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Friday, August 01 2014 @ 06:49 AM CDT

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Armstrong's Footprints on Lunar Surface

General NewsJust over 40 years after Armstrong and Aldrin made the first footprints on the surface of the moon, the NASA Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiting Camera (LROC) took the first of several images from lunar orbit showing the astronaut's tracks from its vantage point high above the moon.

The highest resolution image taken on a later orbit of the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbital Camera (LROC) The tracks made by Neil Armstrong are seen leading to the 33-foot-wide "Little West" crater, the first crater ever imaged directly by an astronaut. Notice that even the lunchbox-sized television camera is also identified!

As amateur astronomers, virtually everyone in a two-state area who has ever visited one of our AOAS star parties has wondered about the American "flag" planted on the surface of the moon by Neil Armstrong and "Buzz" Aldrin. Why I had not considered this before did not strike me until after the first of the very latest LROC images had been released for public inspection...why the flag, and not the footprints? After all, the footprints are the living proof that men had actually gone to the moon. They landed in a relatively tiny two-stage lander and then exited the craft to place human footsteps on the moon. To me, at least, this is the defining statement of the entire Apollo era. But what most people wanted to know was, "Where can we see the flag?

I assume it goes with the whole concept of the so-called Space Race. The "race" was merely a rush to build the most effective, accurate, and most rapid delivery system for our nuclear arsenals, both from the U.S. and the U.S.S.R. The ability to place a human on the surface of the Earth's satellite had NOTHING whatsoever to do with science, although the science that American astronauts provided to the professional scientific community had a profound impact on planetary science as well as to other fields of knowledge. With the first American astronauts to travel from Earth to orbit the moon nearly 7 months prior to the manned landing in December 1968, Apollo 8 only barely beat the first Russian moon launch when their gigantic rocket called NOVA blew up in the first full-up launch of the U.S.S.R rocket system according to CIA documents made public decades after the event. The damage done to their launch facilities in the Russian plains was so extensive that for all intents and purposes, their entire "race" was over in one disastrous fell swoop.

While Apollo 8 only orbitted the moon a total of ten times, it solidified for the first time that men from the United States had actually travelled to another world in our solar system. Before this, U.S. rockets had delivered several craft to the moon on various missions from just imaging the moon as the Ranger probes snapped pictures until they raced into full-blown calamity impacting on the surface, to the later Ranger craft which actually soft-landed in the Sea of Storms roughly 1-and-a-half years prior to the landing of Apollo 12 which touched down only a few hundred yards away from the Ranger craft. One of their Apollo 12 mission objectives was to retreive the television camera which had filmed the robotic arm reaching over into the lunar soil and scooping up a small amount of soil for sampling. That TV footage was nearly as historic as the first manned landing, and provided several important reasons for being returned to Earth by astronauts Bean and Conrad a few months after the Apollo 11 mission had completed successfully. But it was the footprints that were the biggest news from this summer's high resolution pictures returned by the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiting Cameras.

Astronaut Pete Conrad at the Ranger landing site about to remove the television camera to return it to NASA scientists.
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Doing Science with a Spacecraft’s Signal

NASA Space PlaceBy David Doody

In this poster art of Mariner 4, you can see the parabolic reflector atop the spacecraft bus. Like the reflector inside a flashlight, it sends a beam of electromagnetic energy in a particular direction. Credit: NASA/JPL/Corby Waste.
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Mariner 2 to Venus, the first interplanetary flight, was launched August 27 fifty years ago. This was a time when scientists were first learning that Venus might not harbor jungles under its thick atmosphere after all. A Russian scientist had discovered that atmosphere during the rare Venus transit of 1761, because of the effects of sunlight from behind.

Mariner 2 proved interplanetary flight was possible, and our ability to take close-up images of other planets would be richly rewarding in scientific return. But it also meant we could use the spacecraft itself as a “light” source, planting it behind an object of our choosing and making direct measurements.

