News from Space: Chang’e-3’s Landing and 1st Panorama

Change-3-landing-site_1_ken-kremer-580x344China accomplished a rather major technological and scientific feat recently with the recent soft landing of its Chang’e-3 robotic spacecraft on Dec.14th. This was the nation’s first attempt at landing a spacecraft on an extra-terrestrial body, and firmly established them as a competitor in the ongoing space race. What’s more, the event has been followed by a slew of fascinating and intriguing pictures.

The first were taken by the descent imaging camera aboard the Chang’e-3 lander, which began furiously snapping photos during the last minutes of the computer guided landing. The Chinese space agency then combined the photos to create a lovely compilation video, with the point of view rotated 180 degrees, to recreate what the descent looked like.

Change-3_lunar_landing_site-580x470The dramatic soft landing took place at 8:11 am EST (9:11 p.m Beijing local time) with the lander arriving at Mare Imbrium (Latin for “Sea of Rains”) – one of the larger craters in the Solar System that is between 3 and 4.5 billion years old. The precise landing coordinates were 44.1260°N and 19.5014°W – located below the Montes Recti mountain ridge.

The video begins by showing the Chang’e-3 lander approaching the Montes Recti mountain ridge. At an altitude of 15 km (9 miles), the Chang’e-3 carried out the rocket powered descent to the Moon’s surface by firing the landing thrusters starting at the altitude of 15 km (9 mi) for a soft landing targeted to a preselected area in Mare Imbrium.

chang'e3_landingThe vehicles thrusters then fired to pivot the lander towards the surface at about the 2:40 minute mark when it was at an altitude of roughly 3 km (1.8 miles). The powered descent was autonomous, preprogrammed and controlled by the probe itself, not by mission controllers on Earth stationed at the Beijing. Altogether, it took about 12 minutes to bring the lander onto the surface.

Roughly 7 hours later, on Sunday, Dec. 15 at 4:35 a.m. Beijing local time, China’s first ever lunar rover ‘Yutu’ (or Jade Rabbit) rolled down a pair of ramps and onto the Moon’s soil. The six wheeled ‘Yutu’ rover drove straight off the ramps and sped right into the history books as it left a noticeably deep pair of tire tracks behind in the loose lunar dirt. This too was captured by the lander’s camera and broadcast on China’s state run CCTV.

chang'e3_egressThe next bundle of footage came from the rover itself, as the Jade Rabbit took in its inaugural photographs of the landing site in Mare Imbrium. The photos were released by Chinese state TV on Dec. 15th, not long after the rover disembarked from the lander, and were then pieced together to form the lander’s first panoramic view of the lunar surface.

Marco Di Lorenzo and Ken Kremer – an amateur photo-astronomer and a science journalist who have composed panoramas from the Curiosity mission in the past – also composed the images together to create a series of mosaics. A sample of the 1st panorama is pictured below, with the Yutu rover in the center and tire tracks off to the left.. Click here to the see the full-size image.

Change-3-1st-Pano_1b_Ken-Kremer--580x203The individual images were taken by three cameras positioned around the robotic lander and captured the stark lunar terrain surrounding the spacecraft. The panoramic view shows ‘Yutu’ and its wheel tracks cutting a semi circular path at least several centimeters deep into the loose lunar regolith at the landing site at Mare Imbrium, located near the Bay of Rainbows.

Liu Enhai, Designer in Chief, Chang’E-3 Probe System, has this say about the images in a recent CCTV interview:

This picture is made of 60 pictures taken 3 times by the rover. The rover used three angles: vertical, 15 degrees tilted up, and 15 degrees down…so that we get an even farther view

chang'e3_portraitThe 140 kilogram Yutu rover then turned around so that the lander and rover could obtain their first portraits of one another. The first is visible above, showing the Jade Rabbit rover (in better resolution), with the image of the Chang’e 3 lander below. Liu Jianjun, Deputy Chief Designer of the Chang’E-3 Ground System, was also interviewed by CCTV, and had this to about that part of the mission:

The rover reached the point of X after it went down from the lander, then it established contact with the ground. Then it went to point A, where the rover and lander took pictures of each other. Then it reached point B, where it’s standing now.

