You need to upgrade your Flash Player The theme of this blog is not only and obviously space, but in particular “terrestrial worlds”, places that tend to have surfaces on which one could walk or at least attach oneself to. These places sometimes also have other earth-like familiar features such as atmospheres, weather, volcanos, geysers and perhaps, we are finding, even exotic oceans, rivers or lakes that are not necessarily made of familiar materials we are used to here at home. The second theme is imagery. Occasionally I do some retouching of images when needed if an image is incomplete or sometimes “dirty” or noisy. I will attempt to correct image shortcomings based upon other images or well-accepted presumed attributes. When this is done, notes will be offered as to what was added, why and sometimes how it was done. This way no one should ever wonder if something they are looking at is real or photoshop.

Archive for the 'Article' Category

Project Blue: A Mission to Image Another Earth

Thursday, November 17th, 2016

Help support the creation of the first space based telescope dedicated to the observation of one star system: Centauri our closest celestial neighbor. Project Blue’s ultimate goal is to take the first visible light image of an Earth like planet outside of our own Solar System. The Kickstarter funding goal is 1 million, but I have been posting this image with the goal of 4 million becuase that pays for everything except getting the telescope launched.

The mission patch was designed by our sister site chopshopstore.com, well known for their Robotic Spacecraft Series of prints. They are also responsible for the official mission patch for The Planetary Society’s LightSail. As of now only the patch design is released to the campaign, but there are also plans for a more detailed limited edition screenprint for the campaign to be unveiled around November 28.

99% Invisible: Space Trash

Wednesday, October 26th, 2016

This week’s 99% Invisible is all about the ever worsening issue of space trash. If you haven’t heard of the show… this would be a great one to start with.

Full disclosure: Our sister site chopshopstore.com also sells merchandise for 99% Invisble and several other public radio programs from Radiolab to the Radiotopia family of podcasts.

A Major Discovery at Proxima Centauri

Friday, August 19th, 2016

The closest star to our own is apparently going to be the center of a major announcement at the end of the month. Sorry to tell them, but the cat (if there is a cat) is already out of said bag. And — this is coming on the heels of the Breakthrough Initiatives announcement of Starshot, a nano-mission to the nearest star system within a generation. A group backed by Stephen Hawking, Carl Sagan’s widow Ann Druyan and Mark Zuckerberg.

On a related note, Chop Shop (our more commercial entity) just released their first design for Icarus Interstellar Build a Starship which happens to feature the Centauri System (that is Proxima upper right). Centauri is a triple star system with Beta Centauri in orbit around Alpha Centauri. Despite the graphic’s presentation… Proxima Centauri’s orbit (if there is one) is so long that they are not even sure if it actually orbits the two or if it is just locked into position trailing the two.

Help Kickstart LightSail

Wednesday, May 13th, 2015


Planetary Society’s first ever Kickstarter is up and it is already sailing toward it’s goal. In just 24 hours they are halfway to reaching their 200K goal! This will fill the existing budget gap the Society is currently operating under and will make LightSail a fully funded before it’s first planned launch later this month.

A part of the rewards in the offing is Chopshopstore’s Poster #6 from their Historic Robotic Spacecraft Series. However, about 2/3 of all the large scale screenprints are already spoken for. So if you want to help the Society’s first campaign as well as secure #6 in this series — do it asap.

Ceres: Several White Spots

Monday, February 9th, 2015

There are now several white spots appearing on Ceres as Dawn makes it’s final approach to the dwarf planet. Any knee-jerk expectation say that there is merely a brighter material beneath the surface that was revealed by ancient impacts. Why the surface is darker and the underneath material is brighter (see Iapetus) would be a mystery… but perhaps they still may be related to the active geysers scientists have previously predicted due to data provided by The Herschel Infrared Space Observatory.

We shall soon see.

