30 Years Ago: Voyager 2’s Historic Neptune Flyby | NASA

Neptune as taken from NASA’s Voyager 2

Thirty years ago, on Aug. 25, 1989, NASA’s Voyager 2 spacecraft made a close flyby of Neptune, giving humanity its first close-up of our solar system’s eighth planet. Marking the end of the Voyager mission’s Grand Tour of the solar system’s four giant planets — Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus and Neptune — that first was also a last: No other spacecraft has visited Neptune since.

“The Voyager planetary program really was an opportunity to show the public what science is all about,” said Ed Stone, a professor of physics at Caltech and Voyager’s project scientist since 1975. “Every day we learned something new.”

Wrapped in teal- and cobalt-colored bands of clouds, the planet that Voyager 2 revealed looked like a blue-hued sibling to Jupiter and Saturn, the blue indicating the presence of methane. A massive, slate-colored storm was dubbed the “Great Dark Spot,” similar to Jupiter’s Great Red Spot. Six new moons and four rings were discovered.

During the encounter, the engineering team carefully changed the probe’s direction and speed so that it could do a close flyby of the planet’s largest moon, Triton. The flyby showed evidence of geologically young surfaces and active geysers spewing material skyward. This indicated that Triton was not simply a solid ball of ice, even though it had the lowest surface temperature of any natural body observed by Voyager: minus 391 degrees Fahrenheit (minus 235 degrees Celsius).

Triton as taken from Voyager 2

The conclusion of the Neptune flyby marked the beginning of the Voyager Interstellar Mission, which continues today, 42 years after launch. Voyager 2 and its twin, Voyager 1 (which had also flown by Jupiter and Saturn), continue to send back dispatches from the outer reaches of our solar system. At the time of the Neptune encounter, Voyager 2 was about 2.9 billion miles (4.7 billion kilometers) from Earth; today it is 11 billion miles (18 billion kilometers) from us. The faster-moving Voyager 1 is 13 billion miles (21 billion kilometers) from Earth.   

Getting There

By the time Voyager 2 reached Neptune, the Voyager mission team had completed five planetary encounters. But the big blue planet still posed unique challenges.

About 30 times farther from the Sun than Earth is, the icy giant receives only about 0.001 times the amount of sunlight that Earth does. In such low light, Voyager 2’s camera required longer exposures to get quality images. But because the spacecraft would reach a maximum speed of about 60,000 mph (90,000 kph) relative to Earth, a long exposure time would make the image blurry. (Imagine trying to take a picture of a roadside sign from the window of a speeding car.)

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30 Years Ago: Voyager 2’s Historic Neptune Flyby

No ownership claimed on images or material – Credit NASA

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50 Years Ago: One Small Step, One Giant Leap | NASA

Apollo 11 astronauts Neil A. Armstrong, Edwin E. “Buzz” Aldrin, and Michael Collins awoke to start their fifth day in space at the end of their ninth revolution around the Moon. In Mission Control at the Manned Spacecraft Center, now the Johnson Space Center in Houston, Eugene F. Kranz’s White Team of controllers arrived on console, with astronaut Charles M. Duke serving as Capcom. After a quick breakfast, Aldrin and Armstrong began re-activating the Lunar Module (LM) Eagle, including deploying its landing gear, and donned their pressure suits. Near the end of the 12th orbit around the Moon, Duke radioed up to Apollo 11 that they were GO to undock. The event took place behind the Moon during the start of their 13th revolution, the astronauts filming each other’s spacecraft as they began their independent flights (clip 1clip 2). After they reappeared from behind the Moon, Armstrong radioed their status to MCC saying, “The Eagle has wings.” Collins in the Command Module (CM) Columbia observed, “I think you’ve got a fine looking flying machine there, Eagle, despite the fact you’re upside down,” prompting Armstrong to reply, Somebody’s upside down.”

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No credit claimed on material – Credit NASA

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Hubble Uncovers Black Hole Disk that Shouldn’t Exist | NASA

As if black holes weren’t mysterious enough, astronomers using NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope have found an unexpected thin disk of material furiously whirling around a supermassive black hole at the heart of the magnificent spiral galaxy NGC 3147, located 130 million light-years away. 

