Ponder 2017, A Year In Space


On the cusp of 2017s last gasp, ponder a year of cosmic discovery. September 2017 marked the end of Cassini’s stoic 20 year, one billion mile journey to unlock mysteries of Saturn and its moons. A quest defined by exquisite images, unprecedented collection of data and a fiery death plunge into the heart of Saturn. We lost Cassini in 2017, but data collected on her death march will keep science busy for years. Great link to NASA Cassini timeline –

https://saturn.jpl.nasa.gov/resources/7757/

In April 2017 Harvard astronomer David Charbonneau published a study detailing LHS 114Ob, a Earth-like planet orbiting a red dwarf star 40 light years away.  “This is the one we’ve been hunting for all these years!” said Charbonneau. A rocky, temperate exoplanet with our best to date potential for finding alien life.

http://www.wired.co.uk/article/super-earth-40-light-years

Credit – M. Weiss/CfA

Speaking of exoplanets – In June 2017 NASA announced 10 of the most recent 219 planets catalogued by the Kepler space observatory, were Earth sized and potentially habitable.

Credit – NASA/JPL-Caltech

November 2017, science discovered the first documented interstellar object to enter our solar system. Object A/2017 U1 was noticed moving away from Earth at a staggering 15.8 miles per second. Now dubbed Oumuamuas, learn more at link below this image –

http://earthsky.org/space/oumuamuas-solar-system-trajectory-ottewell

Gravitational waves took October 2017 by storm, awarding the Nobel Prize in Physics to LIGO (Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory). First theorized by Albert Einstein, conclusive evidence of gravitational waves is possibly the greatest cosmic discovery of 2017. Gravitational waves occur when mass accelerates, such as when two black holes rotate around each other. Moving at the speed of light, they spread outward filling the universe. Einstein didn’t believe they could be measured, LIGO proved him wrong. Astrophysicists won’t forget 2017, the year gravitational waves validated determination to understand disruptions in spacetime.

http://www.cbc.ca/news/technology/nobel-prize-in-physics-goes-to-gravitational-wave-scientists-1.4318306

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Cosmic water rippled across 2017. From Cassini’s suggestion Saturn’s moon Enceladus harbored water, to exhaustive unraveling of ancient flowing liquid erosion on Mars and Moon research indicating a wealth of hidden water.

Saturn's moon Enceladus, photographed here by the Cassini spacecraft, has a subsurface ocean that also contains a chemical energy source that could be used by life-forms.

 

Saturn’s moon Enceladus, photographed here by the Cassini spacecraft, has a subsurface ocean that also contains a chemical energy source that could be used by life-forms.

Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Space Science Institute

 

This image of an inner slope of a crater on southern Mars has several seasonal dark streaks called “recurrent slope lineae,” or RSL.

Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/UA/USGS

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Moon water theory stems from deposits of pyroclastic rock known as volcanic glass. Glass beads form when eruptions of magma crystallize as they cool on the surface trapping water inside. Until recently decades old samples of volcanic moon glass brought back by Apollo 15 & 17  were thought to be regional peculiarities. Closer modern scrutiny confirms wide total distribution of volcanic glass – a 2017 about face regarding hidden lunar moisture.
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 Perhaps the best way to embrace wonders of 2017 is with imagery. Start here – https://www.digitaltrends.com/photography/best-space-photos/ – move on to – https://www.popsci.com/best-images-outer-space#page-2 – spend a few minutes at NASA – https://www.nasa.gov/multimedia/imagegallery/index.html
2017 catapulted cosmic foundations, science embraced unimaginable leaps toward unraveling the paradox of spacetime. Lack of understanding, dismissive frustration born of absent points of reference are no excuse to retreat from cosmic wonder. I won’t call it a resolution for the new year, but do hope more people open their minds to the cosmos. Start 2018 with links to http://earthsky.org/ or https://www.space.com/ in your news feed. Happy New Year.