Mariner 4 did the first occultation experiment of this sort when it passed behind Mars as seen from Earth in July 1965. But, instead of visible light from the Sun, this occultation experiment used the spacecraft’s approximately 2-GHz radio signal.

The Mariner 4 experiment revealed Mars’ thin atmosphere. Since then, successful radio science occultation experiments have been conducted at every planet and many large moons. And another one is on schedule to investigate Pluto and its companion Charon, when the New Horizons spacecraft flies by in July 2015. Also, during that flyby, a different kind of radio science occultation experiment will investigate the gravitational field.

The most recent radio science occultation experiment took place September 2, 2012, when the Cassini spacecraft carried its three transmitters behind Saturn. These three different frequencies are all kept precisely “in tune” with one another, based on a reference frequency sent from Earth. Compared to observations of the free space for calibration just before ingress to occultation, the experiment makes it possible to tease out a wide variety of components in Saturn's ionosphere and atmosphere.

Occultation experiments comprise only one of many categories of radio science experiments. Others include tests of General Relativity, studying the solar corona, mapping gravity fields, determining mass, and more. They all rely on NASA’s Deep Space Network to capture the signals, which are then archived and studied.

Find out more about spacecraft science experiments in “Basics of Space Flight,” a website and book by this author, http://www2.jpl.nasa.gov/basics. Kids can learn all about NASA’s Deep Space Network by playing the “Uplink-Downlink” game at http://spaceplace.nasa.gov/dsn-game.
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Neil Armstrong 1930-2012

General NewsOn September 14, 2012, the cremated remains of NASA astronaut Neil Armstrong were scattered in the Atlantic Ocean according to his final wishes. May the stars shine a little brighter in memory of this modest hero of history.

"That's one small step for (a) man....one giant leap for mankind." Neil Armstrong, first human to set foot on another world, dies at 82
It is yet another day in history, a sad day. The day is similar to when and where we were the day we perhaps learned that Roosevelt had died, when WWII was finally won, when John F. Kennedy was gunned down, what we were doing when we heard the shuttle Challenger had exploded...

"Where was I when I learned Neil Armstrong had died?" I was at this computer, surfing, when the name popped up in Bing. I'd actually worried at this day arriving since the 40th anniversary of the first landing occurred on July 20, 2009, the night my cat gave birth to a litter of kittens. It is a day when we all are saddened with this historic news.

When they landed I was 14 years old, in the living room with mom and dad on July 20, 1969. Absolutely glued to the television set, I remember so distinctly the words coming on the television screen "Armstrong on Moon". I could barely see any movement on the screen from that first live TV camera, but it was the moon in the background, and Armstrong had just stepped off the landing pad of the LEM and said his immortal words, "That's one small step for (a) man....one giant leap for mankind". Not long afterward I jumped up and ran outside to look up at the moon right at that moment, and I remember feeling goosebumps and jittery, looking up at that cold-hearted orb, and knowing a man, or actually two, were there right then, and the world was forever changed. At least I hoped so.

Neil was 82, and on FaceBook, his family posted a request that I end with here. Their suggestion is one that is easy to remember, and one the entire species of mankind can perform at almost any time. Just click to view, and then perhaps leave a personal comment on your memories from 1969.
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A Brand New Age: Queue Observing at Mt. Paranal

NASA Space PlaceBy Dr. Marc J. Kuchner

European Southern Observatory at Mt. Paranal, Chile.
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First a caravan of white observatory cars arrives, winding up the narrow road to the 2600-m- (∼8500-foot-) high summit. Then the shutters around the domes open, and rays from the setting sun alight on colossal mirrors and metal struts. It’s the beginning of another busy night at Mt. Paranal, Chile, where I am learning about new, more efficient ways of managing a modern observatory.

