Message From the Moon
At first glance, these probably come across as little more than hastily painted watercolor sketches of the moon. That’s precisely what they are, actually. Attractive, yes, but certainly not high art.
But hiding in their shadows lies a greater significance. The squiggled edges of that bleeding ink bear an observation that altered the heavens themselves. Or at the very least, our view of them.
The hand that traced these orbs belonged to none other than Galileo Galilei. They were included in his 1610 work Sidereus Nuncius (“The Sidereal Message”, which would make a great band name), the first scientific text based on telescope observations. To understand the significance of his illustrations, it helps to understand the world in which he drew them.
In 1610, cosmology, not that it had much to show for itself as a science, was still based on the ideas of Aristotle, who by this time had been dead for 18 centuries. So current! Copernicus’ observation that the Earth orbited the sun, first published in 1543, had begun to challenge Aristotelian supremacy, it wasn’t exactly a popular idea.
Aristotle’s cosmological beliefs were based on the idea that the heavens were made of a perfect substance called “aether”, and therefore the circular motions and spherical shapes of heavenly bodies were also perfect. Earth, he claimed, was inherently imperfect, as were all the things that existed upon it. Everything in the heavens was awesome, and Earthly matter was inherently “just okay”, even if its name was Aristotle. This was one of the reasons people found Copernicus’ claims so hard to swallow. The imperfect Earth among the perfect heavens? Heresy!
Enter Galileo and his humble 20x telescope, in 1609. At the time, in Aristotelian fashion, the moon, being of the heavens, was assumed to be a perfect sphere, its dark and light areas just splotches upon the billiard-ball-smooth lunar surface. I imagine it took Galileo about 7 seconds of lunar observation to realize that was not the case.
The terminator, that line that separates the moon’s illuminated face from its dark one, is jagged as a crocodile’s smile. I’ve seen it myself through modern telescopes, and I must say, it’s really something to witness how light and shadow break over a distant crater’s edge. Galileo painted this in his sketches above, inferring that the moon in fact had a rough and crater-marked face. This meant that not only was Earth not the center of the universe, as Copernicus had shown, but the heavens themselves were imperfect, just like Earth.
Scientists would go on to realize that the orbits of heavenly bodies were not perfect circles, nor were the bodies perfect spheres, and that everything up there is made of the same stuff as everything down here. It was either a huge demotion for the heavens, or a great promotion for Earth, I’m not sure.
Galileo’s Sidereus Nuncius also included newly detailed maps of the constellations and the mention of four moons of Jupiter (although detailed observations of those were still centuries away), but it was his drawings of our moon that bore the most impact on future astronomical science, realigning the heavens with a single stroke of the brush.
Keep on drawing, and keep on looking up.
(You can read an English translation of Sidereus Nuncius here. If you’re hungry for more selenology, tour through these historical maps of the moon. Tip of the telescope to Steve Silberman for tweeting these sketches.)
Apollo 15 - Launched 43 Years ago today - Climb aboard the Lunar Rover…
The planet Jupiter has 67 confirmed moons. This gives it the largest retinue of moons with “reasonably secure” orbits of any planet in the Solar System. In fact, Jupiter and its moons are like a miniature solar system with the inner moons orbiting faster than the others. Eight of Jupiter’s moons are regular satellites, with prograde and nearly circular orbits that are not greatly inclined with respect to Jupiter’s equatorial plane. The remainder of Jupiter’s moons are irregular satellites, whose prograde and retrograde orbits are much farther from Jupiter and have high inclinations and eccentricities. These moons were probably captured by Jupiter from solar orbits. There are 17 recently discovered irregular satellites that have not yet been named.
Image Credit: NASA/ESA/Lowell Observatory/J. Spencer/JHU-APL
Of the hundreds of times I have seen the Saturn V rocket, at all the locations it is on display in the world, never has it ever been as beautiful or commanding as it was this time.
