launius, we find that he names as his second 'classic' study of Apollo a 555-page, Pulitzer Prize-winning tome titled The Heavens and the Earth: A Political History of the Space Age. In that book, Walter McDougall, a diplomatic historian, invoked the parsimonious approach to state spending adopted by Eisenhower, and, dismissing the benefits of state-managed R&D as 'hypothetical', acidly observed: 'If the lasting benefits of the space programme were in Earth applications, then why not turn R&D money and management directly toward those programmes?' (19). As Launius remarks, having mentioned Etzioni's earlier assault on Apollo:

'With the publication of Walter McDougall's seminal work, while criticism from the left did not abate, Apollo also began to draw fire from the political right. It was a more sophisticated and subtle criticism, to be sure, but since 1985 it has escalated in the scholarly literature.'

With McDougall we can trace the beginning of distaste for space across the whole political spectrum.

Countering cynicism today

In 2009, with the end of left and right, the rise of environmentalist rebukes for technology and the spread of risk consciousness, reaction against space is stronger than ever.

The disasters with the Space Shuttle – Challenger (1986) and Columbia (2003) were blamed – respectively, on bureaucratic hastiness in the face of pre-launch whistle-blowing on engineering flaws, and on NASA's inadequate risk management (20). In more recent years, however, conspiracy theories have become still more popular: space missions are stigmatised as originating with Nazi missile scientist Werner von Braun (21), and the moon landings themselves are held to have been faked. The psychological problems suffered by the Apollo astronauts are widely referred to, and, at University College London, professional astrobiologist Dr Lewis Dartnell warns that lengthy sojourns in low-gravity environments will leave astronauts 'pretty chubby' (22). Yes, today's obesity epidemic stretches even into space!

The trump card of opponents of space travel today is the doctrine that the spin-off it gives to technology in everyday life is tiny. As it happens, this is a very weak argument in factual terms: one does not need to be fan of NASA to imagine that 10 per cent, say, of the 1,247 technological success stories that it reports are genuinely meritorious (23).

Yet facts are not the main way to combat scepticism about space. Who can say, at this stage, what the long-term benefits of space missions, or indeed of research into the sub-atomic world of particle physics, will be? UK science and innovation minister Lord Drayson wants to tie science, research and innovation into what he glosses as 'a new industrial activism' that focuses on sectors in which Britain has a clear competitive advantage; in which the growth opportunities over the next 20 years are significant, and in which Britain has a realistic prospect of being number one or number two in the world (24). But as with space travel, research into the unknown is defined precisely by the fact that one cannot predict in advance what one will find. As Einstein is supposed to have said, with his usual wit, 'If we knew what we were doing, it wouldn't be called research'.

The failure of space to present measurable outcomes, which could no doubt be measured by targets, is anathema to New Labour and to today's Third Way political leaders in general. For them, wonder, the desire to explore, to expand the boundaries of human knowledge and influence, always come a poor second to quantifiable benefits and tangible outcomes. In an era of philistinism and political low horizons, space travel is increasingly seen as a curious blip of the apparently overly positive culture of the 1950s and 60s, probably a mistake, and certainly something we shouldn't be to bothered with today.

Problems on Earth certainly need to be addressed. But to want to go into space is human. It is a good in itself, an expression of humanity's desire to conquer the unknown, discover more about our universe, and work together to achieve monumental goals. It is right, and it is more than proper: it is noble.

James Woudhuysen is author, with Joe Kaplinsky, of Energise! A Future for Energy Innovation, published by Beautiful Books. (Buy this book from Amazon(UK).)

Previously on spiked

James Woudhuysen looked back on the launch of Sputnik, and with it, the beginning of US self-doubt. Henry Joy McCracken reckoned that there should be more to space travel than delivering groceries to the international space station. He also advocated a a mission to Mars. And in 1997 he wondered why we still haven't walked on Mars? Joe Kaplinsky criticised Stephen Hawking for his fear-mongering defence of space travel. Or read more at spiked issue Science and technology.

(1) Michio Kaku, The New Race for the Moon, Wall Street Journal, 24 June 2009. See also Jay Barbree, President faces a Kennedy decision on space, MSNBC, 23 June 2009, on; Shino Yuasa, Japan's first lunar probe ends mission, Business Week, 10 June 2009; Xinhua, China mulls manned lunar landing in 2025-2030, China Daily, 24 May 2009, and Base station on moon is the next dream: ISRO chief, the Hindu, 10 May 2009

(2) Daniel Engber, Go to "Moon". Don't Go to the Moon., Slate, 12 June 2009

(3) Johann Hari, We're covering our planet with a cloud of space junk, Independent, 12 June 2009

(4) See A Fu Manchu of the dot com age?, by James Woudhuysen

(5) Jeremi Suri, The New Age of Space Exploration, Hoover Digest, 2004, No 2

(6) Michael Schirber, How Lunar Soil Could Power the Future, LiveScience, 13 August 2008

(7) William E Burrows, The Survival Imperative: Using Space to Protect Earth, Forge Books, 2006.

(8) Lee Clarke, Worst Cases: Terror and Catastrophe in the Popular Imaginatio, University of Chicago Press, 2005, p182.

(9) Robin McKie, Apollo ... the dream that fell to Earth, Observer, 21 June 2009. The sneering adjective 'minuscule' is McKie's quoting of the St Andrews university historian Gerard J DeGroot, author of the much criticised book Dark Side of the Moon: The Magnificent Madness of the American Lunar Quest, New York University Press, 2006.

(10) See Paul Boutin, The Case for Staying Off Mars, Wired, Issue 12.03, March 2004, interview with Lawrence Krauss, author (with Stephen Hawking) of The Physics of Star Trek [1995], Basic Books, 2007, and chair of the physics department at Case Western Reserve University, Cleveland

(11) See Norman Mailer, A Fire on the Moon, Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 1970, pp 140, 157.

(12) Katha Pollitt, Lost in space, The Nation, 15 January 2004

(13) See IF Stone's Weekly, Vol 3, No 30, 8 August 1955, in Neil Middleton, editor, The best of IF Stone's Weekly, Penguin, 1973, p301.

(14) Amitai Etzioni, In The Moon-Doggle: Domestic and International Implications of the Space Race, Doubleday, 1964. This work is out of print, but is summarised in Peter Dickens and James S Ormrod, Cosmic society: towards a sociology of the universe, Routledge, 2007, pp188-190.

(15) Quoted in David M Harland, The First Men on the Moon: the Story of Apollo 11, Springer-Verlag New York Inc, 2006, p132.

(16) Roger D Launius, 'Interpreting the Moon Landings: Project Apollo and the Historians', History and Technology, Vol 22, No 3, September 2006, pp225–255. Launius was NASA chief historian, 1990-2002, and is at the Smithsonian Institution's National Air and Space Museum in Washington, DC.

