Thursday, May 26, 2016

SpaceX May 26, 2016 Rocket Launch Scrubbed

SpaceX THAICOM satellite launch from Cape Canaveral, Florida

UPDATE: Thursday's launch has been scrubbed. Another attempt will be made on Friday, May 27, 2016.

CAPE CANAVERAL, Florida -- A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket carrying a THAICOM 8 satellite is scheduled to liftoff Thursday, May 26, 2016, at 5:40 p.m. Eastern Daylight Time from Space Launch Complex 40 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida. There is a two-hour launch window for this mission.

After separating from the second stage, the first stage of the Falcon 9 will attempt to land onto the deck of the “Of Course I Still Love You” Autonomous Spaceport Drone Ship in the Atlantic Ocean several hundred miles off the east coast of Florida.  

Odds are not favorable for a successful landing following the THAICOM 8 launch because the Geo-Stationary Transfer Orbit requires the first stage rocket to reach a significantly higher altitude.  This means that Falcon 9's first stage rocket will come down significantly faster with less fuel to slow its descent. A similar high altitude barge landing resulted in significant damage to a Falcon 9 first stage last month.


THAICOM 8 is the second satellite Orbital ATK has built for Thaicom PLC that was ordered shortly after the THAICOM 6 satellite was successfully launched into orbit in January 2014. 

A Ku-band satellite, THAICOM 8’s payload includes 24 active transponders that will deliver broadcast and data services. The Falcon 9 rocket will deliver the satellite into its targeted geosynchronous transfer orbit where it will enter a 30-day testing phase. Following in-orbit activation and after reaching its final orbital slot, Orbital ATK will then turn over control of the satellite to Thaicom to begin normal operations. THAICOM 8 is designed to operate for more than 15 years.

Photo credit: SpaceX

Saturday, May 21, 2016

Blue Moon Tonight, Saturday, May 21, 2016

Blue Moon tonight, Saturday, May 21, 2016

CAPE CANAVERAL, Florida - There will be a Blue Moon tonight, Saturday, May 21, 2016, which is a Full Moon that is also known as the Flower Moon, Milk Moon, or Corn-planting Moon.

What time is the Blue Moon tonight?

Tonight's Blue Moon begins with a moonrise over the Atlantic Ocean at 8:04 p.m. Eastern Daylight Time on Saturday, May 21, 2016, which sets the following morning at 7:12 a.m. (with a few minutes of variation depending on your exact location in Florida or several minutes along the rest of the U.S. east coast). The exact time for moonrises by city can be found on the U.S. Naval Observatory's website.

According to the U.S. Naval Observatory, this Blue Moon will technically be 99% full at 5:14 p.m. Eastern Daylight Time.

Where to watch the Blue Moon tonight:

The Blue Moon can be seen from anywhere on Earth, unless there is local cloud coverage. For those planning a moonlit stroll along the beach on Florida's Space Coast, this Full Moon creates a 3'9" Atlantic Ocean high tide that will occur around 8:38 p.m., with a few minutes of variation depending on your exact location.

How often is there a Blue Moon?

Blue Moons occur when there is a second full moon in a calendar month or when a season has four full moons.  Full moons are separated by 29 days but seasons are 88 to 92 days long - so it is possible to fit four full moons into a single season. This happens just over two-and-a-half years, on average. When there are four full moons in a season, the third full moon is considered a Blue Moon.

This is why the phrase "Once in a Blue Moon" is commonly known to mean something rare and offbeat because of the rare occurrence of a Blue Moon.

Does the Blue Moon look blue?

The date of a full moon doesn't affect the full moon's color.  The Full Moon on Saturday, May 21, 2016 will be pearly-gray to most locations on Earth, as usual.

According to NASA, the key to a moon appearing blue is to have lots of particles slightly wider than the wavelength of red light (0.7 micron) and no other sizes present in the air.  This is rare, but volcanoes sometimes produce such clouds, as do forest fires.

