Category Archives: nasa

Curiosity Rover Got a Mission Extension

bigstock_Kennedy_Space_Center_nasa__4064149NASA’s Curiosity Mars rover is in the process of being returned to full activity after undergoing a precautionary stand-down during the July 4th weekend. Its mission has been extended.

The rover put itself into safe mode on July 2, 2016, and engineers are working to determine what caused it to do that. While in safe mode, the rover ceased most of its activities, with the exception of keeping itself healthy and following a prescribed sequence for resuming communications.

The engineers have determined, based on preliminary information, that an unexpected mismatch between the rover’s camera software and data-processing software in the main computer, could potentially be the reason why the rover went into safe mode.

The Curiosity Mars Rover was launched on November 6, 2011. It landed on Mars on August 6, 2012, and is still there. The goal of its mission is to determine if Mars was ever able to support microbial life.

NASA has approved an additional two-year extension of the Curiosity rover’s mission. That mission will begin on October 1, 2016. The Mars Science Laboratory developed and operates Curiosity. That team will be working on the near-term steps towards having Curiosity resume full activities, which begins with a request for more diagnostic information from the rover.

Google Created “Juno Reaches Jupiter!” Doodle

Google Doodle Juno Reaches JupiterMission Juno was launched on August 5, 2011. It arrived at Jupiter on July 4, 2016. Google created a special Google Doodle about it called “Juno reaches Jupiter!”  Not all Google Doodles are animated, but this one is.

The Juno spacecraft was launched from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida about five years ago. The principal goal of Mission Juno is to understand the origin and evolution of Jupiter.

Some of the things Juno will do include:
* Investigate the existence of a solid planetary core
* Map Jupiter’s intense magnetic field
* Measure the amount of water and ammonia in the deep atmosphere
* Observe Jupiter’s auroras

Juno reached Jupiter on July 4, 2016. Over the next few months, Juno’s mission and science teams will perform final testing on the spacecraft’s subsystems, final calibration of science instruments, and some science collection. Their official science collection phase will begin in October.

NASA released a video of Juno’s approach to Jupiter:

The Juno spacecraft also carries three Lego minifigs. One represents the Roman god Jupiter, who holds a lightning bolt. Another represents Juno, (Jupiter’s wife). She is holding a magnifying glass as a sign for searching for truth. The third minifig represents Galileo Galliei, who holds a telescope. Each of these three special Lego minifigs is made out of aluminum (which can endure the extreme conditions of space).

NASA Captures Dramatic Supersonic Images

NASA planeSupersonic (traveling faster than the speed of sound) flight has been possible for about 70 years. The auditory results of cracking the sound barrier are sometimes heard (and felt) in the form of sonic booms. But what does it look like when an object reaches Mach 1? Often, aircraft are photographed with a visible plume of moisture erupting around them when they reach supersonic speeds. But that’s just part of the picture, as NASA observed with a recent photographic experiment.

NASA used an unlikely process to capture images of supersonic shockwaves created by an Air Force T-38C test plane. Researchers employed a 150-year old technique called schlieren photography. Wikipedia describes this style of photography as:

…a visual process that is used to photograph the flow of fluids of varying density. Invented by the German physicist August Toepler in 1864 to study supersonic motion, it is widely used in aeronautical engineering to photograph the flow of air around objects.

Having access to plenty of modern technology and techniques, NASA used an updated version of this technique called background oriented schlieren (BOS):

First, researchers obtain an image of a speckled background pattern. Next, they collect a series of images of an object in supersonic flow in front of the same pattern. Shock waves are deduced from distortions of the background pattern resulting from the change in refractive index due to density gradients. This method requires very simple optics and a variety of background patterns, including natural ones, may be used. The complexity with this method is in the image processing and not the hardware or positioning, thus making BOS an attractive candidate for obtaining high-spatial-resolution imaging of shock waves in flight.

Detailed explanations of the project (and a few more images) are available at the link above.