These are just the first of what is expected to be a torrent of pictures produced by the rover, which according to Chinese officials, will spend the next year conducting in-situ exploration at the landing site. Beyond that, the rover will use its instruments to survey the moon’s geological structure and composition on a minimum three month mission to locate the moon’s natural resources for use by future missions.

chang'e3_lander_portIn addition to accomplishing a great scientific feat, China has now joined a very exclusive club, being only one of three nations that has successfully conducted a soft landing on the Moon. The United States was the first, reaching the Moon with its Apollo 11 mission on July 20th, 1969. The Soviet Union followed less than a decade later, having reached the Moon with its unmanned Lunik 24 spacecraft in 1976.

And now, almost forty years later, the space race is joined by one of the world’s emerging super powers. Soon, we can expect the European Space Agency, India, Pakistan, and possibly Iran to be reaching the Moon as well. And by that time, its likely the spaceships will be carrying colonists. Hopefully we’ll have some infrastructure set up to receive them!

In the meantime, be sure to check out the Chang’e 3 descent video, and stay tuned for more updates from the Jade Rabbit and it begins its exploration of the Lunar surface.


Source:
universetoday.com, (2)

News From Space: Cassini Snaps Shots of Distant Earth

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For those who follow my site, or just pay attention to a reliable news source, you may recall that NASA announced an opportunity to take part in a long-range photo op. REALLY long range. A few weeks ago, in an attempt to raise awareness about Jupiter and space exploration, NASA announced that the Cassini Space Probe would be rounding Saturn and snapping photos of a distant Earth.

The worldwide “Wave at Saturn” campaign encouraged people to look up at the skies as the probe took its shots. Junior astronomers were also encouraged to watch with their telescopes to see if they could spot the distant satellite performing its route around the massive, ringed planet. This marked the first time that NASA was able to give the people of Earth advanced warning about a space photo op, and the turnout was impressive.

Earth_July_19_2013_Saturn-580x326Granted, North America and part of the Atlantic Ocean were the only illuminated parts of Earth at the time, but NASA claims that more than 20,000 people came out to wave at Saturn and post pictures of themselves online. Given the enormous distance involved, Earth itself appeared only 1.5 pixels wide in the photos. So congratulations if you got in the picture, but don’t expect to be able to see you face.

Not to be left out, members of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena gathered outside of the facility to wave at Cassini on July 19th as it rounded the Saturnalian system and snapped shots of North America. Camping out on the front lawn, researchers and scientists set up a pavilion for the afternoon and enjoyed some outdoor fun until the moment arrived to wave at the heavens.

cassini-wave20130After being beamed back to Earth from 1.5 billion km away (over a billion miles), NASA science teams got right to work processing the many photos shot by Cassini so they could create individual color composites and a panoramic view of the ‘pale blue dot’ of Earth as well as the entire Saturnalian system. And as you can see from the image posted at the beginning of this article, the first color composite was pretty damn spectacular!

Cassini took a total of 323 images using different spectral filters. The snapshots it took of Earth happened between 2:27 and 2:42 p.m. PDT on Friday, July 19 from a distance of about 1.44 billion kilometers (898 million miles). The images show the Earth and the Moon as dots barely about a pixel wide but do reveal the ‘pale blue dot’ that is home to all of humanity and our whitish colored neighbor.

saturn_cassini2006Distant views of the Earth from robotic space probes, especially from the outer reaches of our Solar System, are few and far between, and are therefore events for space and astronomy enthusiasts and everyone else to savor. The last time Cassini took mosaic pictures of Saturn and Earth was back in 2006, and those were pretty spectacular too. But on this occasion, the benefits went beyond stunning photographs.

