NASA Now: EPOXI Flyby Spacecraft: Close Encounters of the Comet Kind

NASA Now program logoIn this installment of NASA Now, you’ll meet spacecraft pilot and engineer Steven Wissler, who talks about the challenges of flying a spacecraft remotely from Earth and the excitement of being part of a team that discovers something new about comets.
The program focus is on the EPOXI flyby spacecraft. EPOXI is a recycling of the Deep Impact spacecraft, whose probe intentionally collided with comet Tempel 1 on July 4, 2005, revealing, for the first time, the inner material of a comet. Deep Impact returned to an Earth orbit where it was reprogrammed to rendezvous with a second comet, Hartley 2. After reprogramming, the spacecraft received a gravity assist from Earth and began its second life, dubbed EPOXI. The spacecraft incorporated the same trio of instruments used during the Deep Impact mission: two telescopes with digital imagers to record the encounter, and an infrared spectrometer.

Link to this NASA Now episode (must be logged into the NES Virtual Campus)

Link to other NASA Now events (must be logged into the NES Virtual Campus)

Youngest Ever Nearby Black Hole Discovered

Composite image shows a supernova within galaxy M100Astronomers using NASA’s Chandra X-ray Observatory have found evidence of the youngest black hole known to exist in our cosmic neighborhood. The 30-year-old object provides a unique opportunity to watch a black hole develop from infancy.

The black hole is a remnant of SN 1979C, a supernova in the galaxy M100 approximately 50 million light years from Earth. Data from Chandra, NASA’s Swift satellite, the European Space Agency’s XMM-Newton and the German ROSAT observatory revealed a bright source of X-rays that has remained steady during observation from 1995 to 2007. This suggests the object is a black hole being fed either by material falling into it from the supernova or a binary companion.

Excerpt from NASA Science News

For more information and images, visit the Chandra page.

Link to the Dec 14, 2010 NES chat with Black Holes expert, Dr. Sten Odenwald, NASA Goddard Space Flight Center

Link to NES module, Black Holes Math. (Must be logged into the NES Virtual Campus as a participant of the NES project)

Link to the NES Virtual Campus home page.

NASA Mission Successfully Flies by Comet Hartley 2

NASA’s EPOXI mission successfully flew by comet Hartley 2 at about 7 a.m. PDT (10 a.m. EDT) today, and the spacecraft has begun returning images. Hartley 2 is the fifth comet nucleus visited by a spacecraft. 

Scientists and mission controllers are currently viewing never-before-seen images of Hartley 2 appearing on their computer terminal screens. 

The accompanying picture of Comet Hartley 2 can be seen in glorious detail in this image from NASA’s EPOXI mission. It was taken as the spacecraft flew by around 6:59 a.m. PDT (9:59 a.m. EDT), from a distance of about 700 kilometers (435 miles). The comet’s nucleus, or main body, is approximately 2 kilometers (1.2 miles) long and .4 kilometers (.25 miles) at the “neck,” or most narrow portion. Jets can be seen streaming out of the nucleus. 

The mission’s Medium-Resolution Instrument was used to capture this view. 

For more information about EPOXI and to see the stunning pictures of Comet Hartley 2 visit

Want to Go to Mars? Here's Your Chance.

Artist concept of the mars science laboratory rover on MarsSomeday YOU may one of the people to walk around on Mars. That’s some day in the future — way in the future. But here’s your chance to have a presence on Mars soon! Send your name to Mars! Your name will be included with others on a microchip attached to the rover, Curiosity. Launch is scheduled for between Nov. 25 and Dec. 18, 2011, with a Martian arrival date of August 2012.

How cool is that?

To send your name to Mars, sign-up at the registration website.

Link to the NES Virtual Campus website.

Orionid Meteor Shower This Week

A stream of meteors believed to be leftovers from Halley’s Comet is expected to streak across the skies this week, but a full harvest moon will compete for attention and may obstruct some of the show.

Star chart showing radiant of Orionid meteors in constellation Orion

The meteors are called the Orionids because they appear to shoot from the second-brightest star in the Orion constellation, or from the hunter’s elbow. On Oct. 20-22, observers in the Northern Hemisphere may see around 20 meteors per hour at maximum, while observers in the Southern Hemisphere may see around 40 meteors per hour. The radiant of the shower will be observed north of Betelgeuse, the brightest star in the constellation Orion, the Mighty Hunter.

