Space Science Sunday – an open thread (with video)

Time for another open thread — and as ever, given the lousy political and economic news, I prefer to focus on the positive, and space science is chock full of positivity. (Except of course, for all those poor NASA workers who’ve been furloughed.)

The Juno spacecraft which suffered a glitch during its slingshot past Earth last week appears to be operating normally again. NASA still isn’t 100% sure why, but the probe looks okay.

Scientists also plan to use the flyby data to see if they can figure out why there appears to be a very slight random deviation from calculated vectors on these slingshot maneuvers.

Juno spacecraft - photo courtesy NASA / JPL-Caltech / SwRI

Juno spacecraft – photo courtesy NASA / JPL-Caltech / SwRI

Peter Higgs found out he’d won the Nobel Prize for physics when a neighbor congratulated him on the good news. “I said, ‘Oh, what news?” Higgs related to reporters.

Sadly, Scott Carpenter, one of the last surviving Mercury 7 astronauts, passed away last Thursday. (Not ‘positive’ news as such, but I felt he deserved the recognition.)

So far, chances are looking good that Comet ISON will not just crash into the sun or break up on closest approach. If it survives perihelion, it’ll be a Christmas Comet. Current photos show it with a distinctly green colored tail. (Fact: It’s called ‘ISON’ because Russian astronomers first discovered the comet using the International Scientific Optical Network.)

Comet ISON (photo by Adam Block / Mount Lemmon SckyCenter / U of AZ)

Comet ISON (photo by Adam Block / Mount Lemmon SckyCenter / U of AZ)

Speaking of comets, the ESA’s probe, Rosetta, will wake up in about 100 days and begin its rendezvous with the comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko. The hope is it will be in a position to make a soft landing with its Philae sub-part.

A water-rich asteroid / ‘rocky planetary body’ has been found orbiting a white dwarf star.

Evidence has been found of a comet hitting the Earth in Egypt, oddly enough the first time there’s been definitive proof. Humans weren’t around to see it happen though, as the impact has been dated to around 28 million years ago.

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Neptune’s tiny moon Naiad has been behaving, well, like a naiad. Which is to say, slippery, tricksy, mischievous and elusive. Naiad was discovered by Voyager 2 during its flyby in 1989, and then lost. Finally, astronomers found it again by going through Hubble telescope archive images from December 2004.

However, now there are new mysteries: Naiad isn’t where they thought it should be, and is well ahead of its originally projected orbital path.

And finally, the best for last. The SpaceX ‘Grasshopper’ reusable rocket takes another leap, this time half a mile high (744m), and once again lands itself perfectly. Watch this video, it’s pretty cool.


Published professional writer and poet, Becca had a three decade career in technical writing and consulting before selling off most of her possessions in 2006 to go live at an ashram in India for 3 years. She loves literature (especially science fiction), technology and science, progressive politics, cool electronic gadgets, and perfecting Hatch green chile recipes. Fortunately for this last, Becca and her wife currently live in New Mexico. @BeccaMorn

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