The five J-2 engines on the second stage attracted my eye the most. The countless wires, chambers, and fuel pumps of the engines contrasted with lack of aerodynamic protection gave the business end of the S-II a mechanical sense that I have never really appreciated before. Sure, the five F-1 engines on the S-IC or the single J-2 on the S-IVB are equally as complex and exposed, but for some reason, the cluster of them on the second stage is appealing.
A surprising lack of people in the building gave me great opportunities for pictures I normally avoid taking due to crowds, and I was able to see the rocket in a totally different perspective.
Destination Moon: The 350-Year History of Lunar Exploration
Infographic by Karl Tate
July 16, 2014 || Space.com
One of my favorite parts of any space center, a rocket garden provides a peaceful setting to observe and inspect the flight hardware that mankind has used in its quest to conquer the stars. Kennedy Space Center’s rocket garden was the best I have ever seen it when I visited yesterday, 23 July, 2014.
Since I last visited, every rocket has been repainted. The bright red colors of the vehicle markings on the Saturn IB stood out to the most to me. One of my favorite rockets, I remember the IB at Kennedy Space Center severely deteriorated, paint faded and metal rusted. Not the case anymore.
The relatively recently refurbished Gemini Titan II has as it’s most defining feature it’s single LR-87 engine. Since the engine compartment faring was omitted on the Titan missile, the engines and nozzles are exposed more than on other rockets. This allows for great inspection of its complicated system of tubes, pipes, and wires.
One element of the garden I was not able to capture recently are the rockets illuminated at night. The Saturn IB is draped in a dark blue, with each vertical rocket different illuminations of white. Ground lighting adds another level of beautiful ambiance to the garden, which takes on a totally different atmosphere after dark.
Apollo 11 EVA Training
All of the photographs from the moon are of Buzz Aldrin taken by Neil. We never got to see the two of them together on the surface of the moon besides the 16mm film of them planting the American flag. Thats why I love these so much. You can get a perspective of what it looked like. Two of the first human beings ever to set foot on the moon, performing tasks like core samples and setting up antennas.
After completing 200 orbits of the Earth for nearly thirteen days, Atlantis made its 33rd — and final — landing on July 21st, 2011, as STS-135 was the final mission of the Space Shuttle program. For thirty years, a generation of astronauts embarked on a wide range of dynamic missions utilizing the five shuttles that comprised the Space Transportation System (STS). As humanity’s first reusable spacecraft, these robust shuttles provided the means for two of NASA’s finest achievements — launching the Hubble Space Telescope and constructing the International Space Station.
"The space shuttle changed the way we view the world, the way we view the universe," STS-135 Commander Chris Ferguson said soon after landing. "America’s not going to stop exploring. Thanks for protecting us and bringing this program to a fitting end."
Since the completion of STS-135 three years ago, NASA still remains unable to send Americans to space, and must rely upon the Russian Space Agency, Roscosmos for passage to the ISS. Hoping that an American-based commercial alternative would be available by 2015 under the Commercial Crew Program (CCP), NASA had an original contract with Roscosmos at roughly $62.7 million per seat aboard a Soyuz spacecraft. However, because of the failure on Congress’ part to fully fund the CCP at optimum levels, that goal was made impossible. Still requiring a means to transport Americans to and from the ISS, on April 30th, 2013, NASA was forced to extend that contract until 2017.
This extension also comes at a price. The price of one Soyuz seat now requires NASA to pay Roscosmos approximately $8 million more, at $70.7 million/seat. Tell Congress that you support fully funding the Commercial Crew Program and that you want to end NASA’s dependence on expensive Soyuz trips:
"End of an Era: The Final Shuttle Launch" was the sixth episode of The Sagan Series. It can be viewed here: http://goo.gl/RxRJxD
Fold a piece of paper in half 103 times, and its wider than the observable universe.
this is due to exponential growth; the increase in previous thickness is doubled each time you fold the piece of paper again. physically you could probably only fold a piece of paper about 7 - 8 times on your own.
Given a paper large enough—and enough energy—you can fold it as many times as you want. If you fold it 103 times, the thickness of your paper will be larger than the observable Universe; 93 billion light-years distance.
How can a 0.0039-inch-thick paper get to be as thick as the Universe?
