Space & Planetary Science: October 2012 Archives

Keith's 29 Oct note: The @NASA_SDO twitter account just noted "Due to the impact of Hurricane #Sandy @NASA_Goddard the @NASA_SDO website is down. Sorry for the inconvenience We will have it up again ASAP".

This is baffling. The most weather we have here in the DC/Baltimore area right now is steady rain. No hurricane effects are being felt yet. But none the less a GSFC website is offline? I wonder what would happen during a solar storm when the website is actually needed. Hasn't NASA learned how to prepare for such simple contingencies i.e. placing its websites (or at least a back up mirror) in the cloud? Maybe if the SDO folks spent a little more time on routine web support and less time on their dead rubber chicken mascot this wouldn't happen.

But wait: since NASA is incapable of having one official SDO website (due to a chronic organizational inability to adopt a simple website plan) there is another official NASA SDO website online here but it has nothing to do with this equally official SDO website here (which is offline) except that it loads images from the site that is offline right now.

Keith's 30 Oct update: It has been 24 hours. The hurricane is gone. All of NASA's websites seem to be working just fine - none seem to have been knocked offline - except for the SDO website at GSFC which was taken offline. The other (competeting) official NASA SDO website that relies on this downed GSFC server for images shows blank space where the "Latest SDO AIA Image" should be.

Keith's 31 Oct update: The website is back online. What is really odd is this notice they posted:

"The SDO Website is Down Mon, 29 Oct 2012 Due to anticipated power grid problems caused by Hurricane Sandy the SDO website has been shutdown. We regret the inconvenience. The website should return tomorrow. All SDO data is sent to the ground and stored at the data centers."

Think about this for a second. They posted this notice on 29 October on a website that no one could see on 29 or 30 October. Who did they expect to read this notice? You would have had to actually be able to see the website in order to see the notice that the website was offline. Only at NASA.

Uranian Weather Revealed

Keck Observations Bring Weather of Uranus Into Sharp Focus

"In 1986, when Voyager swept past Uranus, the probe's portraits of the planet were "notoriously bland," disappointing scientists, yielding few new details of the planet and its atmosphere, and giving it a reputation as a bore of the solar system. Now, however, thanks to a new technique applied at the Keck Observatory, Uranus is coming into sharp focus through high-resolution infrared images, revealing in incredible detail the bizarre weather of the seventh planet from the sun."

Bashing Jupiter

Jupiter - Turmoil from Below, Battering from Above

"Jupiter, the mythical god of sky and thunder, would certainly be pleased at all the changes afoot at his namesake planet. As the planet gets peppered continually with small space rocks, wide belts of the atmosphere are changing color, hotspots are vanishing and reappearing, and clouds are gathering over one part of Jupiter, while dissipating over another."

Earth-Mass Planet Found Orbiting Alpha Centauri B

"European astronomers have discovered a planet with about the mass of the Earth orbiting a star in the Alpha Centauri system -- the nearest to Earth. It is also the lightest exoplanet ever discovered around a star like the Sun. The planet was detected using the HARPS instrument on the 3.6-meter telescope at ESO's La Silla Observatory in Chile. The results will appear online in the journal Nature on 17 October 2012."

NASA Statement On Alpha Centauri Planet Discovery

"The following is a statement about the European Southern Observatory's latest exoplanet discovery from NASA's Science Mission Directorate Associate Administrator, Dr. John Grunsfeld. "We congratulate the European Southern Observatory team for making this exciting new exoplanet discovery. For astronomers, the search for exoplanets helps us understand our place in the universe and determine whether Earth is unique in supporting life or if it is just one member of a large community of habitable worlds. NASA has several current and future missions that will continue in this search."

Pluto's Moons and Possible Rings May Be Hazards: New Horizons and the Gauntlet it may Encounter in 2015, SwRI

"Although we'd prefer to go closer, going farther from Pluto is certainly preferable to running through a dangerous gauntlet of debris, and possibly even rings, that may orbit close to Pluto among its complex system of moons. ... We may not know whether to fire our engines on New Horizons and bail out to safer distances until just 10 days before reaching Pluto, so this may be a bit of a cliff-hanger. Stay tuned."

Keith's note: That there are conditions surrounding this distant world - ones that are just being discovered - should not be unexpected. That's why we go to such great lengths to explore these worlds in the first place. But these discoveries about Pluto and its environs are not being made by the New Horizons spacecraft - but rather by Earth- and space-based telescopes we've had for a long time - before New Horizons was even launched. But now (oops) 7 years after launch and this potential show stopper pops up. Perhaps some better pre-launch recon was in order prior to departure.