Image credit: NASA

NASA is on Tumblr

NASA logo on TumblrNASA has been branching out on social media. It has two verified Twitter accounts. One is @NASA and the other is for the International Space Station @Space_Station. You can also find Twitter accounts for several astronauts. NASA has recently created some Tumblr blogs.

The main NASA Tumblr blog is called NASA. It says “Explore the universe and discover our home planet with the official NASA Tumblr.” At the time I am writing this, the NASA Tumblr blog has a video about the first veggies grown, harvested, and eaten in space at the top of its blog.

There is also a Curiosity Rover Tumblr. The description says “Roving Mars for science. Blogging it for you. Official NASA mission Tumblr”. It has images taken by the Mars Rover (including a selfie). This Tumblr blog also has information about Mars and a link to the recent Curiosity Rover Reddit AMA.

NASA has a third Tumblr blog called Astronaut Peggy Whitson. It has photos and information about the NASA Village. The description says “It takes a NASA Village … to train an astronaut.” This Tumblr blog will follow Peggy Whitson as she trains for a six-month mission on the International Space Station.

What is “Remember the 13th”?


Conspiracy theorists are running wild about a new web site that is purportedly from NASA. The web site in question is titled “NASA has made a historic discovery that will shake the entire planet. This announcement will be released to the media on November 13th, 2013. It will be a day to remember and One for the history books. Spread the word to your family & friends and sign up to stay updated! – See more at: Remember the 13th and sports a logo from the space agency along with a rather cryptic message.

“NASA has made a historic discovery that will shake the entire planet. This announcement will be released to the media on November 13th, 2013. It will be a day to remember and One for the history books. Spread the word to your family & friends and sign up to stay updated!”

There is also a countdown clock running on the site, currently at 41 days. Nothing more is revealed and there is nothing about the page which gives any sort of hints.

Its all very clever, but also likely a marketing ploy for something and not an actual NASA news conference. Other than the logo, which anyone can slap onto a website, there is nothing to suggest any of this is anything more than a clever marketing campaign for a product, movie or TV show.

I will leave the question up to all of you. What do you think this is? Legitimate news coming from the space agency? Has Curiosity discovered something? Or is it, as I am leaning towards, very good marketing hype?

NASA debunks 12-21-12 myth one more time

Author’s Note: I am half afraid to write about any web video after yesterday’s embarrassment! However, given that this one comes from NASA I will trust it is real. With that said, if the world does end I guess at least nobody will be around to laugh about me looking stupid!

With that disclaimer out of the way, let’s move on to the big subject of today — the supposed end of the world tomorrow. Yes, an era of the Mayan calendar does in fact come to an end on December 21, 2012. Although, much as our calendar ends every December 31st, it is only a turning of the page. Honestly, if the Mayans were such great prognosticators then why did they not see those Spanish ships coming? If you can’t predict your own doom then how can you predict that of the world?

NASA has had to spend way too much time and energy dealing with this myth and debunking the crackpots that seem to abound on the internet. Conspiracy theories surrounding tomorrow have taken all sorts of shapes, none of which I will waste the time and effort to even make fun of.

Below is NASA’s latest, and hopefully final, crack at this. This one was brought to my attention by the folks over at Universe Today who specialize in truth and science and who I highly recommend you follow in your RSS reader of choice.

Cool space and astronomy themes for Windows

You know that those of us at GNC love space and astronomy almost as much as we love computers and technology. While we all use different operating systems — Windows, Mac, and even Linux, we can all agree that a good space theme is cool. There isn’t any shortage of those available either.

In fact, you don’t even have to look far to find one. Microsoft and other sites make them available. Even NASA themselves posts one now and again. So, it’s the weekend and news is slow. With that in mind, it’s a great time to do a quick roundup of these themes that are floating around out there.


