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Posts Tagged ‘MESSENGER’

A day late.

Well, it was MESSENGER’s ten year anniversary yesterday.  The world is not a safer place, no lives have been saved, and milk still goes sour after a spell.  Kittens still die, killers still live, and Obama is still president.

But MESSENGER is one thing that seems to be working mostly as it was intended, so I am content, at least until Ebola or the wave of the world’s illegal immigrants swamp us under.

Two weeks ago as the wife and kids were still in the PNW visiting family, I was shopping for myself and muttering.  Muttering is something I forgot that single people do (or at least I did) and it came back surprisingly quickly.

Mid-mutter I saw a display sign that said simply:

Food Alternatives

Wow.  If I had checked it out I could have found an alternative to food, but I had a house to go clean and a MineCraft mine that needed digging.

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According to Thomas Sowell, thinking may now be obsolete.  I think he is right.

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The spacecraft is feeding back all kinds of great data and the instruments are working nicely.

I didn’t see Cruel Wife very much that year of working at the UofM so it is a very pleasant payoff to see the instrument working so darned well… You. Have. No.  Idea. … how tickled I am that the UofM’s instrument is performing so fantastically well.  It was a tense and cranky year when I was there but this made it worthwhile…

This, from JHU-APL…  read the lava part, which is cool, but the really cool part is the exosphere part.

 

Orbital Observations of Mercury Reveal Flood Lavas, Hollows, and Unprecedented Surface Details

 After only six months in orbit around Mercury, NASA’s MESSENGER spacecraft is sending back information that has revolutionized the way scientists think about the innermost planet. Analyses of new data from the spacecraft show, among other things, new evidence that flood volcanism has been widespread on Mercury, the first close-up views of Mercury’s “hollows,” the first direct measurements of the chemical composition of Mercury’s surface, and the first global inventory of plasma ions within Mercury’s space environment.

The results are reported in a set of seven papers published in a special section of Science magazine on September 30, 2011.

“MESSENGER’s instruments are capturing data that can be obtained only from orbit,” says MESSENGER Principal Investigator Sean Solomon, of the Carnegie Institution of Washington. “We have imaged many areas of the surface at unprecedented resolution, we have viewed the polar regions clearly for the first time, we have built up global coverage with our images and other data sets, we are mapping the elemental composition of Mercury’s surface, we are conducting a continuous inventory of the planet’s neutral and ionized exosphere, and we are sorting out the geometry of Mercury’s magnetic field and magnetosphere. And we’ve only just begun. Mercury has many more surprises in store for us as our mission progresses.”

MESSENGER Reveals Flood Volcanism

For decades scientists had puzzled over whether Mercury had volcanic deposits on its surface. MESSENGER’s three flybys answered that question in the affirmative, but the global distribution of volcanic materials was not well constrained. New data from orbit show a huge expanse of volcanic plains surrounding the north polar region of Mercury. These continuous smooth plains cover more than 6% of the total surface of Mercury.

The volcanic deposits are thick. “Analysis of the size of buried ‘ghost’ craters in these deposits shows that the lavas are locally as thick as 2 kilometers” (or 1.2 miles), explains James Head of Brown University, the lead author of one of the Science reports. “If you imagine standing at the base of the Washington Monument, the top of the lavas would be something like 12 Washington Monuments above you.”

According to Head, the deposits appear typical of flood lavas, huge volumes of solidified molten rock similar to those found in the few-million-year-old Columbia River Basalt Group, which at one point covered 150,000 square kilometers (60,000 square miles) in the northwest United States. “Those on Mercury appear to have poured out from long, linear vents and covered the surrounding areas, flooding them to great depths and burying their source vents,” Head says.

Scientists have also discovered vents, measuring up to 25 kilometers (16 miles) in length, that appear to be the source of some of the tremendous volumes of very hot lava that have rushed out over the surface of Mercury and eroded the substrate, carving valleys and creating teardrop-shaped ridges in the underlying terrain. “These amazing landforms and deposits may be related to the types of unusual compositions, similar to terrestrial rocks called komatiites, being seen by other instruments and reported in this same issue of Science,” Head says. “What’s more, such lavas may have been typical of an early period in Earth’s history, one for which only spotty evidence remains today.”

