Era of Space Shuttle Endeavour Ends with June 1 landing at the Kennedy Space Center

by Ken Kremer on June 1, 2011 from

Space Shuttle Endeavour landed safely at the Kennedy Space Center on June 1, 2011 at 2:35 a.m. EDT. During the 16 day STS-134 mission, Endeavour delivered the $2 Billion Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer to the International Space Station and journeyed more than sixteen million miles. Endeavour was towed back to the Orbiter Processing Facility in preparation for display at her new retirement home at the California Science Center. Credit: Ken Kremer
Landing Video and Photos below

KENNEDY SPACE CENTER – Space Shuttle Endeavour and her six man crew landed safely today at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida at 2:35 a.m. EDT following a 16 day journey of more than sixteen million miles.

The STS-134 mission marked the end of Endeavour’s space exploration career. It was the 25th and last space mission by NASA’s youngest orbiter. Altogether, Endeavour has logged 299 days in space, orbited Earth 4,671 times and traveled 122,883,151 miles. [click to continue…]



A Great Launch, A Challenging Mission Ahead

Mon, 16 May 2011 11:35:13 AM EDT

SpaceShuttle Endeavour is officially on its way to the International Space Station on its STS-134 mission and final flight. Endeavour lifted off from NASA's Kennedy Space Center on time at 8:56 a.m. EDT Monday May 16, soaring through a few clouds, after a relatively smooth countdown.

"I can't thank the teams that got this vehicle ready to fly and for all the work they've done," said Associate Administrator for Space Operations Bill Gerstenmaier referring to the Auxiliary Power Unit (APU) heater issues and said, "The teams worked really hard to get through that, get it behind and to understand what the problem was -- and it was no problem to us at all during the count."

"The teams stayed focused, and made this launch a success," Gerstenmaier added. "The mission in front of us is no easy mission, the EVAs (extra vehicular activities) are very demanding -- but it'll be exciting to see the AMS (Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer) get installed on the station and get some real research data for the ISS."

"We showed our determination to succeed on a very complex mission," said Michel Tognini, head of the European Astronaut Center and former ESA astronaut, "and this is the model of human exploration for the future."

Mike Moses apologized (in jest) about the view not being the best and the longest because of the cloud cover." But the data that we were looking at in the launch center was absolutely perfect," said Moses. "We had the clouds where we needed them, so we went."

There were a few minor problems, but they were managed and worked immediately, including the minor tile repair, reported Moses.

After every launch an award is given to one of the teams, according to Shuttle Launch Director Mike Leinbach, and today's honor was given to the combined APU repair/test team. "It was an outstanding countdown, lots of pats on the back in the lobby of the LCC (launch control center) afterwards when we were eating our beans and corn bread (a traditional post-launch snack)," said Leinbach. "Endeavour's on orbit safely and it's going to perform a great mission and we'll see her back here on June 1."

"It's a great day here at Kennedy Space Center and for the Shuttle Program," added Leinbach.

Endeavour’s twenty-fifth flight into space will be its last.

See Mission Updates and Press Conferences on NASA Television or on the Web at NASA TV at

Click on the small box at the lower right part of the video window to enlarge to full screen viewing.

Launch occurred on schedule at 8:56 AM EDT on Monday, May 16, 2011.

The biggest celebrity attending the Monday morning launch is, no doubt, Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords of Arizona. Learn more about her visit at the iTwire article “Gabrielle Giffords endeavors again to see hubby fly Endeavour.”


                                      GREEN COMET HARTLEY 2 
NGC 281 and Comet Hartley 2
Mike Broussard took this image of Comet Hartley 2 passing NGC 281, the PacMan Nebulain Cassiopeia at left, on 2010 October 2nd. He used a Televue 85-mm refractor with a Hutech-modified Canon XS camera and an IDAS-LPS filter. This is a stack of 44 1-minute exposures, 34 2-minute exposures, and 106 3-minute exposures, all at ISO 1600. For processing, he writes, he used "IRIS for stacking, stretching and initial color balance, and Photoshop with Noel Carboni's Astronomy Tools Neat Image for the final image." Click for Larger Version.