(17) John M Logsdon, The Decision to Go to the Moon: Project Apollo and the National Interest, The MIT Press, 1970. This book is out of print.

(18) Gerard K O'Neill, The High Frontier: Human Colonies in Space, published by the author in 1976 (William Morrow, 1977), quoted in Burrows, The Survival Imperative, op cit, p198.

(19) Walter A McDougall, The Heavens and the Earth: A Political History of the Space Age [1985], ACLS Humanities E-Book, 2008, p421.

(20) On the reaction to Columbia, see Brendan O'Neill, Is the "right stuff" wrong?, Christian Science Monitor, 5 February 2006

(21) See DeGroot, op cit.

(22) Quoted in Caitlin Moran, Greg Wallace or Danny DeVito: what's your cosmonaut of choice?, The Times (London), 22 June 2009

(23) For a list of the 1247, each with an associate pdf, see NASA TechFinder. For a single-page overview of some the maikn benefits, see NASA Spinoffs Fact Sheet. For some of the benefits of Apollo to the world of design, see James Woudhuysen, One small step, Management Today, July 1989 [Word format]

(24) Drayson, Innovation in recession and recovery, Speech to Scientific-Economic Research Union conference, Berlin, 6 May 2009

reprinted from:

Wednesday, 24 June 2009

Salt Finding From NASA's Cassini Hints at Ocean Within Saturn Moon

NEWS RELEASE: 2009-101                                  June 24, 2009

Salt Finding From NASA's Cassini Hints at Ocean Within Saturn Moon

PASADENA, Calif. -- For the first time, scientists working on NASA's Cassini mission have
detected sodium salts in ice grains of Saturn's outermost ring. Detecting salty ice indicates that
Saturn's moon Enceladus, which primarily replenishes the ring with material from discharging jets,
could harbor a reservoir of liquid water -- perhaps an ocean -- beneath its surface.

Cassini discovered the water-ice jets in 2005 on Enceladus. These jets expel tiny ice grains and vapor,
some of which escape the moon's gravity and form Saturn's outermost ring. Cassini's cosmic dust
analyzer has examined the composition of those grains and found salt within them.

"We believe that the salty minerals deep inside Enceladus washed out from rock at the bottom of a
liquid layer," said Frank Postberg, Cassini scientist for the cosmic dust analyzer at the Max Planck
Institute for Nuclear Physics in Heidelberg, Germany. Postberg is lead author of a study that appears
in the June 25 issue of the journal Nature.

Scientists on Cassini's cosmic dust detector team conclude that liquid water must be present because
it is the only way to dissolve the significant amounts of minerals that would account for the levels of
salt detected. The process of sublimation, the mechanism by which vapor is released directly from
solid ice in the crust, cannot account for the presence of salt.

"Potential plume sources on Enceladus are an active area of research with evidence continuing to
converge on a possible salt water ocean," said Linda Spilker, Cassini deputy project scientist at
NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif. "Our next opportunity to gather data on
Enceladus will come during two flybys in November."

The makeup of the outermost ring grains, determined when thousands of high-speed particle hits were
registered by Cassini, provides indirect information about the composition of the plume material and
what is inside Enceladus. The outermost ring particles are almost pure water ice, but nearly every time
the dust analyzer has checked for the composition, it has found at least some sodium within the

"Our measurements imply that besides table salt, the grains also contain carbonates like soda. Both
components are in concentrations that match the predicted composition of an Enceladus ocean,"
Postberg said. "The carbonates also provide a slightly alkaline pH value. If the liquid source is an
ocean, it could provide a suitable environment on Enceladus for the formation of life precursors when
coupled with the heat measured near the moon's south pole and the organic compounds found within
the plumes."

However, in another study published in Nature, researchers doing ground-based observations did not
see sodium, an important salt component. That team notes that the amount of sodium being expelled
from Enceladus is actually less than observed around many other planetary bodies. These scientists
were looking for sodium in the plume vapor and could not see it in the expelled ice grains. They argue
that if the plume vapor does come from ocean water, the evaporation must happen slowly deep
underground, rather than as a violent geyser erupting into space.

"Finding salt in the plume gives evidence for liquid water below the surface," said Sascha Kempf,
also a Cassini scientist for the cosmic dust analyzer from the Max Planck Institute for Nuclear
Physics. "The lack of detection of sodium vapor in the plume gives hints about what the water
reservoir might look like."

Determining the nature and origin of the plume material is a top priority for Cassini during its
extended tour, called the Cassini Equinox Mission.

"The original picture of the plumes as violently erupting Yellowstone-like geysers is changing," said
Postberg."They seem more like steady jets of vapor and ice fed by a large water reservoir. However,
we cannot decide yet if the water is currently 'trapped' within huge pockets in Enceladus' thick ice
crust or still connected to a large ocean in contact with the rocky core."

The Cassini-Huygens mission is a cooperative project of NASA, the European Space Agency and the
Italian Space Agency. The Cassini cosmic dust analyzer was provided by the German Aerospace
Center. The Cassini orbiter was designed, developed and assembled at JPL. JPL manages the mission
for the Science Mission Directorate at NASA Headquarters in Washington.

More information about the Cassini mission is available at:


Tuesday, 23 June 2009

Special shuttle fueling test planned / NASA probe goes into lunar orbit

    NEWSALERT: Tuesday, June 23, 2009 @ 2219 GMT
        The latest news from Spaceflight Now

Celebrate the eve of the Apollo 40th moon landing with legendary Apollo
Astronauts at an exclusive dinner in Coca Beach, FL and then join them the
following day at the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex for the
festivities. Visit to
reserve your seat today.

Shuttle managers plan to meet Wednesday to review procedures for a fueling
test next week to assess the performance of an alternative internal seal
and shim-like washers intended to eliminate a leak in a gaseous hydrogen
vent line that has twice grounded the shuttle Endeavour.

The Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter reached the Moon and successfully
performed the orbit insertion maneuver Tuesday, firing its engines for 40
minutes starting at 5:47 a.m. EDT.

University of Michigan researchers say they have found direct evidence for
lightning on Mars caused by a large dust storm.

The Cassini imaging team have released a set of never-before-seen images
and movies of the Saturn system to coincide with the opening of a
week-long celebration of the mission at the Royal Observatory, Greenwich.

