Genesis cover

On Christmas Eve 1968 three Americans became the first humans to visit another world. What they did to celebrate was unexpected and profound, and will be remembered throughout all human history. Genesis: the Story of Apollo 8, Robert Zimmerman's classic history of humanity's first journey to another world, tells that story, and it is now available as both an ebook and an audiobook, both with a foreword by Valerie Anders and a new introduction by Robert Zimmerman.

 
The ebook is available everywhere for $5.99 (before discount) at amazon, or direct from my ebook publisher, ebookit.

 
The audiobook is also available at all these vendors, and is also free with a 30-day trial membership to Audible.
 

"Not simply about one mission, [Genesis] is also the history of America's quest for the moon... Zimmerman has done a masterful job of tying disparate events together into a solid account of one of America's greatest human triumphs."

--San Antonio Express-News

Giant iceberg from Antarctica breaking up

As should have been expected, the giant iceberg the size of Delaware that had broken from the Antarctic ice pack in 2017 and was drifting directly towards South Georgia Island (a wildlife preserve), is now breaking up without doing any harm to the island itself.

Seawater has been cutting like a knife through A-68A, the enormous Antarctic iceberg drifting in the southern Atlantic Ocean. On January 11, 2021, the Visible Infrared Imaging Radiometer Suite (VIIRS) on the NOAA-20 satellite acquired this image showing the remainder of A-68A, along with two large pieces that broke off in December 2020.

The U.S. National Ice Center (USNIC) reported on January 8 that A-68A measured 74 kilometers long and 44 kilometers wide. That equates to an area about twice the size of Houston—still sizable, but quite a bit smaller than its Delaware-sized status in July 2017 when it calved from the Larsen C Ice Shelf. The pieces that broke from A-68A in December (forming A-68D and A-68E) are smaller, but remain large enough to be tracked by the USNIC.

Every report about this, including today’s, waxes eloquently about the terrible threat the iceberg poses to the wildlife on South Georgia Island should it become grounded there, even though all past data, let me repeat, all past data indicated that it would not hit the island but drift around as it broke up.

And, surprise surprise, that is exactly what it has been doing.

Blue Origin announces next New Shepard flight for January 14th

Capitalism in space: Blue Origin today announced that it will launch its fourteenth New Shepard flight tomorrow, at 9:45 am (Central).

This will be the eighth flight for this particular New Shepard capsule.

The link above takes you to their live stream, which will go live 30 minutes before launch. From the press release:

For this mission, the crew capsule will be outfitted with upgrades for the astronaut experience as the program nears human space flight. The upgrades include improvements to environmental features such as acoustics and temperature regulation inside the capsule, crew display panels, and speakers with a microphone and push-to-talk button at each seat. The mission will also test a number of astronaut communication and safety alert systems. The capsule will be outfitted with six seats, including one occupied by Mannequin Skywalker. Also inside the capsule, Blue Origin’s nonprofit Club for the Future will fly more than 50,000 postcards to space and back from students around the globe.

The last flight New Shepard flight was in October. The company had earlier promised manned flights would begin in 2020, but that did not happen. Today’s announcement makes no mention of later flights or future plans.

While I do expect Blue Origin will eventually fly humans on a New Shepard capsule, more and more it looks like it will be more a public relations operation for the company rather than a real profit center. They might make money on it, but the focus of space tourism is shifting to orbital flights. Doing a suborbital flight will still be cool, but it will no longer have the pizazz that it would have had, had the flight been two, three, five, or ten years ago. This shift I think is reflected in the slow pace of New Shepard launches in the past three years.

Please consider donating to Behind the Black, by giving either a one-time contribution or a regular subscription, as outlined in the tip jar below. Your support will allow me to continue covering science and culture as I have for the past twenty years, independent and free from any outside influence.


 

Regular readers can support Behind The Black with a contribution via paypal:

Or with a subscription with regular donations from your Paypal or credit card account:


 

If Paypal doesn't work for you, you can support Behind The Black directly by sending your donation by check, payable to Robert Zimmerman, to
 
Behind The Black
c/o Robert Zimmerman
P.O.Box 1262
Cortaro, AZ 85652

U.S. and Japan formalize partnership on Gateway

NASA announced yesterday the signing of a formal agreement between the U.S. and Japan detailing exactly how the two countries will partner in the building of NASA’s lunar space station Gateway.

