Space Sunday: Jupiter, Enceladus and Ceres; SLS, SpaceX and Dream Chaser

This stunning enhanced colour images of Jupiter's south polar region was captured by the JunoCam instrument aboard the Juno spacecraft on February 2nd, 2017. It reveals a complex series of interactions occurring in the fast-spinning atmosphere
This stunning enhanced colour images of Jupiter’s south polar region was captured by the JunoCam instrument aboard the Juno spacecraft on February 2nd, 2017. It reveals a complex series of interactions occurring in the fast-spinning atmosphere. Credit: NASA/JPL / SwRI

Following its latest close flyby of Jupiter – passing just 4,200 km (2,600 mi) above the gas giant’s cloud tops on February 2nd, 2017, NASA’s Juno mission spacecraft is now heading away from the planet once more and the next of its 53.5 day orbits. As I’ve previously reported in these Space Sunday columns, the original plan had been to use one of these close passes over the planet (October 2016), in conjunction with a sustained burn of the spacecraft’s British-built rocket motor, to move it into a short, 14-day period orbit around Jupiter.

However, a potential fault detected within the engine system meant the October burn was cancelled, and since then, engineers had been trying to assess if the issue  – a set of faulty valves – could be overcome, and the consequences of attempting an additional engine burn if not. No definitive answer has been found and so, following the February 2nd flyby, the decision was taken to cancel all plans for the engine burn and leave the spacecraft in its current 53.5 day orbit around Jupiter.

Doing so doesn’t compromise the overall mission objectives, but it does reduce the number of close passes over Jupiter the vehicle can make. If the reduced orbital period had been possible, the spacecraft would have made some 30 close flybys over Jupiter’s cloud tops during the primary mission period, set to end in July 2018. Remaining in the 53.5 day orbit means it will only make around 12 such close flybys in the same period.

The Juno spacecraft was supposed to complete two 53-day orbits around Jupiter, then lower its orbit Oct. 19 to fly around the planet once every 14 days. That engine burn has been postponed. Credit: NASA / JPL
The Juno spacecraft was supposed to complete two 53.5-day orbits around Jupiter in July and August 2016 (shown in green), before using its main engine to brake itself into a 14-primary science orbit (shown in blue). Due to continued concerns about the vehicle’s engine unit, the decisions has now been made to leave it in the 53.5 day orbit. Credit: NASA / JPL

A positive point with the spacecraft remaining in its more extended orbit is that it will spend less time within the harsher regions of Jupiter’s radiation belts, and could thus remain active for longer than the primary mission period – and mission planners are already considering applying for further funding to allow the mission to extend beyond July 2018. It also means that the spacecraft will be able to engage in additional science activities.

The close encounters with Jupiter have already allowed the spacecraft to probe deep within the planet’s cloud belts and discover they extend far deeper into the planet’s atmosphere than had been imagined, and that Jupiter’s magnetic field and auroras are more powerful than previously thought.

“Juno is providing spectacular results, and we are rewriting our ideas of how giant planets work,” Juno principal investigator Scott Bolton, of the South-west Research Institute in San Antonio, Texas, said of the decision to leave the spacecraft in its current orbit. “The science will be just as spectacular as with our original plan.”

NASA Considering Crewed Option for Orion / SLS First Launch

NASA is considering making the first launch of its new Space Launch System (SLS) rocket, currently slated for September 2018, a crewed mission.

Under the agency’s existing plans, the first launch of the new rocket, topped by an Orion Multi-Purpose Crew Vehicle and dubbed Exploration Mission 1 (EM-1), would have seen SLS send an uncrewed Orion vehicle to the Moon and back, with around 6 days spent in lunar orbit. A crewed flight of the SLS / Orion combination would not take place until at least 2021, when crew would use Orion to rendezvous to a small asteroid previously captured via robotic means and moved to an extended orbit around the Moon – an idea which has garnered a certain amount of criticism from politicians.

An artist's impression of a Space Launch System / Orion combination lifting off from Kennedy Space Centre's Pad 39B. Credit: NASA
An artist’s impression of a Space Launch System / Orion combination lifting off from Kennedy Space Centre’s Pad 39B. Credit: NASA

If approved, the new proposal – put forward by NASA’s Acting Administrator, Robert Lightfoot – would see the planned EM-1 mission pushed back to 2019 (allowing the Orion vehicle to be outfitted with the crew lift support and flight systems) and flown with a crew of two. While this would mean a delay in the initial launch of SLS / Orion, it could ultimately accelerate NASA’s plans, allowing the agency to present a wider choice of crewed missions in the 2020s, and respond to criticism that it is not doing enough to demonstrate how it plans to achieve a return to the Moon and / or  missions to Mars.

Enceladus: Cradle for Life?

On February 17th, 2005 NASA’s Cassini space probe, part of the Cassini / Huygen mission, made its first flyby of Saturn’s moon Enceladus.

Scientists were naturally curious about the 500 km (360 mi) diameter moon, which is the most reflective object in the solar system, but assumed it was essentially a dead, airless world. However, Cassini immediately found this was not the case.

A dramatic plume sprays water ice and vapor from the south polar region of Saturn's moon Enceladus. Cassini's first hint of this plume came during the spacecraft's first close flyby of the icy moon on February 17, 2005. Credit: NASA/JPL / Space Science Institute
A dramatic plume sprays water ice and vapour from the south polar region of Saturn’s moon Enceladus. Cassini’s first hint of this plume came during the spacecraft’s first close flyby of the icy moon on February 17, 2005. Credit: NASA/JPL / Space Science Institute

The first thing that happened was the magnetometer on the spacecraft revealed that Saturn’s magnetic field, which envelops Enceladus, was perturbed above the moon’s south pole in a way that didn’t make sense for an inactive world – it was as if there was some interaction with an atmosphere.

In the second flyby, a month later, Cassini found the interaction seemed to suggest a plume of water vapour was rising from the moon. Then, in the third flyby, in July 2005, the probe imaged geysers of water vapour erupting from the moon’s south polar region, and thus Enceladus became the target of intense study. So much so, that while only those initial 3 flybys of the moon had been a part of the primary Cassini /Huygens mission profile, the mission was updated to allow 20 more flyby of the moon.

Today, we know that beneath the mantle of ice enclosing Enceladus there is an ocean of liquid water – the geysers are the results of that water breaking through this ice and jetting into space, giving rise to Saturn’s E-ring in the process. This ocean is likely to be warmed and kept liquid by hydrothermal vents on the sea floor, and these in turn – just like the vents theorised to be on the ocean floor of Jupiter’s Europa – might provide all the ingredients for basic life to arise.

To celebrate the 12th anniversary of Cassini’s discoveries with Enceladus, NASA has released a video documenting those initial findings from 2005.

Continue reading “Space Sunday: Jupiter, Enceladus and Ceres; SLS, SpaceX and Dream Chaser”

The MadPea International Food Fair in Second Life

Logo via MadPea
Logo via MadPea

Now open through until Saturday, March 4th, 2017 is the MadPea International Food Fair, in aid of Live and Learn Kenya (LLK) / Feed a Smile. Featuring shopping, music via live performances and DJ and an art exhibition, the Food Fair has a very worthwhile cause in mind: to raise  L$9,879,000 (US $37,000) to fund the construction of a kitchen for impoverished school children in the Rhonda Slums of Nakuru, Kenya.

Creators and designers participating in the event include The Cube Republic, Little Llama, Vagabond, Riot, Plastik, Supernatural, Speakeasy Tattoo, Velvet Whip, Refuge, Serenity Style, Razor, RandoMatter, PFC, Nox, Nomad, NOeditON, Ninety, Minimal Jewellery, Mesh India, Lushish Poses, Kargo, Imeka, ITI, Lucas Lameth, Goose, Junk Food, Mello, Merak, Studio, Fiasco, Krescendo, Fetch, La Baguette, Entice, Duvet Day, Eve, Cutie Cakes, Etnia, Cwitch, Disorderly, Cubic Cherry, Chez Moi, Cheeky Pea, Black Bantam, Big Bully, Balaclava, Apple Fall, Atooly-Rockaroo-Gossip, Bellequipe Design, Identity, Adored, Drot, Senses, 1313 Mockingbird Lane and Vengeful threads.

Each designer has made an exclusive item for the Food Fair (single item or a whole gacha set)  There will be decor to clothing, poses to accessories and plenty of food!  The sky is the limit but everything is for the same amazing cause.

MadPea International Food Fair
MadPea International Food Fair

You can see the entertainment line-up on the MadPea International Food Fair web page, together with a running total of funds raised (also shown in-world at the event).

