European Space Agency’s plucky little probe Rosetta has a date with destiny. On September 30, 2016 ESA mission control will intentionally crash land Rosetta on Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko’s in the pits of Deir El-Medina.
Located in the Ma’at region on 67P’s smaller lobe, the pits of Deir El-Medina haven’t an inkling of Rosetta’s upcoming assisted suicide. Measuring 100 meters wide and 50 meters deep, the pit was chosen as Rosetta’s resting place based on “active” eruptions of gaseous space dust. Rosetta’s forced death spiral will unfold with instruments blazing, her suicidal descent calculated to gather data elusive to orbital diligence alone.
Launched in 2004 with a singular objective – catch comet 67P by August 2014, deploy a probe to the comet’s surface, then settle into observational orbit for two years. Since August 9, 2016 Rosetta has tightened her orbit around 67P, on September 24 her final fly-by could be within a kilometer of the surface. Over the following few days intricate maneuvers will facilitate elliptical orbit becoming a free fall trajectory.
“It’s hard to believe that Rosetta’s incredible 12.5 year odyssey is almost over, and we’re planning the final set of science operations, but we are certainly looking forward to focusing on analysing the reams of data for many decades to come.”
“This pioneering mission may be coming to an end, but it has certainly left its mark in the technical, scientific and public spheres as being one of outstanding success, with incredible achievements contributing to the current and future understanding of our Solar System,” adds Patrick Martin, ESA’s Rosetta mission manager.
Linked below, the Rosetta blog – a collection of Rosetta’s legacy from the European Space Agency. Well worth a ponder.
Beginning September 10, 1941 astronomers noticed a particularly active cluster of sunspots. Over the next week they blossomed, reaching magnitudes visible to the naked eye. For seven days the disturbance grew, drifting with solar rotation until they faced Earth. Seventy five years ago today they erupted, resulting in a solar event known as the geomagnetic blitz of 1941.
“A magnetic observatory in Cheltenham, Md., operated by the U.S. Coast and Geodetic Survey, registered six separate occurrences of geomagnetic storms with a K index of 9 (the most intense value possible). Five of these occurred consecutively over a 24-hour period. In terms of a related global index , the level of geomagnetic activity over a 24-hour period has not since been matched.”
An artistic graphic on sunspots that accompanied an informational story in The Plain Dealer’s syndicated “Uncle Ray’s Corner” column, published in the Illinois State Journal on 21 September 1941, a few days after a geomagnetic storm produced spectacular auroral displays. Credit: Plain Dealer Archive/Advance Media and State Journal Register
Assertive auroras danced from New Mexico to Chicago, New York and Washington DC. The Chicago Tribune wrote “a cosmic brush painted the Chicago sky with light”. Auroras across Europe were described by press in context of the war – illuminated by geomagnetic light, the British Royal Air Force bombed a German supply base on the Baltic Sea, and German forces stormed besieged Leningrad. Betrayed by aurora’s light, German aircraft attacked a convoy of Allied supply ships.
“Kapitänleutnant Eitel-Friedrich Kentrat of U-74 recorded the ensuing events in his war diary [Morgan and Taylor, 2011, pp. 119–123]: “September 18, 1941, visibility 4–6 nautical miles, a number of smoke plumes on the horizon, vessels seem well strung out.” Kentrat had spotted SC-44, a Canadian convoy of cargo ships. For protection, a destroyer and small antisubmarine warships known as corvettes escorted SC-44 along its journey.
At 22:30 UT, Kentrat issued a radio dispatch to headquarters and the other Brandenburg U-boats, “Alpha. Alpha. Enemy convoy in sight. Quadrant AD9761. Course NE, moderate speed. U-74.” Unsure whether his compatriots received his message, he recorded in his diary that since 04:30 UT on 18 September, “short-wave radio reception has been very poor and it gradually cuts out altogether. We try absolutely everything but without success. I hope the other Brandenburg boats can receive me.” Unbeknownst to Kentrat, his radio problems were caused by the magnetic storm and the ionospheric disturbance that followed.