Under an arrangement with Northrop Grumman, Japan also will provide batteries for the Gateway’s Habitation and Logistics Outpost (HALO), the initial crew cabin for astronauts visiting the Gateway. Additionally, Japan is investigating enhancements to its HTV-X cargo resupply spacecraft, which could result in its use for Gateway logistics resupply.

…The agreement also marks NASA’s intent to provide crew opportunities for Japanese astronauts to the Gateway, which will be determined following additional discussions, and documented in a future arrangement.

Japan is on of the seven countries that has also signed the Artemis Accords, which covers the legal and international rights under the project. This new agreement is more technical in nature, outlining who will do what during construction.

Of course, much of this assumes that money will be forthcoming from Congress for Gateway. Right now that budget does not really exist, and its allocation remains quite uncertain.

Starlink begins rollout in United Kingdom; blocked in Russia

Capitalism in space: SpaceX’s Starlink internet service has now begun providing its service in the United Kingdom, following approval by the government there.

Because the British government is now also an owner of Starlink’s direct competitor, OneWeb, this creates an interesting conflict of interest that fortunately has so far not impeded SpaceX. We shall have to see whether this changes with time.

Meanwhile, in Russia a similar conflict of interest has resulted in some government action against Starlink.

Russia’s legislative body, the State Duma, is considering fines for individuals and companies in the country that use Western-based satellite Internet services. The proposed law seeks to prevent accessing the Internet by means of SpaceX’s Starlink service, OneWeb, or other non-Russian satellite constellations under development.

…In the Russian-language article, translated for Ars by Robinson Mitchell, members of the Duma assert that accessing the Internet independently would bypass the country’s System of Operational Search Measures, which monitors Internet use and mobile communications. As part of the country’s tight control on media and communications, all Russian Internet traffic must pass through a Russian communications provider.

It is not surprising that Russia would take steps to block Starlink service—the country’s space chief, Dmitry Rogozin, views SpaceX as a chief rival in spaceflight. Rogozin has been critical of both NASA and the US Department of Defense for subsidizing SpaceX through government contracts. (While it is true that SpaceX has received launch contracts from the US government worth several billion dollars, it has also provided launch services at a significant discount compared to other providers.) More recently Rogozin has said Starlink is little more than a scheme to provide US Special Forces with uninterrupted communications.

That the legislation is also aimed at blocking OneWeb however is strange, considering that OneWeb is quite literally Rogozin’s only remaining commercial customer for Roscosmos’s launch services.

In the end, such laws will only end up doing more damage to Russia than to SpaceX. When you don’t allow competition you basically don’t allow any achievements at all. Russia will sink into a second-class status, not because its people are second-class but because its government is.

Tragically it appears the U.S. federal government is now in a race with Russia to the bottom.

Pioneer cover

From the press release: From the moment he is handed a possibility of making the first alien contact, Saunders Maxwell decides he will do it, even if doing so takes him through hell and back.

 
Unfortunately, that is exactly where that journey takes him.

 
The vision that Zimmerman paints of vibrant human colonies on the Moon, Mars, the asteroids, and beyond, indomitably fighting the harsh lifeless environment of space to build new societies, captures perfectly the emerging space race we see today.


He also captures in Pioneer the heart of the human spirit, willing to push forward no matter the odds, no matter the cost. It is that spirit that will make the exploration of the heavens possible, forever, into the never-ending future.

 
Available everywhere for $3.99 (before discount) at amazon, Barnes & Noble, all ebook vendors, or direct from the ebook publisher, ebookit.
 

Dream Chaser first flight delayed to ’22

Officials from Sierra Nevada today revealed they have now delayed the first flight of their mini-reusable Dream Chaser shuttle Tenacity until ’22 rather than late this year.

They claim the cause of the delay is the Wuhan flu.