Comet Hartley 2 At Its Best

October 18, 2010
by Greg Bryant and the editors of Sky & Telescope

The diffuse coma of Comet Hartley 2 was more than 1° wide on October 13th, when Nick Howes took this image with a 4-inch apochromatic refractor in Wiltshire, U.K. Stars are shown by short exposures in the blue and green channels; the comet is shown as a full-color long exposure.

Howes has also been remotely operating the 2-meter Faulkes North Telescope in Hawaii. Using this he has measured the rotation rate of the comet's nucleus to be 19 ± 1.5 hours.

Nick Howes

Four days later on October 17th, Howes took another long exposure with his 4-inch refractor. By then the comet had grown even larger and was displaying signs of a forked tail.
Nick Howes

Finder Charts:
Charts are now available for the entire time when Comet Hartley 2 is expected to be 10th magnitude or brighter. Click on one of the links below for:

Hartley 2's path before Oct. 18
Hartley 2's path from Oct. 18 to Nov. 3
Hartley 2's path from Oct. 30 to Nov. 15
Hartley 2's path from Nov. 15 to Dec. 31

Update, October 18: With the comet now about at its closest to Earth, its dim coma has grown huge, as seen above — if you have a dark sky! Through light pollution only the inner portion and the tiny, faint central condensation can be seen, leading to wildly divergent visual magnitude estimates.

With the Moon now waxing gibbous and the comet in Auriga, you're got only one or two more mornings (until November) to catch the comet in deep darkness before dawn's first light. Use our online almanac to find your local times of moonset and the start of astronomical dawn.



Yes, you'll need binoculars at the very  least
Comet Hartley 2, big and round but very dim, crosses the feet of Gemini early this week rapidly heading south. Click image for larger map.


What Whacked Jupiter on 2010 June 3rd?  A Giant Meteor

Hubble images confirm hypothesis; planet’s faded cloud belt also explained

Image: Flash aftermath on Jupiter
A natural-color photo of Jupiter, taken June 7, shows no telltale cloud of debris left behind by a meteor flash on June 3. The inset image at right is a close-up of the area where the flash occurred.
  Jewels of Jupiter
See images of Jupiter and its moons.

more photos

By Denise Chow
Updated 2:33 p.m. ET June 16, 2010

The mystery fireball that smacked into Jupiter on June 3 has been identified as a giant meteor that plunged into the planet's atmosphere and burned up high above its cloud tops, according to new observations from the Hubble Space Telescope.

The cosmic intruder did not dive deep enough into Jupiter's atmosphere to explode, which scientists said explains the lack of any telltale cloud of debris, as was seen in previous Jupiter collisions. Hubble astronomers described the meteor's size as "giant" in a Wednesday announcement.

"We suspected for this 2010 impact there might be no big explosion driving a giant plume, and hence no resulting debris field to be imaged," Heidi Hammel, a veteran Jupiter observer at the Space Science Institute in Boulder, Colo., said in a statement. "There was just the meteor, and Hubble confirmed this."

The meteor was huge, but not as large as the object that struck Jupiter in July 2009, or the shattered comet  fragments that hit the gas giant planet in 1994, researchers said. [Gallery: Jupiter's 2009 crash.]

The new Hubble observations also allowed scientists to get a close-up look at changes in Jupiter's atmosphere, following the seeming disappearance of the dark Southern Equatorial Belt, or SEB, several months ago.

In the latest Hubble view, a slightly higher altitude layer of white ammonia ice crystal clouds appears to obscure the deeper, darker belt clouds. "Weather forecast for Jupiter's South Equatorial Belt: cloudy with a chance of ammonia," Hammel said.