Humans saw blue moons almost every night when the Krakatoa volcano exploded in 1883 with the force of a 100-megaton nuclear bomb.   Plumes of ash rose to the very top of Earth's atmosphere.   Some of the ash-clouds were filled with particles about 1 micron wide - just the right size to strongly scatter red light, while allowing other colors to pass.  White moonbeams shining through the clouds emerged blue, and sometimes green.  People also saw blue-colored Moons in 1983 after the eruption of the El Chichon volcano in Mexico. And there are reports of blue Moons caused by Mt. St. Helens in 1980 and Mount Pinatubo in 1991.

Why is this Full Moon in May named the Flower Moon or Corn-planting Moon?

These full moon names are associated with seasonal occurrences that happen in May. Summer flowers begin to bloom in May which is why it is called a Flower Moon.  Corn-planting Moon gets its name from the start of corn planting that happen in May.

Image Credit: NASA (blue enhanced by Brevard Times)

Friday, May 20, 2016

Mars, Earth, and Sun Align On May 22, 2016

CAPE CANAVERAL, Florida - Mars, Earth and the sun will align on May 22, 2016 - an event that only occurs once every 26 months. This alignment is called "Mars Opposition" because Mars and the sun are on directly opposite sides of Earth. Eight days later on May 30, 2016, Mars and Earth will be nearest to each other in their orbits around the sun.

Mars Opposition on May 22

To viewers on Earth, Mars will rise in the east just as the sun sets in the west. Then, after staying up in the sky the entire night, Mars sets in the west just as the sun rises in the east.  

An opposition can occur anywhere along Mars' orbit. When it happens while the red planet is closest to the sun (called "perihelic opposition"), Mars is particularly close to Earth. If Earth and Mars both had perfectly stable orbits, then each perihelic opposition would bring the two planets as close as they could be. Also, the orbits of Earth and Mars don't lie in quite the same plane. The paths the planets take around the sun are slightly tilted with respect to each other.

Mars' orbit is more elliptical than Earth's, so the difference between perihelion and aphelion is greater. Over the past centuries, Mars' orbit has been getting more and more elongated, carrying the planet even nearer to the sun at perihelion and even farther away at aphelion. So future perihelic oppositions will bring Earth and Mars even closer. 

Some perihelic oppositions brings the two planets closer together than others. The 2003 opposition was the closest approach in almost 60,000 years that won't be seen again until August 28, 2287.

Mars Closest To Earth On May 30

Mars is over half a million miles closer to Earth at closest approach than at opposition. But you won't see much change in the diameter and brightness between these two dates. As Mars comes closer to Earth in its orbit, it appears larger and larger and brighter and brighter. 

The best time to see Mars at its brightest is when it is highest in the sky, around midnight local time in May and a little earlier in June. Through a telescope you can make out some of the dark features on the planet, some of the lighter features and sometimes polar ice and dust storm-obscured areas showing very little detail. 

After close approach, Earth sweeps past Mars quickly. So the planet appears large and bright for only a couple weeks. But don't worry if you miss 2016's close approach that brings the red planet just 46.8 million miles away from Earth. 2018's will be even closer at 35.8 million miles.

Photo and video credit: NASA/JPL

Thursday, May 12, 2016

Space Dust Shows Early Earth's Atmosphere Was Rich In Oxygen

A micrometeorite extracted from 2.7 billion-year-old limestone in Western Australia contains iron oxide that formed when iron metal oxidised upon entering the Earth's atmosphere, indicating that the ancient upper atmosphere was surprisingly oxygen-rich.

MELBOURNE, Australia - A recent study of the oldest micrometeorites known to exist shows that Earth's ancient atmosphere was rich in oxygen, challenging the accepted view that Earth's atmosphere was oxygen-poor billions of years ago.

By examining micrometeorites - space dust - that fell to Earth 2.7 billion years ago, researchers found that ancient Earth's upper atmosphere during the Archean eon contained about the same amount of oxygen as today, and that a methane haze layer separated this oxygen-rich upper layer from the oxygen-starved lower atmosphere.

Scientists extracted the micrometeorites from samples of ancient limestone collected in the Pilbara region in Western Australia and later examined them at the Monash Centre for Electron Microscopy and the Australian Synchrotron.