Sierra Nevada has not announced when in 2022 Dream Chaser will attempt to make its first flight, but Lindsey described how pandemic restrictions prevented engineers from being on site for structural testing of the cargo model. Instead, engineers remotely oversaw the tests from a mission control center in Colorado. While the workaround allowed testing to continue, it took three or four times as long as it should have, Lindsey said.

Other delays came from supplier shutdowns due to COVID-19 outbreaks. Technical challenges not related to the pandemic also caused problems, though Lindsey did not elaborate. “All of those things have conspired to move the date a little bit,” Lindsey said.

The first issue is a management decision by the company. I note that SpaceX does not create these kinds of restrictions, and has therefore not experienced any slowdown in its launches or Starship development. It also appears to be experiencing no significant issues with COVID-19 infections.

The second issue is also in a sense a management decision. Sierra Nevada is subcontracting a lot of its work, and thus is at the mercy of other companies. Once again, SpaceX made a decision years ago to do as much as possible in-house. Thus, they are at no one’s mercy, and can push forward even as others cower in fear.

Overall, the pace of development at Sierra Nevada has not been impressive, but then, much of their work is being done by others, such as Lockheed Martin.

Leaving Earth cover

In 2019 I obtained from my former publisher the last 30 copies of the now out-of-print hardback of Leaving Earth. I sold about half of these, and with only a handful left in stock I have raised the price. To get your own autographed copy of this rare collector's item please send a $75 check (includes $5 shipping) payable to Robert Zimmerman to
 

Behind The Black, c/o Robert Zimmerman
P.O.Box 1262
Cortaro, AZ 85652
 

I will likely raise the price again when only ten books are left, so buy them now at this price while you still can!

 
Also available as an inexpensive ebook!
 

Leaving Earth: Space Stations, Rival Superpowers, and the Quest for Interplanetary Travel, can be purchased as an ebook everywhere for only $3.99 (before discount) at amazon, Barnes & Noble, all ebook vendors, or direct from my ebook publisher, ebookit.

 

Winner of the 2003 Eugene M. Emme Award of the American Astronautical Society.


"Leaving Earth is one of the best and certainly the most comprehensive summary of our drive into space that I have ever read. It will be invaluable to future scholars because it will tell them how the next chapter of human history opened." -- Arthur C. Clarke

The colorful and bright knobs of Ariadnes Colles on Mars

Colorful and bright knob in Ariadnes Colles
Click for full image.

Today’s cool image gives us a sample of the strange colorful hills in an even stranger knobby depression on Mars called Ariadnes Colles. The photo to the right, cropped and color enhanced to post here, was taken on September 10, 2020 by the high resolution camera on Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO). It focuses on just one of those colorful hills. The color strip only covers the western half, which is why that is the only part of the hill in color.

Ariadnes Colles is a patch of chaotic terrain 110 by 100 miles in size, located in the southern cratered highlands due south of Mars’s volcano country, at latitude 34 degrees south. What makes this particular patch of chaos distinct from the many others on Mars is that the hills, knobs, and mesas within it are routinely bright and colorful, compared to the darker surrounding terrain. Moreover, as noted in this Mars Express press release for images of Ariadnes Colles from that orbiter,

In contrast to other chaotic terrains … Adrianes Colles is not a water-source region. It is still debated, therefore, whether Ariadnes Colles was formed by the action of water or wind.

The darker material in the southern areas is most likely sand or volcanic ash; some slopes of the flat-topped features have been covered by this dark material that was blown up on the slopes.

The sand or volcanic ash most likely come from the Medusae Fossae Formation several hundred miles to the north, the largest volcanic ash deposit on Mars. The colors on the hill likely come from a variety of minerals.

The overview map below shows the entire patch, with the location of the hill above indicated by the white dot in the red rectangle that shows the full image location.
» Read more

Astronomers discover first periodic erupting supermassive black hole

Astronomers observing a galaxy 570 million light years away have discovered that the periodic energetic flares that occur there every 114 days are not supernovae but eruptions from the supermassive black hole at the center of the galaxy, caused each time an orbiting star gets too close during its perihelion and has material stripped away from it.