I stepped into the observatory’s control room to soak up some of the new, unfamiliar culture. Here, under florescent lights and drop ceilings are banks of computer screens, one bank to control each of the four big telescopes on the mountaintop and a few others too. At each bank sits two people, a telescope operator and an astronomer.

The layout of this workspace was not unfamiliar to me. But the way these Mt. Paranal astronomers work certainly was. When I was cutting my teeth at Mt. Palomar observatory in California, I would only go to the telescope to take my own data. In stark contrast. everyone observing at Mt Paranal tonight is taking data for someone else.

The Mt. Paranal astronomers each spend 105 nights a year here on the mountain performing various duties, including taking data for other astronomers. The latter, they call “executing the queue.” Headquarters in Germany decides what parts of the sky will have priority on any given night (the queue). Then the Mt. Paranal astronomers march up the mountain and carry out this program, choosing calibrators, filling the log books, and adapting to changing conditions. They send the data back to headquarters, and from there it makes its way out to the wider astronomical community for study.

This new way of working allows the Mt. Paranal astronomers to specialize in just one or two telescope instruments each. Surely this plan is more efficient than the old-fashioned way, where each of us had to learn every instrument we used from scratch—sifting through manuals at 3:00 AM when the filter wheel got stuck or the cryogen ran out, watching precious observing time tick away. Here at Mt. Paranal, much of the work is done in a big room full of people, not off by yourself, reducing some dangers of the process. Also, queue observing cuts down on plane travel, an important step for cutting carbon emissions.

It’s a brand new age, I thought as I watched the giant domes spin in the silent, cold Chilean night. And maybe with queue observing, some of the romance is gone. Still, my colleagues and I couldn’t help saying as we stared out across the moonlit mountains: I can’t believe how lucky we are to be here.

Dr. Marc J. Kuchner is an astrophysicist at the Exoplanets and Stellar Astrophysics Laboratory at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center. NASA’s Astrophysics Division works on big questions about the origin and evolution of the universe, galaxies, and planetary systems. Explore more at http://www.science.nasa.gov/astrophysics/. Kids can explore these topics at http://spaceplace.nasa.gov/space.
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How Many Discoveries Can You Make in a Month?

NASA Space PlaceBy Dr. Tony Phillips

Artist’s concepts such as this one are based on infrared spectrometer data from NASA’s Spitzer Space Telescope. This rendering depicts a quadruple-star system called HD 98800. The system is approximately 10 million years old and is located 150 light-years away in the constellation Crater. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/T. Pyle (SSC)
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This year NASA has announced the discovery of 11 planetary systems hosting 26 planets; a gigantic cluster of galaxies known as “El Gordo;” a star exploding 9 billion light years away; alien matter stealing into the solar system; massive bullets of plasma racing out of the galactic center; and hundreds of unknown objects emitting high-energy photons at the edge of the electromagnetic spectrum.

That was just January.

Within NASA’s Science Mission Directorate, the Astrophysics Division produces such a list nearly every month. Indeed, at this very moment, data is pouring in from dozens of spacecraft and orbiting observatories.

“The Hubble, Spitzer, Chandra, and Fermi space telescopes continue to make groundbreaking discoveries on an almost daily basis,” says NASA Administrator Charlie Bolden .

NASA astrophysicists and their colleagues conduct an ambitious research program stretching from the edge of the solar system to the edge of the observable Universe. Their work is guided in large part by the National Research Council’s Decadal Survey of Astronomy and Astrophysics, which identified the following priorities:

     ⚫  Finding new planets — and possibly new life — around other stars.

     ⚫  Discovering the nature of dark energy and dark matter.

     ⚫  Understanding how stars and galaxies have evolved since the Big Bang.

     ⚫  Studying exotic physics in extreme places like black holes.

Observing time on Hubble and the other “Great Observatories” is allocated accordingly.

