Category Archives: Space

To The Moon Again – Maybe

You’ve probably heard of NASA’s Artemis mission. They’ve been designing and building the Space Launch System (SLS) and the Orion spacecraft for about a dozen years. It’s NASA’s program to bring crews back to the Moon’s surface and eventually build a permanent base on the Moon.

The plan is for the Artemis I mission to launch as an uncrewed test flight, possibly as early as 08:30 AM (or so) EST tomorrow morning. As we speak they’ve had a delay in starting the fueling due to thunderstorms in the area, so that time may bet bumped a bit, but they have a two-hour long window, so there’s some slack available. If they aren’t able to launch tomorrow morning (this is a first launch, a gazillion things could hold them up) they have more launch opportunities later in the week and next week.

This will be about a 40 to 42 day mission, depending a little on when they launch. It’s that whole “we’re moving, the Moon’s moving, orbital mechanics” thing.

If all goes well (eventually) with Artemis I, then Artemis II in 2023 or 2024 will carry a crew. They won’t land on the Moon, but they’ll go past it, around it, and then back to check out the whole system. If that goes well, then Artemis III is scheduled for 2025 to land a crew near the South Pole of the Moon. That crew wouldn’t be there for a day like Apollo 11 or even three days like Apollo 17. It would stay for a couple of weeks at least and start working on the foundation for a future lunar base.

There’s no “maybe” to me if we’re talking about going back, just “maybe” in terms of whether Artemis I will be launching tomorrow or not. Even if NASA wasn’t building Artemis, SpaceX has clear plans to get crewed and cargo missions there using Starship, and that should be flying in six to twelve months, with crewed flights not too long afterwards. Not to mention the Chinese, who have a clearly stated goal of putting their crews on the Moon.

When I was four, my dad got up up at O’Dark Thirty to watch Scott Carpenter and John Glenn go into space. In 1973, while only 17, I went to Florida to watch Skylab launch. I’ve been dragging my butt out of bed way too early to watch Mercury, Gemini, Apollo, Skylab, Shuttle, ISS, and SpaceX. I’m sure I’ll be up too early tomorrow morning as well.

You can watch live also, on NASA-TV.

If the weather has turned bad or something else has gone south and they’ve scrubbed, I’ll go back to bed and we’ll try again in a few days. If not, I’ll be hoping to see our spacecraft go back to the Moon.

Let’s hope it’s a good day to go to space! If not, let’s hope they remember that it’s better to be safe down here, wishing you were up there, than to be in trouble up there, wishing you were down here.

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Jupiter Rising

While the morning skies have been filled with bright planets and even included an amazing lineup of five planets (Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter, and Saturn, not necessarily in that order) a few weeks ago, the evening sky has been empty. DUH! All of the planets are off on the other side of the sun in the morning sky!

And you didn’t see any pictures here because I am *NOT* a morning person under the best of circumstances in my dotage.

But now Saturn and Jupiter are moving back into the late evening sky, rising about 21:00 or 22:00 local time and getting up above the trees by 23:00.

That’s Jupiter, very bright, just to the left of that big tree in the lower center. Saturn is up behind those clouds somewhere, not quite as bright, a little bit yellowish colored. Binoculars will let you pick out the Galilean moons of Jupiter, and it doesn’t take much of a telescope to show them both as disks, Saturn with its rings.

If you’re out walking the dog, or the dog’s walking you, just before bed, take a peek.

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Random Old Photos – August 21st

So, okay, nothing random about it. Five years ago today we were dodging clouds and finally ending up in southeaster Nebraska, in the parking lot of a Sinclair gas station at the intersection of US Highway 136 and Nebraska Route 4, between Filley and Beatrice.

Going back through the photos from that day, I don’t think I’ve shared this one because it’s blurry and out of focus, poorly exposed. But it shows a phenomenon called “Bailey’s Beads” where in the last fraction of a second before totality the Sun’s extremely bright surface can be seen through mountain passes on the edge of the Moon’s edge.