NASA Moon Impactor Successfully Completes Lunar Maneuver

NASA Moon Impactor Successfully Completes Lunar Maneuver

MOFFETT FIELD, Calif. -- The Lunar Crater Observation and Sensing Satellite, or LCROSS, successfully completed its most significant early mission milestone Tuesday with a lunar swingby and calibration of its science instruments. The satellite will search for water ice in a permanently shadowed crater at the moon's south pole. With the assist of the moon's gravity, LCROSS and its attached Centaur booster rocket successfully entered into polar Earth orbit at 6:20 a.m. PDT on June 23. The maneuver puts the spacecraft and Centaur on course for a pair of impacts near the moon's south pole on Oct. 9. "The successful completion of the LCROSS swingby proves the science instruments are functioning as expected. It is a testament to the hard work and dedication of the entire team" said Dan Andrews, LCROSS project manager at NASA's Ames Research Center at Moffett Field, Calif. "We are elated at the results from the maneuver and eagerly anticipate the impacts in early October." During its swing by the moon, the spacecraft's instruments were turned on and calibrated by scanning three sites on the lunar surface. These sites were the craters Mendeleev, Goddard C and Giordano Bruno. They were selected because they offer a variety of terrain types, compositions and illumination conditions. The spacecraft also scanned the lunar horizon to confirm its instruments are aligned in preparation for observing the Centaur's debris plume. "Each instrument returned good data that the science team will spend the next few weeks analyzing," said Anthony Colaprete, LCROSS project scientist at Ames. "These data will ensure we are as prepared as possible for monitoring and interpreting data we receive during impact." LCROSS and its attached Centaur upper stage rocket are now in a long, looping polar orbit around Earth and the moon. Each orbit will be roughly perpendicular to the moon's orbit around Earth and take about 37 days to complete. Before impact, the spacecraft and Centaur will make approximately three orbits. LCROSS and the Centaur separately will collide with the moon at approximately 7:30 a.m. EDT on Oct. 9, creating a pair of debris plumes that will be analyzed for the presence of water ice or water vapor, hydrocarbons and hydrated materials. The spacecraft and Centaur are targeted to impact the moon's south pole near the Cabeus region. The exact target crater will be identified 30 days before impact, after considering information collected by NASA's Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter and observatories on Earth. Nine hours before impact, about 54,000 miles above the surface, LCROSS and the Centaur will separate. LCROSS will spin 180 degrees to turn its science payload toward the moon and fire thrusters to create distance from the Centaur. The spacecraft will observe the flash from the Centaur's impact and fly through the debris plume. Data will be collected and streamed to Earth for analysis. Four minutes later, LCROSS also will impact, creating a second debris plume. The LCROSS mission is providing mission updates on Twitter at:

For more information about NASA's LCROSS mission, visit:

- end -

NASA Lunar Mission Successfully Enters Moon Orbit

GREENBELT, Md. -- After a four and a half day journey from the Earth, the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter, or LRO, has successfully entered orbit around the moon. Engineers at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md., confirmed the spacecraft's lunar orbit insertion at 6:27 a.m. EDT Tuesday. During transit to the moon, engineers performed a mid-course correction to get the spacecraft in the proper position to reach its lunar destination. Since the moon is always moving, the spacecraft shot for a target point ahead of the moon. When close to the moon, LRO used its rocket motor to slow down until the gravity of the moon caught the spacecraft in lunar orbit. "Lunar orbit insertion is a crucial milestone for the mission," said Cathy Peddie, LRO deputy project manager at Goddard. "The LRO mission cannot begin until the moon captures us. Once we enter the moon's orbit, we can begin to buildup the dataset needed to understand in greater detail the lunar topography, features and resources. We are so proud to be a part of this exciting mission and NASA's planned return to the moon." A series of four engine burns over the next four days will put the satellite into its commissioning phase orbit. During the commissioning phase each of its seven instruments is checked out and brought online. The commissioning phase will end approximately 60 days after launch, when LRO will use its engines to transition to its primary mission orbit. For its primary mission, LRO will orbit above the moon at about 31 miles, or 50 kilometers, for one year. The spacecraft's instruments will help scientists compile high resolution, three-dimensional maps of the lunar surface and also survey it at many spectral wavelengths. The satellite will explore the moon's deepest craters, examining permanently sunlit and shadowed regions, and provide understanding of the effects of lunar radiation on humans. LRO will return more data about the moon than any previous mission. For more information about the LRO mission, visit:

- end -

Monday, 22 June 2009

Onboard video from Moon-bound launch / Defect may explain shuttle leaks

    NEWSALERT: Monday, June 22, 2009 @ 1530 GMT
        The latest news from Spaceflight Now

Looking for a job out of this world?
The top jobs and the best talents in
the space industry are on Space Careers.

Space Careers, a one-stop reference source
for employment in the space industry.

Hitch a ride aboard the Atlas 5 rocket destined for the Moon with this
dazzling footage provided by video cameras facing forward and aft. See the
liftoff and ascent through the clouds, the first stage separate, the
Centaur ignite and the payload shroud jettison.

A Malaysian communications satellite was shot into space Sunday after
being grounded for nearly a year due to damage caused by a launch site
crane accident last August.

A very slight "clocking" misalignment in the way a hydrogen vent port
flange on the shuttle Endeavour's external tank was riveted into the
structure is the leading candidate for what caused gaseous hydrogen leaks
that derailed two launch attempts June 13 and 17, the shuttle program
manager says.

The manager of the Global Positioning System network responded Friday to
growing concerns about potential coverage gaps in the navigation service
used to guide missiles to targets and tell drivers what's around the next

NASA's Mars Odyssey Alters Orbit to Study Warmer Ground

NEWS RELEASE: 2009-100                                                          June 22, 2009

NASA's Mars Odyssey Alters Orbit to Study Warmer Ground

PASADENA, Calif. -- NASA's long-lived Mars Odyssey spacecraft has completed an eight-month
adjustment of its orbit, positioning itself to look down at the day side of the planet in mid-afternoon
instead of late afternoon.

This change gains sensitivity for infrared mapping of Martian minerals by the orbiter's Thermal
Emission Imaging System camera. Orbit design for Odyssey's first seven years of observing Mars
used a compromise between what worked best for the infrared mapping and for another onboard

"The orbiter is now overhead at about 3:45 in the afternoon instead of 5 p.m., so the ground is
warmer and there is more thermal energy for the camera's infrared sensors to detect," said Jeffrey
Plaut of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif., project scientist for Mars Odyssey.

Some important mineral discoveries by Odyssey stem from mapping done during six months early in
the mission when the orbit geometry provided mid-afternoon overpasses. One key example: finding
salt deposits apparently left behind when large bodies of water evaporated.

"The new orbit means we can now get the type of high-quality data for the rest of Mars that we got
for 10 or 20 percent of the planet during those early six months," said Philip Christensen of Arizona
State University, Tempe, principal investigator for the Thermal Emission Imaging System.

Here's the trade-off: The orbital shift to mid-afternoon will stop the use of one of three instruments in
Odyssey's Gamma Ray Spectrometer suite. The new orientation will soon result in overheating a
critical component of the suite's gamma ray detector. The suite's neutron spectrometer and high-
energy neutron detector are expected to keep operating. The Gamma Ray Spectrometer provided a
dramatic 2002 discovery of water-ice near the Martian surface in large areas. The gamma ray detector
has also mapped global distribution of many elements, such as iron, silicon and potassium.