The researchers predict that these ammonia clouds will likely clear out in a few months, as it has typically done in the past.

Jupiter gets whacked (again)
The tale of Jupiter's latest cosmic hit is one that kept scientists guessing until now.

It was Australian amateur astronomer Anthony Wesley who first saw the flash at 4:31 p.m. ET on June 3, while watching a live video feed of Jupiter from his telescope. Meanwhile, in the Philippines, amateur astronomer Chris Go confirmed the discovery from his own simultaneous video recording of the transitory event.

Image:  Eris
The new solar system
Get the facts about dwarfs, giants, terrestrials and other denizens of our planetary realm.
Astronomers around the world determined that an object must have whacked the gas giant in order to unleash a flash of energy that was bright enough to be seen 400 million miles (643.7 million kilometers) away. But with no visible scar or debris cloud from the impact, there was no telling how deep the object penetrated into the atmosphere.

The Hubble Space Telescope's sharp vision and ultraviolet sensitivity was called into action to seek out any traces of the aftermath of the cosmic collision.

Images taken on June 7 — a little over three days after the flash was discovered — showed no sign of debris above Jupiter's cloud tops. That suggests the object did not descend beneath the clouds and explode as a fireball, astronomers said.

"If it did, dark sooty blast debris would have been ejected and would have rained down onto the cloud tops, and the impact site would have appeared dark in the ultraviolet and visible images due to debris from an explosion," Hammel explained. "We see no feature that has those distinguishing characteristics in the known vicinity of the impact, suggesting there was no major explosion and fireball."

Jupiter impacts of times past
Dark smudges marred Jupiter's atmosphere after pieces of the comet Shoemaker-Levy 9 slammed into the planet in 1994. A similar phenomenon occurred more recently in July 2009, when a suspected asteroid estimated to be about 1,600 feet (500 meters) wide collided with Jupiter.

This latest cosmic interloper is estimated to be only a fraction of the size of these previous impactors.

The two-second-long flash of light in the videos was created by the same physics that causes a meteor or "shooting star" on Earth. A shock wave is generated by ram pressure as the meteor speeds into the planet's atmosphere, heating the impacting body to a very high temperature.

As the hot object streaks through the atmosphere, it leaves behind a glowing trail of superheated atmospheric gases and vaporized meteor material that then rapidly cools and fades in the span of only a few seconds.

Though astronomers are still uncertain about the rate of such large meteoroid impacts on the planets in our solar system, it is estimated that the smallest detectable events may happen as frequently as every few weeks.

"It's difficult to even know what the current impact rates are throughout the solar system," said Amy Simon-Miller of NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md., the principal investigator on the Jupiter observation. "That's partly why we are so excited by the latest impact. It illustrates a new capability that can be exploited with increased monitoring of Jupiter and the other planets."

Even when impacts are detected, they can sometimes be misread.

"The meteor flashes are so brief they are easily missed, even in video recordings, or perhaps misidentified as detector noise or cosmic ray hits on imaging devices," said research team member Mike Wong of the University of California at Berkeley.

Image: Jupiter stripes
NASA / ESA / Jupiter Impact Science Team
A comparison of Jupiter's disk from July 23, 2009, and June 7, 2010, shows how the planet's stripes have changed. The earlier image also highlights a "Great Black Spot" left behind in the far southern hemisphere.

Case of the missing cloud belt
As for Jupiter's missing cloud belt, Hubble scientists said the space telescope's new photos showed all the warning signs of an impending disappearance of the planet's Southern Equatorial Belt.

The clearing of the ammonia cloud layer should begin with a number of dark spots like those seen by Hubble along the boundary of the south tropical zone.

"The Hubble images tell us these spots are holes resulting from localized downdrafts taking place," Simon-Miller said. "We often see these types of holes when a change is about to occur."

"The SEB last faded in the early 1970s," Simon-Miller added. "We haven't been able to study this at this level of detail before. The changes of the last few years are adding to an extraordinary database on dramatic cloud changes on Jupiter."