Discover’s Best of Amateur Imagers

Wednesday, September 10th, 2014

Discover online has an article today about some of the best in amateur space imaging. Many of which have been featured here on Wanderingspace before like Gordan Ugarkovic, Emily Lakdawalla and Bjorn Jonsson to name a few. The last item from Bill Dunford of Riding With Robots is an image that he actually suggested NASA point their HiRise cameras at that location. He suspected they might find something interesting there and they did —flash water movement and evidence of avalanches.

What Good is Space Exploration?

Saturday, February 23rd, 2013

Answer: Could change/save the world as we know it.

Short-sighted discreditors of space exploration often question what good it is to have a man on the moon. What good can come of sending probes to Mars for so many millions of dollars? Leaving aside mankind’s natural impulse to learn and understand everything around us (not to mention how well it has served us), practical reasons for exploring something as barren as our moon do run thin to the average citizen. While I do so value the science that happens at such remote locations, it is the getting there that challenges us to push the boundaries of known science. Coming up with a better and safer means of space travel can wind up producing something like this; a potentially abundant green source of energy that could transform the world and be the answer to many of the problems facing the us today.

What is often hard to explain to people who negate the need for space exploration are the side benefits of such programs for the whole world. Just like wars, performing something as technically challenging as space exploration results in pushing the boundaries of science in directions it might not have otherwise gone. When Sputnik was launched, most believed that space would go the way of a militarized zone and become a new battleground for superiority. Instead, all these years later we enjoy a vast communication network that has helped topple entire governments without a single bullet being fired. If it is a choice, I would choose space exploration over another world war to press mankind further along the path of progress any day.

So to those who think the best that going to the moon has produced is velcro — consider the possibility that by NASA may be on the way to providing the world with abundant clean energy as the result of trying to find a cheaper safer way to the stars. Not a bad fringe benefit.

DIY Space Exploration

Tuesday, October 19th, 2010

The video you are watching comes from a camera attached to a weather balloon that rose into the upper stratosphere and recorded Earth against the blackness of space. This is amazing if you consider its a family that just decided to try it. Anyone could have done this before NASA or the Soviets had the ability to video record been as common as it is today. It is also worth noting that this is fairly similar to the way the Air Force did actually obtain the first ever images of Earth from space.

June: Hayabusa Comes Home?

Monday, May 31st, 2010

If you Google “Hayabusa” you will likely find a few articles about a mission plagued by problems and will leave you with the impression that the engineers at JAXA are a bunch of bumbling goons. What you will find less of is the fact that a sample-return mission is just about the most difficult types of missions any organization can attempt. As a matter of fact, only 4 sample-return missions (other than Apollo) have ever been successfully executed in history. Two Lunar missions by the Soviets with Luna 20 and 24 and much later, two American lead missions Genesis and Stardust which collected space dust and cometary particles. It is worth noting also that only two of those missions actually included landing on the surface of another body, grabbing some samples and then returning home. So for JAXA to even attempt such a bold mission without having even 1% the robotic mission experience of the USA and the Russians is all by itself an accomplishment.

So what were the failures? Well, there is a long list of issues including: a Solar Flare that destroyed solar cells aboard the craft, two reaction wheels that control movement failed, two attempts to fire pellets at the surface failed (to kick up the samples into the collection cannister) and finally a whole litany of communication errors, fuel leaks and telemetry issues which put the mission in serious doubt of ever returning to Earth. To make a long story short — the probe did touch-down on the surface of asteroid Itokowa. The first such mission ever intentionally designed to do so (NASA did have an impromptu touch down on 433 Eros in 2000, but that was more a controlled crash). Despite the pellet failures, mission specialists think that the very act of touching down was likely to kick up enough dust to collect some materials in the collection canister. After much wrangling with a seriously debilitated spacecraft they managed to get Hayabusa on make-shift trajectory back to Earth, very much later than planned… but home just the same.