Last year, before the start of a third two-year extension of the Odyssey mission, a panel of planetary
scientists assembled by NASA recommended the orbit adjustment to maximize science benefits from
the spacecraft in coming years.

Odyssey's orbit is synchronized with the sun. Picture Mars rotating beneath the polar-orbiting
spacecraft with the sun off to one side. The orbiter passes from near the north pole to near the south
pole over the day-lit side of Mars. At each point on the Mars surface that turns beneath Odyssey, the
solar time of day when the southbound spacecraft passes over is the same. During the five years prior
to October 2008, that local solar time was about 5 p.m. whenever Odyssey was overhead. (Likewise,
the local time was about 5 a.m. under the track of the spacecraft during the south-to-north leg of each
orbit, on the night side of Mars.)

On Sept. 30, 2008, Odyssey fired thrusters for six minutes, putting the orbiter into a "drift" pattern of
gradually changing the time-of-day of its overpasses during the next several months.  On June 9,
Odyssey's operations team at JPL and at Denver-based Lockheed Martin Space Systems commanded
the spacecraft to fire the thrusters again. This five-and-a-half-minute burn ended the drift pattern and
locked the spacecraft into the mid-afternoon overpass time.

"The maneuver went exactly as planned," said JPL's Gaylon McSmith, Odyssey mission manager.

In another operational change motivated by science benefits, Odyssey has begun in recent weeks
making observations other then straight downward-looking. This more-flexible targeting allows
imaging of some latitudes near the poles that are never directly underneath the orbiter, and allows
faster filling-in of gaps not covered by previous imaging.

"We are using the spacecraft in a new way," McSmith said.

In addition to extending its own scientific investigations, the Odyssey mission continues to serve as
the radio relay for almost all data from NASA's Mars Exploration Rovers, Spirit and Opportunity.
Odyssey's new orbital geometry helps prepare the mission to be a relay asset for NASA's Mars
Science Laboratory mission, scheduled to put the rover Curiosity on Mars in 2012.

 Mars Odyssey, launched in 2001, is managed by JPL, a division of the California Institute of
Technology, Pasadena, for NASA's Science Mission Directorate, Washington. Lockheed Martin
Space Systems is the prime contractor for the project. Investigators at Arizona State University
operate the Thermal Emission Imaging System. Investigators at the University of Arizona, Tucson,
head operation of the Gamma Ray Spectrometer. Additional science partners are located at the
Russian Aviation and Space Agency, which provided the high-energy neutron detector, and at Los
Alamos National Laboratories, New Mexico, which provided the neutron spectrometer.

For more about the Mars Odyssey mission, visit:  .


Hubble Space Telescope...

Hubble Space Telescope Status Report

On June 15, 2009 at approximately 2:51 a.m. EDT, the HST Science Instrument Command and Data Handler (SI C&DH), installed during the recently completed servicing mission, began to send unexpected "zero" readings to the on-board HST 486 computer. Seconds later, the computer sent commands to put the SI C&DH and the HST science instruments into safe mode.Because of the SI C&DH's anomalous condition no science instrument telemetry was being reported, and Power Distribution Unit (PDU) currents and voltages provided the only indication of science instrument status. These data indicated that the Science Instruments had not transitioned to their safe states – indicating that none of them had received the HST486's safing commands. Engineers quickly concluded that the SI C&DH was neither receiving or forwarding commands nor processing telemetry. Other than these components, all HST spacecraft systems were nominal throughout and after the event.Beginning at 2:50 pm, attempts to send commands to the HST payload via the SI C&DH interface used for ground commanding were unsuccessful. As planned, the next step taken was to power-cycle the SI C&DH – that is, to turn it off and then on again. The power cycle succeeded just before 4 pm, restoring fixed-format telemetry from all payload elements. This telemetry indicated that each of the science instruments was in the state to which it had been commanded prior to the SI C&DH anomaly.Subsequently each science instrument was commanded into its safe mode by HST's flight controllers.Around 8 pm Monday evening, Hubble engineers recovered the SI C&DH to 'normal mode.' The science instruments will remain in their safe configurations while investigation of Monday's anomaly continues. Hubble engineers are assessing the risk posture of the science instruments from potential future reoccurrences of this anomaly.An Anomaly Review Board (ARB) will be convened to further evaluate the anomaly and make recommendations to the HST Program. We are presently looking at approximately a one-week delay to our planned Servicing Mission Observatory Verification (SMOV) activities.The Observatory as a whole, including the new and repaired instruments, is in excellent shape and activities not requiring the use of the SI C&DH (Gyro and FGS calibrations for instance) are proceeding.
NASA Updates Media Credentials Deadlines for Next Shuttle Flight

WASHINGTON -- NASA is updating its media accreditation deadlines for the next space shuttle flight to the International Space Station. Shuttle Endeavour is targeted to launch July 11 to begin mission STS-127. The 16-day flight will deliver a new station crew member and complete construction of the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency's Kibo laboratory. Astronauts also will attach a platform to the outside of the Japanese module. NASA postponed Endeavour's first two June launch attempts because of a leak associated with the gaseous hydrogen venting system outside the shuttle's external fuel tank. The system is used to carry excess hydrogen safely away from the launch pad. Journalists must apply for credentials to attend launch from NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida or to cover the mission from other NASA centers. To be accredited, reporters must work for verifiable news-gathering organizations. Journalists may need to submit requests for credentials at multiple NASA facilities as early as June 24. Additional time may be required to process accreditation requests by journalists from certain designated countries. Designated countries include those with which the United States has no diplomatic relations, countries on the State Department's list of state sponsors of terrorism, those under U.S. sanction or embargo, and countries associated with proliferation concerns. Please contact the accrediting NASA center for details. Journalists should confirm they have been accredited before they travel. No substitutions of credentials are allowed at any NASA facility. If the STS-127 launch is delayed, the deadline for domestic journalists may be extended on a day-by-day basis. KENNEDY SPACE CENTER STS-127 media accreditation badges already issued are still valid. Reporters applying for new or updated credentials at Kennedy should submit requests via the Web at:

