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New names on Olympus Mons, Mars

Thursday, April 27, 2006

Names for two craters on Olympus Mons have been provisionally approved by the IAU. The names are Karzok and Pangboche and they can be seen on the MC-9 image from the Gazetteer of Planetary Nomenclature.

Meteor Alert

Thursday, April 20, 2006

Shooting star
"Shooting stars. This electrical [sic] phenomenon was observed on Wednesday morning last at Richmond and its vicinity, in a manner that alarmed many, and astonished every person that beheld it. From one until three in the morning, those starry meteors seemed to fall from every point in the heavens, in such numbers as to resemble a shower of sky rockets..." [ref]

METEOR ALERT: Earth is about to pass through the dusty tail of Comet Thatcher, and this will cause the annual Lyrid meteor shower. Forecasters expect the shower to peak on April 22nd, producing about 10 meteors per hour--modest, but pretty. The best time to look is during the hours before sunrise on Saturday morning. Go to a dark site away from city lights, if possible.

The Moon will also encounter the comet's tail on April 22nd, which raises an interesting possibility: Amateur astronomers may be able to spot flashes of light on the Moon when comet debris hits the lunar surface and explodes. All that's required is a backyard telescope and lots of patience.

Visit for details, sky maps and observing tips.

Note: This is a Northern Hemisphere shower. South of the equator, observers will see very few Lyrids. Southerners are, however, in an excellent position to observe Lyrid impacts on the Moon. The Moon rises high in southern skies on April 22nd, in plain view of backyard telescopes.

credit: more: I want the full story.

Humans Living Under the Sea

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Aquarius on the dock before it was towed out to sea and placed in its current position at Conch Reef.
Aquarius on the dock before it was towed out to sea and placed in its current position at Conch Reef.
Credit: NASA

Go ahead and look twice or click your heels three times; you've read the headline right. There is no place like home, but sometimes the NASA Extreme Environment Misson Operations (NEEMO), must do what it must, even if it entails humans living aboard the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Aquarius Underwater Laboratory (NOAA).

Aquarius Underwater Laboratory is off the Florida coast, 62 feet (19 meters) below the surface. It provides a safe harbor for scientists to live. From April 3 to 20, three NASA astronauts and a Cincinnati doctor are living and working under the ocean to test space medicine concepts and moon-walking techniques.

In the Aquarius, are lab equipment and computers that enables scientists to perform research and process samples without leaving their underwater facilities. One example of research is to develop long distance medical care procedures, which may be used to respond to health emergencies on intergalactic space stations or on manned missions. For instance, on March 26, 2006, the astronauts learned about using small robots with small cameras attached that can be inserted into the abdomen to help surgeons see what they are doing as they perform keyhole surgery.

While astronauts appreciate the beauty and mystery of the undersea world and undergo rigorous training, they know that under the sea is an alien, and often hostile environment, as well as an analog to life in outer space.

More imagery, journals, press release and details: more NEEMO, please.

HiRise to the Red Planet

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Newly Released Images

HiRISE images
First MRO HiRISE Image of Mars: Topographic Model from Photoclinometry.

Employees of the USGS Astrogeology Research Program celebrate the public release of the first images productively captured by the High Resolution Imaging Science Experiment(HiRISE) camera, which is one of six instruments on board the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO).

"I am VERY happy!" said Alfred McEwen, former employee of USGS, Principal Investigator and chief scientist of MRO,while viewing the images. "They are sharp, clear, and beautiful!"

The HiRISE camera is the most powerful telescopic camera ever sent to another planet. It productively took four images of Mars on March 23, 2006. The actual launch of MRO took place August 25, 2005.

Astrogeology Research Program personnel are major players in The HiRISE Operations Center (HiROC) at the University of Arizona's Lunar and Planetary Laboratory, who are responsible for the majority of the ground data system work for the HiRISE instrument. Astrogeology's programming group is developing software , which will encompass tools for any person who desires to work with HiRise data. Other personnel are co-investigators, coordinators, and leads in varying disciplines that are involved in the observation planning, uplink, downlink, data processing, and instrument monitoring. For example, Randolph Kirk (Co-Investigator geodesy, geometric calibration, and topographic mapping lead) has applied a technique called photoclinometry (or, more descriptively, "shape-from-shading") on a subset of AEB_000001_0000_Red, to produce a preliminary topographic map which covers a portion of this first image of Mars obtained by the HiRISE camera on March 24, 2006. Photoclinometry reveals the details of the smallest topographic features resolved by the image. Elevations can be reconstructed from an image by noting how surfaces sloping toward the sun appear brighter than areas that slope away from it.

Anyone who has seen the newly released HiRISE images will concur that they are simply dynamic! Here is how the images are captured: The HiRISE camera takes the image, and then transfers it to the MRO spacecraft electronics. MRO then sends the image to Earth using radio waves. It takes 13 minutes currently for images to travel to Earth, (the distance between the Earth and Mars varies with time due to their different orbits around the Sun) since radio waves travel at the speed of light. NASA's Deep Space Network receives the image data on Earth using its antennas in California, Spain and Australia, which cover the whole globe. The DSN then sends the images to the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, who reassembles the images and processes them.

Although we space enthusiasts may have to wait six months for more images, while MRO aerobrakes, we can look forward to user-friendly web tools available to both the science community and the public to view and/or analyze the HiRISE images. One thing interested parties shouldn't wait for is to make an observation request. What's more exciting is that processed images will be released soon after acquisition to allow everyone to share in the scientific HiRise to the Red Planet!

Show me more newly released images.


Monday, April 3, 2006

On May 19 & 20, please join the USGS Astrogeology Research Program for this years "Spotlight on the Stars," held by the Prescott Astronomy Club at Watson Lake Park in Prescott. The park is located 4-miles north of downtown Prescott on Highway 89.

There will be camping for those with tents, RVs and campers. Participants will be treated to free astronomy talks, festival activities, exhibits, hands-on activities, great science talks, food, Country Music, and more. The USGS Astrogeology Research Program will be among the exhibitors and speakers, which include several space science and astronomy organizations from throughout Arizona.

Bring your telescope along, if you have one, (some will be provided), and participate in the PM BIG PUBLIC STAR PARTY!

There is so much to do that I can't tell it all.

If you'd like to know more information about the May 19 & 20 events, camping arrangements and what will be available, a schedule of events, more information on those who are providing exhibits, or to find a map on how to get there, follow the star.Star