© 2010 All rights reserved. More from


Old Moon Rover Beams Surprising Laser Flashes to Earth

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June 3, 2010: A Soviet robot lost on the dusty plains of the Moon for the past 40 years has been found again, and it is returning surprisingly strong laser pulses to Earth.

"We shined a laser on Lunokhod 1's position, and we were stunned by the power of the reflection," says Tom Murphy of UC San Diego, who leads the research team that's putting the old robot back to work. "Lunokhod 1 is talking to us loudly and clearly."

Old  Robot Beams Surprising Flashes to Earth  (Lunkhod 1, 568px)
It looks like a creature from science fiction, but Lunokhod 1 is real. Photo Credit: Lavochkin Association. [more]

Almost forgotten in the lore of the Apollo-era space race, Lunokhod 1 was one of the greatest successes of the old Soviet lunar exploration program. In 1970, Time magazine described the robot's historic landing:

"Three hours after reaching the Moon aboard the latest unmanned Russian Moon probe, Luna 17, Lunokhod I (literally "moonwalker") lumbered down one of two ramps extended by the mother ship and moved forward … thus taking the first giant step for robotkind on another celestial body."

Old Robot Beams Surprising Flashes to Earth  (Luna 17, 200px)
An LRO photo of the Luna 17 lander. Note the Lunokhod 1 tracks circling the lander. [more]

The remote-controlled rover traveled almost 7 miles during its 11 month lunar tour, relaying thousands of TV images and hundreds of high-resolution panoramas of the Moon back to Earth. It also sampled and analyzed lunar soil at 500 locations.

Then Lunokhod-1 was lost – until last month when NASA's Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter found it again. The recovery is described in an earlier NASA press release.

On April 22, Murphy and his team sent pulses of laser light from the 3.5 meter telescope at the Apache Point Observatory in New Mexico, zeroing in on the target coordinates provided by Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter. A laser retroreflector on Lunokhod 1 intercepted the pulses and sent a clear signal back to Earth.

"We got about 2,000 photons from Lunokhod 1 on our first try. After almost 40 years of silence, this rover a lot to say," notes Murphy.

Back in the late 1960s and early 1970s, Apollo astronauts placed three other retroflectors on the Moon to allow laser ranging of the Moon's orbit. Assisted by a fourth reflector on Lunokhod 2, a twin of Lunokhod 1 that landed in 1973, these mirrors constitute the only Apollo science experiment still operating.

Old Robot Beams  Surprising Flashes to Earth (McDonald  Observatory, 200px)
Lunar Laser Ranging from the McDonald Observatory. [more]

Eric Silverberg, now retired from the University of Texas, was in charge of the lunar laser ranging activities at the McDonald Observatory from 1969 until 1982. "During that time," he recalls, "we successfully ranged all three of the Apollo corner reflectors and the Lunakhod 2 reflector. We also tried to range on the first lunar rover but had only one possible (but not definite) detection on Dec 31, 1970. Our lack of knowledge of the location of the rover and the pressures of keeping up with the Apollo program caused us eventually to lose interest in Lunakhod 1."

"When I read that Tom Murphy had discovered returns from the lost rover I was very surprised and elated," says Silverberg.

Murphy's initial reaction was disbelief: "The signal was so strong, my first thought was that our detector was acting up! I expected the rover's reflector to be degraded and dull after all this time, so I thought, 'this couldn't possibly be it.' But it was."

"This reflector is even strong enough to let us get measurements in lunar daylight – a first for this experiment!"

Silverberg continues: "The fact that Lunokhod 1's reflection is now stronger than that of its twin is a mystery. This may yield important clues as to why all of the reflectors are weaker than in the first decade after landing."

With Lunokhod 1 back in the fold, the laser ranging study can get up to full throttle for the first time.

The scientists are using laser ranging to push hard on Einstein's gravity theory "to see if we can break it," says Murphy.

Old Robot Beams  Surprising Flashes to Earth (cornercubes, 200px)
Corner-cube prisms return any incident light back in exactly the direction from which it came. [more]

"Our telescope shoots out laser pulses that travel from Earth to the Moon and ping the reflectors. Because these are all 'corner-cube reflectors,' they send the pulse straight back where it came from. We scoop up as many of the returning photons as possible."

The round-trip travel time pinpoints the Earth-Moon distance. With repeated measurements, over months and years, the scientists can trace the Moon's orbit with millimeter precision.

Einstein's theory of gravity (the Theory of General Relativity) holds that the mass and energy in massive objects like the sun make space curve, and this curving tells objects around the massive body how to move. The curvature actually makes the Earth and Moon fall toward the sun.

By measuring the Moon's fall through curved spacetime, the Apache Point Observatory Lunar Laser-ranging Operation--APOLLO for short--may yet find a crack in Einstein's great edifice of General Relativity. That's how science moves forward.

So far, lunar ranging results support Einstein. But a funny looking old rover may shine, or at least reflect, new light on the subject.

Author: Dauna Coulter | Editor: Dr. Tony Phillips | Credit: Science@NASA

More Information

What Neil and Buzz Left on the Moon -- (Science@NASA)

Apache Point Observatory Lunar Laser-ranging Operation -- (UCSD)

Giant Step for Lunokhod -- (Time Magazine)

Lunokhod 2 -- (wikipedia)

Lunokhod 1 -- (wikipedia)


May 21, 2010 Updated

AKATSUKI successfully launched!!

The H-IIA Launch Vehicle No. 17 (H-IIA F17) with the Venus Climate Orbiter "AKATSUKI" onboard was launched at 6:58:22 a.m. on May 21 (Japan Standard Time) from the Tanegashima Space Center. The H-IIA F17 flew smoothly, and, at 27 minutes and 29 seconds after liftoff, the AKATSUKI was separated from the H-IIA.
We will update you with the latest information on the AKATSUKI on the Special Site. AKATSUKI Special Site
(Photo: Mitsubishi Heavy Industries)


Space Shuttle Mission: STS-132

May 18th, 2010

Space Station Gets a New Science Module

Screenshot from NASA TV of the new Rassvet module attached to the space station. Credt: NASA TV

A 8,550 kg (17,760-pound) Russian Mini-Research Module, known as Rassvet or "Dawn," was attached to the International Space Station today. This is the first (and last) Russian-built module to be delivered by a space shuttle, and the 8 meter long (20 ft) 2.5 meter (8 ft) diamater module will serve an area for scientific research, as well as for stowage and a docking port extension for future visiting spacecraft such as the Soyuz and Progress resupply vehicles.

"The ISS has grown by one more module," Moscow mission control radioed up the crew. "We are really very grateful to you. And our congratulations to all of you for this new step in space research and thanks for all your effort and all your work."
Click to continue…
    Image Above: Liftoff of Space Shuttle Atlantis on its STS-132 mission. Launch was on time at 2:20 PM
    May 14th EDT.     Image credit: NASA

    STS-132 Overview

    Space shuttle Atlantis is embarking on its final planned mission. During the 12-day flight, Atlantis and six astronauts will fly to the International Space Station, leaving behind a Russian Mini Research Module, a set of batteries for the station's truss and dish antenna, along with other replacement parts. Atlantis' 32nd flight is scheduled to last 12 days and include three spacewalks and extensive robotics work.

    NASA astronaut Ken Ham commands an all-veteran flight crew: Pilot Tony Antonelli, and Mission Specialists Michael Good, Garrett Reisman, Piers Sellers and Steve Bowen.

    Additional Resources
    › STS-132 Mission Summary (710 Kb PDF)
    › STS-132 Press Kit (9.8 Mb PDF)

    Orbiter Status
    › About the Orbiters


April 22nd, 2010

Gallery: Atlantis Rolls Towards Last Launch

Atlantis during a midnight rollout towards its scheduled last flight. Credit: Alan Walters ( for Universe Today.

What a beautiful shot! Universe Today photographer Alan Walters had the opportunity to be inside the Vehicle Assembly Building early on April 22nd (12 am EDT) as Space Shuttle Atlantis began her slow crawl to launchpad 39A, in what is scheduled to be her last flight.


Discovery's Crew Back on Earth

Tue, 20 Apr 2010 10:36:37 AM EST

After physicals aboard the crew transport vehicle, space shuttle Discovery's seven astronauts took a walk around the spacecraft that carried them more than 6 million miles. They each paused to express their thoughts about the mission and their gratitude to those on the ground who helped make the mission safe and successful.

"We had a lot of adversity but we overcame it all with some great team work," said Mission Specialist Clayton Anderson, who participated in the mission's three spacewalks and previously spent five months at the space station. "I've had two homecomings this flight. I got to go home to the International Space Station and now I get to come home to KSC. To all of you who helped get us up and bring us back, thank you so very much. God bless America."

The astronauts returned to crew quarters aboard the silver Astrovan, the same vehicle that carried them to the launch pad for their liftoff. They are expected to return to their home base at NASA's Johnson Space Center in Houston tomorrow.

Discovery's touchdown at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida came at 9:08 a.m. EDT on April 20, after a one-day delay due to weather.


Space Shuttle Mission: STS-131

Space shuttle Discovery lands at Kennedy  Space Center in  Florida.
Image above: Space shuttle Discovery lands at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida, Tuesday, April 20, 2010. Discovery and the STS-131 mission crew, Commander Alan Poindexter, Pilot James P. Dutton Jr. and Mission Specialists Dorothy Metcalf-Lindenburger, Rick Mastracchio, Stephanie Wilson, Clayton Anderson and Japanese astronaut Naoko Yamazaki returned from their mission to the International Space Station. Image credit: NASA/Bill Ingalls
› View larger image

Discovery Lands in Florida

With Commander Alan G. Poindexter and Pilot James P. Dutton Jr. at the controls, space shuttle Discovery descended to a smooth landing at Kennedy Space Center in Florida. The STS-131 crew members concluded their successful mission to the International Space Station when the shuttle touched down at 9:08 a.m. EDT.

Discovery arrived at the station April 7, delivering more than seven tons of equipment and supplies. During the 10-day stay, Mission Specialists Rick Mastracchio and Clayton Anderson conducted three spacewalks to install a 1,700-pound ammonia tank assembly on the station’s exterior to replace a depleted predecessor. They also replaced a rate gyro assembly, retrieved a Japanese experiment and two debris shields.

Additional Resources
› STS-131 Press Kit (7.9 Mb PDF)
› STS-131 Mission Summary (890 Kb PDF)


VOLCANIC LIGHTNING: It is well known that volcanic eruptions produce strong lightning. Less well known is why? Ordinary lightning in thunderstorms is not fully understood; volcanic lightning is even more of a mystery.

To investigate, a team of researchers from New Mexico Tech has traveled to Iceland to monitor the Eyjafjallajokull volcano--and they have found it crackling with electricity:

"On the evening of April 16th, there were some small eruptions producing ash clouds up to about 6-7 km, with lightning," says photographer Harald Edens. "The sky was nice and clear, so I was able to photograph the bolts from the town of Hvolsvollur using my Nikon D700 and a 80-200/2.8 lens."

Photography is one way to monitor volcanic lightning, but the technique has limits: Ash clouds are able to hide the flashes; lightning is not always visible in daylight; glowing lava competes for attention; and so on. Radio receivers can do a better job. Lightning emits impulsive radio bursts which can be measured and counted, day or night, even through clouds of ash. "We are deploying a six-station lightning mapping array around the Eyjafjallajokull volcano," says Edens. Their analysis of the radio "crackles" could reveal much about the inner workings of volcanic lightning.



Space shuttle Discovery seems to hang from the International Space Station in this photo taken from aboard the orbiting laboratory complex. The station's robotic Canadarm2 grapples the Leonardo multi-purpose logistics module from the payload bay of Discovery for relocation to a port on the Harmony node of the International Space Station.

April 7, 2010
Photo credit: NASA

                      STS-131   Mission Extended to Facilitate Late Inspection

                                              Friday 2010 April 9th at 10:23:37 PM EST

Mission Control informed space shuttle Discovery Commander Alan Poindexter that mission managers are extending the flight by one day to enable a standard late inspection of the shuttle heat shield to occur while the shuttle is docked to the International Space Station.

Since Discovery’s Ku-Band communications system is not functioning correctly, the space station’s Ku system will transmit the heat shield video and laser scan to Mission Control for imagery experts to analyze.

Discovery's Landing  is now targeted for Tuesday April 20. Precise time and location still to be determined.

at Left Menu

See Explanation.  Clicking on the picture will download  the  highest resolution version available.

Young Moon and Sister Stars
Image Credit & Copyright: Anna Morris

Explanation: A young crescent Moon shares the western sky with sister stars of the Pleiades cluster in this pretty, evening skyscape recorded on the March equinox from San Antonio, Texas. In the processed digital image, multiple exposures of the celestial scene were combined to show details of the bright lunar surface along with the Pleiades stars. Astronomical images of the well-known Pleiades often show the cluster's alluring blue reflection nebulae, but they are washed-out here in the bright moonlight. Still, during this particular night, skygazers in South and Central America could even watch the 5 day old Moon occult or pass in front of some of the brighter Pleiades stars.


SATURN'S RINGS: On March 22nd Saturn was "at opposition." That's astronomy jargon for "Saturn and the sun are on opposite sides of the sun and sky." Saturn rises at sunset and soars overhead at midnight, up all night. This arrangement has a striking effect on Saturn's rings. It makes them bright. Amateur astronomer Christopher Go of the Philippines photographed the phenomenon 2010 March 22nd:

Photos taken through an 11-inch Celestron telescope

"The rings are very bright due to the Seeliger Effect," says Go. Also known as the "opposition effect," the Seeliger effect has been observed on the Moon, Earth and Mars. It happens when sunlit objects (such as the icy particles that make up Saturn's rings) hide their own shadows. A process called coherent backscattering may also contribute to the extra luminosity.

Whatever the details may be, the net result is beautiful. "The Seeliger Effect should be operative for a few more days," says Go. Readers with backyard telescopes should take a look: sky map.

more images: from Torsten Hansen of Boos, Germany; from Efrain Morales Rivera of Aguadilla, Puerto Rico;



New Images of Phobos from Mars Express Flyby

Phobos, as seen by Mars Express on March 7, 2010. Credits: ESA/DLR/FU Berlin (G. Neukum)

ESA released new images of Mars' moon Phobos, taken during the Mars Express March 7, 2010 flyby, showing the rocky moon in exquisite detail and also in 3-D. Mars Express orbits the Red Planet in a
highly elliptical, polar orbit that brings it close to Phobos every five months, and it is the only
spacecraft currently in orbit around Mars whose orbit reaches far enough from the planet to provide
a close-up view of Phobos. Like our Moon, Phobos always shows the same side to the planet, so only
 by flying outside the orbit is it possible to observe the moon's far side. Mars Express did such flybys
on March 7, 10 and 13. Get out your 3-D glasses for a great look at Phobos, below.

Space Shuttle Mission: STS-130


Launch of Endeavour on the STS-130 mission
Image Above: Space Shuttle Endeavour roars off Launch Pad 39A on its STS-130 mission to
deliver Tranquility and cupola to the International Space Station. Image credit: NASA TV

› High-res image

Shuttle Endeavour on Launch Pad 39A
Image Above: The flags are flying proud at Launch Pad 39A near Space Shuttle Endeavour at
NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida. Photo credit:
 NASA/Kim Shiflett
› High-res image

› Meet the STS-130 Crew

Endeavour's STS-130 Mission

Commander George Zamka will lead the STS-130 mission to the International Space Station aboard
Space Shuttle Endeavour. Terry Virts will serve as the pilot. Mission Specialists are Nicholas Patrick, Robert Behnken, Stephen Robinson and Kathryn Hire. Virts will be making his first trip to space.

Shuttle Endeavour and its crew will deliver to the space station a third connecting module, the
 Italian-built Tranquility node and the seven-windowed cupola, which will be used as a control room
 for robotics.
The mission will feature three spacewalks and last two weeks.

Additional Resources
  STS-130 Press Kit (8.7 Mb PDF)
STS-130 Mission Summary (448 Kb PDF)
  Reusable Solid Rocket Motor and Solid Rocket Boosters
  Fact Sheet: Remaining Shuttle Missions (1.3 Mb PDF)

Orbiter Status
About the Orbiters




PLANETS AT NOON: Jupiter and Mercury are converging for a remarkable conjunction.
On 2010 March 7th the two bright planets will be only a little more than 1o apart. It would be a
beautiful sight, except for one thing. The event is happening at high noon in close proximity
to the blinding sun:

Human eyes cannot see the conjunction, but the Solar and Heliospheric Observtory (SOHO) can.
Using a disk to block the glare, SOHO's coronagraph reveals planets, stars and coronal mass
ejections (CMEs) in the immediate vicinity of the sun. Today's movie shows Mercury and Jupiter converging as a CME from sunspot complex 1052-1053 billows across the field of view.
It's a good show. Join SOHO for a Ringside Seat  -   which is  the image shown below. 

It  is  shown using Universal Time which is 5 hours ahead of Eastern Standard Time which will
end this coming Sunday March 14th when we switch to Daylight Time - Spring Forward 1 hour.

The image “” cannot be displayed, because it contains errors.


European Observatories in Chile Undamaged by Earthquake
By Staff

posted: 2010 March 1st
10:04 am ET

Several European-built observatories in Chile have escaped damage from the massive 8.8 earthquake that struck the
South American country's central regions Saturday.

The European Southern Observatory's (ESO) three major telescope centers perched high up in Chile's Atacama Desert
have experienced power and communications interruptions due to the earthquake, but remain intact.

No injuries were reported at the telescope centers, though the massive earthquake has killed more than 700 and
destroyed an estimated 500,000 homes in other regions, according to casualty reports. It is the seventh
strongest earthquake recorded in history.

The earthquake's epicenter was located 71 miles (115 km) north-northeast
of the city of Concepción and about 201 miles (325 km) southwest of Santiago, Chile's capital. ESO's telescopes are engineered to withstand seismic events and were also far enough from the epicenter to escape significant damage, observatory officials said.

"ESO expresses its deepest condolences to the families of the victims, and its sympathy and support to all those affected
by the earthquake," ESO officials said in a statement.

ESO officials urged astronomers slated to visit Chile to use its three telescope facilities to put their plans on hold until
further notice.

ESO has three main observatories, each with multiple telescopes, on the Atacama Desert at altitudes up to
8,530 feet (2,600 meters). They are located in the La Silla, Paranal and Chajnantor regions and include
Europe's Very Large Telescope and the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA) — which is still under construction.

At La Silla, power cuts halted observations overnight on Saturday. Other instruments at Paranal were unaffected by
the temblor.

ESO officials also plan to build a giant new observatory, the European Extremely Large optical/infrared Telescope
in Chile. Its main mirror will be nearly 138 feet (42 meters) in diameter and the "the world's biggest eye on the sky,"
observatory officials have said.