The conundrum is that the disk shouldn’t be there, based on current astronomical theories. However, the unexpected presence of a disk so close to a black hole offers a unique opportunity to test Albert Einstein’s theories of relativity. General relativity describes gravity as the curvature of space and special relativity describes the relationship between time and space.

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No ownership claimed on material – Credit NASA

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Space Travel – What good is it to the Human Race?

Yesterday NASA completed a successful test of the abort system of the Orion spacecraft, this is just one headline in a whole list of announcements in space exploration. Whether it’s Space X, NASA or Blue Origin someone, somewhere is heading back to the Moon with a view to getting to Mars.

But why?

Many say we should be putting the money we would otherwise spend into helping developed parts of the world to survive, to bring all these people out of poverty and onto prosperity? I have to say it’s very hard to argue this point but as usual the answer (if there is an answer) is not that simple.

The economic argument alone is pretty compelling, the US government had made its money many times over from what it’s put into the space race. This can be attributed at least in part by innovation. This interesting little infographic from JPL explains more:

20 Inventions we wouldn’t have had without Space Travel

It’s also been noted that some military development projects as well as some essential domestic services cost more that some US space programs. But even with all these it’s not a reason why and it’s a bi-product of our space exploration activities.

Everything is temporary

Something that science and exploring our local planetary neighbourhood has uncovered is that everything is temporary. Venus and Mars have both had times in their history where liquid water has existed on the surface. Both now are barren and desolate worlds that could never support water, let alone any kind of complex life. On Mars we’re still searching for bacteria even though many say that the images from NASA clearly show an intelligent civilisation once lived there.

I’m not so sure… But each to their own.

Planet Earth

The point is that one day the Earth will expire, it will. Many say that man will wipe itself out before then but some aren’t willing to chance that what is certain is that either by ourselves or nature the human race will be extinct if we don’t learn to live beyond our Earth. So far human kind lives in the most hospitable places on Earth, even Antarctica which is perhaps the closest man can come to living on on Mars or any other world without leaving the Earth.

But this touches on perhaps the biggest reason.

The challenge

Perhaps the biggest reason is the challenge and the rewards that exploring space offers. Mankind has always wanted a challenge and this usually means that we’ve built a weapon to go and level come other poor country and take it over.

Basically we’ve been fighting over a fraction of a speck in the cosmos and that quite frankly is pointless. Just think what could be achieved if mankind actually decided that we need to do this properly, work together, drop the weapons, drop the money and work towards a better future for all of us by working towards a future beyond Earth.

That would be an amazing thing, it would be a crowning achievement for a race that started out in such a violent way. There would be no more need for war or famine or poverty becasue we would finally become one race and equal in it’s achievements.

I fear it may not happen for a while yet – but there is always the hope. When we do go (if) let’s just remember to leave the nukes at home.

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Take part in the next Mars mission by adding your name!

One of the things I’ve come to realise is that I will not be an astronaut, I will not walk on the Moon and I will not walk on Mars. I’m too old and to be brutally honest to myself I would cost to much to launch! I was ind of born a few generations too early I think, but hey.

But – I can apply to get my name sent to Mars. NASA is inviting people to get their names etched into microchips that will be used on the Mars 2020 rover launching next year.

Read about it here:

The Mars Insight mission took with it some 2 million names and if you want to be in with a chance of getting your name onto Mars 2020 click here:

Click here to send your name to Mars

As part of it you get a boarding pass and digital mission patch. While it’s nothing tangible it’s pretty cool and it gives everyone around the world the chance to take part and award point for miles travelled – which is more than a few!

What do you think? Is this a good idea or is this kind of thing not your thing?

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InSight Captures Sunrise and Sunset on Mars | NASA

A camera on the Insight’s robotic arm snapped the photos on April 24 and 25, the 145th Martian day, or sol, of the mission. In local Mars time, the shots were taken starting around 5:30 a.m. and then again starting around 6:30 p.m. As a bonus, a camera under the lander’s deck also caught clouds drifting across the Martian sky at sunset.

NASA’s InSight lander used its Instrument Deployment Camera (IDC) on the spacecraft’s robotic arm to image this sunrise on Mars on April 24, 2019, the 145th Martian day (or sol) of the mission. This was taken around 5:30 a.m. Mars local time.


Note: No ownership claimed on images.

