Some astronomy news

This is a reposting from my highschool mentor, Craig Robinson of the Copernicus Planetarium.


A couple of things in the NASA news files that caught my eye.  Piers Sellers died last week.  He was a NASA mission specialist that flew on missions to the International Space Station in 2022, 2006, and 2010.  It is interesting to note that when John Glenn died, who was one of the first seven astronauts that the United States had, just about everyone knew who he was.  When Piers Sellers died not much mention was made of it yet he has many more hours in space than John Glenn had.  I am not complaining about this, those first seven were indeed brave folks to be some of the very first folks to fly in space and their names became household names known by just about everyone.  To date 533 people have orbited the Earth and 12 have walked on the moon according to most sources.  (There is much disagreement as to how many have flown in space but only got high enough to qualify and didn’t actually orbit the earth.)   Most people won’t be able to name the 12 that have walked on the moon other than the first couple.  (Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin).  The 533 come from 25 different countries, even though only three countries have launched orbital space missions, The Soviet Union , now Russia; the United States; and China.  You might not know that China is barred from sending its astronauts to the International Space Station (By an act of the US congress.) so they have launched two of their own orbiting space stations into space, one in 2011 and a second one this past September.  They have manned them with at least 5 different crews so far but we hardly hear about them.  It is kind of like what we heard of the old Soviet space program back in the early years.  Everyone here thinks it is because the Soviets kept their space program a secret.  Yet, as I have said before in prior Planetarium News articles, every time I wanted information on the Soviet space program I only had to ask my relatives in England to send it to me and they did.  They only kept things secret prior to the events.  Once they were happening the Soviets, and now the Russians, gladly shared the information about their space efforts.  It was as if the American Press at the time didn’t want to acknowledge the Soviet Space accomplishments and simply didn’t report them in any detail so it was hard to come by the information in the US so it gave rise to the idea that the Soviets kept their space missions a secret.  However that is simply not true if I could get the information from my relatives living in England. Just something to think about.


Cassini shot a close up of Saturn’s small moon Pandora in December.  It reminds me in many ways of Mars’ Phobos in the way it looks.


There are now 8 CYGNESS satellites in orbit around the Earth.  They are NASA’s Cyclone Global Navigation Satellite System, used to track hurricanes and cyclones to better understand them and to hopefully help predict their storm paths.  Some of them are still being calibrated and tested but all 8 are up and will hopefully be fully operational sometime next year.


How is this for a mouthful.  NASA has a spacecraft named the Origins, Spectral Interpretation, Resource Identification, and Security, Regolith Explorer.  In other words OSIRIS- REx.  From its name it is difficult to figure out what mission this spacecraft is on.  This is the spacecraft on its way to the asteroid Bennu to study its surface composition by blowing a jet of nitrogen at it and blowing some into a sampling device.  It will be activated in early February to photograph the area of the Earth’s orbit where there should be some Trojan Asteroids.  These are asteroids assumed to be in a stable orbit around the Sun 60 degrees ahead of the Earth in one of the Earth’s LaGrange points where objects can inhabit the same orbit as a larger object, in this case the Earth.  So far only one is known and that is 2010 TK7 which was discovered in 2010.  There are most likely others and OSIRIS-REx will be in a great position to possibly photograph some of them as it passes by their suspected location in an orbit that cuts inside of the Earth’s orbit so they should be illuminated by sunlight.  Should be interesting.