The answer is simple: Exponential growth. The average paper thickness in 1/10th of a millimeter (0.0039 inches.) If you perfectly fold the paper in half, you will double its thickness.
Folding the paper in half a third time will get you about the thickness of a nail.
Seven folds will be about the thickness of a notebook of 128 pages.
10 folds and the paper will be about the width of a hand.
23 folds will get you to one kilometer—3,280 feet.
30 folds will get you to space. Your paper will be now 100 kilometers high.
Keep folding it. 42 folds will get you to the Moon. With 51 you will burn in the Sun.
Now fast forward to 81 folds and your paper will be 127,786 light-years, almost as thick as the Andromeda Galaxy, estimated at 141,000 light-years across.
90 folds will make your paper 130.8 million light-years across, bigger than the Virgo Supercluster, estimated at 110 million light-years. The Virgo Supercluster contains the Local Galactic Group—with Andromeda and our own Milky Way—and about 100 other galaxy groups.
And finally, at 103 folds, you will get outside of the observable Universe, which is estimated at 93 billion light-years in diameters.
Fiery Planetary Nebula
This image shows off the impressive imaging capabilities of the new CCD detectors in the Mosaic 1.1 camera on the Mayall 4-meter telescope at Kitt Peak National Observatory. The image is of Sharpless 2-188 (Sh2-188), an unusual planetary nebula located in the constellation Cassiopeia. The expanding gas from the planetary nebula is colliding with ambient gas in the interstellar medium. The nebula is nearly circular in shape but is much brighter to the southeast (lower left) because the central star is moving rapidly in that direction. Faint wisps of gas can also be seen in the opposite direction. The image was generated with deep observations in the Hydrogen alpha filter (red) and the Oxygen [OIII] filter (cyan). In this image, North is up and East is to the left.
Image Credit: T.A. Rector/University of Alaska Anchorage, H. Schweiker/WIYN AND NOAO/AURA/NSF
While today may belong to the 45th anniversary of the Apollo 11 lunar landing, it’s important not to forget another important anniversary for NASA - the landing of the Viking 1 spacecraft on Mars!
On July 20th, 1976, the Viking 1 lander separated from the orbiter and touched down at Chryse Planitia, a flat lowland region in the northern hemisphere of Mars. Immediately following touchdown, the lander made history by taking and transmitting the first complete photograph taken from the surface of Mars. The image (http://goo.gl/6C5L6m) was of the Viking 1 lander’s foot as an indication of how far it had sunk into the Martian surface. Between itself and its companion, Viking 2, this historic photograph was just the first of more than 50,000 images taken from the Martian surface, as well as from orbit, and transmitted back to Earth.
What makes Viking 1 especially worth noting is that it was not only the first attempt by the United States at landing on Mars, but it was also the first spacecraft to successfully do so and perform its mission. While the Soviet Mars 3 mission was the first to achieve a soft landing of a spacecraft on Mars it stopped transmitting data 15 seconds after landing. During those few seconds of transmission, it sent the first partial photograph taken from the surface of Mars although nothing was identifiable in it.
During its operation on the Martian surface, Viking 1 became the record holder for longest Mars surface mission at 2307 days, until Mars Rover Opportunity took the record in 2010.
To read more about Viking 1:
Apollo 11 carried a number of cameras for collecting data and recording various aspects of the mission, including a 35-mm surface close-up stereoscopic camera. It was designed for the highest possible resolution of a 3-inch square area with a flash illumination and fixed distance. Photography was accomplished by holding the camera on a walking stick against the object to be photographed. The camera was powered by four nickel-cadmium batteries that operated the motor-drive mechanism and an electronic flash strobe light.
There are many details seen in these pictures that were not known previously or that could not be seen with similar definition by astronauts Armstrong and Aldrin in their careful inspection of the lunar surface. The photographs taken on the mission with the close-up stereoscopic camera are of outstanding quality and show in detail the nature of the lunar surface material. From the photographs, information can be derived about the small-scale lunar surface geologic features and about processes occurring on the surface.
Image Credit: John Lloyd/NASA