Made it!

Update, December 2, 2018: InSight is slightly tilted, but they say that is not a problem.

Here’s an excerpt:

InSight landed in what’s called a hollow, a crater that has been filled in with soil and leveled flat. In images taken from the elbow of the lander’s stowed robotic arm, the edge of the crater is visible. Once the team determines the diameter of the crater—it could be meters, maybe tens of meters—researchers can infer its depth and the amount of sand blown into it. Either way, this bodes well for the heat probe instrument, called HP3, which should penetrate the material with ease. “This is about as good news for HP3 as you could possibly hope,” he says.

Landing in the hollow was fortunate for another reason. InSight didn’t quite hit the bull’s-eye of its target landing zone, and ended up in terrain that, overall, is rockier than desired. But the hollow is mostly devoid of rocks. One, about 20 centimeters across, sits close to the lander’s feet, whereas three smaller ones lie farther away—but none poses a threat to placing the instruments. The hollow is flat and lacks sand dunes, and small pebbles indicate a surface dense enough to support the weight of the instruments. “We won’t have any trouble whatsoever,” Golombek says.

The biggest mystery for the lander team right now is figuring out exactly where it is. A Mars orbiter set to image the center of the landing zone on Thursday will miss the lander, because it missed the center slightly. An instrument on InSight called the inertial measurement unit has pinned the location to within a 5-kilometer-wide circle. InSight’s entry, descent, and landing team will refine that estimate down to a kilometer or less. . . .

Original post:

See raw-images link at the bottom of this post.

Featured image: NASA InSight raw images page; this is the only one up at the moment.

Addendum: I’ve been thinking. Let’s look at that first image from InSight again:

Up until midday today, that red surface had not been disturbed, as far as we know, for several billion years.

We disturbed it. We immediately sent back a picture of it (and our disturbance), and here I am, embedding said picture, taken on Mars less than two hours ago, in a blog that can be seen worldwide.

Two points to make here:

  • YES! Yes, THIS is the future I expected, as a child of the 1950s!
  • Data from MAVEN reportedly shows that terraforming Mars is not possible–and the 2012 video below was made by art students, not rocket scientists–but I SO want something along these lines to happen. Hope it does, and in my lifetime, too (though, seriously, that’s being kind of greedy 🙂 )

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  • Kilauea Update: No Eruption, Some Refilling of Middle Rift Zone

    Update, October 21, 2018: From an October 18th HVO update:

    A slight inflationary trend near and east of Pu‘u ‘Ō‘ō suggests that magma may be refilling the middle East Rift Zone. Low seismicity and reduced gas emissions do not indicate that the magma is shallow, but HVO continues to closely monitor this area and will report any significant changes.

    Original post:
    This VEI 3 eruption, which actually began in 1983 at Pu’u O’o, doesn’t seem to be over yet.

    On October 16th, the Hawaiian Volcano Observatory (HVO) reported that ground deformation indicates that the middle East Rift Zone is refilling (current status updates here). This would be around the area of the Pu’u O’o crater.

    Recall that this past May, the LERZ eruption that made headlines all summer was preceded by floor collapse at Pu’u O’o, followed by the disappearance of the summit lava lake, which had filled a crack at Halemaumau, the summit crater, that first opened up in 2008.

    And here is what the Halemaumau area looks like today. As volcanologist Erik Klemetti notes, much of it slowly collapsed after the lava lake drained.

    This volcano is a very dynamic place.

    We will just have to wait and see what Pelee has planned next for Kilauea’s neighbors and a watching world. I’ll continue to add significant updates at the Kilauea page linked up top.

    Here’s the HVO Kilauea page

    Featured image: Grace Simoneau/FEMA via Wikimedia

    New Horizons Opens A Path to Pluto (and Beyond)

    Apparently the updates menu goes by the original post date, and this 2014 post is still buried. It shouldn’t be, since New Horizons is now closing in on its next target wa-a-a-a-a-a-y out there on the edge of the our little corner of the Universe. Also, people should check out that 2006 launch video again: that was powerful!

    Update, October 5, 2018:

    Here is more information on the upcoming Ultima Thule encounter.

    Somehow I missed updating this post for the Pluto flyby in 2015. Here is a video that NASA put up about a year ago to show us all what New Horizons saw up close:

    Beautiful, but weird! I’m not a musician, but that silent video makes me want to write some music!

    Original post:
    Let’s watch the 2006 launch of the fastest spacecraft ever to leave our planet.

    Put on your hard hat and watch your speaker volume as an Atlas V rocket, Centaur rocket, and five solid rocket boosters light up.

    Yeah. That baby took only 9 hours to reach the Moon.