ASASSN-14ko was first detected by the All-Sky Automated Survey for Supernovae (ASAS-SN), a global network of 20 robotic telescopes headquartered at The Ohio State University (OSU) in Columbus. When Payne examined all the ASAS-SN data on the phenomenon, she noticed a series of 17 regularly spaced flares.

Based on this discovery, the astronomers predicted that the galaxy would experience another burst on May 17 of last year and coordinated ground- and space-based facilities to make observations. They have since successfully predicted and witnessed flares on September 7 and December 26.

Though the press release tries to sell itself by saying these flares were initially mistaken for supernovae, a close reading suggests the astronomers thought this for only a very short time. As soon as they took their first close look and noticed the regularly space events, they abandoned the supernovae idea immediately.

Most supermassive black holes at the center of galaxies are active, emitting large amounts of energy in bursts or in a steady stream. That is why astronomers label them Active Galactic Nuclei, or AGNs. This is the first to do so in a periodic manner.

That most are active illustrates the mystery of the supermassive black hole in the center of the Milky Way. Sagittarius A* (pronounced A-star) is not active, even though it really should be.

Update of Starship prototype #9: Flight delayed until January 15

Link here. It appears that because the engine static fire test ended prematurely, SpaceX engineers want to do another before attempting the ninth prototype’s first the 50,000 foot flight.

[Yesterday] SpaceX delivered notices confirming that the next SN9 static fire attempt was now scheduled no earlier than (NET) 8 am to 5 pm CST (UTC-6) on Tuesday, January 12th. Whether SN9 actually pulls off a full-duration static fire, weather forecasts remain unfavorable for a low-velocity, high-altitude launch. Cancelled FAA Temporary Flight Restrictions (TFRs) more or less confirmed SpaceX’s agreement with those forecasts, leaving Starship SN9’s 12.5 km (~7.8 mi) launch debut scheduled no earlier than Friday, January 15th or Saturday, January 16th.

As far as I know, the company has not said whether it will live stream the flight, though I expect they will. I will embed that live stream here when the schedule firms up.

NASA extends mission of Juno and InSight probes

NASA has decided to extend the missions of Juno and InSight probes, giving both several more years to gather data.

InSight main goal for the two-year extension will be to gather more seismic data of Mars. They will also continue their efforts to get the heat sensor into the ground, but that will have a lower priority.

Juno will be able to slowly adjust its orbit to better study Jupiter’s north polar regions, thus developing a more complete first rough map of the gas giant’s internal structure and atmosphere. The changing orbit will also allow the first close fly-bys of some of Jupiter’s moons, the first in more than twenty years.

The moon flybys could begin in mid-2021 with an encounter with Ganymede, Jupiter’s largest moon, at a distance of roughly 600 miles (1,000 kilometers), Bolton said last year.

After a series of distant passes, Juno will swoop just 200 miles (320 kilometers) above Europa in late 2022 for a high-speed flyby. Only NASA’s Galileo spacecraft, which ended its mission in 2003, has come closer to Europa.

There are two encounters with Jupiter’s volcanic moon Io planned in 2024 at distances of about 900 miles (1,500 kilometers), according to the flight plan presented by Bolton last year. Juno will be able to look for changes on the surfaces of Jupiter’s moons since they were last seen up close by NASA’s Voyager and Galileo probes.

While it will take images, Juno’s camera is not particularly high resolution. The main effort will be to use its instruments to study the surface make-up of the moons.

Hayabusa-2 begins journey to two asteroids

On January 5, 2021, after successfully delivering its samples of Ryugu to Earth, Hayabusa-2 fired up its ion engines and began its ten-year journey to two different asteroids.

Hayabusa2’s first extended-mission destination is the roughly 2,300-foot-wide (700 meters) asteroid (98943) 2001 CC21, which the probe will fly by at high speed in 2026, if all goes according to plan. A more in-depth rendezvous with yet another space rock, 1998 KY26, is scheduled to follow in 2031.

In a previous post I had mistakenly left out the first target asteroid. However, their primary target remains the tiny 100-foot-wide 1998 KY26, since it is so small. This will be the first close-up view of such a small asteroid, in space. Since such asteroids are many, it will tell us much about the make-up and history of the solar system.