I’m sharing it to day as a reminder to me and a lesson to anyone else who’s interested, that events like total solar eclipses are chaotic, fluid, and fast. You can plan and practice and prepare and check your equipment until you’re numb. The more of that you do the more that you’ll increase your odds of success. But that doesn’t mean you’ll succeed. There’s a luck factor in addition to not knowing what you don’t know. If you don’t know something, it’s hard to prepare for it.

On April 8, 2024 there will be another total solar eclipse crossing the US. The longest totality and the widest path will be in Texas, but as the path of totality sweeps up through Oklahoma, Arkansas, Missouri, Illinois, Kentucky, Indiana, Ohio, Pennsylvania, New York, Vermont, New Hampshire, and Maine it will include cities like Dallas, Little Rock, Evansville, Indianapolis, Dayton, Akron, Cleveland, Buffalo, Rochester, and Burlington.

Somewhere along that path, hopefully in a spot with crystal clear skies, on the center line, as far south as possible to get as much totality as possible, I’ll be there with lessons learned and a second chance. And I’ll have practiced and prepared and planned and with a bit of luck I’ll get a fantastic, focused, and fabulous picture of Bailey’s Beads. And the corona. And the partial stages. And shadow bands.

And I’ll also remember to take a minute in the midst of it all to simply look and be awestruck.


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Final 2022 Supermoon

Well, at least until they start pushing a normal, average moon as a “supermoon” just for clickbait.

What it absolutely is is a full moon, about two hours past full. So, a 99.9% full moon.

Remember, the Moon’s orbit isn’t perfectly round, so sometimes when it’s at full moon, directly opposite the Earth from the Sun, sometimes it that instant it’s a bit closer, sometimes a bit further away. Most of the time it’s about average. On those handful of times per year when it’s closer than average, the clickbait mainstream media trumpets it as a “SUPERMOON!!!

If the clickbait mainstream media wasn’t doing that, the odds of you noticing the difference would be tiny. Miniscule. Extremely unlikely.

Astronomically small. (Sorry, not sorry.)

What tonight’s supermoon is also doing is wiping out our ability to see about 90% of the Perseid meteor shower. You need a nice, dark sky to see the most meteors. The full moon is thousands of time brighter, so you can only still see the very brightest of the meteors.

Enjoy the beautiful moon! Good luck with the brightest meteors!



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Late Afternoon Moon

Every now and then someone goes off on social media about how they’ve seen the moon during the day and it’s NEVER BEEN THERE BEFORE (LIKE, EVER!!) so this is obviously a sign of the impending apocalypse or a glitch in the Matrix or a conspiracy by the Illuminati or something.

These people are usually mocked hideously (as they should be, because, jeez!) but it does make me wonder just how clueless some folks can be about the world around us. I understand that not everyone can have a college degree in the sciences or be the next “Jeopardy!” super champion. But where exactly do we set the bar for awareness of “common knowledge” facts about the reality that surrounds us 24/7/365?

I think it’s safe to assume that by their teenage years everyone should have noticed that the moon is often visible in the daylight hours. Water is wet, the sun rises in the east and sets in the west, fire is hot, Darth Vader is Luke’s father, and the moon is often visible in the daylight hours.

(Too early for spoilers on the Luke thing?)

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Happy Landiversary, Curiosity!

Ten years ago:

From: NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory

Ten years ago, Opportunity made this terrifying, improbable ride from space to the surface of Mars, successfully plopping itself down in Gale Crater to look for evidence that Mars once had liquid water on its surface and the possibility of an environment which could have led to the evolution of life.

The SUV-sized rover was designed to last one Martian year, or 687 Earth days. Anything after that was gravy.

Today was day #2,965 of gravy as Curiosity continues to operate, explore, and climb while it sends back thousands of pictures and other data from the surface of Mars.


(And going strong.)

Happy Landiversary, Curiosity! And congrats to everyone at NASA and JPL who continue to Dare Mighty Things.

Curiosity has taken over 500,000 images. What’s it looking at tosol?

Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/LANL

The ChemCam is looking at rocks.

Want to see a recent, more conventional image?

Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

Click on it to see it full-sized, it’s a big image.

Carry on, Curiosity. You’re doing great!!


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ISS Pass – July 15th

As expected, the late ISS pass tonight was very low in the sky.

There’s the Big Dipper up there again, but instead of passing through the “bowl” of the dipper, the ISS path just barely passes above the trees.

Better yet, click on the image to blow it up to full sized – look at all of those planes, especially right down by the horizon. That’s all of the big jets coming into LAX from the Bay Area, the Pacific Northwest, and Asia.

No joy on seeing Dragon. With docking only about eight or nine hours away I figured that it would be close, but I didn’t see it at all, even watching for about ten minutes after ISS went by.

Finally, the other screw up was forgetting to check the camera battery. Instead of catching the ISS going just barely above those trees all the way to the far horizon, I just saw it for a few minutes.

Keep watching the skies!

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ISS Pass – July 14th

It’s been a while since we did this.

(Final image compiled from 68 images using StarStaX)

Aside from it simply being great to see the ISS pass over, with the launch of a SpaceX Cargo Draon less than four hours ago I was hoping that I might see the Dragon following the ISS.

I didn’t.

The reason that Dragons, Cargo and Crew, have an “instantaneous” launch window is because they launch into the ISS’s orbital plane as the instant that the orbital plane crosses over the launch pad. Getting high and getting fast are critical to rendezvous with an orbital target, but you’re maneuvering in three dimensions. Going “sideways” once in orbit, switching from one orbital plane to another, can be expensive in terms of fuel. But that orbital plane will cross right over you twice a day, so if you launch right then, you just have to go high and fast, not sideways. Restricting your chase to two dimensions simplifies the rendezvous considerably in terms of both complexity and fuel costs.

Because of that, when two objects in the same orbital plane pass overhead, you’ll see them playing follow-the-leader. If you see a set of Starlink satellites within a day or two of launch they’ll look like a string of pearls sailing across the sky. Similarly, if you see the ISS just after a Dragon, or Soyuz, or Cygnus has just left, or just before it arrives, you’ll see the bright ISS with the dimmer, smaller spacecraft following the same path.

It’s math. Physics. Orbital Mechanics!

Tonight, alas, the Dragon probably isn’t close enough since it just launched and won’t catch up to ISS until Saturday morning. Dragon will be in that orbital plane and will be cruising along that same path, but by the time it happens it won’t be in sunlight above Los Angeles. There’s another pass tomorrow night at 22:01, but it will be low to the horizon and might not even get above the level of those trees. But we’ll see what we can see. For now, enjoy tonight’s pass!

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2022’s Biggest & Brightest Full Moon

As we know, the Moon’s orbit around the Earth is not a perfect circle, but an ellipse.

So while we get a full moon every 28 days, sometimes it’s closer to Earth, sometimes further away.

When it’s closer, it’s slightly larger and brighter than average. Tonight’s full moon is the closest, and biggest, and brightest of 2022.

Rising through the costal clouds and LA’s smog and haze, it looked a little on the orange-ish side, although not as orange as it got during the lunar eclipse a couple months ago.

As it got a little higher it got a little brighter and much more it’s normal white color.

The media loves to go off with clickbait terms like “SUPERMOON!!!” and we know how I feel about that.

It finally cleared the trees. What amazes me is the quality of the iPhone image – look at the top, just to the right of the trees and you can see the stars at the “head” of Scorpius, even in the bright moonlight.

Time to go out and howl for a bit, joining with the coyotes down in the canyon.

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Random Old Photos – July 12th

Okay, maybe not entirely random…

Yesterday’s spectacular first image from JWST and today’s additional images and spectra and data of course had me thinking about my 2015 NASA Social in which I got to be one of the first to see the Hubble Space Telescope 25th Anniversary image as well as visit NASA Goddard where JWST was being assembled.

To see my full posts and pictures of that trip, either enter “NASA Social For Hubble25” in the search box at the upper right, or use the “Archives” box in the lower right to go to April 2015.

It was a fantastic trip!

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