"Using cutting-edge microscopes we found that most of the micrometeorites had once been particles of metallic iron - common in meteorites - that had been turned into iron oxide minerals in the upper atmosphere, indicating higher concentrations of oxygen than expected," said Dr. Andrew Tomkins of Monash Univesity. "This was an exciting result because it is the first time anyone has found a way to sample the chemistry of the ancient Earth's upper atmosphere."

Imperial College researcher Dr. Matthew Genge, an expert in cosmic dust, performed calculations that showed oxygen concentrations in the upper atmosphere would need to be close to modern day levels to explain the observations.

"This was a surprise because it has been firmly established that the Earth's lower atmosphere was very poor in oxygen 2.7 billion years ago; how the upper atmosphere could contain so much oxygen before the appearance of photosynthetic organisms was a real puzzle," Dr. Genge said.

The new results suggest the Earth at this time may have had a layered atmosphere with little vertical mixing, and higher levels of oxygen in the upper atmosphere produced by the breakdown of CO2 by ultraviolet light.

"A possible explanation for this layered atmosphere might have involved a methane haze layer at middle levels of the atmosphere. The methane in such a layer would absorb UV light, releasing heat and creating a warm zone in the atmosphere that would inhibit vertical mixing," Dr. Tomkins said.

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

NASA Finds 9 Planets Where Aliens Might Live

NASA scientists have discovered nine planets that could be home to alien life among 1,284 newly-validated planets located outside our solar system. 

In the recent batch of planets discovered by NASA's Kepler space telescope, nearly 550 could be rocky planets like Earth, based on their size. Nine of these Earth-size planets orbit in their sun's habitable zone, which is the distance from a star where orbiting planets can have surface temperatures that allow liquid water to pool. With the addition of these nine, 21 known exoplanets could be suitable for alien inhabitants.

"Before the Kepler space telescope launched, we did not know whether exoplanets were rare or common in the galaxy. Thanks to Kepler and the research community, we now know there could be more planets than stars,” said Paul Hertz, Astrophysics Division director at NASA Headquarters. "This knowledge informs the future missions that are needed to take us ever-closer to finding out whether we are alone in the universe."

Of the nearly 5,000 total planet candidates found to date, more than 3,200 now have been verified, and 2,325 of these were discovered by the Kepler space telescope.

Image: Artist's concept depicts select planetary discoveries made to date by NASA's Kepler space telescope. Credit: NASA/W. Stenzel

NASA To Make Announcement About Planets Habitable To Aliens

UPDATE: NASA Finds 9 Planets Where Aliens Might Live

NASA will make an announcement at 1 p.m. Eastern Daylight Time on Tuesday, May 10, about its latest discoveries from the Kepler Space Telescope secondary mission (K2 mission) to find planets that could support alien life.

Prior to today's announcement, the Keppler Mission had discovered twelve Earth-sized planets that were in a 'habitable zone' orbit around their host stars.

Last month, NASA scientists pointed the Keppler Telescope in the opposite direction of prior observations. Scientists 'flipped' the telescope for an experiment with two-dozen ground-based observatories to use gravitational microlensing techniques to survey stars toward the center of our Milky Way galaxy in search of exoplanets.

A notice to media about the announcement gave little details, other than the briefing participants:

Paul Hertz, Astrophysics Division director at NASA Headquarters in Washington

Timothy Morton, associate research scholar at Princeton University in New Jersey

Natalie Batalha, Kepler mission scientist at NASA's Ames Research Center in Moffett Field, California

Charlie Sobeck, Kepler/K2 mission manager at Ames

Photo credit: NASA

Monday, May 9, 2016

NASA Releases Patents Into Public Domain In Searchable Database

CAPE CANAVERAL, Florida - NASA has released fifty-six formerly-patented technologies into the public domain, making its government-developed technologies freely available for everyone. The public can access the technologies in a searchable database that catalogs thousands of expired NASA patents already in the public domain.