NASA moves up static fire test of SLS core stage

NASA today announced that it has rescheduled the full duration static fire engine test of the core stage of SLS’s first stage, moving it up one day to this coming Saturday, January 16th.

During the test, engineers will power up all the core stage systems, load more than 700,000 gallons of cryogenic, or supercold, propellant into the tanks and fire all four engines at the same time.

If all goes right, that test will last about 8 minutes, the full time those engines are intended to fire during launch.

For SLS a lot rides on this test. Should anything go wrong, it will likely delay the launch, presently scheduled for November (though there are rumors this date is no longer likely). And since we now have a new administration taking power that is also linked politically with the previous Obama administration that was generally uninterested in SLS, a failure during this test could very well signal the death knell for this vastly over-budget and far behind schedule project.

For SLS to survive, this test must succeed, and fire for its full duration.

Partly engulfed Martian craters

An engulfed crater on Mars
Click for full image.

Cool image time! The photo to the right, rotated, cropped, and reduced to post here, was taken by the high resolution camera on Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) on October 31, 2020. It shows a crater that appears buried in a sea of material so that pretty much the only thing visible is top of its rim.

The full image shows a second larger crater to the northwest that looks the same. In both cases the material fills the craters also fills the surrounding terrain.

Yet, both craters appear to be surrounded by a faint skirt of uplifted material.

What caused this situation?
» Read more

We are about to find out who our real friends are

Sergei Krikalev on the space shuttle
Russian Sergei Krikalev on the space shuttle, February 1994.

When in 2002 I was writing my space history, Leaving Earth, I spent more than a month interviewing Russian astronauts in Moscow. Many of those individuals had also flown on the American space shuttle during the initial Mir-Shuttle joint missions followed by the start of the assembly of ISS, which had given them a unique opportunity to get an outsider’s perspective on American culture.

One man Sergei Krikalov, was especially unique. He not only was the first Russian to train at the Johnson Space Center in Houston, he was the first Russian to fly on the space shuttle, and the first to enter ISS’s first module after launch. Because of that experience, he also spoke excellent English, which meant he could describe his experiences to me directly, and not through an interpreter.

When it came to American culture, he noted how as a Russian, he was appalled at the empty nature of American friendships.
» Read more

Congress frees Europa Clipper from SLS

It appears that Congress has at last removed its requirement that the unmanned probe Europa Clipper must be launched on the continually delayed and very expensive SLS rocket.

Almost unnoticed, tucked into the 2021 fiscal NASA funding section of the recently passed omnibus spending bill, is a provision that would seem to liberate the upcoming Europa Clipper mission from the Space Launch System (SLS).

According to Space News, the mandate that the Europa Clipper mission be launched on an SLS remains in place only if the behind-schedule and overpriced heavy lift rocket is available and if concerns about hardware compatibility between the probe and the launcher are resolved. Otherwise, NASA is free to search for commercial alternatives to get the Europa Clipper to Jupiter’s ice-shrouded moon.

Not only will this secure Europa Clipper’s launch schedule, which had deadlines imposed by orbital mechanics that SLS was not going to meet, the more than $1 billion in savings by using a SpaceX Falcon Heavy will allow the probe to do more while giving NASA more money for other planetary missions.

This is excellent news. It signals that Congress’s long love affair with SLS because of the ample pork it sends to many districts might finally be waning. If so, there is a good chance it will finally be killed, freeing up its bloated budget.

Sadly, in a sane world some of those savings would be used to reduce the overall federal deficit even as some was also used to expand NASA’s space effort. We are not in a sane world, however, so expect no reduction in the federal budget, at all.

Still, this is a move by Congress towards some fiscal responsibility that will make NASA’s efforts more efficient. For that small improvement we should be grateful.

Another new rocket startup, ABL Space, to launch its rocket in ’21

Capitalism in space: ABL Space, another one of the many startups attempting to enter the launch market using private investment capital, now predicts it will attempt its first orbital launch sometime before June of this year.

The company was formed by veterans of SpaceX and Wall Street, and uses that company’s philosophy of building as much of the rocket in-house as possible. That rocket is also more powerful than Rocket Lab’s, aiming for bigger payloads, and is designed with a very simple launchpad arrangement, so that it can launch from practically anywhere there is a concrete pad and do it quickly.