    Continue reading

    Kilauea: HVO Decreased Alert Level Today

    USGS/Hawaiian Volcano Observatory caption for this image (full size image here), with emphasis added:

    This wide-angle photo shows the fissure 8 cone (center of image) and the long line of steaming areas extending uprift (west), towards the upper right corner of the image. No significant change was observed at fissure 8 during today’s overflight. Thermal images (see inset lower left) show no signs of lava within the cone – the small collapse pit in the center of the crater floor is cold.


    Per HVO today:

    HVO/USGS Volcanic Activity Notice

    Volcano: Kilauea (VNUM #332010)

    Current Volcano Alert Level: ADVISORY
    Previous Volcano Alert Level: WATCH

    Current Aviation Color Code: YELLOW
    Previous Aviation Color Code: ORANGE

    Issued: Friday, October 5, 2018, 8:47 AM HST
    Source: Hawaiian Volcano Observatory
    Notice Number:
    Location: N 19 deg 25 min W 155 deg 17 min
    Elevation: 4091 ft (1247 m)
    Area: Hawaii

    Volcanic Activity Summary: It has been 30 days since lava has been active at the surface of Kīlauea Volcano. HVO monitoring shows low rates of seismicity, steady, relatively low rates of deformation across the volcano, and only minor gas emission at the summit and East Rift Zone (ERZ). These observations indicate that resumption of eruption or summit collapse is unlikely in the near-term.

    Accordingly, HVO is lowering the Volcano Alert Level for ground based hazards from WATCH to ADVISORY. This means Continue reading

    Update on Popocatépetl

    Volcanologists at the University of Mexico released a bulletin (Spanish) this morning; here is the Google Translate version. Click the link in the top menu for more information about Popocatépetl as well as updates.

    Bulletin UNAM-DGCS-620
    University City
    11:00 hs. September 29, 2018

    Ramón Espinasa Pereña

    Ana Lillian Martín del Pozo


    • Exhalations and vulcano-tectonic earthquakes have been increasing, because a significant amount of magma is rising, said Ramón Espinasa, from the Cenapred
    • The Geophysics Institute placed well seismographs to monitor the activity and predict a major eruption
    • Don Goyo has not gone to sleep since December 1994 and the tremor of September 19 of last year, whose epicenter was in a relatively nearby area, affected him, said Ana Lillian Martín del Pozzo, of IGf

    The Popocatépetl volcano presents a lot of activity, and is increasing; An example of this is the increase in volcano-tectonic exhalations and earthquakes, the latter of an order of magnitude greater than that seen in the last 24 years.

    This data indicates that a significant amount of magma is rising and “within months, a year or the day after tomorrow”, could present an even more important activity than it had, said Ramón Espinasa Pereña, deputy director of Volcanic Risks at the UNAM. the Research Directorate of the National Center for Disaster Prevention (Cenapred).

    Continue reading

    Meanwhile, in Puebla . . .

    See update at bottom of post, or click the Popocatepetl link at the top of this page.

    This is a 2011 view of nearby Popocatepetl volcano from downtown Puebla.

    Today, people in this Mexican city are watching Popocatepetl with concern (you can follow updates on its activity through the link in the top menu–it has been a bit more restless lately).

    Reportedly (Spanish), Puebla State’s Civil Protection director has made a public statement. Per Google Translate of this linked news story:

    Although in the last hours and days the Popocatépetl volcano has presented constant explosive activity, with incandescent fragments expelled by the crater, the Civil Protection director of the state of Puebla, Rubén Darío Herrera Cabrera, assures that it is a normal cyclic activity and that there is nothing to worry about.

    The incandescent fragments, explained the head of Civil Protection, are pieces of the dome . . .

    Even though spectacular fumaroles have been seen in recent days, the largest of which is 2,400 meters above the crater, there is nothing to worry about; “Another point that is constantly monitored is the seismicity and that is totally low, we have very few reports of seismicity, which gives us peace of mind,” said Herrera Cabrera, adding that the volcanic warning light continues in Yellow Phase 2.

    This is an image from last night’s explosion as seen from one of CENAPRED’s webcams:


    This is a night-time image, but the camera is a very good one and the Moon is quite bright. That’s chunks of incandescent material blown out of the crater, not flowing lava. Popo’s lava is very sticky and forms a dome in its crater that eventually pressurizes and blows up–apparently this is the demise of Dome #78. (CENAPRED)

    Again, just click on the link at the top of the page for links to more information about Popocatepetl and updates from me.

    Update, September 25, 2018: Popo got into a dramatic mood yesterday; updates are at the Popocatepetl link at the top of this page. Meanwhile, here is an eruption the volcanologists monitoring this volcano captured–it’s just one of several yesterday:

    Featured image: Luisalvaz, via Wikimedia. CC BY-SA 4.0

    Hayabusa2 and Asteroid Ryugu

    November 3, 2018: It is going to a challenge to maneuver the spacecraft close enough to poke the surface for a sample.

    October 30, 2018, 8:54 p.m., Pacific: Look at the footage they got during the most recent touchdown rehearsal! Heh. If Ryugu were sentient, it would think there was a mosquito buzzing around it . . . but this mosquito is going to swat Ryugu in 2019!

    October 25, 2018, 1:32 p.m., Pacific: Another spectacular image, this from today’s rehearsel for the 2019 touchdown. The shiny thing is a target marker, but look at that spacecraft shadow! Wow, they were close! JAXA reports a new approach record of 12 meters (40 feet).

    October 14, 2018, 4:15 p.m., Pacific: This is the rehearsal–they report that the LIDAR problem was fixed, so they’re doing the rehearsal again. There will be another rehearsal later this month.

    However, they have moved up the actual touchdown to next year–see this report for details.

    Although the first touchdown schedule is changed, we have enough time margins in our schedule, and our aim is a more reliable and safe operation through a comprehensive study of all the sources of information obtained so far during the Hayabusa2 project.

    Real-time images from the October 3rd MASCOT deployment in English here.

    October 3, 2018:

    And here is the press conference (the first few minutes are silent reaction shots in the control room–those initial grins are wonderful!–and then the conference, which is narrated by an English-language translator):

    October 2, 2018, 8:55 p.m., Pacific: Per most recent tweet, they’ve got communication with the lander, and . . .

    October 2, 2018, 8:49 p.m., Pacific:

    I’m not sure, but there may be another delay of hours now, as there was with the MINERVA rovers, before we know MASCOT has landed and is operating. . .

    October 2, 2018, 6:25 p.m., Pacific: MASCOT deployment update: It’s October 3 in Japan, and Hayabusa2 is descending toward Ryugu again, just as it did recently to deploy the MINERVA rovers. Check these Twitter feeds for updates and links as things progress today:

    Indeed, good luck, MASCOT!

    October 1, 2018: JAXA released this update today:

    Hayabusa2 status (the week of 2018.09.24) ★

    This week, the MINERVA-II1 rovers that landed on the asteroid last week sent images from the asteroid surface. No regolith was seen in these images, only a shocking scenery of large and small boulders. On the other hand, the scenes of sunlight on the asteroid and the rover hopping were both very beautiful and dynamic. Next week is the deployment of the MASCOT lander. The decent operation is always a nervous time and we want to deliver the lander steadily and carefully. (Regolith: fine grain sediments).

    Apparently some asteroids do have regolith.

    Meanwhile, MASCOT tweeted yesterday:

    Check out the MASCOT Twitter feed for more of those wonderful messages people have sent before the descent begins, day after tomorrow.

    September 27, 2018: First movie ever taken on an asteroid:

    Check out the Twitter feed for more breath-taking images and updates; the rovers are hopping!

    September 22, 2018: YES!!!!!!!

    Hopping rovers . . . now why didn’t Star Trek ever dream of that?


    Continue reading

    Guest Video: Planet Hunting with TESS

    September 22, 2018: TESS has already found two new planets, per preliminary reports.

    Original post:

    NASA released the first images from TESS today.

    What is TESS?

    Here is today’s image:


    There are more planets than stars in the Milky Way–and these are mostly stars. (Source)

    TESS mission page.

    Featured image: Yaquina Head Lighthouse, BLM Oregon and Washington/Daniel Gomez

    Hide From the Wind, Avoid the Water

    Update, September 18, 2018: It’s over–the storm, I mean. Now comes the part that doesn’t make headlines, but is so very hard to deal with. If you’re in this situation post Florence, or end up in one like it in the future, take that last sentence to heart: you will make it through this.

    Original post:

    I lived in West Central Alabama for several years around the turn of the century. As a person from New England/upstate New York, I was clueless about hurricanes and asked neighbors what to do when one came by. They told me to hide from the wind and avoid the water.

    It’s good advice, and I wanted to share it as Florence approaches the East Coast. No native or long-standing Carolinian needs such advice, of course, but there are many new people in the places that this hurricane is going to affect who aren’t familiar with such storms.

    Your local emergency management experts will give you the best advice, and there is a lot of information coming from the media and reliable online websites like the National Hurricane Center, FEMA, and, but keep that axiom in mind for every situation.

    Here are just a few things that I remember from my own experiences and think might be worth sharing.

    Hide from the wind

    Do you work or live in a high rise? Continue reading