Reporters must use work e-mail addresses, not personal accounts, when applying. After accreditation is approved, applicants will receive confirmation via e-mail. Accredited media representatives with mission badges will have access to Kennedy from launch through the end of the mission. Application deadlines for mission badges are June 24 for foreign reporters and July 2 for U.S. journalists. Reporters with special logistic requests for NASA's Kennedy Space Center, such as space for satellite trucks, trailers, electrical connections or work space, must contact Laurel Lichtenberger at by July 1. Free wireless Internet access is no longer available at Kennedy's news center. Work space in the news center and the news center annex is provided on a first-come basis, limited to one space per organization. To set up temporary telephone, fax, ISDN or network lines, media representatives must make arrangements with BellSouth at 800-213-4988. Reporters must have an assigned seat in the Kennedy newsroom prior to setting up lines. To obtain an assigned seat, contact Patricia Christian at Journalists must have a public affairs escort to all other areas of Kennedy except the Launch Complex 39 cafeteria. JOHNSON SPACE CENTER Reporters may obtain credentials for NASA's Johnson Space Center in Houston by calling the Johnson newsroom at 281-483-5111 or by presenting STS-127 mission credentials from Kennedy. Media representatives planning to cover the mission only from Johnson need to apply for credentials only at Johnson. Previously submitted accreditation requests will remain valid for a July 11 launch for non-U.S. reporters, regardless of citizenship, and for U.S. reporters. U.S. reporters who are U.S. citizens who need to submit new credential requests should do so by July 6. Journalists covering the mission from Johnson using Kennedy credentials also must contact the Johnson newsroom by July 6 to arrange workspace, phone lines and other logistics. Johnson is responsible for credentialing media if the shuttle lands at NASA's White Sands Space Harbor, N.M. If a landing is imminent at White Sands, Johnson will arrange credentials. DRYDEN FLIGHT RESEARCH CENTER Notice for a space shuttle landing at NASA's Dryden Flight Research Center on Edwards Air Force Base in California could be short. Domestic media outlets should consider accrediting Los Angeles-based personnel who could travel quickly to Dryden. Those journalists who previously requested credentials will not have to do so again. July 22 is the deadline for submitting Dryden accreditation requests for U.S. media who are U.S. citizens or who have permanent residency status. Because of the advance notice required for security clearance, Dryden cannot accept additional accreditation requests from foreign nationals or U.S. citizens representing foreign-based media. For Dryden media credentials, U.S. citizens representing domestic media outlets must provide their full name, date of birth, place of birth, media organization, their driver's license number and the issuing state, and the last six digits of their social security number. Journalists should fax requests for credentials on company letterhead to 661-276-3566. E-mailed requests to Alan Brown at are acceptable for reporters who have been accredited at Dryden within the past year. Requests must include a phone number and business e-mail address for follow-up contact. NASA PUBLIC

AFFAIRS CONTACTS: Kennedy Space Center: Candrea Thomas, 321-867-2468,

Johnson Space Center: James Hartsfield, 281-483-5111,

Dryden Flight Research Center: Leslie Williams, 661-276-3893,

For information about the International Space Station, visit:

For information about the STS-127 mission, visit:

- end -

Live Video of Lunar Flyby

Space Weather News for June 22, 2009

LUNAR FLYBY: Tomorrow morning, NASA's LCROSS (Lunar CRater Observation and Sensing Satellite) spacecraft will fly by the Moon and send pictures back to Earth from only 9000 km above the lunar surface. The purpose of the maneuver is to put LCROSS in an elongated Earth orbit and position it for impact at the lunar south pole later this year. Live video streaming of the flyby begins at approximately 5:20 AM PDT on Tuesday, June 23, 2009. Visit for links and updates.

NEW SUNSPOTS: Since 2007, it has been unusual to see even a single spot on the sun. Today there are two.  A pair of new-cycle sunspots is emerging in the sun's southern hemisphere.  This is a good opportunity for readers with solar telescopes to witness sunspot genesis in action.
New NASA Missions to Reach Moon Tuesday, Sending Back Live Video

WASHINGTON -- Two NASA spacecraft will reach major mission milestones early Tuesday morning as they approach the moon -- one will send back live streaming imagery via the Internet as it swings by the moon, the other will insert itself into lunar orbit to begin mapping the moon's surface. After a four and a half day journey to the moon, NASA's Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter, or LRO, will be captured by the moon's gravity and prepare for the commissioning phase of its mission on June 23. NASA TV live coverage of LRO's orbit insertion begins at 5:30 a.m. EDT Tuesday, with the actual engine burn to begin orbit insertion starting at 5:47 a.m. In addition to animation and footage of LRO, live interviews will be broadcast from NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md., with Cathy Peddie, LRO deputy project manager at Goddard; Jim Garvin, Goddard chief scientist; Laurie Leshin, Goddard deputy director for Science and Technology; Mike Wargo, NASA's chief lunar scientist in the Exploration Systems Mission Directorate at NASA Headquarters in Washington; Rich Vondrak, LRO project scientist at Goddard; and Craig Tooley, LRO project manager at Goddard. At 8:20 a.m. Tuesday, the Science Operations Center at NASA's Ames Research Center in Moffett Field, Calif., will stream live telemetry-based spacecraft animation and the visible camera images from the Lunar Crater Observation and Sensing Satellite, or LCROSS, spacecraft as it swings by the moon before entering into a looping polar Earth orbit. Live video streaming via the Internet will last approximately one hour. The live video streams of the LCROSS swingby will be available at:

The LCROSS swingby starts near the lunar south pole and continues north along the far side of the moon. The maneuver will put the LCROSS spacecraft and its spent second stage Centaur rocket in the correct flight path for the October impact near the lunar south pole. The swingby also will give the mission operations team the opportunity to practice the small trajectory correction maneuvers needed to target the permanently shadowed crater that will be selected by the LCROSS science team. During the swingby, the science team will make measurements of the moon's surface and the lunar horizon to calibrate the spacecraft's cameras and spectrometers. The LCROSS visible spectrometer will make the first near-ultraviolet survey of the selected locations on the far-side of the moon giving scientists a unique look at the concentration of minerals and elements in the lunar soil. LCROSS and its attached Centaur upper stage rocket separately will collide with the moon the morning of Oct. 9, 2009, creating a pair of debris plumes that will be analyzed for the presence of water ice or water vapor, hydrocarbons and hydrated materials. The LRO and LCROSS missions are providing mission updates onTwitter at:


For more information about NASA's LCROSS and LRO missions, visit:


For NASA TV downlink information, schedules and links to streaming video, visit:

- end -

Saturday, 20 June 2009

[BAA 00416] Summer Solstice Celebration Event at Pendrell Hall...

Don't forget the Summer Solstice occurs this weekend on Sunday morning at 05.46 U.T that's 06.46 BST-no Moon in the way so it should be a reasonably quiet and peaceful weekend-hopefully....

BAA electronic bulletin No. 00416

Summer Solstice Celebration Event at Pendrell Hall Observatories

Members in the area may be interested in the following event which
takes place at the Black Country Living Museum, Tipton Road, Dudley on
Sunday 21st June 2009 from 10.00 to 17.00 as part of the IYA2009

There will be displays and demonstrations, etc. in the conference suit
from 11.15 culminating with a talk on "Interesting Solstice alignments
in the North Midlands" by Kevin Kilburn of the Godlee Observatory,
Manchester at 14.45.

