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Colin Devroe

Reverse Engineer. Blogger.

Cassini dies tomorrow

Lee Billings for Scientific American:

All good things must come to an end.

For NASA’s Cassini orbiter—its fuel dwindling after 13 years exploring Saturn, along with the planet’s sprawling rings and dozens of icy moons—the end will come Friday at 7:55 A.M. Eastern time. That’s when mission planners project radio communications will be lost with the two-ton, bus-size spacecraft as it plunges into the giant planet’s turbulent atmosphere at more than 122,000 kilometers per hour.

What a legacy.

Repost: Emily Lakdawalla on Voyager’s 40th Anniversary

👉 Emily Lakdawalla on The Planetary Society blog:

The fact that both Voyager spacecraft are still functioning and doing science, 40 years after their launches, is reason for optimism. We can build robust, adaptable machines capable of surviving unpredicted storms and responding to new discoveries. We can build them, launch them, and stably operate them for four decades, and more. Can we now turn those skills homeward, to building an adaptable and sustainable society? Who knew that rocket science would be the easy part?

 

Florence’s two moons

Center for NEO Studies PR on Astronomy Now:

Radar images of asteroid 3122 Florence obtained at the 70-metre antenna at NASA’s Goldstone Deep Space Communications Complex between August 29 and September 1 have revealed that the asteroid has two small moons, and also confirmed that main asteroid Florence is about 4.5 km (2.8 miles) in size. Florence is only the third triple asteroid known in the near-Earth population out of more than 16,400 that have been discovered to date. All three near-Earth asteroid triples have been discovered with radar observations and Florence is the first seen since two moons were discovered around asteroid 1994 CC in June 2009.

Imagine being able to spot two gnats zipping around a common housefly at 100 yards. We can do this routinely now in inner-space.

While I’m not anxious to see many large NEOs like Florence coming within only a few AUs of Earth, I do love the observations we get to see. Some of the images are pretty crisp.

Voyager’s 40th Anniversary

East coasters keep your lunchtime open on Tuesday as NASA is celebrating Voyager’s 40th Anniversary. Check out this description from APOD:

Launched in 1977 on a tour of the outer planets of the Solar System, Voyager 1 and 2 have become the longest operating and most distant spacecraft from Earth. Nearly 16 light-hours from the Sun, Voyager 2 has reached the edge of the heliosphere, the realm defined by the influence of the solar wind and the Sun’s magnetic field. Now humanity’s first ambassador to the Milky Way, Voyager 1 is over 19 light-hours away, beyond the heliosphere in interstellar space. Celebrate the Voyagers’ 40 year journey toward the stars with NASA on September 5.

Interstellar space. So cool.

I look at this achievement a number of ways. I laud the fact that this spacecraft was built over 40 years ago (as was its software) and it is out there still humming along. I’m awed at the distance it has traveled and how far out it currently is. However, I also think that 19-light hours is less “time” than it took me yesterday to get back from the Pacific coast in Mexico via bus, airplanes, and car.

In the future 19-light hours may very well seem like next door. I really hope so.

You know where I’ll be on Tuesday during lunch. Chewing on a sandwich and watching NASA TV.

Slingshot around the moon, for two

SpaceX:

We are excited to announce that SpaceX has been approached to fly two private citizens on a trip around the moon late next year.

That sentence makes me immeasurably happy.

For most of my life I’ve been very disappointed in the human race’s collective efforts to explore space. I wasn’t even alive when the last manned mission to another object in space happened.

However, over the last several years we’ve seen a barrage of successful missions by every country’s space programs and also by private companies. We’ve been exploring distant objects like Pluto, nearer objects like comets, and in-between enormous objects like Jupiter. Oh, and we’ve been driving on Mars every day for years. To top it off we’re now routinely sending objects into orbit around the earth and landing back on the ground. It is a very, very exciting time.

It isn’t too late. We can catch up from the last few decades in a hurry and I’m really happy that two brave and obviously wealthy human beings are willing to push us all forward. All the best to them. Have a great trip.

TRAPPIST-1

The following two sentences encapsulate an incredible feat in the advancement of human discovery:

TRAPPIST-1 is a planetary system, located 12 parsecs away from the Solar system (39 light years), near the ecliptic, within the constellation of Aquarius. Around a star which is 12 times less massive than the Sun and only slightly larger than Jupiter, there are at least seven planets in orbit.

This system has its own domain name; trappist.one — see also, the New York Times, and the paper in Nature.

We live in amazing times.

Information water torture

Emily Lakdawalla, on taking a writing sabbatical:

I feel less and less satisfied doing rushed news-update-style reporting, and am more interested in spending more time to explain science or engineering in depth, in articles that will be useful over time, not just this week. (I am really enjoying writing the book, when I can find time to do it!) I also want to do more work to develop resources to help people get into the art and science of space image processing, building resources that will have value for people for years to come.

Social media is beginning to feel like information water torture. I find it both useful and draining. And it has certainly gotten worse in the last few months with every thing I see being thin, fluff, possibly fake, or hate. I’m wearing out.

It is an important time in this information age. Tools need to become better. But, more importantly, we need to become better curators of our own information intake.

I applaud Emily for stepping back, focusing on her book, and also taking that time to reflect on how she can bring even greater value when she returns. (By the way, she has already brought immense value to the community. I am really looking forward to her book and return.)

Blue Origin’s New Shepard lands again

This video is absolutely mind-blowing. Everything about this was science fiction a few years ago. In fact, the video looks fake while you watch it because you can’t believe this is happening on Earth. And now with some regularity.

Watching this video makes me think that I’ll be alive when people (perhaps even with their kids) will take off, orbit the Earth a few times, and land as a recreational pastime. Decades after that, who knows? Dinner on a restaurant in orbit? Miners working for weeks or months at a time on the moon? Vacations to Mons Huygens?

/via Jeff Bezos on Twitter.