Juno Spacecraft to Pass Earth October 9th

The Juno spacecraft is using Earth for a gravity assist this Wednesday, October 9th! In case you aren’t familiar with Juno, it is a NASA spacecraft built to study Jupiter. I feel a special connection with Juno, because I watched it launch from Cape Canaveral aboard an Atlas V rocket on August 5, 2011.*(For more on that see the end of the article).juno

Juno is scheduled to reach Jupiter in 2016. Fun fact: Juno is the first spacecraft sent to the outer Solar System that uses solar power as its primary energy source. Juno has three huge solar panels, each nearly the size of a tractor trailer. They folded up neatly while inside the Atlas V for launch, then opened outward once in space. These panels will face the Sun, collecting energy for the duration of the voyage. Juno weighs about 8,000 pounds and is named for the Roman goddess Juno, wife of Jupiter (known as Zeus in Greek Mythology).

To get to Jupiter, Juno will perform a gravity assist using Earth. Essentially, it will use Earth’s gravity to slingshot itself out into space. The gravity assist will give Juno an extra boost of speed then it will coast the rest of the way to Jupiter. Juno is a very large spacecraft, and it will most likely be possible to view it as it makes its flyby. Unfortunately for viewers in the United States, Juno will not be visible. Observers in parts of Africa and Asia will be on the lookout. Don’t worry, you can tune in on Slooh.com for a live news feed of Juno‘s flyby. Click here for an observational chart of how to spot Juno around the world.

So what is Juno going to do once it gets to Jupiter? Juno will orbit Jupiter thirty-three times between July of 2016 and October of 2017.  It will travel in highly elongated orbits that will be slightly shifted so that after all thirty-three passes, Juno will have passed over the entire surface of Jupiter. The purpose of this elongated orbit is that it allows the craft to skim very close to Jupiter, but then takes it away again, therefore minimizing its exposure to the strong radiation coming from Jupiter. Juno will map Jupiter’s gravitational and magnetic fields, helping us better understand the structure of the planet.  It will study Jupiter’s aurorae at its poles. Juno will also measure its chemical composition more closely, including its water content. All of this information about our Solar System’s oldest planet will help scientists gain a better understanding of how Jupiter formed, which will in turn better our understanding of the formation of our entire Solar System.

Will Juno stay out there forever? Juno has a very specifically timed mission, and once it completes its work, Juno will crash into Jupiter’s atmosphere. At the end of its mission, Jupiter’s radiation will have destroyed most of the spacecraft’s instruments despite its thick shielding. The main reason for the crash down is to prevent Juno from landing accidentally on one of Jupiter’s moons. An accidental landing of an Earth spacecraft could contaminate these environments, which would complicate future study.

One last fun fact: Lego figures of Galileo as well as the Roman gods Jupiter and Juno are aboard the spacecraft.junolegos

*Below is the full dome footage that I captured of the Juno launch. We were as close as civilians could get (we were bussed in). The actual blastoff happens around two minutes in. If you watch the whole thing you can hear mission control doing preflight checks and the countdown. Also, there was a dad with his two kids who was VERY excited about the whole affair, and provides some humorous commentary throughout the video. We were far enough away that we experienced the launch in stages. First we saw the light of ignition, then a few seconds later we heard the rumble of the engines, then a few seconds later we felt the heat blast. Yes, in 95 degree Florida heat from over a mile away we still felt the heat blast from the rocket. It was truly an awesome experience.

MAVEN MISSION TO PROTECT U.S. PROPERTY

Maven(2)An exception from the federal government shutdown has been granted to NASA’s MAVEN mission “in order to protect U.S. property”. The property or properties we are talking about are on the planet Mars; the rovers Curiosity and Opportunity. If MAVEN’s launch window, which is only from November 18th through December 19th or 20th, is missed the next opportunity won’t come along until 2016. This delay would cause major problems since MAVEN’s communication equipment will take over the jobs that Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter and Odyssey have been doing and will allow us to continue to communicate with both rovers. Both MRO and Odyssey have passed their planned lifetimes. Preparation for the launch of NASA’s MAVEN mission has resumed and will continue on an emergency basis.
Besides being equipped to communicate, MAVEN will also probe the Martin upper atmosphere for clues to how the atmosphere has thinned and where its water has gone. MAVEN stands for Mars Atmosphere and Volatile Evolution mission.

Curiosity Travel Log: 9/23/2013; Odometer reading 2852m

Image

The view today from Curiosity’s Nav Cam

Since its one year anniversary on August 6th., Curiosity has traveled 1,079.52m (3,541′) or about the length of 12 football fields.  That’s an average of 22m per day which is short of NASA’s goal of at least 110m per day.  But during this period, Curiosity did have its longest drive of the mission when on 9/5 it advanced 138.62m. On that day the drive was extended well beyond what the Curiosity team at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Lab in Pasadena could see by enabling the rover’s on-board hazard avoidance system or Autonav.