As the Sun set, the sea haze lifted. Under such conditions, a wartime convoy would normally have been relatively securely hidden in the dark of night. But not this night. The sky was ablaze with the aurora borealis. Kentrat described the conditions as being “as bright as day.” Ironically, in a postwar interview [Johnston, 2008, p. 38], a crewman on board a ship in the convoy, the SC44 corvette HMCS Lévis, recalled seeing the aurora on that evening and remarking to a fellow crewman, “What a night for a torpedoing.” This bit of dark humor would turn out to be prophetic.
At 01:00 UT on 19 September, Kentrat tried several times to maneuver U-74 into attack position on the starboard side of the convoy, only to be “driven off” each time by SC-44’s defending corvettes. They didn’t pursue for long, but Kentrat became concerned that his own U-boat was too visible “in these conditions.” (In those days, submarines were only occasionally submerged.) He decided to maneuver “to the port side of the convoy, where the Northern Lights [were] less bright.”
At 03:50 UT, Kentrat radioed, “Brandenburg boats report in immediately.” (He did not know at the time that the other U-boats had been receiving his radio messages; he just hadn’t been receiving theirs.) At 05:03 UT, from the unusually long distance of 3 kilometers, Kentrat ordered four torpedoes fired in spread formation at the convoy. Afterward, U-74 quickly turned around to escape, and Kentrat ordered a fifth torpedo fired from the stern. Monitoring the results through his periscope, Kentrat reported a direct hit, “a plume” and “green light.” A torpedo had struck the stern of the Lévis, nearly cutting her in two. Afterward, Kentrat recorded detecting a desperate Morse code signal: “help.”
As I write tonight, solar winds unleashed from a wide Earth facing coronal hole are expected to reach Earth by September 20. Science predicts geomagnetic storms over the next few days. Other than brilliant high latitude auroras, it isn’t likely many will even notice. Nor is it likely a cautionary tale of the Geomagnetic Blitz of 1941 will register as anything but a page in history.
In my mind, space weather events are the least known, least taught and least acknowledged. I don’t get it. Over and over again, irrefutable accounts of solar assaults languish in obscurity.
On February 11, 2015 NOAA launched DSCOVR (Deep Space Climate Observatory) at Cape Canaveral, Florida courtesy a Space X Falcon 9 rocket. Never destined for glories of Hubble, Rosetta or the Mars Orbiter, DSCOVR’s launch was a victory in itself. Conceived in 1998 by NASA under then Vice President Al Gore, DSCOVR was born Triana for Rodrigo de Triana, first of Columbus’s men to spot land in the Americas.
NASA development of Triana began with Al Gore’s vision of live Earth views available 24/7 via the internet. Pre “An Inconvenient Truth” Gore wanted to raise global awareness of Earth, update Apollo 17’s iconic “Blue Marble” image of our planet, and establish irrefutable scientific markers of global warming. In orbit a million miles away – able to capture a full Earth image every two hours, a sentry to monitor solar wind, coronal mass ejections, changes in ozone levels, concentrations of atmospheric dust and volcanic ash, cloud height and vegetation fluctuations.
Triana never left the launch pad. In 1999 NASA Inspector General (to be clear – NASA Office of Inspector General is a product of the Inspector General Act of 1978 – one of many independent investigative/audit units created to police 63 Federal agencies ) reported that “the basic concept of the Triana mission was not peer reviewed”, and “Triana’s added science may not represent the best expenditure of NASA’s limited science funding. Triana went down in flames with the election of George W. Bush. I suspect he took pleasure in silencing Gore’s pet project. Bush placed it on “hold”, stubbornly unmoved by a Congress funded report from the National Academy of Sciences in 2000 stating the mission was “strong and scientifically vital”. Triana gathered dust until 2008 heralded the end of Bush rule.
Final chapter of the Bush era led to push and shove from Al Gore. NASA renamed the project DSCOVR, and in 2011 Obama pitched funding of the mission as a replacement for antiquated solar observatory Advanced Composition Explorer, launched in 1997. In 2013 NASA was given the green light to proceed toward a launch date in 2015. On June 8, 2015 DSCOVR started broadcasting on the DSCOVR EPIC website, linked below –
Pondering why humanity chooses to stifle exploration of the cosmos hurts my head. War mongering, religious oppression, systematic denial of science, opportunistic corporate meddling – no excuse excuses the absurdity of blind eyes to the universe. Our world is not a product of politics or religion, we owe it to ourselves to understand what makes it tick.