With fingers crossed, the sample package is to parachute down in South Australia on or around June 13th at which point it will be shuttled back to Japan and hopefully they will find something contained within. Even if it is just a few particles, it will still be the only samples of asteroid particles un-altered by the extreme heat of a natural Earth entry (aka: a meteor) and only the 3rd time in history a probe landed on another world and returned a piece of it back to Earth for study. Not bad for the new kids in space.

Pictured at top is a frame from the trailer “Hayabusa Back to Earth” in anticipation of the potentially successful sample-return mission. It appears to be a 3-D render based on actual images returned from the mission. The second is an actual image with the shadow of the spacecraft as it maneuvered to a close encounter with its target. The third image illustrates what touch-down may have been like for Hayabusa. You can see the large amount of theoretical dust kicked up by the thrusters which may be JAXA’s best hope for actually having captured particles in the sample-return canister.

Echos of Apollo Online

Friday, July 17th, 2009

Follow the Apollo 11 mission in real time at wechosethemoon.org for the 40th anniversary of Apollo 11. The site comes complete with a gorgeous mission animation that shows the viewer what stage the mission is in as the data loads in the background. Once the page opens up we are treated to various interactive modules like photo and video galleries featuring material from the current stage of the mission as well as an oddly placed JFK and Apollo gallery.

The best part is the real-time audio stream. As I am writing this, the astronauts are asleep and every 15 minutes mission control interrupts the static to essentially report how long they have been asleep and that the mission is progressing nominally. As boring as that is… it sure makes it real and takes those too young to have been a part of it as close to knowing how that might have felt to follow this historic event. Of course, the whole thing peaks on the 20th with the real-time streaming of touch down at Tranquility Base.

Also see NASA’s newly restored footage of Apollo 11 and Neil Armstrong’s magnificent first step.

Peace on Earth and Goodwill Toward Men

Saturday, January 3rd, 2009

Almost exactly 50 years ago, America was playing catch up with the Soviet Union and their multiple successes with the Sputnik series of spacecraft. President Eisenhower feared the Soviets would receive any use of military rockets to deliver spacecraft as a threat to their national security and not as a means to achieve our own scientific goals. For this reason, America’s early attempts to put a satellite in orbit were all failures and eventually placed the US in the embarrassing position of having no success in space vs. the Soviet’s many.

When America finally did resort to using the military class Jupiter rockets to deliver the Explorer series of satellites, the space race had begun and America’s losing streak was over. As Eisenhower feared, the Soviets immediately reacted by protesting Explorer’s “violation” of Soviet borders as the satellite had an orbit that passed over their air space (despite the fact that Sputnik had done the same over the US). To help tamp down any perceptions that the American space program was a militaristic show of aggression, Eisenhower asked NASA to make it’s next launch a different kind of satellite.

On December 18, 1958 the SCORE satellite was placed into orbit and became the world’s first communications satellite by broadcasting the following message:

“This is the President of the United States speaking. Through the marvels of scientific advance, my voice is coming to you via a satellite circling in outer space. My message is a simple one: Through this unique means I convey to you and all mankind, America’s wish for peace on Earth and goodwill toward men everywhere.”

Happy New Year.

LDEF Fetish

Wednesday, November 26th, 2008

Long Duration Exposure Facility

The LDEF was the Long Duration Exposure Facility (which I actually remember being released by the Shuttle in 1985) is essentially a drum of science experiments that was just to expose various materials and surfaces to the hostile environment of space. Couldn’t resist posting on this post from thenonist.com that displays a bunch of the individual panels of this thing as artwork.

LDEF Panel

CASSIE the Online Cassini Simulator

Saturday, February 2nd, 2008

CASSIE at www.saturn.jpl.nasa.gov

Go over and check out the interactive Cassini simulator at saturn.jpl.nasa.gov. Shown above is the simulator’s view of Cassini’s upcoming Enceladus flyby. Scale at this view is not terribly accurate as when you spin the view around — it will seem as if the spacecraft is the same size as the moon. However, it is pretty cool watching the mission in high speed with the labels and orbit trails turned on as seen below.

CASSIE with Trails

You will probably have to install a plug-in to use this, but it is quite simple. It should take care of itself for PC users, for MAC users you only need to download the installer and execute the installation from wherever your downloaded files reside. Some platforms may require restarting the browser should the plug-in appear to not be working after installation.

If this isn’t impressive enough for you and you want to go hard-core, try downloading CELESTIA. This is an application based simulator of our galaxy that is supported by a community of users which expand the program’s capabilities by keeping the surface maps of all the planets and moons up to date. There are even mission simulators you can download and ride shotgun along with historic missions such as Voyager and many others. Even more impressive is flying to other star systems where astronomers have discovered exo-planets and discovering that someone has already added a hypothetical model of that new world to the data set. A fair warning is in order — installing this is and then expanding the program through use of the Celestia Motherlode may result in hours worth of unproductive time.

Enceladus flyby in Celestia

Here is what an Enceladus flyby looks like in Celestia with updated skins. This is an actual screengrab from the application.

The Regan Saturn Portrait Extended Mix

Friday, November 2nd, 2007

Ian Regan Saturn Portrait

The one Saturn image that we keep coming back to at wanderingspace seems to be the Ian Regan portrait of Saturn. The composition, angle and color captured in the shot somehow seem to be better than any other. While there are a few other full Saturn images now available from the Cassini mission, none seem to have captured the drama that this one does. The angle that the ring shadows fall on Saturn’s disc, the phase that Saturn happened to be in at the time and the color available as the shot was taken from a more northern position. However, trying to apply the image to larger scale resolutions was not possible as the resolution in the orignal would require that the rings be extended to fill the frame on the left, right, bottom and potentially the top as well (I was also curious to see if the image was just as impressive if it was not angled and cropped as it is in the original). Extending the rings in one direction is easy enough, but doing it on all sides is near impossible to try to do in any image editing software such as Photoshop.

Ian Plus WS

Instead, a one pixel wide swash of the rings was sampled and turned into vectors using Adobe Illustrator. This further allows Illustrator to stretch and curve the ring information captured without having to worry about resolution or pixel distortion. The row of rings was then applied to a brush pattern and applied and wrapped to a simple circle shape. Now the rings are in full circle and the proportions are adjusted. That full set of rings was then rendered in 3-D software and the correct angle as well as perspective was applied and matched with the original Ian Regan image underneath the render for reference.

Regan and Wanderingspace Saturn Portrait

After that, all that is left to do is merge the Regan image to the rings (and maintain as much of the original image as possible) and artificially add the disc shadow that would fall upon the rings behind the planet iteself.

To see the image in hi-res use check out the 2560×1600 wallpaper sets for The Planets and Saturn Scenes

First Image From Space

Monday, February 19th, 2007

Contrary to popular belief, the first man-made object to enter space was not Sputnik. An amazing factoid considering that the space race was a major battleground in the Cold-War between the Soviets and America. Oddly, very little information about these first rockets into space can be found almost anywhere. One of the best references is this article from Air & Space magazine’s web site. The article is centers around the fact that, in addition to being one of the first man-made objects in space (the first was actually German!), the V2s also returned the first images of Earth from space.

On October 24, 1946, a V2 rocket was blasted off from White Sands Missile Range and climbed about 65 miles straight up. There it began snapping images until minutes later it fell back to Earth with no parachutes. The cannister containing the camera was smashed, but luckily the film itself was unharmed and was later developed revealing to us Earthlings a glimpse of our own world from higher up than we had ever seen before.

First Image of Earth

While the above image is fascinating enough… that image was shot on V2 #13 and later experiments also took cameras along for the ride. Considering how long ago these were taken, another image from V2 #21 taken in 1947 is even more impressive in its detail and clarity.

Another Early V2 Earth Image