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Pale Blue Dot

After Voyager 2 had made its history making flyby of Neptune the Voyager probes were being prepared for the ‘Interstellar’ phase of their mission. Carl Sagan who at the time was on the Voyager imaging team suggested that Voyager 1 look back at the solar system and take a range of pictures of the planets as it could in a final farewell. So in 1990 Voyager 1 took the pictures and beamed them back to NASA.

One of the pictures taken was this one. It’s Earth. The picture dubbed ‘The Pale Blue Dot’ . When the images were taken Voyager 1 was 40 astronomical units from the sun at this moment. One astronomical unit is 93 million miles, or 150 million kilometers.

Trust me it’s there, in the third (and brightest) dull stripe about two thirds down there’s a spec.

That’s us. Well us in 1990.

Earth from Voyager 1 – Credit NASA

Sagan wrote in his “Pale Blue Dot” book:

“That’s here. That’s home. That’s us. On it everyone you love, everyone you know, everyone you ever heard of, every human being who ever was, lived out their lives. … There is perhaps no better demonstration of the folly of human conceits than this distant image of our tiny world.”

Carl Saga – Pale Blue Dot

But what does this pale blue dot really mean, for us as humans?

The Pale Blue Dot represents a goal not just point of light. When man can look back and see that same pale blue dot with his own eyes, it’s will be the first step in truly understanding the place of humanity in the universe.

It will be the first glimpse what humankind is meant to be and where it is going and that those dreams could be achieved.

The pale blue dot will be there even if man is not, whether something is there to see it or not. That insignificant spec will either be a cradle of life for a race that became so much more than what it started as or the crucible for a race that could have been and so nearly was.

The pale blue dot is not just a picture it was the final farewell, a look back of by a machine that took the hopes and dreams of a race to infinity. Carried by an ambassador for a race that is may outlast.

It is timeless for us, for the Earth and the universe. The messenger that took the Pale Blue Dot may one day be one of only a handful of artifacts in the universe that will testify humanity ever existed.

In a way the pale blue dot shows us all that we are allowed to dream the impossible and try and realise the improbable. We are more than just human, we are the universe looking at itself and wondering…. “What if?”

© Simon Farnell 2020

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New Ultima Thule Discoveries from NASA’s New Horizons

Data from NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft, which passed the Kuiper Belt object Ultima Thule on January the 1st, is yielding scientific discoveries daily. Among the findings made by the mission science team in the past day are:

  • Initial data analysis has found no evidence of rings or satellites larger than one mile in diameter orbiting Ultima Thule.
  • Data analysis has also not yet found any evidence of an atmosphere.
  • The color of Ultima Thule matches the color of similar worlds in the Kuiper Belt, as determined by telescopic measurements.
  • The two lobes of Ultima Thule — the first Kuiper Belt contact binary visited — are nearly identical in color. This matches what we know about binary systems which haven’t come into contact with each other, but rather orbit around a shared point of gravity.

Read more here: http://pluto.jhuapl.edu/News-Center/News-Article.php?page=20190103

No ownership claimed on images – Cedit to APL and NASA

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NASA’s Voyager 2 Probe Enters Interstellar Space

For the second time in history, a human-made object has reached the space between the stars. NASA’s Voyager 2 probe now has exited the heliosphere – the protective bubble of particles and magnetic fields created by the Sun.

Voyager 2 now is slightly more than 11 billion miles (18 billion kilometers) from Earth. Mission operators still can communicate with Voyager 2 as it enters this new phase of its journey, but information – moving at the speed of light – takes about 16.5 hours to travel from the spacecraft to Earth. By comparison, light traveling from the Sun takes about eight minutes to reach Earth.

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Credit: NASA

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International Team, NASA Make Unexpected Discovery Under Greenland Ice

An international team of researchers, including a NASA glaciologist, has discovered a large meteorite impact crater hiding beneath more than a half-mile of ice in northwest Greenland. The crater — the first of any size found under the Greenland ice sheet — is one of the 25 largest impact craters on Earth, measuring roughly 1,000 feet deep and more than 19 miles in diameter, an area slightly larger than that inside Washington’s Capital Beltway.

The group, led by researchers from the University of Copenhagen’s Centre for GeoGenetics at the Natural History Museum of Denmark worked for the past three years to verify their discovery, which they initially made in 2015 using NASA data. Their finding is published in the Nov. 14 issue of the journal Science Advances.

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No ownership claimed on images of materia – Credit NASA

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