Smaller missions are important, too: The Kepler spacecraft, which is only “medium-sized” by NASA standards, has single-handedly identified more than 2300 planet candidates. Recent finds include planets with double suns, massive “super-Earths” and “hot Jupiters,” and a miniature solar system. It seems to be only a matter of time before Kepler locates an Earth-sized world in the Goldilocks zone of its parent star, just right for life.

A future astrophysics mission, the James Webb Space Telescope, will be able to study the atmospheres of many of the worlds Kepler is discovering now. The telescope’s spectrometers can reveal the chemistry of distant exoplanets, offering clues to their climate, cloud cover, and possibilities for life.

That’s not the telescope’s prime mission, though. With a primary mirror almost 3 times as wide as Hubble’s, and a special sensitivity to penetrating infrared radiation, Webb is designed to look into the most distant recesses of the universe to see how the first stars and galaxies formed after the Big Bang. It is, in short, a Genesis Machine.

Says Bolden, “We’re on track in the construction of the James Webb Space Telescope, the most sophisticated science telescope ever constructed to help us reveal the mysteries of the cosmos in ways never before possible.” Liftoff is currently scheduled for 2018.

How long will the list of discoveries be in January of that year? Stay tuned for Astrophysics.

For more on NASA’s astrophysics missions, check out http://science.nasa.gov/astrophysics/. Kids can get some of their mind-boggling astrophysics questions answered by resident Space Place astrophysicist “Dr. Marc” at http://spaceplace.nasa.gov/dr-marc-space.

This article was provided by the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, California Institute of Technology, under a contract with the National Aeronautics and Space Administration.
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Thank Goodness for Magnetism

NASA Space PlaceBy Dr. Tony Phillips

Multiple-wavelength view of X5.4 solar flare on March 6, captured by the Solar Dynamics Observatory (SDO) in multiple wavelengths (94, 193, 335 angstroms). Credit: NASA/SDO/AIA
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Only 93 million miles from Earth, a certain G-type star is beginning to act up.

Every 11 years or so, the solar cycle brings a period of high solar activity. Giant islands of magnetism — “sunspots” — break through the stellar surface in increasing numbers. Sometimes they erupt like a billion atomic bombs going off at once, producing intense flares of X-rays and UV radiation, and hurling massive clouds of plasma toward Earth.

This is happening right now. Only a few years ago the Sun was in a state of deep quiet, but as 2012 unfolds, the pendulum is swinging. Strong flares are becoming commonplace as sunspots once again pepper the solar disk. Fortunately, Earth is defended from solar storms by a strong, global magnetic field.

In March 2012, those defenses were tested.

At the very beginning of the month, a remarkable sunspot appeared on the Sun’s eastern limb. AR1429, as experts called it, was an angry-looking region almost as wide as the planet Jupiter. Almost as soon as it appeared, it began to erupt. During the period March 2nd to 15th, it rotated across the solar disk and fired off more than 50 flares. Three of those eruptions were X-class flares, the most powerful kind.

As the eruptions continued almost non-stop, Earth’s magnetic field was buffeted by coronal mass ejections or “CMEs.” One of those clouds hit Earth’s magnetosphere so hard, our planet’s magnetic field was sharply compressed, leaving geosynchronous satellites on the outside looking in. For a while, the spacecraft were directly exposed to solar wind plasma.

Charged particles propelled by the blasts swirled around Earth, producing the strongest radiation storm in almost 10 years. When those particles rained down on the upper atmosphere, they dumped enough energy in three days alone (March 7-10) to power every residence in New York City for two years. Bright auroras circled both poles, and Northern Lights spilled across the Canadian border into the lower 48 states. Luminous sheets of red and green were sighted as far south as Nebraska.

When all was said and done, the defenses held — no harm done.

This wasn’t the strongest solar storm in recorded history — not by a long shot. That distinction goes to the Carrington Event of September 1859 when geomagnetic activity set telegraph offices on fire and sparked auroras over Mexico, Florida, and Tahiti. Even with that in mind, however, March 2012 was remarkable.