The annual show usually happens from Oct. 17 to Oct. 25, and this year it’ll peak before dawn on Thursday. But that’s also when a full moon will appear over North America, perhaps dimming the light of the meteors. So the best viewing times should be earlier in the week, when the moon isn’t as bright. The best places from which to view the meteor shower are in locations with no light pollution.

Link to the NES Virtual Campus.

Celebrate World Space Week — Oct. 4-10, 2010

This international event commemorates the beginning of the Space Age with the launch of Sputnik 1 on Oct. 4, 1957. World Space Week is the largest public space event in the world, with celebrations in more than 50 nations. Last year, President Obama joined the celebration by hosting a Star Party at the White House that included invitations to students from NASA Explorer Schools in the Washington, D.C. area.

Join educators and space enthusiasts around the world to celebrate World Space Week, Oct. 4-10, 2010. During World Space Week, teachers are encouraged to use space-themed activities.

To learn more about World Space Week, to find related educational materials and to search for events in your area, visit

Link to the NASA Explorer Schools Virtual Campus home page.

By the Light of the Super Silvery Moon

For the first time in almost 20 years, northern autumn is beginning on the night of a full moon. The coincidence sets the stage for a “Super Harvest Moon” and a must-see sky show to mark the change of seasons.

The action begins at sunset on Sept 22nd, the last day of northern summer. As the sun sinks in the west, bringing the season to a close, the full Harvest Moon will rise in the east, heralding the start of fall. The two sources of light will mix together to create a kind of 360-degree, summer-autumn twilight glow that is only seen on rare occasions.

Keep an eye on the moon as it creeps above the eastern skyline. The golden orb may appear strangely inflated. This is the moon illusion at work. For reasons not fully understood by astronomers or psychologists, a low-hanging moon appears much wider than it really is. A Harvest Moon inflated by the moon illusion is simply gorgeous. The view improves as the night wears on.

The Harvest Moon gets its name from agriculture. In the days before electric lights, farmers depended on bright moonlight to extend the workday beyond sunset. It was the only way they could gather their ripening crops in time for market. The full moon closest to the autumnal equinox became “the Harvest Moon,” and it was always a welcome sight.

Author: Dr. Tony Phillips | Credit: Science@NASA

Link to the NASA Explorer Schools Virtual Campus.

NASA Rover Finds Clue to Mars' Past and Environment for Life

Mars outcrop called “Comanche”Rocks examined by NASA’s Mars rover Spirit hold evidence of an ancient wet, non-acidic environment that may have been favorable for life. Confirming this mineral clue took four years of analysis by several scientists.

Spirit inspected many rock outcrops, including one called Comanche by scientists. They discovered magnesium iron carbonate makes up about one-fourth of the measured volume in Comanche samples. That is a tenfold higher concentration than any previously identified for carbonate in a Martian rock. 

Massive carbonate deposits on Mars have been sought for years without much success. Numerous channels apparently carved by flows of liquid water on ancient Mars suggest the planet was formerly warmer, thanks to greenhouse warming from a thicker atmosphere than exists now. The dense, ancient Martian atmosphere was probably rich in carbon dioxide, because that gas makes up nearly all the very thin, modern atmosphere.

Big Lunar Eclipse

Saturday, June 26th, there’s going to be a lunar eclipse — and for many residents of the USA, it’s going to be a big one. The eclipse begins at 3:17 a.m. PDT when the moon enters the sunset-colored shadow of Earth. By 4:38 a.m. PDT, the moment of greatest eclipse, 54 percent of the moon’s diameter will be covered. From beginning to end, the event lasts almost three hours.

Although the eclipse is only partial, it will be magnified in size and charm by the “Moon Illusion” — a result of the eclipse occurring close to the horizon from viewing sites in the USA. For reasons not fully understood by astronomers or psychologists, low-hanging moons look unnaturally large when they beam through trees, buildings and other foreground objects. In fact, a low moon is no wider than any other moon — cameras prove it — but the human brain insists otherwise. The effect will be particularly strong in western and central parts of the USA and Canada where the moon will be setting as the eclipse reaches maximum.