Back To School Planet News!

2013-09-18_09-05-13_633Hello!

Boys and Girls have you heard the news!  The planet, stars, comets and asteroids are on the move! Stay tune for more fun activities related to our Solar System.  In the mean time lets play a game.  Use the word bank to complete the following statements!  Creat a postcard or wirte a letter about the Solar System and send it to a friend! 

  See you soon!

                                                                                 Solar System Post Card Game

I am a star! 

I am the fastest planet!   

I am the hottest planet!

You live on me!

I am the Red Planet!

I am a rock floating between Mars and Jupiter!

I am the largest planet and also home to the” great red spot”! 

I have more rings than any other planet!

I am the only planet tipped on my side!

I am the eighth planet from the Sun!

                                                                                         Solar System Word Bank

Mercury       Venus         Earth     Mars             Jupiter         Saturn       Uranus        Neptune       Sun        Asteroids      Comets

Spot a Nova in the Sky Tonight!

Alert! A nova has been discovered in the constellation Delphinus the Dolphin and it’s getting brighter each day! Novae visible to human eyes only happen once or twice every ten years. This nova can’t be seen with the naked eye yet, but we think it might be soon. delphinus

Two days ago (August 14th) an amateur astronomer named Koichi Itagaki discovered the nova in the constellation Delphinus the Dolphin. Since then, the nova has increased in brightness almost exponentially. Although it isn’t quite visible to the naked eye just yet, it is easily found through binoculars. It is quite possible that its brightness could increase even more in the next few days.

To see the nova, you’ll need a pair of binoculars or a small telescope. Locate the Summer Triangle high over head after sunset. Delphinus is a small parallelogram of stars to the lower left of the triangle. The nova is about two thirds the distance between Delphinus and the edge of the triangle.

What is a nova? The name comes from the Latin word for “new”, because novae seem to be “new stars” that appear in the sky suddenly. This is not actually the case, however. Novae are not to be confused with supernovae. Supernovae are huge explosions that occur when a large star ends its life cycle.

A nova is a sudden increase in brightness in an existing star. One cause of this occurs in a binary system (two stars orbiting each other closely). Sometimes matter will transfer from one star to the other, causing a flareup. Imagine pouring gasoline on a fire.

If you are unable to spot the nova from your backyard, check out the video below from space.com; it shows live footage of the nova taken from the Canary Islands last night.

Earth’s Group Photo

Staff at JPL celebrate Earth’s snapshot.

Last week, people all across the world waved at the skies in a group celebration of Earth’s portrait shot from 898,000,000 miles away. The Cassini spacecraft has been orbiting Saturn for nearly a decade, and in fact most of the dazzling images you’ve seen of Saturn, its rings, and its moons were captured by Cassini. On Friday, July 19, 2013 Cassini’s cameras captured images of Earth, the Moon, and Saturn in the same image frame. This wasn’t the first time Earth’s picture was taken from the outer Solar System, but this time the event was made known to the public in advance of its happening. “Wave at Saturn” images flooded social media sites as waving people took pictures with hula hoops to show their excitement and support.

Artist’s conception of Cassini orbiting Saturn.

Today we saw the first images released of Saturn and Earth. It has taken several days for the images to be ready. Why is this?

Have you ever tried to take a picture in the dark? It’s difficult… You need to keep your camera still, and leave your shutter open for a long time to capture more light. The same idea applies here. Earth was 898 million miles away from Cassini when these pictures were taken, showing up as only a faint blue dot. To add to the challenge, bright and shiny Saturn sits in the foreground of the image. On top of this, Cassini is in motion as it orbits Saturn.  Imagine trying to take a picture of a car with its headlights on and a tiny firefly sitting in a tree behind it, while riding a bicycle past the scene….

Cassini accomplishes this by taking hundreds of images. These images were sent back to humans on Earth for processing. For the past several days, scientists at NASA have been combining these images together with special computer software. To put it simply, the images are layered on top of each other and combined to form a single image.

The finished product of Cassini’s Earth, Moon, and Saturn portrait is not yet complete. The image released today is one of 33 “tiles” of the final mosaic that will show the entire planet Saturn, its rings, and Earth. Creating this picture takes a lot of work. Stay tuned as more of the puzzle is pieced together…

The first image released by NASA of Earth, Moon, and Saturn’s group photo. Earth is marked by an arrow. The moon is barely visible as a faint smudge to the lower right. This image alone was created by combining over 200 individual images captured by Cassini.