It makes you wonder, what if? What if Earth didn’t have a magnetic field to fend off CMEs and deflect the most energetic particles from the Sun.

The answer might lie on Mars. The red planet has no global magnetic field and as a result its atmosphere has been stripped away over time by CMEs and other gusts of solar wind. At least that’s what many researchers believe. Today, Mars is a desiccated and apparently lifeless wasteland.

Only 93 million miles from Earth, a G-type star is acting up. Thank goodness for magnetism. With your inner and outer children, read, watch, and listen in to “Super Star Meets the Plucky Planet,” a rhyming and animated conversation between the Sun and Earth, at http://spaceplace.nasa.gov/story-superstar.

This article was provided by the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, California Institute of Technology, under a contract with the National Aeronautics and Space Administration.
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NASA Helps Europe Study a Comet -- Up Close and Personal

NASA Space Place
Rosetta’s lander Philae will eject from the spacecraft, touch down on the comet’s nucleus, and immediately fire a harpoon into the surface to anchor itself so it won’t drift off in the weak gravity.
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Europe’s Rosetta spacecraft is on its way to intercept comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko. Comets have been intercepted before, but this mission is different. Rosetta aims to make history by landing a probe on the comet’s surface while the mother ship orbits overhead.

“Rosetta is the European equivalent of a NASA flagship mission,” explains Claudia Alexander, project scientist for the U.S. Rosetta Project at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory. “It will conduct the most comprehensive study of a comet ever performed.”

Rosetta’s payload contains 21 instruments (11 on the orbiter, 10 on the lander) designed to study almost every aspect of the comet’s chemistry, structure, and dynamics. Three of the sensors were contributed by the U.S.: Alice (an ultraviolet spectrometer), IES (an ion and electron sensor), and MIRO (a microwave sounder).

The main event of the mission will likely be the landing. The 100-kg lander, which looks a bit like a cross between NASA’s old Viking Mars landers and a modern microsatellite, will spend two weeks fastened to the comet’s icy surface. The European-built probe will collect samples for analysis by onboard microscopes and take stunning panoramic images from ground level.

“First the lander will study the surface from close range to establish a baseline before the comet becomes active,” explains Alexander. “Then the orbiter will investigate the flow of gas and dust around the comet's active, venting nucleus.”

Rosetta’s sensors will perform the experiments that reveal how the chemicals present interact with one another and with the solar wind. Alice and MIRO detect uncharged atoms and molecules, while IES detects the ions and electrons as the solar wind buffets the nucleus.

One problem that often vexes astronomers when they try to study comets is visibility. It’s hard to see through the dusty veil of gas billowing away from the heated nucleus. The microwaves MIRO detects can penetrate the dust, so MIRO can see and measure its target molecules even when other instruments can’t.

MIRO is one of several experiments focused on the comet’s structural properties. It will determine the comet’s dielectric constant, emissivity, and thermal conductivity to determine whether it is made of a powdery loose material, has a detectable layer of loose material, or is hard as rock.

“We want to find out whether comets have retained material from when the solar system formed,” says Alexander. “If the ancient materials are still there, we can get an idea of what conditions were like at the dawn of the solar system.”

Rosetta enters orbit in 2014. Stay tuned for updates!

Check out “Comet Quest,” the new, free iPhone/iPad game that has you operating the Rosetta spacecraft yourself. Get the link at spaceplace.nasa.gov/comet-quest.

This article was provided by the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, California Institute of Technology, under a contract with the National Aeronautics and Space Administration.
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The Hidden Power of Sea Salt, Revealed

NASA Space Place
Aquarius produced this map of global ocean salinity. It is a composite of the first two and a half weeks of data. Yellow and red represent areas of higher salinity, with blues and purples indicating areas of lower salinity.
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Last year, when NASA launched the Aquarius/SAC-D satellite carrying the first sensor for measuring sea salt from space, scientists expected the measurements to have unparalleled sensitivity. Yet the fine details it's revealing about ocean saltiness are surprising even the Aquarius team.