In addition, members will have the opportunity to observe with BAA
instrument No. 150, a Calver 7" f/11 reflector at the Wrottersley
Observatory (see JBAA 119,1.2009). It will also be possible to use a
restored Cooke refractor and other instruments with a wide range of

As an added bonus, it will be a "Steam day" at the museum with a
chance to see a number of engines in action including the 1712
Newcommen Beam engine.

Normal museum admission prices will apply.

Roger Pickard, President (

BAA electronic bulletins service. E-mail:
Bulletin transmitted on Fri Jun 5 16:09:04 BST 2009
(c) 2009 British Astronomical Association

Summer Solstice at Stonehenge:

This a free, one night only event to celebrate the summer solstice at Stonehenge, near Salisbury, Wiltshire.

There are a number of conditions, detailed in a leaflet given on arrival, that attendees are expected to conform to, to protect both the access for the solstice, as well as the stones themselves. Please read and respect these conditions.

There is less than 1 day until Stonehenge 2009:
English Heritage are again expected to provide "Managed Open Access" to Stonehenge for the Summer Solstice. Please help to create a peaceful occasion by taking personal responsibility and following the conditions (see below).

The car park (on the Western side, enter off the A303 from the roundabout - it's signposted) will open at around 7pm on Saturday 20th June, and close at around noon on Sunday 21st June. Note that last admission to the car park for vehicles is at around 6am.

Access to the stones themselves is expected to be from around 8.30pm on Saturday 20th June until 8am on Sunday 21st June.

There's likely to be casual entertainment from samba bands & drummers but no amplified music is allowed.

Van loads of police have been present in the area in case of any trouble, but generally a jovial mood prevails. Few arrests have been made in previous years, mostly in relation to minor drug offences.

Toilets and drinking water are available and welfare is provided by festival welfare services. There are normally one or two food and drink vans with reasonable prices but huge queues, all well away from the stones themselves.

Sunrise is at around 4:45am.

Rules include no camping, no dogs, no fires or fireworks, no glass bottles, no large bags or rucksacks, and no climbing onto the stones. Please respect the rules so that we're all able to enjoy the solstice morning at Stonehenge for years to come.
More information will be here when available.

Good Weekend all....

Friday, 19 June 2009

LRO Launches Successfully

Rocket launch puts NASA on its jouney back to the Moon
A robotic scout to reconnoiter the Moon like never before and a sleuth that will dig into a tantalizing mystery at the lunar south pole blasted off at 5:32 p.m. EDT (2132 GMT) today aboard an Atlas 5 rocket from Cape Canaveral. Weather delayed the launch 20 minutes.

Thursday, 18 June 2009

Summer Solstice Comet Report and Upcoming Astronomical Events for June and into July...

Don't forget-2009: The International Year of Astronomy (IYA)

Current comet magnitudes (June 17) and observable region (June 17)

  • Comet Magnitude Trend Observable When visible
  • Garradd (2008 Q3) 7 fade 40 N to 90 S best evening
  • Christensen (2006 W3) 9 bright 50 N to 40 S all night
  • Cardinal (2008 T2) 9 fade 10 N to 75 S evening
  • STEREO (2009 G1) 9.5 fade 15 S to 90 S evening and morning
  • Siding Spring (2007 Q3) 10 bright 5 S to 80 S early evening
  • 22P/Kopff 10 fade 50 N to 85 S early morning
  • Yi-SWAN (2009 F6) 10 fade Conjunction
  • 116P/Wild 11 fade 45 N to 55 S evening
  • 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko 11.5 fade Poor elongation
  • Itagaki (2009 E1) 12 ? fade 50 N to 30 S best morning
  • Lulin (2007 N3) 12.5 fade Conjunction
  • 29P/Schwassmann-Wachmann 13 ? varies Poor elongation
  • 65P/Gunn 13.5 steady 50 N to 50 S early evening
  • Broughton (2006 OF2) 13.5 fade Poor elongation
  • 88P/Howell 14 bright 45 N to 60 S evening
  • LINEAR (2007 G1) 14 ? fade 45 S to 90 S early evening and early morning
  • P/Yang-Gao (2009 L2) 14 fade 45 N to 70 S transits midnight
  • 77P/Longmore 14 fade 40 N to 60 S evening
  • McNaught (2008 A1) 14 fade 50 N to 30 N all night
    Comet Garrad (2008 Q3) is now around Magnitude 7 but its trend is to fade over the next few weeks it is visible most of the night into the early hours in the the Southern Hemisphere and is mainly a Southern sky Comet,
    Christensen (2006 W3) is around Magnitude 9 and brightening 50 N to 40 South and is visible all night.
    Cardinal (2008 T2) is around Magnitude 9 and its trend is to fade 10 N to 75 South visible during the evening.
    STEREO (2009 G1) is around Magnitude 9.5 and its trend is also to fade 15 South to 90 South visible in the evening and morning.
    There are 15 other Comets from Magnitude 10 to Magnitude 14-2 are Brightening, one is variable, one is steady and the rest are fading.
    If there are any reports of future dated bright Comets that may be seen with Binoculars or the naked eye I will let you know A.S.A.P.
    Astronomical Events for June and July:
    June 6th Venus at Dichotomy 9half phase)
    June 13th Mercury at greatest elongation West (24 Degrees)
    June 16th possible June Lyrids (see some)
    June 19th Venus Close to the Moon
    June 21st Summer Solstice, Mercury close to the Moon
    June 23rd Pluto at opposition.
    June 26th/27th possible June Bootids-favourable and worth looking out for
    June 28th Saturn is close to the moon
    The Planets for June:
    Mercury: Reaches greatest Elongation West on June 13th but is too close to the Sun to be seen in the morning sky.
    Venus: a brilliant object remaining low in the morning sky.
    Mars: starts to rise away from the morning horizon but has little to show at the moment.
    Dwarf Planet Ceres: still amongst the stars of Leo and an Early evening object now.
    Jupiter: Now rising just shortly before midnight low in the Capricornus, Aquarius Border.
    Saturn: Almost lost to the Western Evening twilight by now and is just about impossible to pick out now.
    Uranus: In the morning sky in Aquarius
    Neptune: rising before midnight and reasonably close to Jupiter
    Dwarf Planet Pluto: Reaches Opposition on June 23rd low in Sagittarius around midnight.
    Upcoming Astronomical Space Events for June and July:
    The Space Shuttle Endevour STS 127 will return to the ISS once all the problems have been aired out with the faulty Hydrogen valve and Umbilical-launch is now targeted for July sometime to be confirmed but will not be before July 11th when because of a Beta cutout:
    "We gotta step back and try to understand this problem. We will do that, I'm confident we will do that. It's going to take us a little time to do that," said Mission Management Team Chairman LeRoy Cain. "As a result of this scrub, we will be targeting our next earliest available launch date which would be after the beta cutout. That will be as early as July 11."
    This has given a Window for the LRO mission which should launch tomorrow evening Thursday 18th June from Cape Canaveral Air force station.
    3 Launches for the rest of June are scheduled now and possibly 6 to 7 Worldwide launches in July.
    During this Summer between 20th and 26th July will be the 40th Anniversary of the Apollo Moon Landings when man first set foot upon the Moon-should be quite interesting to see the footage of the Apollo missions to the Moon.
    The Moon:
    All times are G.M.T or Universal Time U.T (add 1 Hour B.S.T)
    New Moon is on 22nd June at 19.35 Hours U.T
    First Quarter Moon is on 29th June at 11.28 Hours U.T
    Full Moon occurs on 7th July at 09.21 Hours U.T
    Last Quarter is on 15th July at 09.53 Hours U.T
    New Moon is on 22nd July at 02.35 Hours U.T
    First Quarter is on 28th July at 22.00 Hours U.T 
    Lighting Up Times for June into July:
    All times are G.M.T or Universal Time U.T (add 1 Hour BST)
    15th June: 21.07 Hours U.T
    30th June: 21.08 Hours U.T
    15th July: 20.41 Hours U.T
    31th July: 20.19 Hours U.T
    Good Clear Skies.