Linda Spilker, Cassini project scientist of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, explained:

One of the most exciting Cassini events in 2013 will be the unusual opportunity on July 19 to image the whole Saturn system as it is backlit by the sun. With Saturn covering the harsh light of the sun, we will be gathering unique ring science and also catching a glimpse of our very own home planet.

Coincidentally, the first humans (Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin) set foot on the Moon 44 years ago nearly to the day of Cassini’s new images on July 20, 1969. In short, this occasion reminds us that not only do we live in a very vast universe, but that we are part of a very proud and ongoing tradition of exploration.

Remembering Neil Armstrong

“That’s one small step for man… one giant leap for mankind.”

-Neil Armstrong, July 20th, 1969

This iconic statement is the most famous to ever be uttered by a human being and still serve to inspire hope and fire the imagination, even after 43 years. Today, the world has lost one of the greatest historical figures of the 20th century, the man who was the first to walk on the moon and speak the words that signaled the beginning of a new era.

Yes, after decades of living large and inspiring countless people all over the world, Neil Armstrong passed away at the age of 82. According to statements made by the Armstrong family earlier today, Neil died following complications from heart-bypass surgery he underwent earlier this month, just two days after his 82nd birthday on August 5.

Best known for being the commander of Apollo 11, the NASA mission that sent a manned spacecraft to the moon, Neil will forever be remembered for doing what countless people have dreamed of doing since the dawn of time. After years of training, planning, development and testing, he and astronaut Edward “Buzz” Aldrin became the first to not only slip the bonds of Earth’s gravity, but the first to walk on a celestial body that was not Earth.

This achievement, great in its own right, was also of extreme historical significance. Taking place during the height of the Cold War, only six years after the Cuban Missile Crisis, Armstrong’s first steps on the moon provided a generation beguiled by arms races and fear with a sense of accomplishment and pride. His words, which were spoken on behalf of, and directed to, all of mankind even helped bridge the gap between East and West. Though there was a race on to see who could reach the Moon first, all of humanity shared in the celebration that a man, any man, had actually attained what many thought was unattainable.

And although he never retired from the public eye after that momentous achievement, Neil was nevertheless a very private man compared to his peers. Whereas Edward Aldrin and astronauts like John Glenn and Harrison Schmitt went on to become public figures, doing guest appearances on TV shows and running for political office, Neil did very little to draw attention to himself. This was, according to his closest friends and family, because of his intensely private nature.

In fact, according to James Hansen, author of “First Man: The Life of Neil A. Armstrong,” Neil was often confounded by all the attention and accolades he received as a result of his historic accomplishments. As Hansen stated in an interview with CBS, “All of the attention that … the public put on stepping down that ladder onto the surface itself, Neil never could really understand why there was so much focus on that.” Wow. Humility on top of everything else, that’s the way to go!

Apparently, attempts were even made to try and coax Armstrong into running for public, but he repeatedly refused. Instead, Neil spent his post-Apollo 11 career committed to furthering the fields of aviation and space explorations from behind the scenes and never once tried to exploit his fame. In fact, his last known public appearance was in November of 2011 when he appeared before Congress to received the the Congressional Gold Medal (pictured above).

I think I speak for us all when I say he will be missed, and definitely not forgotten. I think I speak for us all when I say that the remembrance ceremonies and honors conferred on his name will be tremendous! Ironic, considering Neil probably would have refused them all 😉 RIP Neil Armstrong. May you forever walk amongst the stars!

***As a side note, I would also like to say that I hope the various conspiracy theorist of the world, the people who insist that this historic achievement was a hoax, or that it was actually filmed in a studio, take the time to bow their heads and hold their tongues. We are all entitled to our opinions, but such conspiracy theories are not only an insult to history and the intelligence of people who witnessed the event, its also an insult to this man’s memory. Please take this day to focus on something else, like the conspiracy behind putting fluoride in the water, Area 51, or 9/11 being an inside job, k? Many thanks, weirdos!***