New impact crater (i.e. my new wallpaper)

Mars craterThis amazing image is a crater on Mars taken by a high resolution camera, a High Resolution Imaging Science Experiment (HiRISE) camera to be precise. NASA released it this week, although a space rock caused this crater between July 2010 and May 2012 when they were imaging the site.

The crater is 30 metres in diameter and the resulting explosion threw debris as far as 15 kilometres away.

Visit this site if you’d like it to be your new wallpaper too.

Image from: The University of Arizona

Big day in space rocks last Friday!

Chelyabinsk meteor trace

Trace from the meteor that broke up over Chelyabinsk, Feb. 15, 2013

Chicken Little might have been vindicated, had he been feeling the sky fall last week in Russia! Last Friday, February 15, I was going to blog about asteroid 2012 DA14, that was whizzing by Earth at 1/13 the distance to the moon, but I awoke to find that a spectacular meteor event had stolen the astro-object thunder by breaking up over central Russia – at about 15 meters on entry, arguably the largest recorded meteor since 1908. This Chelyabinsk meteorite event ended up with over 1000 people injured. NASA assures us that the two objects are unrelated, but, holy space rock, Batman, coincidental!

Post meteor, Simon Rogers has a map of every known meteorite fall on Earth over at the Guardian Datablog. After that, you may feel reassured by viewing this list of the measured impact risk of known near-Earth objects maintained by NASA-JPL’s Near-Earth Object Program. But don’t get too comfortable, yesterday at Scientific American Blogs, John Matson asks, “Could Another Chelyabinsk-Scale Meteor Sneak Up on Us?” and finds, “With limited resources, asteroid spotters have naturally focused on the largest asteroids that could cause the most mayhem. But the smaller, more frequent arrivals to our planet are likely to remain unpredictable for the foreseeable future.”

Image: Witness photo by Nikita Plekhanov from Wikimedia Commons


“Unlike humans, the Earth never sleeps”

Words are hardly necessary here because the image says it all. When I first saw this I thought it was fake or enhanced in some way. I was wrong. It’s actually “[a] global composite image, constructed using cloud-free night images from a new NASA and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) satellite, [and it] shows the glow of natural and human-built phenomena across Earth in greater detail than ever before.” Read more about this image and how it was created here.

Image courtesy of

NASA news: Mercury water ice

NASA held a news conference today, unveiling new evidence for water ice at Mercury’s polar regions from the MESSENGER spacecraft.

MESSENGER is an acronym for MErcury Surface, Space ENvironment, GEochemistry and Ranging. Powered by two solar panels, it was launched August 3, 2004, reaching Mercury’s orbit March 18, 2011 (UTC).

Mercury has a temperature range of 610 degrees Celsius: 427 degrees on the side closest to the Sun, and -183 degrees on the night side. There are crater floors around Mercury’s poles that are in persistent shade, since its rotation axis does not tilt. NASA’s latest data points to water ice and other frozen deposits in these craters.

The red areas in this image are the permanently shadowed craters of Mercury’s north pole, with the polar deposits in yellow.

So that’s how a Space Shuttle gets around on Earth!

Space Shuttle Endeavour on top of NASA's Shuttle Carrier Aircraft above California

Endeavour on its tour of California

I really liked these photos at Wired and these photos from NASA of the retirement journey of Space Shuttle Endeavour to California last week. Endeavour was the fifth Space Shuttle commissioned and had its first flight to space over 20 years ago on May 7, 1992.  In my mind’s eye, the Space Shuttles would have eclipsed a Boeing 747 in size, but apparently not so!

From NASA’s Space Shuttle mission news: “Endeavour was NASA’s fifth and final space shuttle to be built. Construction began on Sept. 28, 1987 and it rolled out of the assembly plant in Palmdale, Calif. in April 1991. It was named after a ship chartered to traverse the South Pacific in 1768 and captained by 18th century explorer James Cook. Endeavour flew 25 times, traveling more than 122,000 miles and accumulating 299 days in space. Like shuttles Discovery, Enterprise and Atlantis, Endeavour is embarking on its next mission – to inspire the next generation of explorers and engineers at the California Science Center.”

If you’re looking for info, articles or books about space flight, Schulich Library has a subject guide devoted to Aerospace Engineering. There you can find recommended databases, materials for finding background information and links to other relevant sites.

Image: NASA / Jim Ross

Curiosity lands on Mars

Curiosity (XKCD comic for August 6, 2012), successfully landed their Curiosity rover on Mars last night/early this morning (depending on your earthly location) and Curiosity is already sending back pictures. I am now following Curiosity on Twitter!

You can find out more about the mission from NASA and JPL.

Previously: Curiosity Rover to discover whether Mars was once habitable

Image: XKCD comic Curiosity (August 6, 2012) by Randall Munroe

Curiosity Rover to discover whether Mars was once habitable

NASA’s new mobile Mars Science Laboratory, also known as the Curiosity Rover, will be launched on August 5th to study the rocks, soil, and atmosphere on Mars’ Gale Crater for signs of historical and current habitable environments.  A habitable environment contains water, energy, and carbon to support life.  Past missions have discovered the limited presence of water and energy on Mars, but none, so far, have found carbon in a form that can sustain life.

Curiosity’s purpose is to determine how to conduct a search for carbon, as well as find carbon.  The former will assist planetary scientists in further research, since they are uncertain about how to probe rock strata for biosignatures, whether on Earth or on Mars.

This month’s issue of Scientific American provides an overview of Curiosity’s mission and a step-by-step description of its landing sequence.

Image from Christopher Lotito