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Events and Life Science and nature Travel and places

We’re heading to the Moon in a new beginning with SpaceIL

Israel’s first, private lunar lander is on its way to the Moon after a successful launch onboard the SpaceX Nusantara Satu mission. If our lander makes it to the lunar surface, Israel will be the fourth nation to land on the Moon, and the first country to land SpaceIL‘s privately built spacecraft.

#israeltotheMoon

Building the lander

SpaceIL has a great time-lapse video showing the lander’s construction:

The launch

The launch itself was pretty exciting (as most SpaceX launches are). We watched the recording of the launch this morning before our kids left for school:

Reaching the Moon

The lander itself is pretty small, and it will use a series of gravitational maneuvers to reach the Moon in early April. Here’s what we can expect to happen:

This is really exciting. It will take some time for the lander to arrive at the Moon so, in the meantime, read Ars Technica’s “The first private mission to the Moon may launch Thursday night“, and follow along on Twitter for updates:

Featured image: “Nusantara Satu Mission” by SpaceX, released to the Public Domain

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Politics and government Science and nature

Grainy Moon photos were a ruse!

Those grainy Moon photos the public saw back in the early days of NASA’s Moon missions were a ruse!

No, not that ruse. Humans really went to the Moon. The ruse is that NASA actually captured much higher resolution images, but didn’t disclose them publicly because they didn’t want the Soviets to know how good their imaging technology was at the time.

According to World of Indie

Fifty years ago, 5 unmanned lunar orbiters circled the moon, taking extremely high resolution photos of the surface. They were trying to find the perfect landing site for the Apollo missions. They would be good enough to blow up to 40 x 54ft images that the astronauts would walk across looking for the great spot. After their use, the images were locked away from the public until after the bulk of the moon landings, as at the time they would have revealed the superior technology of the USA’s spy satellite cameras, which the orbiters cameras were designed from. The main worry was the USSR gaining valuable information about landing sites that the US wanted to use. In 1971 many of the images were released, but nowhere near to their potential quality, and mainly to an academic audience as public interest in the moon had waned. Up until 2008 most of the reported images from the project were the 1966 versions that were grainy and lower quality.

McMoon: How the Earliest Images of the Moon Were so Much Better than we Realised

Instead, they were able to capture pretty high resolution images, like this one:

An Earthrise over the moon’s horizon, taken by Lunar Orbiter 1 on August 24th 1966. Credit NASA/LOIRP (via World of Indie)

The story of how this was done, and the later effort to recover these images from storage, is fascinating:

It involves setting up shop in an abandoned McDonalds, and using a variety of old, and new tools to digitise this incredible archive.

You can find the catalogue here: Lunar Orbiter Image Recovery Project online data volumes (here’s a direct link to the .png collection). The images are pretty big!

Of course we also have some pretty impressive, high resolution imagery from more recent Lunar missions such as the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter, too:

Via Kottke.org

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Science and nature

There may be extraterrestrial life on Saturn’s moon

Today’s science geek fuel is an Ars Technica interview with space activist, Ariel Waldman. She argues that we should look for extraterrestrial life on Saturn’s moon, Enceladus.

Enceladus is Saturn’s 6th largest moon and it’s covered by ice. It turns out that there is a watery ocean under that ice. According to an article in Nature titled “Icy Enceladus hides a watery ocean“:

Planetary scientists have found an ocean buried beneath the south pole of the Saturnian moon Enceladus by studying tiny anomalies in the flybys of the Cassini spacecraft. The discovery, which helps to explain earlier observations of geysers, makes Enceladus only the fourth Solar System body found to have a water ocean — making it a potential cradle for life.

In 2005, NASA’s Cassini spotted a plume of water vapour and ice spraying from the south pole of the 500-kilometre-wide body. The new findings show the likely source of this water: a 10-kilometre-thick layer of liquid — similar to the depth of the Mariana Trench, the deepest point in Earth’s oceans — covering much of Enceladus’s southern hemisphere and capped by 30 to 40 kilometres of ice.

If you are a space geek, add the Ars interview to your “Watch Later” list and enjoy at your convenience:

Featured image: Water World, courtesy NASA/JPL-Caltech

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Science and nature

Looking back to see the Moon passing over the Earth

NASA released images of the Moon passing over the Earth that looks unreal … literally. We are used to photos of the Moon from our vantage point down here and on its own. This almost looks like an illustration, especially when you consider that the side of the Moon we see in this photo is the “dark side” we almost never see from Earth.

This animation still image shows the far side of the moon, illuminated by the sun, as it crosses between the DISCOVR spacecraft’s Earth Polychromatic Imaging Camera (EPIC) camera and telescope, and the Earth – one million miles away.

According to NASA’s blog post titled “From a Million Miles Away, NASA Camera Shows Moon Crossing Face of Earth” –

The images were captured by NASA’s Earth Polychromatic Imaging Camera (EPIC), a four megapixel CCD camera and telescope on the DSCOVR satellite orbiting 1 million miles from Earth. From its position between the sun and Earth, DSCOVR conducts its primary mission of real-time solar wind monitoring for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).

The blog post explains that the photos are actually composites from “three separate monochrome exposures taken by the camera in quick succession”. The Flickr post also mentioned that the telescope that took these photos with a four megapixel CCD camera! I was wondering about the colour distortion on the right edge of the Moon (more visible in the still photo) and the post explains as follows:

Combining three images taken about 30 seconds apart as the moon moves produces a slight but noticeable camera artifact on the right side of the moon. Because the moon has moved in relation to the Earth between the time the first (red) and last (green) exposures were made, a thin green offset appears on the right side of the moon when the three exposures are combined. This natural lunar movement also produces a slight red and blue offset on the left side of the moon in these unaltered images.

Here is a cool video made from the still images:

And then, when you look in the other direction far off into space, you see amazing sights like this image of a storm in the Lagoon Nebula in the Sagittarius constellation:

Stormy seas in Sagittarius

Images from the NASA Goddard Flight Center, licensed CC BY 2.0

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Photography

Morning Moon

The Moon looked particularly enticing this morning and I grabbed my camera and tripod and rushed outside and took a couple photos. They’re not quite the huge Moon you often see from better zoom lenses but these came out ok.

Morning moon-6

Morning moon-1

The rest of my Moon photos are here.