ABL now has about 105 employees, with about 90,000 square feet of space in several buildings in El Segundo, as well as testing facilities at Edwards Air Force Base and at Spaceport America in New Mexico. “We can build and ship a launch vehicle about every 30 days, based on infrastructure we have now,” Piemont said. “We’re tracking towards eight or nine [rockets] a year based on existing infrastructure.”

While ABL has significant contracts and relationships with the Pentagon, Piemont said the company’s customer pipeline is 60% private, or commercial, versus 40% government payloads. The company has customers lined up to launch payloads on its first few missions, although ABL may fly mass simulators, which are often a slab of concrete to represent a spacecraft’s weight, for the first RS1 launch.

By my count, this makes seven new rocket companies — Virgin Orbit, Firefly, Astra, Relativity Space, Aevum, ABL Space, and Blue Origin — all planning their inaugural launches in ’21. The competition for business thus should be very fierce, which is all to the good, as it will encourage these companies to all find ways to cut costs.

The new dark age of silencing

Screen capture of Rantingly on January 8, 2021
Click for most recent page.

The dark age has arrived! The screen capture on the right, cropped, rearranged, and color adjusted slightly to fit here, comes from the front page of the conservative news aggregate site Rantingly from tonight, the evening of January 8, 2021, only two days after Congress certified Joe Biden as president-elect and only three days after the Democrats had confirmed that they will have majority control of the both the House and Senate in Congress.

I have highlighted in red the pertinent stories. Very quickly, the Democratic Party’s allies in at Google, Twitter, Facebook, and Apple have moved to shut down many legitimate and popular conservative and Republican news outlets, including the Twitter feed of the President of the United States. With the Democrats in control of the government, these leftist internet platforms know they have nothing to fear by doing this, that if anything the Democrats controlling Congress will applaud them and encourage them to censor more conservative and Republican outlets, to shut them all down if possible.

Beforehand, these social media platforms had held their fire somewhat out of fear that the Republicans would change their special tax status exemptions that define them as open platforms, not publishers. No longer. Their desire to silence their opponents can now swing into high gear, and they are pushing it for all it is worth, including attempting to silence their direct competitors, such as Parler, a twitter-like platform that prides itself on censoring no one.

It is also very important to recognize that this isn’t being done only by the big corporate bosses. No, sirree, this censorship of conservatives and Republicans is fully endorsed by the workforce at these companies. Today’s young generation, properly indoctrinated in leftist-controlled universities to hate conservatives and view them all as white supremacists, have been eager to do this for the last two years, and have actually been held back by their corporate bosses. The reins are now off, and their modern culture of oppression and intolerance has moved to the forefront. Persecution is now cool!

This is only the beginning. Even as I wrote this post more links appeared at Rantingly of more examples of censorship.

For myself, because I for years refused to do business with corrupt companies like Google, Apple, Facebook, and Twitter, there is not much they can do right now to hurt me. But these actions today point to the future, and I am not confident my immunity will last very long. The leftists doing this have the power and the willing support of a large percentage of the population. They will use that power and support to jam their boot into every one of their opponent’s faces, given time.

The worst part of this horror is that the people who should read it and learn from it, the low information Democratic Party supporters who really don’t understand how evil that party has become, will never see it. My readers generally agree with me. Those that do not generally fall into two categories, those who are strongly partisan and will deny these facts whole-heartedly, or hacks working for the Democratic Party who come here merely to spread misinformation and lies.

The decent and moderate people who are knee-jerk Democrats and who desperately need to read this and to see the intolerance spreading across America from the party they support are just not interested. They will turn away, dismissing what I write with a wave of the hand. This can’t be true! It must be some mad conspiracy claims of the racist alt-right! And maybe those sites are bad and should be silenced!

And I write this from direct knowledge. I have been surrounded by these people my entire life, being a secular Jew who has also been a college teacher, a film maker, and a science journalist. All these communities are dominated by low information Democrats. I have known them all and have I spent my life trying to get them to wake up, all to no avail.