Don’t despair over fall dropping summer leaves, autumn is aurora season in the northern hemisphere. Auroras dance in the wake of geomagnetic storms – the product of blustery solar winds vibrating Earth’s magnetic field. Consider our magnetic field (magnetosphere) a protective barrier of protons and electrons. When uppity solar winds smack Earth’s magnetic bubble dislodged particles shower the atmosphere with auroras iconic glow. Spring and fall have twice the geomagnetic storms as summer and winter, the product of interplanetary tilt near the equinoxes.
Interplanetary tilt – think of our sun as an enormous magnet, all planets in our solar system orbit within the Sun’s magnetosphere. At magnetopause, the point at which the farthest reach of Earth’s magnetosphere battles solar forces, our magnetic field points north. No harm no foul unless the Sun’s magnetic field tilts south, a defining characteristic occurring near the equinoxes. When north and south facing magnetic fields link up, Earth’s magnetic field is partially cancelled at point of contact, with wild abandon displaced particles dance the northern lights.
Science calls the north/south facing magnetic portal Bz. Negative south pointing Bz’s allow solar wind energy to penetrate Earth’s magnetic fortress, positive north pointing Bz’s slam the door shut. Bz’s ebb and flow in response to Earth’s wobbly axis. Every spring and fall Earth’s axis careens obligingly towards gates of the Bz portal – aurora season has arrived.
How many potatoes have I peeled? Measured by vegetable jackets we doff, would a life heap of potato skins greater than all other vegetables combined betray age, rural childhood? Do ponders of what to eat salivate anticipation over a plain boiled potato – of course not. Texture aside, try describing a plain boiled potato.
Growing up, unless a rare spaghetti night broke the monotony, dinner included a pot of potatoes – 7 people, 7 potatoes plus “one for the pot”. Skinning potatoes was easy, summoning root cellar courage was another matter. Lurking beneath the kitchen floor, it existed in another dimension. Ten steps down to audible protests of a wood plank door, passage into cellar’s domain called for swift adherence to entry protocol – one deep breath to mitigate cellar’s earthy assault on senses, focused determination to locate light bulb’s string, followed by fixation on tidy mason jar rows of peaches and tomatoes. Glass caged peach optimism derailed packed earth floor and walls long enough to snatch potatoes and run. For a few weeks each summer “new potatoes” escaped the cellar, thin skinned delicacies boiled intact with a handful of fresh mint.
I love potatoes. Perfect recipient for butter or gravy, enthusiastic sponge for dinner plate juices. Mashed, scalloped, shredded, fried, stewed, caked, salad – a food staple champion. History found potatoes in Bolivia and Peru, cultivated in the Andes for up to 10,000 years. Apparently the Inca thought slices placed on broken bones would speed healing, carried in pocket prevented rheumatism and measured time in potato units – time it took to cook potatoes. In 1537 Spanish conquistadors introduced potatoes to the known world. Per person North Americans eat 110 pounds of potatoes a year, double that consumption for residents of Europe. Ireland was introduced to potatoes when Queen Elizabeth 1 gave Sir Walter Raleigh 40,000 acres of land to grow tobacco and potatoes. Prior to the Great Famine of 1845-1852, average Irish families consumed 10 pounds of potatoes a day. Close to a million people starved to death, another million emigrated during an outbreak of crop failing potato blight – the potato credited with Ireland’s population falling by 25%. Below a source of little known potato facts –
In primary school most of us cut potatoes in half, carving designs to make stamps. Did you know potato water cleans silver – after cooking remove potatoes, immerse tarnished silver in potato water for an hour. Remove rust from cast iron pans or baking sheets – rub with a cut potato, acids in the flesh wipe it away. Last night I found instruction on growing rose bushes from cuttings inserted into potatoes –