Image of M82 or the Cigar Galaxy from NASA's Spitzer and Hubble Space Telescopes, and NASA's Chandra X-ray Observatory

Microsoft does a great job of making themes for all occasions — movie and game releases, seasons, holidays and just cool photography. The latter is the category we are looking for. Head to the personalization gallery where you can browse or do a keyword search.

Windows Observer

Richard Hay, who runs the great Windows Observer site and podcast, has created several space-based themes. Thanks to NASA images being in the public domain, anyone can do this, but thanks to Richard you don’t need to. He also posts idividual wallpapers and has even begun breaking down themes specifically for both Windows 7 and Windows 8. You can browse the themes here.

Windows 7 Themes


Another great web site for finding themes and wallpapers, although it’s a bit confusing to navigate. If you want to take a look then head over to this site.

There are many other sources for wallpaper and themes around the internet, just be careful of fakes when downloading anything from a web site that you aren’t familiar with.

A Possible Big Night Sky Show Coming in 2013

Orbit diagram

If you haven’t heard, a new comet was recently spotted.  Even better, it’s expected to pass ridiculously close to earth in 2013 and, if those predictions prove true, it will put on quite a show in our night sky.  The new object goes by the catchy name of of C/2012 S1, but is generally being called ISON.

The projected orbit should take ISON directly towards the sun in November 2013, causing melting which will result in a very defined tail.  By January 2014 it should pass 60 million kilometers from Earth, and that combination of large tail and proximity to earth could result in a night sky object approximately as bright as the moon.  That would make ISON the brightest comet ever seen.

According to a NASA report, “comet researcher John Bortle has pointed out a curious similarity between the orbit of Comet ISON and that of the Great Comet of 1680. ‘Purely as speculation,’ he says, ‘perhaps the two bodies could have been one a few revolutions ago.'”

All of this is still somewhat unknown because, for one thing, the brightness will depend on the composition of materials making up the comet and how much melting actually occurs.  However, the best estimates at this point are leaning towards a best-case scenario for anyone interested in the night sky.

Image: NASA

An Incredibly Clear View of Ireland From Space

Today is St. Patrick’s Day, and NASA’s Earth Observatory website is celebrating by selecting a remarkably clear view of Ireland as its Image of the Day.

It is easy to see why Ireland is called “The Emerald Isle”. Several different shades of green, from a drab, olive green color, to the brightest Kelly green, cover the entire island. This is a true-color image, so what you are seeing is the intense green vegetation, which is mostly made of grassland, that covers nearly the entire country.

Perhaps the most amazing thing about this image is the lack of cloud cover. According to the Irish Meteorological Service, the sky over Ireland is entirely cloudy more than 50% of the time. Fog is common. This cloud-free image of the country is an incredibly rare view to have captured.

The image was taken on October 11, 2010. It was captured by the Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) that is located on NASA’s Aqua satellite. This satellite was launched on May 4, 2002, which made it the first to be launched in a group of satellites called the Afternoon Constellation, (or the A-Train). Aqua has six Earth-observing instruments on board.

The Aqua mission is part of the Earth Observing System (EOS). It is a coordinated series of polar-orbiting and low inclination satellites. Each satellite is doing a long-term global observation of the land surface, biosphere, solid Earth, atmosphere, and oceans. The Aqua satellite has been gathering information about the Earth’s water cycle, soil moisture, sea ice, land ice, snow cover on the land and the ice, radiative energy fluxes, aerosols, vegetation cover on the land, phytoplankton and dissolved organic matter in the ocean, and temperatures of the air, land, and water on Earth.

The MODIS is an instrument that is on the Aqua satellite. You can think of it as the camera that took the beautiful view of Ireland. The MODIS and the Aqua satellite pass South to North over the equator in the afternoon. They view the entire surface of the Earth every one to two days.

I highly recommend that you take a moment, step away from your St. Patrick’s Day celebrations, and check out the Image of the Day that is on the Earth Observatory website. You will never see a more clear, green, beautiful view of Ireland than this one. It will take your breath away.

Image: Kennedy Space Center (nasa) by BigStock