They will not see. They will not hear. And they will not speak up. And so, worse is coming. We no longer live in the land of the free and the home of the brave.

Soon, it will be a land of oppression and murder and genocide, all because too many Americans decided to close their minds and do nothing.

Colliding galaxies!

Colliding galaxies!
Click here and here to see full images.

Cool images from Hubble! The two photos to the right, cropped and reduced to post here, shows two different galaxies undergoing a collision with another galaxy. Both images are from of a montage of six galaxy merger images from the Hubble Space Telescope, released yesterday.

To celebrate a new year, the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope has published a montage of six beautiful galaxy mergers. Each of these merging systems was studied as part of the recent HiPEEC survey to investigate the rate of new star formation within such systems. These interactions are a key aspect of galaxy evolution and are among the most spectacular events in the lifetime of a galaxy.

It is during rare merging events that galaxies undergo dramatic changes in their appearance and in their stellar content. These systems are excellent laboratories to trace the formation of star clusters under extreme physical conditions.

The first galaxy merger to the right is dubbed NGC 6052, and is located in the constellation of Hercules about 230 million light-years away. This pair of colliding galaxies, according to the caption, “were first discovered in 1784 by William Herschel and were originally classified as a single irregular galaxy because of their odd shape. However, we now know that NGC 6052 actually consists of two galaxies that are in the process of colliding.”

The second image shows two galaxies, IC 694 and NGC 3690, about 700 millions after they had completed a close pass of each other. From the caption: “As a result of this interaction, the system underwent a fierce burst of star formation. In the last fifteen years or so six supernovae have popped off in the outer reaches of the galaxy, making this system a distinguished supernova factory.”

You can see all six merger images here, though to my eye these two are the most impressive.

Draping moraines on Mars

Draping moraines on Mars
Click for full image.

Cool image time! The photo on the right, rotated, cropped, reduced, and annotated to post here, was taken by the high resolution camera on Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter on October 6, 2020. It shows the northern interior rim of 42-mile-wide Greg Crater in the southern cratered highlands of Mars.

What makes it interesting is the curving ridge that appears to drape itself around several larger hilltops. That ridge is a moraine, the debris or glacial till that accumulates at the foot of glaciers as push their way down hill. As the glacier had flowed those hills became obstacles, so that the glacier (and its moraine) were forced to go around.

The overview map and wider view from the context camera on MRO below give the setting.
» Read more

Momentus forced to delay its first mission due to FAA bureaucrats

Capitalism in space? Momentus, aiming to provide satellite makers a tug that can move satellites to their preferred orbit, has delayed its first mission because the many bureaucrats in the federal government need more time to review the paperwork.

In a Jan. 4 statement, Momentus said the flight of its first Vigoride tug, which was to be part of the payloads on a Falcon 9 dedicated rideshare mission launching as soon as Jan. 14, will be delayed to later in the year because it was unable to get approval from the Federal Aviation Administration for the mission. “This move will allow for the additional time necessary to secure FAA approval of Momentus’ payloads, including completion of a standard interagency review,” the company said in a statement.

The company did not elaborate on that review, but part of the FAA commercial launch licensing process is a review of the payload that the agency describes as intended “to determine whether its launch would jeopardize public health and safety, safety of property, U.S. national security or foreign policy interests, or international obligations of the United States.” That process can include consultation with other government agencies.

In a Jan. 5 document filed with the Securities and Exchange Commission in the form of an interview, Fred Kennedy, president of Momentus, said there was no specific issue that was delaying that review. “The FAA did not express any specific concerns of its own, but rather indicated that more time was needed to complete its interagency review of Momentus’ payload,” he said. [emphasis mine]

The highlighted words reveal the truth. There is nothing wrong with the payload or its tasks. The problem is that several government agencies have not completed the paperwork, and so Momentus must wait. I imagine that there is a thick application sitting on some bureaucrat’s desk, requiring a signature, and that bureaucrat has been too busy collecting his or her paycheck at home because God forbid he or she might get the cororavirus by coming into work.

This is modern America. You don’t have the real freedom to do what you want. You must sit, twiddling your thumbs, while your betters in Washington decide whether they will allow you to do it. It doesn’t matter they know little or nothing about your goals. All that matters is that they are in charge, and can boss you around at their whim.