 

 

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Stoic Cassini Dives Into Rings Of Saturn


Without apology to explain fondness for her remarkable existence, suffice to say Cassini’s eminent demise weighs on my mind. On September 15, 2017, just 30 days shy of her 20th launch anniversary, assisted suicide concludes the little mission that could. The magnitude of Cassini will percolate long after she’s gone.

Link to all things Cassini – https://saturn.jpl.nasa.gov/

Below – compilation of 21 images taken last week,captured by wide angle camera over 4 minutes as Cassini briefly plunged between Saturn’s innermost ring and planetary body. The rings move up as Cassini flies from sunlit to dark side. At the bottom, a gray band of Saturn’s “C Ring”. Middle, bright strip of the “B Ring”, beyond that a dimmer band of “A Ring”, and then a filament of “F Ring”. Rings appear scrunched due to Cassini’s extreme angle of view.

Link to Cassini’s timeline – https://saturn.jpl.nasa.gov/the-journey/timeline/#launch-from-cape-canaveral

Oh Cassini, you served us well. The magnitude of your unassuming contributions will percolate in cosmic wonder long after you’re gone. Watch Cassini: The Wonder of Saturn, suspend belief and wish her well. –

Cassini Reveals Saturn’s Hexagon Border


Oh Cassini, have I mentioned lately how much I admire you? In October 2015, https://notestoponder.wordpress.com/2015/10/29/cassinis-curtain-call/ defined you as NASA’s unassuming civil servant, know that your exemplary service to humanity will never be forgotten.

On April 26, 2017 Cassini embarked on the first of 22 dives toward the heart of Saturn. Sliding dutifully between Saturn’s inner ring and outer atmosphere, Cassini encountered little resistance. Unaware of external trepidation, oblivious to collective relief she wasn’t obliterated by cosmic debris, Cassini documented her journey with stoic pride.

On May 4, 2017 NASA released this video, a Cassini eye view exposing mysteries of Saturn’s hexagon north pole cloud system and central vortex. Images that suggest neighboring hexagon and vortex clouds never mix –

In September 2017 a wild abandon death plunge toward Saturn will terminate the mission. Cameras rolling, Cassini’s demise will cement the legacy of an unassuming civil servant determined to advance science.

Outstanding link to Cassini timeline –

https://saturn.jpl.nasa.gov/the-journey/timeline/#saturn-orbit-insertion

Pondering Cassini’s Imminent Demise


April 26, 2017 marks the beginning of NASA’s Cassini Mission end. Twenty years from home, fuel supplies close to exhaustion, Cassini’s imminent demise starts with the first of 22 planned dives between the rings of Saturn. The final plunge on September 22,2017 will lay Cassini to rest somewhere in the arms of Saturn. Mindful of protecting one of Saturn’s 62 moons from impact of an out of control space probe, Cassini’s assisted suicide is planned to maximize scientific discovery.

http://earthsky.org/space/cassini-at-saturn-grand-finale-2017?utm_source=EarthSky+News&utm_campaign=0b882ebc2e-EarthSky_News&utm_medium=email&utm_term=0_c643945d79-0b882ebc2e-393970565&mc_cid=0b882ebc2e&mc_eid=a5b828713b

Thomas Zurbuchen, associate administrator for the Science Mission Directorate at NASA said – “No spacecraft has ever gone through the unique region that we’ll attempt to boldly cross 22 times. What we learn from Cassini’s daring final orbits will further our understanding of how giant planets, and planetary systems everywhere, form and evolve. This is truly discovery in action to the very end.”

These videos give me goosebumps. Oh Cassini, know your service to humanity mattered.

Timeline of Cassini Mission – https://saturn.jpl.nasa.gov/the-journey/timeline/#saturn-orbit-insertion

 

Cassini’s Curtain Call


NASA’s unassuming civil servant Cassini has a thing or two to prove. Before graciously accepting an inevitable and long overdue retirement -Cassini   obligingly agreed to traipse through daunting plumes of ice and water vapor, allowing mankind unprecedented insight into ice plumes erupting from the south pole of Saturn’s moon Enceladus.