Although the technologies were developed to advance NASA missions, many could have non-aerospace applications and be used by commercial space ventures and other companies free of charge, eliminating the time, expense and paperwork often associated with licensing intellectual property. The technologies include advanced manufacturing processes, sensors, propulsion methods, rocket nozzles, thrusters, aircraft wing designs and improved rocket safety and performance concepts.

“By making these technologies available in the public domain, we are helping foster a new era of entrepreneurship that will again place America at the forefront of high-tech manufacturing and economic competitiveness,” said Daniel Lockney, NASA’s Technology Transfer program executive. “By releasing this collection into the public domain, we are encouraging entrepreneurs to explore new ways to commercialize NASA technologies.”

To search the database, visit:

Watch The Transit Of Mercury Online: Live Updating

On Monday, May 9, 2016, people around the globe will be able to watch the transit of Mercury online - an astronomical event when Mercury passes between the Earth and the Sun.

The transit of Mercury only happens around 13 times every 100 years. The last time it occurred was in 2006 and the next time will be in 2019.

The May 9, 2016 Mercury transit will occur between about 7:12 a.m. and 2:42 p.m. EDT. Mercury will be at the mid-point of the Sun around 10:47 a.m.

Scientists will use the transit to study Mercury

NASA scientist Rosemary Killen and her colleagues plan to use the transit to study Mercury’s ultra-thin atmosphere or exosphere. The atoms in Mercury’s exosphere come from the surface of Mercury itself. They are blasted into space by solar radiation, solar wind bombardment and meteoroids. This gives Mercury a comet-like tail stretched out as long as 1.2 million miles. You cannot see this tail during the transit, however.

"When Mercury is in front of the sun, we can study the exosphere close to the planet. Sodium in the exosphere absorbs and re-emits a yellow-orange color from sunlight, and by measuring that absorption we can learn about the density of gas there,” said Killen.

Sunday, May 8, 2016

GAP Uses Space Shuttle Instead Of Saturn V For '1969' Ad Campaign

CAPE CANAVERAL, Florida - The GAP company's latest '1969' ad campaign has caused more than a few space enthusiasts to text OMG! after the apparel retailer used a photo of a space shuttle instead of the Apollo program's Saturn V rocket.

Of course, it is well known to Brevard County residents on Florida's Space Coast that the massive Saturn V rocket was launching astronauts to the moon from Cape Canaveral, Florida in 1969 - and not the space shuttle.

The space shuttle program's first launch was not until 1981 and the orange external tank depicted in the GAP ad wasn't used until the third launch in 1983 (the first two space shuttle external tanks were painted white). Popular Science was able to narrow down the era of the shuttle design even further to somewhere between 1998 and 2011.

After the company tweeted the photo and received feedback from followers pointing out that the wrong rocket was used, GAP defended using the space shuttle photo in the the ad campaign:

"1969 is included in most of our ad pics. Its the year we opened, not meant to be the shuttle launch date. Sorry for confusion."

Image credit: GAP via Twitter.

Friday, May 6, 2016

SpaceX Lands Rocket On Drone Ship For Second Time

Falcon 9 Rocket Lands On Drone Ship For Second Time

CAPE CANAVERAL, Florida -- SpaceX successfully launched a satellite into orbit and landed its first stage Falcon 9 rocket on a drone ship in the Atlantic Ocean for the second time early Friday morning.

The SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket lifted off from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida at 1:21 a.m.  Eastern Standard Time carrying a JCSAT-14 communications satellite.

Following stage separation, the first stage of the Falcon 9 landed onto the deck of the “Of Course I Still Love You” droneship located several hundred miles off the east coast of Florida.  

SpaceX was not giving favorable odds for a successful landing for this launch because the Geo Stationary Transfer Orbit required the first stage rocket to reach a significantly higher altitude than the previous drone ship landing.  That meant that Falcon 9's first stage rocket came down significantly faster with less fuel to slow its descent than prior landing attempts.

SpaceX also confirmed that the second stage delivered the JCSAT-14 satellite into its proper Geo Stationary Transfer Orbit. The satellite will provide commercial communications in the Asia-Pacific region.

Photo and video credit: SpaceX