As MESSENGER continues to orbit Mercury, the imaging team is building up a global catalog of these volcanic deposits and is working with other instrument teams to construct a comprehensive view of the history of volcanism on Mercury.

[snip]

Mercury’s Surface and Exospheric Composition, Up Close and Personal

[Other things were said here]

MESSENGER has also collected the first global observations of plasma ions in Mercury’s magnetosphere. Over 65 days covering more than 120 orbits, MESSENGER’s Fast Imaging Plasma Spectrometer (FIPS) made the first long-term measurements of Mercury’s ionized exosphere.

The team found that sodium is the most important ion contributed by the planet. “We had previously observed neutral sodium from ground observations, but up close we’ve discovered that charged sodium particles are concentrated near Mercury’s polar regions where they are likely liberated by solar wind ion sputtering, effectively knocking sodium atoms off Mercury’s surface” notes the University of Michigan’s Thomas Zurbuchen, author of one of the Science reports. “We were able to observe the formation process of these ions, one that is comparable to the manner by which auroras are generated in the Earth atmosphere near polar regions.”

The FIPS sensor detected helium ions throughout the entire volume of Mercury’s magnetosphere. “Helium must be generated through surface interactions with the solar wind,” says Zurbuchen. “We surmise that the helium was delivered from the Sun by the solar wind, implanted on the surface of Mercury, and then fanned out in all directions.

“Our results tell us is that Mercury’s weak magnetosphere provides the planet very little protection from the solar wind,” he continued. “Extreme space weather must be a continuing activity at the surface of the planet closest to the Sun.”

“These revelations emphasize that Mercury is a fascinating world that is unmatched in the solar system,” says Blewett. “We have barely begun to understand what Mercury is really like and are eager to discover what Mercury can tell us about the processes that led to formation of the planets as we see them today.”

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Universe Today has some neat stuff on MESSENGER/Mercury as well.  (h/t to Black Lab on Meth)

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And then one of my bosses sent me this article, too… Mercury is hot as hell and appears to match it pretty closely in the description, but it’s not quite as bad as Hell because Mercury doesn’t play Barry Manilow music.

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Orbiting Mercury only to have a scare with Mariner showing up again.  A close friend and team member (The Electric Pole) e:mailed me:

I just got a message about MESSENGER from Jim Raines, see the link below. This is really unbelievable that Mariner should show up.  I wonder what the separation distance was between MESSENGER and Mariner.  That would be a bizarre fate to make it into orbit only to be smashed to bits by the only derelict spacecraft within 80,000,000 miles.

This is like a guy dumping his girlfriend as if she were a post-coitus $20 hooker and then when she gets a new boyfriend he suddenly shows up to crash the party.  See the pic of Mariner taken by MESSENGER…

More info here:

http://messenger.jhuapl.edu/gallery/sciencePhotos/image.php?gallery_id=2&image_id=448

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Hey, there is good news.  Yesterday was the day the first image of Mercury was taken by a man-made satellite in orbit and was sent back to Earth.

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Remember a while back?  The frozen under-ice Antarctic lake thing, where we pondered what might lurk for millions of years beneath the ice, evil incarnate, waiting only to be melted down, waiting only to take those giant foo… oops, shit, that was Godzilla.  (Thank you, BOC for an awesome concert…)

Well, we wondered what might live in that already melted patch of nougaty goodness… uh… water.  With me so far?  No?  Didn’t we wonder about this together?

Well, I know of at least one fellow who wondered as well, and he might have (did) tip me off to it so I’d wonder, too.  Yes, I’m babbling.

Here.  Go here and read up about the (now passé) fear of imminent doom from life right here on this planet!   Ok, ok, so these are different lakes.  Work with me people.  The fear-mongered lake was Lake Vostok (we all could have diiiiiiiiied!) and this cool little critter-thing lives/lived in Organic Lake.  Seriously, work with me here.

Well, they found another virophage!

Oooh that sounds so sexy…  virophages.  Nature’s little destroyers.  Do they have one that fights Barking Moonbats?  (Yuppii Dooficus)

Also, a more intelligent link here.

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h/t to The Dude for telling me to look at XKCD today.

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I pointed out to mrmacs two nights ago that this is how you know it is not your time to die…

When you survive the road sign post going through your truck and you together.

