But It’s Shiny! (Thanks, NASA)

Artist’s concept of Psyche spacecraft, image courtesy of NASA

In tribute to small children and easily distracted people everywhere, NASA will go out of its way to check out a shiny object.

Squirrel! Or maybe Rudolph.

A small asteroid named Psyche appears much brighter than other known asteroids, and NASA/astronomers believe it may be composed mostly of metal. Some are conjecturing that Psyche may be the inner core of a small planetary body stripped down by various celestial forces, and they think that a closer look at the asteroid may teach us a great deal about the inner core of our very own Earth.

Psyche is a Massachusetts-sized, mostly spherical body hanging out in the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter, where NASA has already managed some wildly successful investigations (the Dawn Treader…er, Dawn mission to Vesta and Ceres). Ceres itself handed them some surprises, most notably with the curious shiny patches on its surface that didn’t appear to correlate with anything known of planetary surfaces.

Let’s just declare the asteroid belt a cool place, m’kay? Because it is.

The mission was proposed and discussed back in 2015, and NASA selected it for further review and refining. The final decision on when the mission would proceed was announced this year. Looks like the Psyche mission is one of five exploratory ventures that NASA’s JPL will conduct from 2020-2030, in collaboration with Arizona State University (ASU) and Space Systems Loral. 

The mission director, Dr. Lindy Elkins-Taunton (ASU), has led several other successful NASA explorations of the solar system. Check out an interview with her here.

Fingers crossed that they maintain the budget needed for this exploration.

#Shiny #Psyche

Advertisements

Hello Blog, We Meet Again

I’m returning to you after a long absence. No whiny explanations or self-pity, this time. Just straight up acknowledgment that not posting was incredibly lame and I need to do better in the future – especially since I want to publish more work.

Moving on.

Lots of cool space stuff happening lately, especially with the reemergence of “Cosmos”, hosted by Neil deGrasse Tyson. Check out The Wire’s write-up of the most recent episode. Tyson doesn’t sound stoned like Sagan did, but he has a direct and calm delivery style that suits the subject matter and educational aspects of the show. The writing is excellent – two thumbs up from this semi-evolved primate.

And on that happy note…back to work!

Space News Updates

There’s an amazing amount of astronomical stuff to check out this week. First off, if you haven’t seen Cassini’s pictures of Earth from Saturn’s orbit, you need to look at them now. Our pale blue dot is stunning and incredibly delicate as seen from a billion miles away.

Earth as seen from Saturn’s orbit

Next up, have a look at the stunning eclipse of an extrasolar planet, as seen by astronomers at the Chandra Observatory:

Chandra Observatory shows view of extrasolar gas giant eclipse

NASA found a giant hole in our sun:

NASA’s SOHO finds giant hole in the Sun

And then NASA decided to catch a thief. Er…asteroid.

NASA plans to catch asteroid and tow it to the Moon

In other news, a Canadian company plans to begin streaming a live feed from two cameras on the International Space Station. There will be one fixed viewpoint camera offering a panoramic view as the station cruises around the planet, and there’ll be a second camera that people can use to zoom in on objects as small as one meter. However, you’ll have to pay for the privilege of zooming in on something in particular…

BC company plans live feed from the International Space Station

And finally, we have a bunch of cool stuff visible in the night sky over the next month:

Sky charts for August 2013 – Jupiter and Mercury and Mars, oh my!

Hope you enjoy everything. More flash fiction coming this week!

Flash Science Fiction – “Patchwork”

Patchwork

“I thought the survey team said most of this planet was arable.”

African inland delta - surreal natural Medusan art.

With thanks to Commander Chris Hadfield aboard the ISS.

Commander Thaller frowned in concentration as she highlighted sections of the image. “We’d better hope it has potential for it, at least,” she muttered to her second-in-command. “Otherwise, we’ll get to come back and rescue these settlers and they’ll fight us every pico of the way.”

The Explorer-class vessel Delta Bonita was on hyperbolic transit through the system, following an arc that would aim it back toward  Pax Sector HQ. Thaller’s shuttle, the Foxtrot, had brought over the first load of settlers and their gear. The Dee-Bee‘s hyperbolic course meant limited time for them to either turn around or put everyone on the surface.

“All right, listen up!” she called out as she manoeuvred into the passenger compartment. “Here’s a new screencap of the surface near our intended landing zone. There’s a mix of land types across your chosen latitude – mostly river basin, desert, and rock. You’ve got two minutes to make the call on whether to start the landing process or turn around and try the next planet on the list.”

After handing the photo capture off to the settler’s leader, Arton, she headed toward the cargo area to double-check everything was ready to offload when they hit dirtside. The surface patchwork wouldn’t give the settlers much land to live on unless they chose to stay in flood zones, but these people were determined to found their own colony. She gave it 10-to-1 odds that they’d demand an immediate landing.

The would-be colonists hurriedly unstrapped and huddled together over the picture, their voices quiet but intent. The extent of the river basin area appeared liveable, but it looked like there were few arable zones and they were far distant from one another. Each area looked able to support a small group indefinitely, but not all of the settlers together. Not without the ability to travel easily between those zones. Arton looked at his wife, his thoughts evident on his face.

Thaller came back into the passenger area, resealing the door to the cargo bay. “What’s your choice, people? Drop or go?”

Arton came smoothly to his feet, gesturing with the screen cap. “Commander, this igneous rock appears able to bear the shuttle landings and takeoffs, and it’s close enough to the delta area that we won’t have much trouble ferrying gear over. We drop.”

She nodded, studying the faces of the other settlers. They looked excited and apprehensive, but not terribly concerned about the dangers inherent in the planet’s topography. It was their problem now. “Very well, get strapped back in and we’ll pass along the alert to the other shuttle crews. We’ll be on the ground in about 15 minutes.”

Thaller managed not to shake her head in disdain as she strapped back into the pilot’s seat. Every batch of settlers thought they were unique and capable, but their shared hatred of the United Planets government kept them from properly evaluating planetary hazards. She gave it three years, tops, before they’d call for rescue…and she hoped the UP placed a high price on that service.

Dee-Bee, this is the Foxtrot. We are go for drop. Out.”

Copyright 2013 – Christine Clukey Reece

Leonid Meteor Shower

My daughter stayed up late tonight to watch for the Leonid meteor shower.

She’s had an interest in space for a few years now and just received a telescope for her birthday. It’s pretty awesome watching her enthusiasm bloom into a passion for all things astronomical. We discuss different types of stars, how gravity affects planets and moons, the Kuiper Belt, dwarf planets, the speed of light, black holes…

Quick, to the internets!

it’s been an education for us both. When I don’t know the answer to one of her questions, we turn to the internets and figure it out.

We’ve had a lot of fun looking at various astronomy sites, but our absolute favourite is CosmoQuest. If you have time to DO SCIENCE!, check out their features:

Vesta Mappers

Moon Mappers

Ice Investigators

These allow people to help map out the surface of the Moon and Vesta and to look for ice in the Kuiper Belt. I’ve spent a fair bit of time cataloging craters on the Moon and finding chunks of ice, but I haven’t visited Vesta yet. She’s next on my list – and I can’t wait to see what they put up once NASA’s Dawn mission reaches Ceres.

We’ll be watching for the next set of meteor showers too – if you don’t already know the schedule, this handy list will help you keep track of what’s heading our way: Meteor Shower Guide. The Geminids are on deck and coming to a December sky near you.