Eighteen years after launch, seven years en-route to Saturn, eleven years exploring Saturn and her moons, two mission extensions beyond wildest expectations – Cassini has nothing to lose. On October 28 this sentiment meant taking a dive at 31,000 kph to within 45 Km of Enceladus at the south pole, directly into erupting “plumes” of icy vapor.

http://earthsky.org/space/does-enceladus-support-life-7-key-facts?utm_source=EarthSky+News&utm_campaign=1f5a27b312-EarthSky_News&utm_medium=email&utm_term=0_c643945d79-1f5a27b312-393970565

Below – seven facts about Cassini/Enceladus from earthsky (linked above)

1. Early in its mission, Cassini discovered Enceladus has remarkable geologic activity, including a towering plume of ice, water vapor and organic molecules spraying from its south polar region. Cassini later determined the moon has a global ocean and likely hydrothermal activity, meaning it could have the ingredients needed to support simple life.

2. The flyby will be Cassini’s deepest-ever dive through the Enceladus plume, which is thought to come from the ocean below. The spacecraft has flown closer to the surface of Enceladus before, but never this low directly through the active plume.

3. The flyby is not intended to detect life, but it will provide powerful new insights about how habitable the ocean environment is within Enceladus.

4. Cassini scientists are hopeful the flyby will provide insights about how much hydrothermal activity – that is, chemistry involving rock and hot water – is occurring within Enceladus. This activity could have important implications for the potential habitability of the ocean for simple forms of life. The critical measurement for these questions is the detection of molecular hydrogen by the spacecraft.

5. Scientists also expect to better understand the chemistry of the plume as a result of the flyby. The low altitude of the encounter is, in part, intended to afford Cassini greater sensitivity to heavier, more massive molecules, including organics, than the spacecraft has observed during previous, higher-altitude passes through the plume.

6. The flyby will help solve the mystery of whether the plume is composed of column-like, individual jets, or sinuous, icy curtain eruptions — or a combination of both. The answer would make clearer how material is getting to the surface from the ocean below.

7. Researchers are not sure how much icy material the plumes are actually spraying into space. The amount of activity has major implications for how long Enceladus might have been active.

Linked below, NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory definitive guide to Cassini.

http://saturn.jpl.nasa.gov/

Ponder the exquisite magnificence of Cassini’s accomplishments.

Cassini’s Final Dione


A unassuming civil servant named Cassini has spent 18 dutiful years poking about the cosmos. Her passport stamps – Saturn, Phoebe, Titan, Enceladus, and Venus, joined last week by Dione.

This view from NASA's Cassini spacecraft looks toward Saturn's icy moon Dione, with giant Saturn and its rings in the background, just prior to the mission's final close approach to the moon on August 17, 2015. At lower right is the large, multi-ringed impact basin named Evander, which is about 220 miles (350 kilometers) wide. The canyons of Padua Chasma, features that form part of Dione's bright, wispy terrain, reach into the darkness at left. Image credit: NASA

This view from NASA’s Cassini spacecraft looks toward Saturn’s icy moon Dione, with giant Saturn and its rings in the background, just prior to the mission’s final close approach to the moon on August 17, 2015. At lower right is the large, multi-ringed impact basin named Evander, which is about 220 miles (350 kilometers) wide. The canyons of Padua Chasma, features that form part of Dione’s bright, wispy terrain, reach into the darkness at left. Image credit: NASA

Dione hangs in front of Saturn and its icy rings in this view, captured during Cassini's final close flyby of the icy moon. Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Space Science Institute

Dione hangs in front of Saturn and its icy rings in this view, captured during Cassini’s final close flyby of the icy moon. Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Space Science Institute

Cassini’s farewell to Dione allows for scheduled encounters with Enceladus on October 14, 18 and December 19. From December until mission conclusion in late 2017, Cassini plans to visit Daphnis, Telesto, Epimetheus, and Aegaeon, rounding out meticulous exploration of dignitaries among Saturn’s 63 or so moons. Below, Cassini’s timeline and link to NASA’s Casssini Mission –

http://saturn.jpl.nasa.gov/interactive/missiontimeline/