Observatory, Mountains, Universe : The awesomeness in this image comes in layers. The closest layer, in the foreground, contains the Peak Terskol Observatory located in the northern Caucasus Mountains of Russia. The white dome over the 2-meter telescope is clearly visible. The observatory is located on a shoulder of Mt. Elbrus, the highest mountain in Europe, with other peaks visible in a nearby background layer. Clouds are visible both in front of and behind the mountain peaks. The featured three-image composite panorama was taken in 2014 August. Far in the distance is the most distant layer: the stars and nebulas of the night sky, with the central band of the Milky Way rising on the image right. via NASA


The launch of Apollo 7, the first manned Apollo mission, October 11, 1968.

A C-135 aircraft, flying at more than 35,000 feet, photographed the launch of the Apollo 7 space vehicle. The image, taken from the ocean side and at such a high altitude, gave the appearance that the launch was from beside the VAB.

Photo: NASA

What’s hard about Mars?

Mars, unlike the Moon, is far away. It also has an atmosphere - but not a useful one. Atmospheric density, wind, dust storms… all of these things contribute to a larger list of circumstances that any given mission needs to be ready for.

All those circumstances contribute heavily to the cost, time and hard resources needed to be poured into the mission preparation. In addition, the vast distance to Mars means the cost of carrying all this prepared hardware must be covered.

The atmosphere of Mars is such that if you’re going too fast during entry, you’ll burn up. It’s such a low density however that parachutes aren’t tremendously useful.

During the Curiosity rover’s landing it needed a heat shield, a supersonic parachute, rocket boosters to slow it down, a sky-crane to allow Curiosity to drop to the surface like an interplanetary spider and then explosive propulsion to send the platform it dropped from a safe distance away to crash into the surface.

During this landing, the rover experienced a force of about 15 g’s. That force would make a 200 lb man weigh 3000 lbs. Without proper precautions it would make the average head snap down at about 150 to 165 lbs.

NASA’s developing a new type of parachute and it’s being attached to a flying saucer-like spacecraft known as the Low-Density Supersonic Decelerator. This is currently hoped to provide NASA with a stable go-to architecture for future Mars missions.

The red planet’s killed most missions sent there. Power for solar-panels on rovers get covered during planet-wide dust storms. Some missions smashed into its moons. Some have smashed into its surface. Others have simply missed the planet entirely only to drift away as Mars dances around the Sun.

The world is an untamed place and has sought to buck all attempts to temper its mysteries.  

(Image credit: ESA / DLR / FU Berlin (G. Neukum) / animation by Emily Lakdawalla)


clouds over the pacific, photographed by goes 15, may 2015.

8 frames, each an average of 6 infrared photographs taken at the same time each day 25th-31st may. 

detail 1: the americas; primarily the west coast, but note also also the larger islands in the caribbean, the great lakes, and clouds forming on the mexican sierra madre occidental.

detail 2: south pacific; you can just make out denser cloud over new zealand and, above and left, fiji and new caledonia.

image credit: noaa/nasa. animation & composite: ageofdestruction.


Mostly Mute Monday: Sunsets From Space

“The thinnest layers of the upper atmosphere turn blue, as the indirect sunlight gets scattered very efficiently: the same reason Earth’s sky appears blue during the day. It’s only where the Sun’s light shines through large amounts of atmosphere — closest to the horizon — that the blue light is preferentially scattered away, leaving a reddish/orange color behind. While the disk of the Sun itself turns a bright yellow, then orange, then red during sunset on our surface, it transitions to pure white extremely rapidly in space.”

While we’re used to dramatic, slow sunsets where it takes between two and three minutes simply for the Sun’s disk to drop below the horizon, it takes mere seconds for the Sun to go from a barely-visible red glow to a brilliant, blinding white. In the space of a few breaths, the entire thing is over, a sight that only around 500 people have ever experienced firsthand.

Rhea Seddon was one of four space shuttle veterans inducted into the U.S. Astronaut Hall of Fame on Saturday.

Seddon was first selected by NASA in January 1978 and was a part of the first astronaut class that included women and she went on to become an astronaut in August 1979. She logged more than 30 days in space during her three flights. In addition to participating in and conducting medical experiments during her fights, Seddon also developed and implemented a variety of programs for the space shuttle.

Read more.

Jagged Shadows May Indicate Saturn Ring Particles
Credit: NASA, JPL, Space Science Institute

Explanation: What’s causing unusual jagged shadows on Saturn’s rings? No one is yet sure. As Saturn nears equinox, its rings increasingly show only their thin edgeto the Earth and Sun. As a result, Saturn’s moons now commonly cast long shadows onto the rings. An example of this is the elongated vertical shadow of Mimasseen on the above right. The series of shorter, jagged shadows that run diagonally, however, are more unusual. Now Saturn’s rings have been known to be made of particles for hundreds of years, but these particles have so far escaped direct imaging. It is therefore particularly exciting that a preliminary hypothesis holds that thesejagged shadows are silhouettes of transient groups of ring particles temporarily held close by their own gravity. Future work will surely continue, as the roboticCassini spacecraft orbiting Saturn that took the above image will continue to photograph Saturn’s magnificent rings right through Saturn’s equinox August 2009

How does one year in space affect your immune system? What about your mental health? The International Space Station is conducting a study with twin astronauts Scott and Mark Kelly. Scott speaks to Ira from the International Space Station about living in space for the next year, and his Earth-bound brother Mark tells us what changes they’re interested in measuring during the year.

Fact of the day: Pranks are highly discouraged in the Astronaut Office.