Back to the Moon for fresh perspectives

Perspectives on the Moon
I thought we could head back to the Moon for an updated visit and marvel at our first off-world landing site.

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We see it in our skies regularly and we forget what a momentous achievement it was for humanity to land on the Moon. As exciting as the planned Mars missions are, there is still so much to learn about our nearest neighbour.

Did you know?

  • The Moon was probably formed when an object about the size of Mars collided with the Earth a long time ago. The debris from that collision formed what we now know as the Moon.
  • Our rocky satellite orbits the Earth at a distance of roughly 384 thousand kilometers.
  • It takes the Moon about 27 days to orbit the Earth. This is also about the length of a lunar day so we only ever see one side of the Moon from Earth.
  • It has a very weak atmosphere called an exosphere. It is not enough to support human life so visitors to the Moon need to wear spacesuits.
  • The Moon’s gravity is about 0.16 of the Earth’s gravity so objects on the lunar surface weigh about a sixteenth of what they would weigh on Earth.

There are many more facts about the Moon on the NASA page titled “Earth’s Moon – In Depth”.

The first Moon landing

The Apollo 11 Prime Crew

Humans first landed on the Moon on 20 April 1969. The astronauts who took part in the Apollo 11 mission were Neil Armstrong, Michael Collins and Buzz Aldrin.

The mission to the Moon captivated the world. You can get a sense of how people must have felt as the astronauts headed to the Moon and eventually landed on the lunar surface from this CBS footage of that momentous day:

We’re so accustomed to seeing high quality images and video footage of modern space exploration that it’s easy to forget that the technology back then was not nearly as advanced. We’ve certainly come a long way since then.

Aldrin Next to Solar Wind Experiment

What does the Moon look like?

Thanks to NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter mission, we have some incredible footage. Here are two videos of both hemispheres of the Moon, including the side we don’t see from Earth.

This video footage shows the Moon’s position throughout 2017 with a lot of useful data that includes the Sun’s relative position, the Earth’s relative position and the phases of the Moon in tremendous detail.

The Moon’s Northern Hemisphere

The Moon’s Southern Hemisphere

A virtual tour of the Moon

Have you ever wondered what all those features of our rocky satellite are? Here is a terrific tour of the Moon from NASA:

Blue Marble

One of my favourite views from the Apollo missions is this iconic photograph of our home. It was taken by the Apollo 17 crew on their way to the Moon and it’s titled “Blue Marble”:

The Blue Marble

There is so much more for us to explore in our solar system. At the same time, we know so little about our own planet and have a lot of work to do to preserve it for new generations of explorers.

Header image credit: NASA Goddard Space Flight Center, licensed CC BY 2.0

Seeing our planet from the International Space Station

Our planet from the space station
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NASA publishes a large collection of photos and videos of our planet as seen from the International Space Station. They offer a truly spectacular view of our home.

What really stands out, particularly when you watch the videos, is that you don’t see borders and the many differences that divide us. Instead, what you see is the one, beautiful planet that we all share.

A wonderful example of this is astronaut Jeff Williams’ video of the Earth as he passed overhead during a recent visit to the International Space Station. This video, titled “Jeff’s Earth” is mesmerizing on a big HD TV:

This 2012 video titled “Earth Illuminated: ISS Time-lapse Photography” is another wonderful opportunity to see what the astronauts see from the ISS as they orbit the Earth:

It is easy to forget that the Earth is the only home we have and that we share it. Fortunately, photos and videos from organisations like NASA help remind us of what we have in common.

Here are some photos from the NASA Johnson Space Center collection on Flickr:

Featured image credit: NASA Johnson Space Center

One-stop guide to our Solar System

Solar System
I just came across NASA’s terrific one-stop guide to our Solar System and wanted to share it with you quickly. It’s a great quick reference with links to more in-depth materials. Click on the graphic below to get started:

Solar System - the 8 planets

Featured image credit: Kira, 5th Grade, Palm Crest Elementary, La Canada, Calif (17 July 2003) – sourced from NASA.

The Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter and it’s Mars mission

Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter
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One of the amazing vehicles humans have sent to Mars to explore the red planet is the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter. What is the MRO? According to Wikipedia:

Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) is a multipurpose spacecraft designed to conduct reconnaissance and exploration of Mars from orbit. The US$720 million spacecraft was built by Lockheed Martin under the supervision of the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL). The mission is managed by the California Institute of Technology, at the JPL, in La Cañada Flintridge, California, for the NASA Science Mission Directorate, Washington, D.C. It was launched August 12, 2005, and attained Martian orbit on March 10, 2006. In November 2006, after five months of aerobraking, it entered its final science orbit and began its primary science phase. As MRO entered orbit, it joined five other active spacecraft that were either in orbit or on the planet’s surface: Mars Global Surveyor, Mars Express, 2001 Mars Odyssey, and the two Mars Exploration Rovers (Spirit and Opportunity); at the time, this set a record for the most operational spacecraft in the immediate vicinity of Mars. Mars Global Surveyor and the Spirit rover have since ceased to function; the remainder remain operational as of March 2016.

MRO contains a host of scientific instruments such as cameras, spectrometers, and radar, which are used to analyze the landforms, stratigraphy, minerals, and ice of Mars. It paves the way for future spacecraft by monitoring Mars’ daily weather and surface conditions, studying potential landing sites, and hosting a new telecommunications system. MRO’s telecommunications system will transfer more data back to Earth than all previous interplanetary missions combined, and MRO will serve as a highly capable relay satellite for future missions.

בעברית: בויקיפדיה

The official NASA MRO website also has a great overview of the MRO’s mission which you should read for more background information and links to more information about aspects of the mission.

I noticed a terrific video commemorating 10 years of the MRO’s mission which includes some wonderful imagery:

You can also find a huge gallery of high resolution imagery in the NASA JPL Photojournal that is worth spending some time exploring. Here are some examples:

Wind at work
The Ares 3 Landing Site: Where Science Fact Meets Fiction
Aeolian Features of Scandia Cavi

Image credit: Wikipedia (Public Domain)

The largest galaxy in the known universe

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Have you ever wondered which galaxy is the biggest galaxy in the known universe? Apparently, the galaxy known as IC 1101, located in the Virgo constellation (although Deep Astronomy states it is in the Serpens constellation in the video below), is a giant.

According to a 1990 New York Times article titled “Sighting of Largest Galaxy Hints Clues on the Clustering of Matter” –

The galaxy, embracing more than 100 trillion stars, is the extremely bright object at the center of a rich cluster of galaxies known as Abell 2029. Analysis of new telescopic images indicates that the object is a distinct galaxy more than six million light years in diameter, scientists report in the issue of the journal Science published today.

To get a sense of just how big IC 1101 is, here is an extract from an article on Futurism titled “The Largest Galaxy In the Known Universe: IC 1101“:

Just how large is it?  At its largest point, this galaxy extends about 2 million light-years from its core, and it has a mass of about 100-trillion stars. To give you some idea of what this means, the Milky Way is just 100,000 light-years in diameter. If our galaxy were to be replaced with this super-giant, it would swallow up both Magellanic clouds, the Andromeda galaxy, the Triangulum galaxy, and almost all the space in between. That is simply staggering.

Other resources:

Image credit: Galactic Pyrotechnics on Display (NASA, Chandra, 07/02/14) by NASA’s Marshall Flight Center, licensed CC BY NC 2.0

Voyager craft heading into interstellar space

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My son asked me about space travel and we started talking about the Voyager 1 and 2 probes that were launched in the late 1970s and sent out to the outer planets. Those probes have begun their journey into interstellar space after passing out of our solar system.

NASA’s JPL (Jet Propulsion Labs) has great resources about the Voyager craft and a terrific YouTube playlist:

https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLTiv_XWHnOZq5bv1w9Db2uNJVFiVCkWW5

The journey to Mars

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I’m really looking forward to the movie, “The Martian“. The latest trailer looks awesome:

As cool as the movie looks, the real-life #JourneyToMars is even more spectacular. NASA JPL released a retrospective video titled “50 Years of Mars Exploration” showcasing highlights from Humanity’s 50 year history exploring Mars. 50 years!

NASA’s Jet Propulsion Labs has loads of awesome videos on YouTube and it is definitely worth subscribing to JPL’s channel. By the way, did you notice the soundtrack in this video? Sounds a lot like the Transformers soundtracks by Steve Jablonsky.

Another great video to watch is this one titled “11 Years and Counting – Opportunity on Mars” that chronicles the Opportunity rover’s discoveries on Mars:

My favourite video is still “Seven Minutes of Terror: The Challenges of Getting to Mars“:

You can follow updates about Humanity’s journey to Mars using the #JourneyToMars hashtag on Twitter too:

Image credit: Daybreak at Gale Crater from the NASA Goddard Space Flight Center, licensed CC BY 2.0


This post was originally published on my blog as “The history of Humanity’s #JourneyToMars” on 2015-08-23