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Can you imagine this kind of twisted thinking?  That just giving people money doesn’t address the underlying problem?  Where the HELL did that kind of sick logic come from?

In a stinging rebuff to the United Nations and its anti-poverty efforts, Eritrea, one of the poorest countries in Africa, has told the world body that it wants out of its long-term development agreement because the U.N. makes the problem worse, not better.

The reason, given in a January 26 notification letter from the country’s powerful Finance Minister, obtained by Fox News, is that “aid only postpones the basic solutions to crucial development problems by tentatively ameliorating their manifestations without tackling their root causes. The structural, political, economic, etc. damage that it inflicts upon recipient countries is also enormous.” In other words, the government argues, U.N. aid does more harm than good.

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Clearly there is some confusion between “Dude, I’m really high” and “stone cold science” but the general idea is that the Free Electron Laser as a viable tool is inching closer.  No, it’s not news.  I’m pointing out one of the misunderstandings that go along with high-power things, namely energy density vs. size.

The problem with solid state lasers, though, is that the wavelength of light that they pump out is fixed, and depending on the weather, the beam can get significantly weaker over distance. So, the laser of choice by 2020 will be the far sexier free-electron laser, which can output energy in multiple wavelengths and doesn’t require any of the bulky and heavy solid-state infrastructure.

[They already pump out different wavelengths by tuning the wiggler magnets… – LK]

Free-electron lasers are basically just particle accelerators that can convert fast-moving electrons into photons. The more electrons you stuff into them, the more photons they spit out, at whatever wavelength (or wavelengths) you want.

[Basically just particle accelerators?  That’s like saying that basically a nuclear reactor is a steam driven generator.  It doesn’t begin to cover the reality. – LK ]

Yes, I’m irritable about physics whenever some doof (in their comments section) talks about shrinking an FEL down to the size of a handheld weapon.

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Update: Hillary: I’m Very Relaxed.

That’s the botox speaking.

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Say you are being questioned just prior to going to your eternal reward, wherever that might be… and the conversation goes like this:

So, you broke into someone’s house, went to drag the gal upstairs, and… what?  Fiancee got in the way?  You tussled?

She ran out of the room?  You don’t say…

And then she came back into the room with a pink .38 and blew you away?

Jeez, dude.  How about dying with a bit more dignity than that?  Oh, I don’t know – there’s many ways you could have gone that would have left you with more self-respect.  Like having a heart attack while engaged in amorous relations with a cow?

A pink gun.  Only thing worse would be to have been shot by a Hello Kitty AR-15.

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On Fark… MESSENGER related, I assume…

NASA spacecraft now circling massive object that is not your wife, despite being super-hot on one side and super-cold on the other

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I can make two comments based on the statements by the mother of one of the civilian-murdering Army fellas (Morlock).

Morlock’s mother, in an interview with The Seattle Times, blames much of her son’s plight on a failure of Army leaders to oversee the platoon’s behavior and actions.

“I think the government is just playing these guys as scapegoats. The leaders dropped the ball. Who was watching over all this?” Audrey Morlock said.

  1. How insulting to men and women in uniform, that she seems to think that like little children they need constant supervision.
  2. Her weird comment about using the killers as scapegoats – is it so hard to imagine that her son is more than a little “damaged goods”?

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Granny get your gun.

What is it with women and .38’s today.  (let’s stay away from the joke about the woman with 38’s and packing a couple of 45’s, too)

After being denied a kiss yesterday by a neighbor 39 years her junior, a 92-year-old Florida woman allegedly returned to her home, retrieved a .380 semi-automatic handgun, and fired several shots into the man’s residence.

Supposedly she was aiming at his car… yeah.  Yeah, that’s it.  Damn thing ought to have given her a smooch.  Hmph.

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Hooray MESSENGER!

Yay!  MESSENGER successfully went into orbit around Mercury tonight.  An awful lot of us breathed a sigh of relief.  There are three options when approaching a planet like they did – (a) You match velocity and make a successful orbit, (b) You shoot on past, or (c) You make a magnificent crater on another planetary body.

The rockit scientists did just fine.  With an 8-9 minute lag in communications (one way), real-time control is impossible, so on autopilot the spacecraft executed a successful burn and decelerated pretty fast (without ABS, I might add) and went into it’s eccentric orbit.  They’re waiting for more telemetry but all signs look good.

