Atlantis Launch… Infrared-ed

The STS-125 Atlantis launch today, as seen through the lens of an infrared digital camera (Eliot J. Schechter/Getty Images)

The STS-125 Atlantis launch today, as seen through the lens of an infrared digital camera (Eliot J. Schechter/Getty Images)

I thought I wouldn’t see anything as impressive as the Space Shuttle Atlantis launch in high-definition, but it appears I was wrong. This is probably one of the most unique views of a shuttle launch I’ve seen to date; a high resolution, infrared photograph of the beginning of the STS-125 mission to the Hubble Space Telescope.

This would make a nice wallpaper… yes, it does :)

Source: Gawker

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A Hole In Arizona

©Stan Gaz

This picture was posted by Phil Plait and I was mesmerized. Stan Gaz, the photographer of Meteor Crater in Arizona, will be laying on an exhibition in New York from April 30th to June 6th. If this is anything to go by, it’s an event you can’t afford to miss out on… if you’re in or near New York that is. As I am quite literally on the other side of the country, I’ll miss it, but here’s more info if you are more fortunate.

Mars Chaos

The Ariadnes Colles region of Mars (ESA)

Of all the places I’d want to visit on Mars, this would be high on my list. After travelling to the bottom of Hellas Planitia (for the thick atmosphere and possibly finding liquid water) and the summit of Olympus Mons (for the view), I’d be sure to have a scout around Ariadnes Colles, in the southern hemisphere (pictured above).

The Ariadnes Colles region may not be a household name, but looking at these new high resolution images coming from the Mars Express orbiter, I can’t help but be impressed…
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Return of the Bouncing Boulder: Debris After a Martian Landslide

The debris after a landslide on Mars (NASA/HiRISE/Stuart Atkinson)

The debris after a landslide on Mars (NASA/HiRISE/Stuart Atkinson)

Mars is far from being geologically active when compared with the Earth, but it isn’t geologically dead either. In a stunning visual study by Stuart Atkinson over at Cumbrian Sky, he has done some desktop detective work on high-resolution HiRISE images of the Martian surface and turned up some astounding images. One scene shows a huge chunk of material, slumped down a slope, but in the detail are the familiar divots etching out the tracks of bouncing boulders after being disturbed by the Martian avalanche…
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Discovery Undocks From ISS, Descends Through Sunset

A sequence of images from the space station as Discovery departs (NASA TV, edited by Ian O'Neill)

A sequence of images from the space station as Discovery departs. Images slightly corrected for camera rotation (NASA TV, edited by Ian O'Neill)

The ISS now has its full set of solar arrays after the STS-119 mission (NASA)

The ISS now has its full set of solar arrays after the STS-119 mission (NASA)

After looping once around the space station, space shuttle Discovery slowly dropped away as it started its journey back to Earth on Wednesday, March 25th.

I was watching the live video feed coming from the station, captivated by the scene. Having successfully completed the STS-119 mission, the seven crew members said their farewells after the 10-day stay in low-Earth orbit to install the remaining solar arrays (left). This will enable the station to collect more energy to sustain an expanded crew from three to six later this year, and allow the station to carry out more science.

On NASA TV, I listened to the chatter between mission control, the station and the shuttle but I was overjoyed to capture some screen shots as the shuttle passed through the sunset and then dropping into the Earth’s shadow (top). The added bonus was the glint of sunlight before Discovery turned orange before slipping into the night. Stunning…

For more, check out the Universe Today’s coverage of the Discovery undocking »

Pins and Solar Arrays

Astronaut Richard Arnold participates in the STS-119 first scheduled spacewalk to connect the S6 truss segment to the ISS on Thursday March 19th, 2009 (NASA)

Astronaut Richard Arnold participates in the STS-119 first scheduled spacewalk to connect the S6 truss segment to the ISS on Thursday March 19th, 2009 (NASA)

According to NASA, Space Shuttle Discovery’s STS-119 mission to install the remaining solar arrays is going to plan, apart from the small matter of a pin that was installed the wrong way. Although this might sound inconsequential, the mistake made during today’s spacewalk has jammed an equipment storage platform, eating up valuable time during the EVA, causing NASA mission control to evaluate the situation. At the moment, the platform is temporarily tethered in place until a solution is found to the pin that has been inserted incorrectly.