As for use for the phrase "bail out", I wonder what PR genius approved that quote - it makes it sound like NASA did not do its home work first and may eventually have to make a drastic decision as a result.

Also, it is rather odd for NASA not to be announcing a potential threat to one of its spacecraft and a serious departure i.e. "bail out" from its prime mission. What's up with that? Waiting for NASA to reply. I am told a reply is being formulated to the questions I submitted to SMD PAO:

"- Will there be a formal statement from NASA regarding debris issues in the vicinity of Pluto and how it will affect mission plans?
- Will NASA be spending additional funds for additional telescope observations of Pluto? If so how much will these observations cost, what budget pays these costs, what telescopes/spacecraft will be used, and how long will these observations be conducted?
- When will contingency plans for changing the trajectory of New Horizons at Pluto be finalized?
- Who (Individual, agency) makes the final decision as to whether New Horizons continues on its original trajectory or if that trajectory is modified?
- When was NASA notified by New Horizons mission team that the original flight trajectory was in jeopardy due to debris concerns?"

Sen. Coburn: "Washington is set to spend at least $3.6 trillion this year while running a $1.3 trillion deficit. The waste is overflowing and it's time to take out the trash. This coming Tuesday, October 16, we'll be releasing our annual Wastebook 2012 edition."

Download link (Now online)

Keith's note: This year's cover includes the Planet Mars and Darth Vader.

Senator Tom Coburn's Annual Waste Book 2012 - NASA Excerpts

"Imagine pizza so out of this world, you would have to travel to Mars to have a slice. That is the goal of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration's (NASA) Advanced Food Technology Project, which has already developed a recipe for pizza and about 100 other foods that could be served some day on Mars. Of course, NASA no longer has a manned spaced fleet and no current mission plans for human space flight to Mars, but some are hopeful a trip to the red planet could possibly be taken in the mid-2030s at the earliest. Even this goal is optimistic, however, due to budget constraints that have reduced the appetite for costly space missions. Yet, NASA spends about $1 million annually "researching and building the Mars menu."This year, NASA also awarded $947,000 to researchers at Cornell University and the University of Hawaii to study the best food for astronauts to eat on Mars."

B612 Foundation Forms Independent Sentinel Special Review Team (with full Space Act Agreement text)

"The SSRT will provide technical advice and assistance during the development and operations of the Sentinel Space Telescope mission. Members include scientists and aerospace experts independently selected by the B612 Sentinel leadership, and members assigned by NASA, which is providing technical support through a Space Act Agreement."

The telescopes that came in from the cold, Nature

"Some astronomers, however, are questioning whether the value of the free hardware-- each NRO telescope is worth at least US$250 million-- can compensate for the extra costs entailed in going from a 1.3-metre mission to a 2.4-metre mission, which will require a larger rocket and a larger camera. Although the WFIRST mission was expected to cost $1.5billion, one NASA estimate puts the NRO option at $1.75billion."

- NRO Gives NASA Two Hubble-Class Telescopes (Shh!), earier post
- Are NASA's New Telescopes NRO Future Imagery Architecture Leftovers?, earier post

More evidence that Voyager has exited the solar system, Houston Chronicle

"New data from the spacecraft, which I will discuss below, indicate Voyager 1 may have exited the solar system for good. If true, this would mark a truly historic moment for the human race -- sending a spacecraft beyond the edge of our home solar system."

Voyager Recent 6 Hour History

Voyage Cosmic Ray Subsystem (Data Graphic)

NASA's Curiosity Rover Checks-In on Mars Using Foursquare

"NASA's Curiosity Mars rover checked in on Mars Wednesday using the mobile application Foursquare. This marks the first check-in on another planet. Users on Foursquare can keep up with Curiosity as the rover checks in at key locations and posts photos and tips, all while exploring the Red Planet. "NASA is using Foursquare as a tool to share the rover's new locations while exploring Mars," said David Weaver, associate administrator for communications at NASA Headquarters in Washington. "This will help to involve the public with the mission and give them a sense of the rover's travels through Gale Crater."

Keith's note: What PAO hasn't explained is why Mars Exploration Rover Opportunity hasn't already checked in on Foursquare. After 8 years it should be the mayor of Mars.


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This page is an archive of entries in the Space & Planetary Science category from October 2012.

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