From the APL site:

MESSENGER Begins Historic Orbit around Mercury At 9:10 p.m. EDT, engineers in the MESSENGER Mission Operations Center at the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory (APL) in Laurel, Md., received the anticipated radiometric signals confirming nominal burn shutdown and successful insertion of the MESSENGER probe into orbit around the planet Mercury.

The spacecraft rotated back to the Earth by 9:45 p.m. EDT, and started transmitting data. Upon review of these data, the engineering and operations teams confirmed that the burn executed nominally with all subsystems reporting a clean burn and no logged errors.

MESSENGER’s main thruster fired for approximately 15 minutes at 8:45 p.m., slowing the spacecraft by 1,929 miles per hour (862 meters per second) and easing it into the planned eccentric orbit about Mercury. The rendezvous took place about 96 million miles (155 million kilometers) from Earth.

I’ll post a pic in a while of me sitting next to an engineering model of the FIPS instrument (it is attached to the EPPS instrument on MESSENGER).  We were all damn near crazy once we finished the fabrication of parts and built the thing up, but we did it in just under a year.

Here is a picture of a handsome little fella who I happen to know very well standing next to an engineering model of FIPS.  It’s packed with all the gooey sciencey goodness that only Sparks can dream up, folks, and looks just like the thing on MESSENGER, too.  Well, except that the whole thing is alodined and the real thing is covered all over with MLI/ceramic-blanket stuff.  The blanket is like asbestos underwear – keeps the precious stuff from getting too toasty (and can keep your drinks from getting too cold, too).   It also keeps seagull droppings off the instrument.  Now, you may be tempted to say “Oh, that isn’t a seagull-protective cover!”  To which I respond: “How come?  Do you see ANY seagull droppings on the instrument?”

Franken-Boy standing next to honest-to-goodness hardware.

For a size reference, the cylindrical thing pointed up and to the left is the size of a coke can and the whole thing is lighter than a popcorn fart.  There’s so much crammed into that front section alone that it would make your head swim.  As one of the project heads (a Spark) was introducing me to another attendee he said “Well, if you’d known what you were in for you might not have come on board.”  And he was right, I might have run away like a scared little girl.  What a great group of folks though.  I think we all hated each other a bit towards the end but we got over it.

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Update:  Dream up a caption…

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From the JHU APL website…  The last sentence is the amazing one.  That is so close to the mark as to be awe-inspiring, at least it is to me.

Ten Days from Orbit Insertion

Ten days from now – on March 17 EDT – the MESSENGER spacecraft will execute a 15-minute maneuver that will place it into orbit about Mercury, making it the first craft ever to do so, and initiating a one-year science campaign to understand the innermost planet.

Starting today, antennas from each of the three Deep Space Network (DSN) ground stations will begin a round-the-clock vigil, allowing flight control engineers at the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory (APL) in Laurel, Md., to monitor MESSENGER on its final approach to Mercury.

At 10:40 a.m. this morning, the spacecraft began executing the last cruise command sequence of the mission.  This command load will execute until next Monday, when the command sequence containing the orbit-insertion burn will start.

“This is a milestone event for our small, but highly experienced, operations team, marking the end of six and one half years of successfully shepherding the spacecraft through six planetary flybys, five major propulsive maneuvers, and sixteen trajectory-correction maneuvers, all while simultaneously preparing for orbit injection and primary mission operations,” says MESSENGER Systems Engineer Eric Finnegan. “Whatever the future holds, this team of highly dedicated engineers (http://messenger.jhuapl.edu/moc/index.html) has done a phenomenal job methodically generating, testing, and verifying commands to the spacecraft, getting MESSENGER where it is today.”

The mission operations team now turns its attention to the final preparations for the insertion burn next week and establishing nominal operations for the primary mission. As with the last three approaches to Mercury, the navigation team and the guidance and control team have been successfully using the solar radiation of the Sun to carefully adjust the trajectory of the spacecraft toward the optimum point in space and time to start the orbit-insertion maneuver.

As of the most recent navigation report on February 22, the spacecraft was less than 5 kilometers and less than three seconds from the target arrival point

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