“We have just four months of data, but we're already seeing very rich detail in surface salinity patterns,” says principal investigator Gary Lagerloef of Earth & Space Research in Seattle. “We're finding that Aquarius can monitor even small scale changes such as specific river outflow and its influence on the ocean.”

Using one of the most sensitive microwave radiometers ever built, Aquarius can sense as little as 0.2 parts salt to 1,000 parts water. That's about like a dash of salt in a gallon jug of water.

“You wouldn't even taste it,” says Lagerloef. “Yet Aquarius can detect that amount from 408 miles above the Earth. And it's working even better than expected.”

Salinity is critical because it changes the density of surface seawater, and density controls the ocean currents that move heat around our planet. A good example is the Gulf Stream, which carries heat to higher latitudes and moderates the climate.

“When variations in density divert ocean currents, weather patterns like temperature and rainfall are affected. In turn, precipitation and evaporation, and fresh water from river outflow and melt ice determine salinity. It's an intricately connected cycle.”

The atmosphere is the ocean’s partner. The freshwater exchange between the atmosphere and the ocean dominates the global water cycle. Seventy-eight percent of global rainfall occurs over the ocean, and 85 percent of global evaporation is from the ocean. An accurate picture of the ocean's salinity will help scientists better understand the profound ocean/atmosphere coupling that determines climate variability.

“Ocean salinity has been changing,” says Lagerloef. “Decades of data from ships and buoys tell us so. Some ocean regions are seeing an increase in salinity, which means more fresh water is being lost through evaporation. Other areas are getting more rainfall and therefore lower salinity. We don't know why. We just know something fundamental is going on in the water cycle.”

With Aquarius's comprehensive look at global salinity, scientists will have more clues to put it all together. Aquarius has collected as many sea surface salinity measurements in the first few months as the entire 125-year historical record from ships and buoys.

“By this time next year, we'll have met two of our goals: a new global map of annual average salinity and a better understanding of the seasonal cycles that determine climate.”

Stay tuned for the salty results. Read more about the Aquarius mission at aquarius.nasa.gov.

Other NASA oceanography missions are Jason-1 (studying ocean surface topography), Jason-2 (follow-on to Jason-1), Jason-3 (follow-on to Jason-2, planned for launch in 2014), and Seawinds on the QuikSCAT satellite (measures wind speeds over the entire ocean). The GRACE mission (Gravity Recovery and Climate Experiment), among its other gravitational field studies, monitors fresh water supplies underground. All these missions, including Aquarius, are sponsors of a fun and educational ocean game for kids called “Go with the Flow” at spaceplace.nasa.gov/ocean-currents.

This article was provided by the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, California Institute of Technology, under a contract with the National Aeronautics and Space Administration.
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Dawn Takes a Closer Look

NASA Space PlaceBy Dr. Marc Rayman

This full view of the giant asteroid Vesta was taken by NASA’s Dawn spacecraft, as part of a rotation characterization sequence on July 24, 2011, at a distance of 5,200 kilometers (3,200 miles). Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/UCLA/MPS/DLR/IDA
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Dawn is the first space mission with an itinerary that includes orbiting two separate solar system destinations. It is also the only spacecraft ever to orbit an object in the main asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter. The spacecraft accomplishes this feat using ion propulsion, a technology first proven in space on the highly successful Deep Space 1 mission, part of NASA’s New Millennium program.

Launched in September 2007, Dawn arrived at protoplanet Vesta in July 2011. It will orbit and study Vesta until July 2012, when it will leave orbit for dwarf planet Ceres, also in the asteroid belt.

Dawn can maneuver to the orbit best suited for conducting each of its scientific observations. After months mapping this alien world from higher altitudes, Dawn spiraled closer to Vesta to attain a low altitude orbit, the better to study Vesta’s composition and map its complicated gravity field.