Yesterday

Because I have come down with a cold that has sapped my energy, I will let J.J. Sefton sum up my thoughts about what happened yesterday, as well as the last four decades. This is the key quote:

Tragically, a victim who has been identified as a Trump supporter was shot and killed in the chaos and confusion. Now the propagandists, the Democrats, and the GOP are condemning Trump as well as anyone and everyone who voted for or otherwise support him as traitors, engaging in violent treason and sedition. Given everything we have endured this past year and going back into the Obama years and beyond really, that attitude is risible in the extreme. It’s also infuriating beyond my capacity to describe the emotion.

My rage this morning is directed in particular at the GOP. Given everything we have seen and endured, these bastards – with the exception of the handful of patriotic members of the Senate and House who exercised their legitimate Constitutional authority and right to challenge the Electoral College votes – including Vice President Mike Pence stabbed us in the heart. Correction, they along with the state legislatures in question as well as the majority on the Supreme Court stabbed us in the heart weeks if not months ago. Pence et al were just twisting the knife. Meh, it happened the moment President Trump said “so help me G-d” four years ago when the GOP controlled both houses of Congress and sabotaged him at every turn for two years, until Paul Ryno delivered the House to Malig-Nancy Pelosi.

Year after year, election after election, we begged and pleaded with that party to stop what is now inevitable and imminent from happening. I blame them for what happened yesterday. For what happened nine weeks ago. For what has happened to this country for the past 60 years by not opposing the overthrow of America as founded and going along to get along, either out of denial, greed or some combination of both.

I was once in Moscow interviewing a Soviet-era scientist. She was curious about America and asked me some questions. Eventually the conversation turned to freedom, the law, and the Constitution. She, in the typical Russia way, extolled the wonders of Mother Russia. I then made it clear to her that I did not care one whit for the country I lived in. What I cared about was the principles that founded it. I said bluntly, “If the United States abandons those principles it will not be my country any longer.”

I fear we have reached that point.

Rover update: Curiosity on the shore of a sand sea

Curiosity stops on the shore of a sand sea, while Yutu-2 continues its journey west away from Chang’e-2. On the way: Perseverance and China’s first Mars rover on Tianwen-1.

A sand sea on Mars
Click for full image.

Curiosity

The photo on the right, taken in late December, shows the large sand lake the science team has labeled “the Sands of Forvie” that the rover has been working its way uphill to reach since it left the Mary Anning drill site back in November.

Since they arrived there, they have used the rover to roll across the sand, cutting into a ripple to expose its interior, followed by high resolution close-up images. They have also used the rover to analyze the chemical composition of the sand’s grains, from that interior section, from the top of several ripples, and from the troughs in between.

Once finished here, the rover will be turned east again to continue its journey around this sand sea to the very base of Mount Sharp. The overview map below shows the planned route.
» Read more

DARPA cubesats damaged in mishap at SpaceX facility

Though no details have been released, DARPA revealed yesterday that two experimental cubesats being prepared for launch on a SpaceX Falcon 9 were damaged when the payload separation system was accidently activated.

As these were military satellites not much information was revealed by DARPA, and SpaceX made no comment.

Such things do happen rarely, but for SpaceX it is still an embarrassment and a problem. They will certainly have to figure out how this could have happened by accident, and make sure it does not happen again.

Who pays the cost for repair or replacement (more likely) is a tangled question, and will be buried in the launch contracts between DARPA and SpaceX.

Starship prototype #9 completes first static fire test

Capitalism in space: SpaceX engineers yesterday successfully completed the first static fire test of the ninth prototype of Starship, in preparation for its first 50,000 foot flight.

The SN9 vehicle’s three engines lit up for about one second today (Jan. 6) at 5:07 p.m. EST (2200 GMT) during a static-fire test at SpaceX’s South Texas facilities, near the Gulf Coast village of Boca Chica.

It is possible they will do additional static fire tests before that flight, as they did this with the eighth prototype. It is also possible that all went right in this first test, and they will proceed to launch, as soon as January 8th.

1 2 3 4 5 775