    Wednesday, 17 June 2009

    Lunar Reconnaisance Orbiter Launches Tomorrow Evening...

    The Atlas V/Centaur rocket with LRO and LCROSS on top are on the launch pad. Image above: The Atlas V/Centaur rocket with NASA's LRO, and NASA's LCROSS, on top are on the pad at Launch Complex-41 on Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida. Photo credit: NASA/Jack Pfaller

    Hydrogen leak scrubs shuttle Endeavour launch again

    Posted: June 17, 2009
    After a lengthy fueling delay because of stormy weather, launch of the shuttle Endeavour on a space station assembly mission was scrubbed early Wednesday when a presumably repaired hydrogen vent line umbilical began leaking potentially dangerous vapor.
    The vent line, attached to the side of the shuttle's external fuel tank, carries hydrogen gas away from the shuttle so it can be safely dissipated. A leak in the same mechanism scrubbed a launch attempt last Saturday.
    Engineers replaced a seal in the gaseous hydrogen vent line umbilical plate Sunday and Monday and NASA managers were hopeful that would resolve the problem. A seal replacement worked last March when the shuttle Discovery was grounded by a similar leak.
    While Endeavour's vent line passed leak checks at ambient temperatures, the seal replacement apparently wasn't enough to resolve the problem. During the initial stages of fueling, engineers observed a relatively small leak rate that, while unexpected, was within specification.
    But as the tank filled and the temperature of the vent line kept dropping, the leak worsened. Engineers stopped the flow of hydrogen and cycled a valve in the system in hopes of clearing the problem, but they were not successful.
    They then resumed hydrogen "fast fill" operations to collect additional data. When the vent valve was opened again, however, higher-than-allowable levels of hydrogen gas were detected, up to 60,000 parts per million. Additional vent valve cycles also were out of limits.
    Finally, at 1:55 a.m. EDT, Launch Director Pete Nickolenko, overseeing his first countdown, reluctantly ordered a scrub.
    "We are scrubbing the launch attempt for today," said launch commentator Mike Curie. "The troubleshooting efforts have not resulted in a significant decrease in the amount of gaseous hydrogen that's being detected outside of the ground umbilical carrier plate, the same area where we experienced a leak the last launch attempt.
    "STS-127 Launch Director Pete Nickolenko has just given the team a 'go' to scrub the launch attempt after two more attempts to open the vent valve once again displayed much higher than expected amounts of gaseous hydrogen."
    Because of a conflict with the launch of NASA's Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter, scheduled for takeoff Friday atop a United Launch Alliance Atlas 5 rocket, NASA is not expected to get another chance to launch Endeavour until July 11 at the earliest.
    The shuttle's normal launch window extends through Saturday and a launch on Sunday would be possible if mission managers eliminate one of the crew's five planned spacewalks. The window is defined by temperature constraints related to the space station's orbit.
    But the Air Force Eastern Range, which provides required telemetry and tracking support, cannot reset its systems in time to support a shuttle launch Sunday even if the LRO mission took off on time Friday.
    At least that's what reporters were told earlier. NASA managers have not yet said when another attempt to launch Endeavour might be possible.
    Either way, it was a frustrating disappointment to Endeavour's crew - commander Mark Polansky, pilot Douglas Hurley, Canadian flight engineer Julie Payette, David Wolf, Christopher Cassidy, Thomas Marshburn and space station flight engineer Timothy Kopra - and to the NASA launch teams at Kennedy and the Johnson Space Center in Houston.
    If Endeavour is, in fact, delayed to July 11, launch of the next space station assembly flight, currently targeted for Aug. 7, would be delayed as well in a downstream domino effect.
    And that assumes engineers can resolve the umbilical plate problem in time for a July 11 launch. With today's scrub, leaks have developed at the vent line interface in three of the last five shuttle fuelings, indicating a potentially more serious problem than a misaligned seal.

    Endeavour fueling delayed due to lightning concern

    Stormy weather around the Kennedy Space Center will delay, at least temporarily, this evening's fueling of space shuttle Endeavour at launch pad 39A. NASA hopes the weather clears and activities can resume for a liftoff at 5:40 a.m. EDT tomorrow (10.40 BST).

    Mission Status Center:

    Countdown ticking for Endeavour's predawn launch:


    Engineers pulled a protective gantry away from the shuttle Endeavour and restarted the orbiter's countdown Tuesday, setting the stage for launch Wednesday on a delayed space station assembly mission.

    Endeavour awaits tomorrow's launch. Credit: NASA Countdown clocks at the Kennedy Space Center began ticking backward at the T-minus 11-hour mark at 1:15 p.m. EDT, setting the stage for a launch attempt at 5:40:52 a.m. Wednesday, roughly the moment Earth's rotation carries launch complex 39A into the plane of the space station's orbit.

    There are no technical problems of any significance and forecasters are predicting an 80 percent chance of good weather at launch time.

    Because of a conflict with NASA's Lunar Orbiter Reconnaissance mission, Endeavour's crew will only have one shot at getting off the pad. If the weather or some other problem delays launch, the shuttle team will stand down to give the LRO team a launch opportunity Friday at 6:41 p.m.

    Endeavour's normal launch window closes on June 20 and even if the LRO mission took off on time Friday, Endeavour would not get another launch opportunity until July 11, after a so-called "beta angle cutout" defined by the angle between the sun and the plane of the space station's orbit. During beta cutouts, temperature constraints can be violated when the shuttle is docked to the lab complex.

    Hoping for the best, engineers plan to begin loading a half-million gallons of liquid oxygen and liquid hydrogen rocket fuel into Endeavour's external tank starting with transfer line chill down at 8:15 p.m. The remotely-controlled fueling procedure should be complete by around 11:15 p.m.