If you would prefer to give money directly to Live And Learn Kenya / Feed A Smile, yo can do so via the following links:

MadPea International Food Fair
MadPea International Food Fair

About the Project

For many children living in slums their future is desolate with illiteracy, AIDS, child prostitution, child brides, starvation and worse awaiting them.  But you can help change that. Feed a Smile is part of the Live and Learn in Kenya charity that aim to break the cycle of poverty that plagues the slums by giving a brighter future for the children that live there.  Not only do they provide education, but the clothing and supplies needed to learn, healthcare, food and just as important, safety.

Live and Learn in Kenya (LLK) are able to make a difference thanks to the donations that fund-raising can bring them, especially through Second Life.  Our virtual world can make a big difference to the real world of these children and their families too. Did you know, for example, that over a third of the money raised by Live and Learn Kenya to provide daily nutritious warm lunches for over 400 children comes from donations received through Feed a Smile in Second Life?

Recently, Live and Learn’s temporary, out-door kitchen was wrecked by bad weather and is no longer fit for purpose.  The new kitchen will provide the means for LLK to continue to prepare nutritious meals in a hygienic in-door environment, safe from the rigours of the weather and complete with proper food storage facilities. It’s a vital part of LLK’s continuing commitment to helping the children they support.

SLurl Details

Sleuths from the past and tales through time

It’s time to kick-off another week of storytelling in Voice by the staff and volunteers at the Seanchai Library. As always, all times SLT, and events are held at the Library’s Second Life home at Bradley University, unless otherwise indicated.

Sunday, February 19th 13:30: Tea Time Mysteries!

Seanchai Library launches a Tea Time series, featuring everything non-Holmesian from Christie to Hamett, classic sleuthing to hard-boiled detectives of the noir-ish hue.


This week: Raymond Chandler’s Red Wind  continues with Kayden, Cale, and John.

There was a desert wind blowing that night. It was one of those hot dry Santa Anas that come down through the mountain passes and curl your hair and make your nerves jump and your skin itch. On nights like that every boozy party ends in the fight. Meek little wives feel the edge of the carving knife and study their husband’s necks.

So opens Chandlers 1946 Red Wind. Regarded as one of the classic openings for a noir story, it follows Philip Marlowe who, initially a bystander in a bar, witnesses an odd exchange between a man and a bartender concerning a woman, whom the man describes in great detail.

The conversation ends when another man in the bar kills the questioner, and Marlowe decides to delve into matters himself…

Monday, February 20th 19:00: The Crucible of Time

crucibleGyro Muggins concludes reading the fix-up by John Brunner. First published as two-part story which appeared in Isaac Asimov’s Science Fiction Magazine, it’s an ambitious tale of alien intelligence which grew to a series of six linked tales pushed as a single novel in 1983.

Far off in space is an alien race which is so much like us, yet so un-alike. From the birth of their earliest civilisation through to their attainment of star flight as their star system passes through the galaxy, we follow their development through the ages.

Aquatic by nature, this race presents some significant challenges well outside the realms of anything encountered by humanity. But they are also driven by all too familiar hopes, fears, desires, needs, wants, prejudices, impact of religious ideologies, and the quest for knowledge we have experienced in the growth of our own civilisation.

Charting six periods of time, each a thousand years after the previous, the six stories focus on the efforts of a group of individuals in each era as they face one or more challenges, their success in overcoming these challenges inevitably leading them towards a greater understanding of their planet’s plight, and ultimately, the ability to deal with that plight and the survival of their civilisation.

Tuesday, February 21st 19:00: A Monstrous Regiment of Women

Concludes with Caledonia Skytower.

Wednesday, February 22nd 19:00: The Winter of Our Wodehouse

Trolley Trollop reads selections from P.G. Wodehouse.

Thursday, February 23rd

19:00: HG Wells’ A Story of the Stone Age

Shandon Loring reads H.G. Wells’ 1897 short story set within the stone age and focusing on Ugh-lomi.

Attracted to the young woman Eudena, he kills his rival for her attention and the de facto leader of their tribe, Uya. Forced into exile as a result, Ugh-lomi becomes the first man to  fashion an axe using wood and stone, and ride a horse. His use of the weapon helps him survive a range of encounters with wild animals. Ultimately, he returns to his tribe and claims leadership for himself.

21:00: Seanchai Late Night

Science fiction with Finn Zeddmore.

Please check with the Seanchai Library’s blog for updates and for additions or changes to the week’s schedule.

The featured charity for January / February is Heifer International, working with communities to end world hunger and poverty and to care for the Earth.