Archive for April, 2014

Don't be selfish...take a selfie! Credit: NASA/JPL

Don’t be selfish…take a selfie!
Credit: NASA/JPL

Want to take part in a worldwide celebration of this year’s Earth Day?

NASA is inviting all passengers on our planet to take part in a “Global Selfie” event.

For Earth Day – celebrated on April 22 – NASA is trying to create an image of Earth from the ground up while also fostering a collection of portraits of the people of Earth.

The call is for participants to get outside, be it with mountains, parks, the sky, rivers, lakes — wherever you are — and produce a selfie. You’ll need to describe where you are via a sign, words written in the sand, spelled out with rocks — or by using printable signs that NASA officials have created that are available at a special webpage.

The #GlobalSelfie sign is available in several languages.

GS_SIGN_EnglishCrowd-sourced collection

NASA will be monitoring photos posted to five social media sites: Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, Google+ and Flickr.

Your selfie would then be posted to social media using the hashtag #GlobalSelfie.

The Earth mosaic image itself and a video using the images will be put together and released in May.

“On this Earth Day, we wanted to create a different picture of our planet — a crowd-sourced collection of snapshots of the people of Earth that we could use to create one unique mosaic of the Blue Marble,” according to a NASA website.

Big year for Earth science

For NASA itself, 2014 is being viewed as a big year for Earth science.

NASA-JAXA Global Precipitation Measurement Core Observatory Credit: NASA

NASA-JAXA Global Precipitation Measurement Core Observatory
Credit: NASA

There are five Earth-observing missions that will be launched – more than NASA has conducted in a single year in over a decade, kicked off on Feb. 27 by the lofting of the Global Precipitation Measurement Core Observatory from Tanegashima Space Center in Japan.

It would be joined by the Soil Moisture Active Passive satellite; Orbiting Carbon Observatory-2; the International Space Station-RapidScat instrument; and the Cloud-Aerosol Transport System, or CATS, instrument.

Want to take part?

Check out the special website to take part in the Global Selfie program:



Europe's ExoMars 2018: Landing sites under review Credit: ESA-Roscosmos/LSSWG/D. Loizeau

Europe’s ExoMars 2018: Landing sites under review
Credit: ESA-Roscosmos/LSSWG/D. Loizeau

Europe is pressing ahead on blueprinting its Red Planet exploration via the ExoMars program.

Some 60 scientists and engineers came together late last month for the first ExoMars 2018 Landing Site Selection Workshop, held at the European Space Agency’s (ESA) European Space Astronomy Centre near Madrid.

Their task was to begin the process of drawing up a shortlist of the most suitable landing locations for ESA’s first Mars rover.

The rover can cover a limited driving range in the course of its seven-month nominal surface exploration mission.

ESA’s ExoMars Rover.  Credit: ESA

ESA’s ExoMars Rover.
Credit: ESA

And the landing site votes are in!

Four sites

The workshop attendees favored four candidate sites. All of the landing spots are located relatively near the equator.

They are: Mawrth Vallis, Oxia Planum, Hypanis Vallis and Oxia Palus.

The area around Mawrth Vallis and nearby Oxia Planum contains one of the largest exposures of ancient, clay-rich rocks on the planet.

The other two sites represent former fluvial environments.

A final shortlist of up to four candidate sites is expected in June 2014, prior to a more detailed analysis. According to the ExoMars project, some attention will be given to three other sites: Coogoon Valles, Simud Vallis and Southern Isidis.

The aim is to complete the certification of at least one landing site for the ExoMars rover by the second half of 2016. The final decision on the landing site will be taken sometime in 2017.

ExoMars Trace Gas Orbiter and Entry, Descent and Landing Demonstrator Module Credit: ESA

ExoMars Trace Gas Orbiter and Entry, Descent and Landing Demonstrator Module
Credit: ESA

ExoMars – two missions

Two missions are foreseen within the ExoMars program: one consisting of an Orbiter plus an Entry, Descent and Landing Demonstrator Module, to be launched in 2016.

The other mission, featuring a rover, has a launch date of 2018.

Both missions will be carried out in cooperation with Russia’s Roscosmos. Roscosmos will provide a Proton launcher for both missions.

The 2016 mission includes a Trace Gas Orbiter (TGO) and an Entry, Descent and Landing Demonstrator Module (EDM).

The Orbiter will carry scientific instruments to detect and study atmospheric trace gases, such as methane.

The EDM will contain sensors to evaluate the lander’s performance as it descends, and additional sensors to study the environment at the landing site.

The 2018 mission includes a rover that will carry a drill and a suite of instruments dedicated to exobiology and geochemistry research.


It is tagged the Asteroid Terrestrial-impact Last Alert System, or ATLAS for short.

Funded by NASA, ATLAS is being developed by the University of Hawaii as an asteroid impact early warning system.

When ATLAS is completed in 2015, it will consist of two telescopes, 100 miles apart, which automatically scan the whole sky several times every night looking for moving objects.

ATLAS can provide one day’s warning for a 30-kiloton “town killer,” a week for a 5-megaton “city killer,” and three weeks for a 100-megaton “county killer.”

Project officials for ATLAS report that a scaled-down prototype — “Pathfinder” — is now live on Mauna Loa, Hawaii Island. It is automatically scanning the sky and sending the data back to Honolulu.

ATLAS Principal Investigator, John Tonry. Credit: ATLAS

ATLAS Principal Investigator, John Tonry.
Credit: ATLAS

Two observatories

Furthermore, on March 25, the ATLAS team obtained first light with a new MicroCam3 device outfitted on a Takahashi Telescope.

While MicroCam3 has a 16-megapixel detector, the eventual ATLAS camera will have a 110-megapixel detector, which is housed in a cryostat to keep the detector cooled to -50° C.

When fully operational, the two-telescope ATLAS system will survey the sky four times each night and take around 3,000 images per night.

By the end of 2014 the ATLAS team expects to have two observatories: one at the current location on Mauna Loa, Hawai’i Island, and a second on Haleakala, 100 miles northwest on Maui.

Roster of jobs

There is a roster of ATLAS errands that can be accomplished besides the important job of searching for dangerous asteroids. They include:

•Search for habitable planets outside our Solar System

•Look for denizens of the outer Solar System, such as dwarf planets like Pluto or Eris or a Nemesis star

•Search for minimoons that orbit Earth

•Track space junk

As noted in a recent ATLAS update: “We are very happy with our overall progress. We must be at full productivity in two years, and it’s impressive that the team is already able to find and report asteroids right now.”

Check out this informative video, detailed by ATLAS principal investigator, John Tonry.

Go to:

For more information on ATLAS, go to the project’s website at:

Credit: International Space Exploration Coordination Group

Credit: International Space Exploration
Coordination Group

You may be interested in this document:

Benefits Stemming from Space Exploration

It was released in September 2013 by the International Space Exploration Coordination Group.

At its heart, this report explains that space exploration “will continue to be an essential driver for opening up new domains in science and technology, triggering other sectors to partner with the space sector for joint research and development. This will return immediate benefits back to Earth in areas such as materials, power generation and energy storage, recycling and waste management, advanced robotics, health and medicine, transportation, engineering, computing and software.”

Furthermore, the report stresses that “innovations required for space exploration, such as those related to miniaturisation, will drive improvements in other space systems and services resulting in higher performance and lower cost. These will in turn result in better services on Earth and better return of investment in institutional and commercial space activities. In addition, the excitement generated by space exploration attracts young people to careers in science, technology, engineering and mathematics, helping to build global capacity for scientific and technological innovation.”

For full document, go to: