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.
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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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Here is what an Enceladus flyby looks like in Celestia with updated skins. This is an actual screengrab from the application.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
With all the news recently of renewed manned moon missions and the “intention” to send astronauts eventually from there on to Mars, I was thinking of the time frames on these goals. In just proposing going back to the moon, NASA has suggested this goal might take 10 years. Interesting considering that in the 1960’s we announced that goal (absent nearly all the technology to actually do it) and we actually set foot on the moon in 9 years. How it is our technology is nearly 50 years more advanced and yet it will still somehow take us one additional year more to do something we had already done 6 times previous in the 1960’s is beyond me.
Looking past the Moon to Mars I’m guessing will take, optimistically, at least another 5 years beyond that. More realistically… allowing for accidents, budget delays, etc… a manned Mars mission may not take place for 20 years from now. I am 37 right now, which makes me 57 when someone first takes a step onto Martian soil. If at that point, around 2025, we drop off from planetary exploration like we did as a reaction to the Apollo program, well… essentially… I will likely have seen as far into the cosmos as man will have traveled in my lifetime. Unless the atmosphere for this kind of exploration changes considerably in the next 20 years (which could happen) it is hard to imagine that before I shuffle off this mortal coil, that NASA (or anybody) would be willing to tackle a manned mission to places as exotic as Jupiter or Saturn inside of an additional 20 years.
All of these goals listed above would also cost a considerable amount of cash. The budget for a Moon base for instance would likely eat up all resources alloted to NASA and then moving on to Mars anytime thereafter would surely dwarf the kinds of numbers we saw for Apollo – even considering for inflation. I know some books have been written by very reliable people that suggest a manned mission to Mars could be done for 1/10 the cost that NASA tosses about regularly, but everyone knows that government agencies could not (safely) cut corners on these missions. Many would also be unwilling to politically risk the personal responsibility of some colossal failure on such a high profile event in human history. A manned mission to Mars will not be done on the cheap… trust me… there will be no New Horizons economical version on a manned mission to any place other than Starbucks Coffee.
So, considering the available band-width available to the human exploration of space… how do we get to become a space faring species like we see in popular science fiction? How might humanity ever muster up enough resources and dedication to potentially populate the Moon, populate Mars, build cities in Earth orbit, explore the moons of Jupiter and send teams of inquisitive scientists to study the lakes of Titan? The only way I could see any of that happening in such a way that it becomes a part of the everyday human experience, would be for human kind to figure out a way to do away with war.
To even approach some of the more reasonable science fiction visions of humanity’s future would cost not only a whole lot, but would actually require a lion’s share of the full available budget as national defense currently does. It is not hard to imagine that a real human reach beyond terra-fir-ma would actually be more expensive than current or even reagan-era military spending was. So much of human effort, technology and riches are either spent using or developing the machines of war in order to insure each nation’s own national security or ambitions. If you examine much else of what we human’s spend our time and resources on, you will discover that pretty much the only one of those which could theoretically be nullified is the cost of war. No matter the progress of technology, we human’s will still need to pay for social programs, health care, infrastructure… the list goes on. The only major cost of any nation – that is not directly related to some kind of progress or maintenance which is the natural result of actually having a nation or civilization to uphold – is the cost of making or protecting one’s self from an act of war.
So until we figure out how to avoid these conflicts, as well as come up with a system which can guarantee all nations protection from any rogue powers bent on invasion, we will have to keep our larger dreams of a space-faring society to tiny, little, very long and time-consuming steps. The human race has to figure out some way to stop spending a majority of its energy making war and and divert that energy into the greater goals of all sciences. Only then can the fantastic vision of the future that we have had for generations be within the reach of a single lifetime.
In my surfing for the best possible images from interplanetary probes, I stumbled upon this site from kinetikon pictures which had been set up to support a book which I was not even aware had existed. Today, so much of my work and interests are so completely ruled by the internet that I suppose I miss what might be great moments in the world of print. The book runs predictably from the inner solar system to the outer, but much like what I am trying to do here… it’s central objective is to simply show beautiful imagery. These images range from old 1960’s Lunar Orbiter missions to the Moon to the 1990’s mission to Jupiter and Galileo (notably missing from the book are images from today’s Cassini mission at Saturn). As it is with the freelance image processors linked on the main page in the right column (or from the previous post), this book is also reworking old and new data with today’s superior technology and filling in some gaps. Going back to old files and reprocessing them provides a nice pay-off for everyone concerned with space exploration and this book prooves it. Some of the images are just made better and are familiar views, others have just been over-looked, and others are whole new image composites not previously entertained with lesser technologies. This means that some of these new composite images have been stitched together from different orbits and some images even contain composites which include data from different missions in one take. The latter approach to making composite images really would have been impossible before today’s available computing technologies. if you are somewhat familiar with images from the last 40 years of robotic space exploration, this book is an exciting fresh look at these historic missions anew. If you think you have seen it all… look again.
Gordan Ugarkovic has a great collection of reworked Cassini images on Flickr. I contacted Gordan about showing some of his images here on wanderingspace and he was ever so gracious. As many people Gordan is “somewhat underwhelmed by the frequency the Cassini Imaging Team releases color composites”, so it is up to excellent freelancers like him to compile this information from the data files which are made public by NASA. Problem is that these images rarely make it to the mass media and we are stuck with the dozen or so color images the NASA imaging teams decide to produce in a year.
WALLPAPER NOTE: The left 1/3 of the “Three Moons” image was extended in Photoshop using data at the edges of the original image which was cropped to a square format. This “fake” imagery was only applied to that area of the rings and the rest of the image including the moons is actual.
Here are some other images from Gordan which are some of my favorites, but don’t trust my editing… go to the gallery and have a look yourself. For the sake of posterity I have added a permanent link to his gallery on the right side of this blog where you may note that there are already a few others linked. There were two additional ones but the sites have been taken down since I linked to them?! Hopefully the three left will stick around for a while and I will in time add more to the collection.
Tethys and Saturn’s Hazy Limb
Mimas and Prometheus on Rings
Io on Jupiters Edge
When mankind set out to observe every major known body in the Solar System, we expected to find that the planets were easily the most interesting places to study. The assumption would have been that most, if not all the moons, were just like our own – cratered. Perhaps they were made of some different materials like ice, but for the most part we expected craters. Apart from that, all we knew was that Titan would be an interesting place because it had a substantial atmosphere. However, once the grand tour of the Voyager crafts were over, we wound up looking far longer and more dumbfounded at the images of a shockingly alien and volcanic Io, or the intricately cracked shell surface of Europa. Titan, it turned out, only frustrated us as Voyager was unable to make out a single damn feature on the surface due to its thick and hazy atmosphere. Few things turned out to be as expected.
As I suggest in my life-on-Titan fantasy, we really don’t know what and where we may find just about anything. A few years ago we talked about water on Mars in terms of millions of years ago. Then we talked about the water on Mars scenario as being played out perhaps a few hundred-thousand years ago. Now we find out that at least part of the water on Mars story is as young as last week. Point being that we often find nothing where we expect to find something and find everything where we expected to find nothing. So maybe by these standards the only other life in our Solar System is a few thousand miles down deep in the clouds of Jupiter? Maybe we will one day find microbes in hibernation on a wayward asteroid that was blown off the surface of some fantastic planet and traveled the millennia across time and space from a wholly different star system?
I always recall the images presented in “Cosmos” of what Carl Sagan imagined beings from Jupiter might be like. He imagined they would be quite large and have a structure that would thrive in the intense pressure of the Jovian atmosphere. Looking more like some sort of massive sea creatures, they would float across a limited zone of the Jovian atmosphere and have no need of a terrestrial surface. Sagan even imagined that there might be other Jovian life-forms which could be natural predators of the floaters. These creatures looked like flying fish and seemed even more fantastic than the ones that were imagined previously. But what was exciting was that a serious mind like Carl Sagan didn’t consider such possibilities complete folly… surely he was aware their likelihood was slight, but he wasn’t beyond imagining the possibilities. For me a child of 8 years, that inspired me. A serious and important man like Sagan thought there could be life, not just microbes on Mars, but creatures on a place as exotic as Jupiter.
Once we leave the realm of Mars, Europa and Enceladus we have to entertain more fantastic possibilities for life elsewhere which are harder to imagine. Titan, it is assumed, would be far too cold all over (no warm spots here) for any form of life to ever take hold. However, this is assuming that all life-forms are carbon based and depend on water to survive.
On Titan we have what some call a much colder early Earth where methane plays the role that water does here on Earth. On Titan it rains methane and liquid methane collects on its surface to create rivers and even lakes. So what makes Titan an interesting subject in the conversation of where to look for life is only in that it seems so Earth-like. Compared to all the other bodies it is the only one that has almost everything Earth does – rivers, lakes, shores, volcanos, clouds, rain, lightning – an entire process that mimics the role water plays here on Earth only with methane instead, it even contains carbon compounds (the first essential to life). What if… in the remotest of possibilities… some form of life came to be here that instead thrives off of these elements? Perhaps all that life needs to thrive is a living planet which hosts materials that evaporate and make clouds which in turn rain those materials back down to the surface in liquid form to reshape and carve out the surface keeping it fresh. Who is to say that all life-forms in the universe need water and oxygen to exist? Why not sulfur? Why not Methane?
But life as we know it here at home is hardly likely on Titan. So far there is no evidence of water, temperatures or even oxygen to support a more earthly organism for even a scant of a second. Finding life in a place like Titan would be far more revolutionary than finding it on Mars, Europa or Enceladus because it would have to be so totally different from all living things that we have ever seen. It would change the very foundations of what we thought we knew about biology… Don’t get me wrong, life anywhere apart from Earth would be mind-blowing and the possibility of comparing a life-form which evolved wholly apart from all living things on Earth would be a staggeringly exciting concept to just about anybody. But discovering a life-form so totally independent from all the rules of Earth based biology would not only be fascinating, but it would also more or less verify that the universe is indeed lousy with all kinds of life-forms and would also many-fold increase the likelihood that somewhere out there are intelligent beings with which we may one day be able to communicate with. A situation that would suddenly turn science-fiction to fiction.
WALLPAPER NOTE: Color is subjective.