For more information on this news, check out the Associated Press article »

In the grand scheme of things, this won’t hinder progress too much. I am still in awe of any mission that makes the space station capable of supporting an expanded crew of six, creating the second brightest object in the nights sky (after the Moon). This bright speeding object is a huge, man-made array of solar panels. If we are capable of doing these things at an altitude of 350 km, anything is possible…

Stunning Discovery Post-Launch Video

The plume of exhaust from Space Shuttle Discovery's launch on Sunday (©Adam Bojanowski)

The plume of exhaust from Space Shuttle Discovery's launch on Sunday creating a bright white cloud (©Adam Bojanowski)

Watch the time-lapse movie after Discovery’s launch »

I compiled the pictures I took into a time lapse movie. The blue cloud appears to grow where the shuttle main engines passed through a particular layer of atmosphere. The cloud grew in coverage and changed from bright white to electric blue as it expanded.” — Adam Bojanowski

Note: The expanding vivid white cloud appears after tiny droplets of water condense and then freeze around particles in Discovery’s exhaust after passing through a saturated layer of atmosphere. The ice in this new cloud preferentially scattered the blue light from the setting Sun (this is called Rayleigh scattering, the same mechanism for giving the sky its blue hue).

Source: SpaceWeather.com

A Short Message for Kepler, from Astroengine.com…

The Delta II ignition: Kepler begins its mission on Friday at 10:49pm EST (© United Launch Alliance)

The Delta II ignition: Kepler began its mission on Friday at 10:49pm EST (© United Launch Alliance)

In the 17th Century, Johannes Kepler defined the laws of planetary motion around our star. Now the Kepler space telescope will define the motion of alien worlds around distant stars. Go find us some exoplanets!

I saw this image on The Write Stuff blog at the Orlando Sentinel, and I had to share. It is the moment of ignition of the Delta II rocket from Space Launch Complex-17B at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, just before lift-off of NASA’s Kepler mission.

For more information and the original image (this one was slightly adjusted to remove compression artefacts), check out The Write Stuff »

Grab Your Mai Tai and Helmet, We’re Flying into Space… from Hawaii!

Coming to a tropical island near you (NASA, edited by Ian O'Neill)

Coming to a tropical island near you (NASA, edited by Ian O'Neill)

Hawaii state officials are seriously considering applying to the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) for a spaceport licence. According to local media, Hawaii has been approached by four space tourism companies wanting to launch their spaceplanes from the Pacific islands. I’m assuming that includes Rocketship Global (as their promo video was being used in the report), XCOR (as their Lynx would be more than capable of using existing runways) and possibly Virgin Galactic? Richard Branson is making moves to launch passengers through the Aurora Borealis from the Swedish town of Kiruna, why not launch passengers from a tropical location too? Makes perfect sense.

At first, I was a little sceptical about this possibility, after all who really wants spaceplanes blasting into suborbital space from one of the most beautiful locations on the planet? I’ve visited Maui and Oahu, and I would hate to see any (more) damage done to the place. However, these commercial spaceplanes aren’t exactly huge polluters (no more than your average airliner that lands at Honolulu International in any case) and the launches would be a great source of revenue for the islands in the form of taxes (as will be the case in New Mexico) and tourism. And then there’s the possibility of accessing Hawaii via suborbital flightpaths from California and Japan. Flight-time from Hawaii to mainland US will be slashed from five hours to 90 minutes. If that means I can leave my house and be on Waikiki in about two hours… who am I to stand in the way of progress?

Unfortunately a lot of misplaced hope and optimism is placed on commercial spaceflight, so we’ll have to see how the Hawaii Spaceport idea develops before we go getting too excited…

For more, check out Space Tourist Suborbital Flight from Hawaii?

Satellite View of UK Snow Storms

Snow cover over east England up to the Scottish border on February 4th (Terra MODIS/NASA)

Snow cover over east England up to the Scottish border on February 4th. Left: A visible light view. Right: Visible/infrared wavelengths, the snow cover is in red (Terra MODIS/NASA)

UPDATE: This post is from the snowstorm in February 2009, for the satellite view of the UK in the grips of record low temperatures in January 2010 go to “UK Snow: Where Did My Hometown Go?

In case you were wondering what the recent snow storms in the UK looked like from space, NASA has released imagery from their Terra satellite for our viewing pleasure. The Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) instrument captured images down to a resolution of 250 metres/pixel, showing the detail in the snow cover and urban areas.

The MODIS on NASA’s Terra satellite captured this view of snow in England on February 4, 2009. The snow stretches from the English Channel north under a bank of clouds near the Scottish border. The winter storm that brought the snow in the first days of February blanketed southeast England with the heaviest snow the region had seen in 18 years, said BBC News. As much as 20 centimeters (8 inches) of snow fell on London. The poor weather closed transportation, schools, and businesses throughout southeastern England, reported BBC News.MODIS website

I know for a fact this huge amount of snow caused all sorts of inconvenience for the entire country, but I would have liked to have been in my hometown of Bristol (in the south-west–bottom-left–of the image above, under all that cloud cover) to experience a good old fashioned British winter. According to my mum, her street wasn’t lined in snow men, it was filled with snow giants, an entire town of them! Oh well, I’ll just have to admire the scene from space…

Source: MODIS/NASA