    It was during fueling overnight last Friday that a significant leak showed up in an umbilical where a vent line attaches to the shuttle's external tank. The vent line is used to carry hydrogen gas from inside the tank to a flare stack well away from the shuttle where it can be safely burned away before launch.

    The leak occurred as the hydrogen section of the external tank was nearing a full load late Friday and the umbilical plate that connects the vent line to the side of the tank was subjected to extremely low temperatures. A similar problem grounded the shuttle Discovery for four days last March.

    Engineers are not sure what caused either problem, but in this case they suspect an internal seal might have been damaged when the umbilical was connected, disconnected and then reconnected when Endeavour was moved from pad 39B to 39A last month. In any case, the seal in question was replaced and engineers are hopeful the quick-disconnect fitting will be leak free the second time around.

    If all goes well, commander Mark Polansky, pilot Douglas Hurley, Canadian flight engineer Julie Payette, David Wolf, Christopher Cassidy, Thomas Marshburn and space station flight engineer Timothy Kopra will begin strapping in around 2:20 a.m. Wednesday to await liftoff.

    The goal of Endeavour's 16-day mission is to attach a sophisticated experiment platform to a Japanese research module, to replace aging solar array batteries, to store critical spare parts on the space station for future use and to replace one of the lab's six crew members. Kopra will remain behind aboard the station when Endeavour departs and Japanese astronaut Koichi Wakata, launched to the complex last March, will return to Earth in his place.

    Tuesday, 16 June 2009

    Preparing Endeavour

    In this image, taken June 14, workers on Kennedy Space Center's Launch Pad 39A prepare to remove the 7-inch quick disconnect and flight seal from the Ground Umbilical Carrier Plate, or GUCP, on space shuttle Endeavour's external fuel tank. Teams are removing the hardware to change out seals in the internal connection points. The GUCP is the overboard vent to the pad and the flare stack where the vented hydrogen is burned off. On June 12, a hydrogen leak caused the STS-127 mission to be scrubbed. Endeavour is scheduled to launch on its STS-127 mission on June 17, 2009, at 5:40 a.m. EDT.

    Image Credit: NASA/Tim Jacobs

    NASA sets Wednesday launch date for shuttle Endeavour

        NEWSALERT: Monday, June 15, 2009 @ 1923 GMT
            The latest news from Spaceflight Now

    NEW! Apollo 11 40th Anniversary Commemorative Patch

    NASA managers today formally cleared the shuttle Endeavour for a delayed
    launch Wednesday on a space station assembly mission. Launch of the
    agency's Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter atop an unmanned Atlas 5 rocket was
    delayed to June 18 or 19 to make room for the shuttle in an effort to
    maximize launch opportunities for both missions.


    Thursday, 4 June 2009

    Shuttle Endeavour cleared for launch / Crew runs through practice count

        NEWSALERT: Thursday, June 4, 2009 @ 1910 GMT
            The latest news from Spaceflight Now

    NEW! Special patch for station's COLBERT treadmill!

    While the shuttle Endeavour's crew reviewed emergency procedures at the
    launch pad Wednesday, NASA managers held an executive-level flight
    readiness review and cleared the ship for blastoff June 13, at 7:17 a.m.
    EDT, on a complex space station assembly mission.

    Despite cloudy and raining weather that would have scrubbed a real space
    shuttle launch attempt, Endeavour's seven astronauts climbed aboard their
    spacecraft at pad 39A for a practice countdown this morning.

    A weird explosion in space that confounded astronomers in 2006 may have
    been the destruction of a rare star with an unusual amount of carbon dust
    surrounding it, according to research carried out by scientists at the
    University of Warwick.

    NASA Announces Prelaunch Events and Countdown Details

    CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. -- News conferences, events and operating hours for the news center at NASA's Kennedy Space Center are set for the upcoming launch of space shuttle Endeavour. The shuttle's STS-127 mission to the International Space Station is scheduled to lift off at 7:17 a.m. EDT on Saturday, June 13. On Tuesday, June 9, Endeavour's seven astronauts are scheduled to arrive at Kennedy at approximately 12:15 a.m. NASA Television will provide live coverage as Commander Mark Polansky makes a brief statement to news media. U.S. credentialed reporters planning to cover the event must be at Kennedy's news center by 10:30 p.m. for transportation to the Shuttle Landing Facility. International credentialed journalists must arrive at the Pass & Identification Building on State Road 3 by 10:15 p.m. for transportation to the news center. NASA will provide continuous STS-127 online updates, including a webcast and a blog at:

    On launch day, the blog will update the countdown beginning at 2 a.m. Originating from Kennedy, the blog is the definitive Internet source for information leading up to launch. During the mission, visitors to NASA's shuttle Web site can read about the crew's progress and watch the spacewalks live. As Endeavour's flight wraps up, NASA will update the blog, detailing the spacecraft's return to Earth. The NASA News Twitter feed will be updated throughout the shuttle launch countdown, mission and landing. To access the NASA News Twitter feed, visit:

    Detailed lists of countdown milestones, news briefing times and participants, and hours of operation for Kennedy's news center and media credentialing office are available at:

    For NASA TV streaming video, scheduling and downlink information, visit:

    - end -

    Anatomy of a Busted Comet

    NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope captured this image of comet Holmes in March 2008, five months after the comet suddenly erupted and brightened a millionfold overnight. Every six years, comet 17P/Holmes speeds away from Jupiter and heads inward toward the sun, traveling the same route typically without incident. However, twice in the last 116 years, in November 1892 and October 2007, comet Holmes mysteriously exploded as it approached the asteroid belt.

    Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

    Tuesday, 2 June 2009

    NASA's Shuttle Program Hands Over Launch Pad to Constellation

    CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. -- The May 31 transfer of Launch Pad 39B at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida from the Space Shuttle Program to the Constellation Program is the next step in preparing the first flight test of the agency's next-generation spacecraft and launch system. The Constellation Program is developing new spacecraft -- including the Ares I and Ares V launch vehicles, the Orion crew capsule, and the Altair lunar lander -- to carry humans to the International Space Station, the moon and beyond. Since the late 1960s, pad B has been instrumental in human spaceflight programs, such as Apollo, Skylab and the space shuttle. The pad originally was built for the Saturn V rockets to launch the Apollo capsules to the moon. In July 1975, the pad was modified to support space shuttle operations. The first space shuttle to lift off from pad B was Challenger in January 1986. The handover took place Sunday after space shuttle Endeavour was moved to Launch Pad 39A. The ground operations team will finish modifying pad B for the Ares I-X rocket launch. Modifications will include removing the orbiter access arm and a section of the gaseous oxygen vent arm and installing access platforms and a vehicle stabilization system. The Ares I-X flight test is targeted for no earlier than Aug. 30.

    For more information about Ares I-X, visit:

    For more information about the Constellation Program, visit:

    - end -