Space & Planetary Science: January 2015 Archives

Keith's note: NASA JPL PAO issued this media advisory yesterday giving 4 days advanced notice of a media event covering NASA missions to Europa, Ceres, Pluto, and Saturn. But if you want to know what NASA is saying about these missions you have to physically be there. No NASA TV, no NASA news audio, no dial-in - nothing. So if you can't afford to buy plane tickets at the last minute, your media outlet is out of luck. So are your classrooms. In other words this is a southern California-only update. I asked JPL PAO about this. Their response: "The event is for media who can attend at JPL in person." Oddly, JPL is the first to brag about how they can communicate with - and even reprogram spacecraft millions - billions - of miles away. But a simple audio or video recording ...

Asteroid Abduction

The Space Program - A Modest Proposal, Paul Spudis

"I'm at a loss to explain why one aspect of the ARM mission hasn't been discussed in the media: seeing that advocates of the ARM think nothing about re-arranging the architecture of the Solar System for their convenience, environmental activists might object to the very idea behind the mission. We can't get to a near-Earth asteroid with the Orion spacecraft and the Space Launch System (SLS), so let's just drag the asteroid to us! Imagine a defenseless rock, innocently tumbling its way through space, only to be snagged, bagged, and defiled appropriated and exploited by arrogant, human interlopers. There ought to be a law!"

Al Gore's dream spacecraft gears up for launch, Nature

"For Jay Herman, an atmospheric scientist at Goddard and EPIC instrument scientist, the delay has a silver lining: the refurbishment revealed a manufacturing defect in EPIC that would have let in stray light and potentially ruined its image of Earth. The delay allowed enough time to study the problem and correct for it. "So in some ways," says Herman, "I'm very glad it did not fly 14 years ago. Because it might have been embarrassing."

Keith's note: Wow. It was a good idea to wait 14 years after all - imagine another Hubble-like embarrassment for NASA? It will be interesting to see how NASA calculates the total cost of Goresat/DSCOVR- from inception to final launch. I doubt they can. And if they do, they'll lowball it to avoid another form of embarrassment.

NASA Spacecraft Get a Closer Look at Dwarf Planets Pluto and Ceres, NY Times

"Marc W. Buie, a planetary scientist at the Southwest Research Institute in Boulder, Colo., and a member of the New Horizons team, agrees with Dr. Stern but wishes the issue would go away. Years ago, people would be fascinated to hear the scientific puzzles about Pluto. Now, conversations usually start with "Is Pluto a planet?" "It's a very annoying, distracting issue," Dr. Buie said. "You have to get past this wall of this nonscientific issue before you get to the good things."

"The moon is such a planet I can't even stand it," [Fashion designer] Mizrahi says, exasperated. "Well, what else is it if it's not a planet?" Under Dr. Stern's definition, Mr. Mizrahi would win the argument. "I am happy to defend him," Dr. Stern said via email Sunday. "I see no logical reason why large moons that are in hydrostatic equilibrium should not be considered planets too, and I call them that." Dr. Stern's classification system distinguishes moons as "secondary planets," while "primary planets" directly orbit around the sun -- pushing the number of planets in the solar system to more than 20."

Keith's note: So ... let's see if I understand the New Horizons mission's revised solar system nomenclature: Planets orbit the sun. Planets also orbit other Planets. Moons orbit Planets but Moons do not orbit the sun otherwise they'd be Planets which also orbit Planets and the sun. But wait - there's more: now we need to add Primary Planets and Secondary Planets into the mix. So when does a Moon become a Secondary Planet? Is it still a Moon also? Can Planets be Moons and Moons be Planets?

Iapetus is not in hydrostatic equilibrium so it is not a Planet (right?). But it is a Moon (right?). But Iapetus is larger than Ceres which is .. a Planet (right?) Pluto's Moon Charon is smaller than Iapetus but Pluto fans refer to it as a Planet. Alas, Pluto fans always love to use the "Titan is larger than Mercury" argument to justify Titan as a Planet.

I can't wait to see how all NASA education materials are adjusted for the New Horizons mission so as to tackle this issue. Textbooks will clearly need to be revised to reflect NASA's latest discoveries. Who determines how these revisions will be made? Will other missions be required to adapt accordingly or is NASA going to be talking about more than one system of planetary nomenclature? What will happen at press events - will NASA be required to issue press releases in both nomenclatures (as well as English/metric)? WiIl this IAU Vs Pluto fans thing just drag on and on?

The oddest thing of all is how the Pluto fans rant about how some small group of people at IAU made this decision about what a Planet is without consulting everyone else - yet the Pluto fans have gone out and proclaimed this new nomenclature for Planets and Moons without consulting anyone else. Pot-Kettle-Back.

Why make things more complex? Our solar system has lots of worlds. Ice worlds. Rock worlds. Gas worlds. Some worlds are big others are small. Some worlds orbit the sun and are "planets". Some worlds orbit planets and are called "moons". This simply defines the location of a world - not its inherent physical nature. #OcamsRazor

Beagle 2 Lander Found on Mars

"The UK-led Beagle-2 Mars lander, which hitched a ride on ESA's Mars Express mission and was lost on Mars since 2003, has been found in images taken by a NASA orbiter at the Red Planet. Beagle-2 was released from its mother craft on 19 December 2003 and was due to land six days later. But nothing was heard from the lander after its scheduled touchdown, and searches by Mars Express and NASA's Mars Odyssey mission were fruitless."

Some Advice For Congress

Beagle 2 Mars lander's remains may have been spotted on red planet, Guardian

... Beagle 2's final resting place may finally have been discovered. Scientists operating the HiRise camera on Nasa's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) will take part in a press conference this Friday to announce "an update" on the ill-fated mission."


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This page is an archive of entries in the Space & Planetary Science category from January 2015.

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