Friday Links

Down To Earth

Virgin Galactic hits 500 reservations for spaceflights and guess who the 500th is? Yup, Ashton Kutcher!

Angry Birds Space was released this week. I’ve already been playing it and it’s definitely fun, but I don’t know how “educational” it really is regarding physics and orbital dynamics. It has the NASA logo on the title screen though, so I’m not complaining (no link, just go to your mobile app store).

Former Nazi engineer, spaceflight visionary, and architect of the rockets that made the Apollo program a reality, would have been 100 years old on March 23rd.

Bigelow Aerospace may be hiring again (they laid off a huge percentage of their workforce last year).

Apparently European Space Agency management support a Chinese Shenzou docking to ISS.

In Orbit

NASA says that the Robotic Refueling Mission activity on ISS earlier this month was a “great success“.

Don Pettit blogs about seeing Iridium flares from the space station (with photo). If you’ve never heard of Iridium flares or seen one, follow Don’s advice and go to and make sure to see the next bright one predicted for your house!

Late last night (early Saturday morning on the ISS) all 6 ISS crew members took shelter in their Soyuz modules when a piece of Kosmos 2251 debris passed very near ISS.This marks the third time the ISS has been notified of a close debris pass too late to plan an orbital correction maneuver. Kosmos 2251 is one of the satellites that was involved with an unexpected collision in early 2009 creating thousands of pieces of new debris in low Earth orbit. No anomalous signatures were seen at the “Time of Closest Approach” (TCA) so the crew was given an all-clear call to resume their weekend.

I’m sure you’ve heard the cliched quote “they should have sent a poet!” Well it seems we did. Don Pettit wrote a poem he calls Halfway to Pluto which may be in my top poems ever now. Go read it! Pettit doesn’t mention the New Horizons probe in the poem, but it happens to be past halfway to Pluto now (about 10 AU left to get to Pluto).

Early Friday morning ESA launched their third ATV cargo supply mission to ISS. The ATV launched on an Ariane 5 rocket from French Guiana and is on its way to a March 28 docking to ISS.

Around the Solar System

What’s going on at Mars? Astronomers have noticed a strange “protrusion” from Mars’ disc. Basically, it appears that something is sticking up through Mars’ atmosphere near the terminator as seen from Earth. It could be a dust storm or any number of other things. You can clearly see the protrusion in the GIF i have included below (via Sky & Telescope and Wayne Jaeschke who first discovered the feature).

Mars has a rotational period close to Earth’s (it’s actually about 25 hours), so the feature has rotated in and out of view a few times since it was first discovered a few days ago. Speculation abounds, but the most likely causes of the feature are probably atmospheric related – storms or other disturbances. But who knows, maybe Mars isn’t really geologically dead? Could it be a volcanic eruption? Perhaps even an ejecta plume from a large impact? These two more fantastic scenarios are unlikely but probably shouldn’t be ruled out. There’s a lot we still don’t know about our solar system.

The Mars Exploration Rover Opportunity is still parked at her winter haven spot on the top of Cape York on the edge of Endeavour Crater. She won’t be roving anywhere for a few more weeks yet. However, recently the rover team was commanding some science measurements of a rock under Opportunity’s feet. There was some kind of hiccup with the instrument and at the same time the rover’s left front wheel shifted position. The rover team is still looking into the event but Opportunity seems healthy. There is an animation of the motion at the Road To Endeavour blog.

Here’s an animation of that scary asteroid 2012 DA14 that has the potential to hit the Earth on future orbits (but not until after 2013).

Because It’s Cool

As always I have to include some cool pics from Astronomy Picture of the Day this week. First is a view of the sun from Spain that reveals some of the active sunspot regions currently on the surface. Second is this creative shot of Jupiter and Venus.

Also on the “that’s a cool picture” front is this picture of a rocket launch from Fairbanks, Alaska back in February. Stunning!

A time lapse video of a tumbling satellite.

March 24, 2012 10:15 am

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