Changing and refining Dawn’s orbit of this massive, irregular, heterogeneous body is one of the most complicated parts of the mission. In addition, to meet all the scientific objectives, the orientation of this orbit needs to change.

These differing orientations are a crucial element of the strategy for gathering the most scientifically valuable data on Vesta. It generally requires a great deal of maneuvering to change the plane of a spacecraft’s orbit. The ion propulsion system allows the probe to fly from one orbit to another without the penalty of carrying a massive supply of propellant. Indeed, one of the reasons that traveling from Earth to Vesta (and later Ceres) requires ion propulsion is the challenge of tilting the orbit around the sun.

Although the ion propulsion system accomplishes the majority of the orbit change, Dawn’s navigators are enlisting Vesta itself. Some of the ion thrusting was designed in part to put the spacecraft in certain locations from which Vesta would twist its orbit toward the target angle for the low-altitude orbit. As Dawn rotates and the world underneath it revolves, the spacecraft feels a changing pull. There is always a tug downward, but because of Vesta’s heterogeneous interior structure, sometimes there is also a slight force to one side or another. With their knowledge of the gravity field, the mission team plotted a course that took advantage of these variations to get a free ride.

The flight plan is a complex affair of carefully timed thrusting and coasting. Very far from home, the spacecraft is making excellent progress in its expedition at a fascinating world that, until a few months ago, had never seen a probe from Earth.

Keep up with Dawn’s progress by following the Chief Engineer’s (yours truly’s) journal at http://dawn.jpl.nasa.gov/mission/journal.asp. And check out the illustrated story in verse of “Professor Starr’s Dream Trip: Or, how a little technology goes a long way,” at http://spaceplace.nasa.gov/story-prof-starr.

This article was provided courtesy of the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, California Institute of Technology, under a contract with the National Aeronautics and Space Administration.
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Our Last Transit 'til 2117

SolarDon't throw away that solar filter yet, at least not until you have the opportunity to see the transit of Venus across the solar disc on June 5, 2012. This will be the last Venusian transit until 2117 on the calendar, so its fairly safe to say it will be the last one any of us has the opportunity to see.
This transit of Venus will begin at approximately 5:10 CDT, on June 5, 2012.

The previous transit of this sequence occured over the EuroAsian countries in 2004. Then, I was monitoring the transit via the world wide web from the Van Buren site of Coleman Observatory. It took most of the night to watch the tiny disc of Venus as it touched the solar disc, and progressed across the disc then left it a few hours later. This is a picture of that eclipse from a Swedish observatory where they employed an H-alpha (hydrogen-alpha) filter that gave the totally different view from this projected image I obtained with Stellarium, the FREE astronomy software available from stellarium.org for anyone to download and use.
I missed the start of this transit by several minutes. Setting up my scope and balancing it took longer than it should have, but I did start taking images by 5:30 pm.

This time, its the other side of the world that gets treated to this transit. There may be a narrow band of area on Earth running N-S that had glimpses of the 2004 AND the 2012 transits, but its essentially "our" turn this time, even though we'll only see the beginnings of the transit until roughly mid-transit as these last images show.
Using the zoom feature on my Canon PowerShot A10 got me this close-up of the sunspots and the "dot" of Venus.

. I broke down my rig early after some 20 images didn't get me any more than these three as far as a different look went. All in all it was fun, but sort of tedious looking essentially the same for the middle 2/3 of the event.
AND, AS THE SUN AND VENUS SLOWLY SET IN THE WEST....the 2012 transit of Venus comes to an end, at least for local folk like me.
Sure, this isn't a really big deal, for the person on the street...but for amateur astronomers who know of and can appreciate the rarity of this particular event, its the last one we have an opportunity to see for the remainder of our short lives. ENJOY!!!

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