Posts with «space & astronomy» label

NASA's Orion photographed the Earth and Moon from a quarter-million miles away

The Orion spacecraft's record-setting distance from Earth made for stunning photography, apparently. NASA has shared a photo taken by the Artemis I vehicle on Monday showing both Earth and the Moon in the background. Much like some Apollo photography or Voyager 1's "Pale Blue Dot," the picture puts humanity's home in perspective — our world is just one small planet in a much larger cosmos.

Orion took the snapshot around its maximum distance from Earth of 268,563 miles. That's the farthest any human-oriented spacecraft has traveled, beating even Apollo 13's record of 248,655 miles from 1970. Notably, Artemis I represents the first time explorers intended to travel this far out — Apollo 13 only ventured so far from Earth because NASA's emergency flight plan required the Moon as a slingshot.

Ars Technicanotes that this early Artemis flight has so far surpassed NASA's expectations. While the mission team has only completed 31 out of 124 core objectives so far, it's adding goals like extended thruster tests. About half of the remaining activities are in progress, with the rest largely dependent on returning to Earth.

Orion is expected to splash down off the San Diego coast on December 11th. The Artemis program has dealt with numerous delays, and now isn't expected to land humans on the Moon until 2025 or 2026. NASA originally hoped for a lunar landing in 2024. Still, Artemis I's current performance suggests the space agency's efforts are finally paying off.

NASA’s Orion spacecraft breaks Apollo 13 flight record

The Artemis 1 Orion crew vehicle has set a new record for a NASA flight. At approximately 8:40AM ET on Saturday, Orion flew farther than any spacecraft designed to carry human astronauts had ever before, surpassing the previous record set by Apollo 13 back in 1970. As of 10:17AM ET, Orion was approximately 249,666 miles ( from 401,798 kilometers) from Earth.

"Artemis I was designed to stress the systems of Orion and we settled on the distant retrograde orbit as a really good way to do that," said Jim Geffre, Orion spacecraft integration manager. “It just so happened that with that really large orbit, high altitude above the moon, we were able to pass the Apollo 13 record. But what was more important though, was pushing the boundaries of exploration and sending spacecraft farther than we had ever done before."

Mission Time: 10 days, 8 hrs, 27 min
Orion is 249,666 miles from Earth, 53,687 miles from the Moon, cruising at 2,054 miles per hour.
P: (94960, -206242, -113015)
V: (2045, 192, -45)
O: 287º, 140.6º, 135.7º
What's this?

— Orion Spacecraft (@NASA_Orion) November 26, 2022

Of all the missions that could have broken the record, it’s fitting that Artemis 1 was the one to do it. As points out, Apollo 13’s original flight plan didn’t call for a record-setting flight. It was only after a mid-mission explosion forced NASA to plot a new return course that Apollo 13’s Odyssey command module set the previous record at 248,655 miles (400,171 kilometers) from Earth.

With a limited oxygen supply on the Aquarius Lunar Module, NASA needed to get Apollo 13 back to Earth as quickly as possible. The agency eventually settled on a flight path that used the Moon’s gravity to slingshot Apollo 13 back to Earth. One of the NASA personnel who was critical to the safe return of astronauts Jim Lovell, Jack Swigert and Fred Haise was Arturo Campos. He wrote the emergency plan that gave the Command and Service Module enough power to make it back to Earth. Artemis 1 is carrying a “Moonikin” test dummy named after the late Arturo.

Earlier this week, Orion completed a flyby of the Moon. After the spacecraft completes half an orbit around the satellite, it will slingshot itself toward the Earth. NASA expects Orion to splash down off the coast of San Diego on December 11th.

Watch the next major phase of NASA's Artemis 1 Moon mission start here at 4:52PM ET

The next major phase of NASA's Artemis 1 mission is slated to start today. Orion is scheduled to conduct a burn at 4:52PM ET that will take it into a distant retrograde orbit around the Moon. The uncrewed spacecraft will be around 50,000 miles above the lunar surface and it will travel around the Moon in the opposite direction that the Moon orbits the Earth (hence the "retrograde" aspect of this phase).

NASA says that, due to the size of the orbit, it will take Orion six days to go halfway around the Moon. It will then exit the orbit and start making its way back to Earth. The agency has noted that this process will provide Orion with a "highly stable orbit where little fuel is required to stay for an extended trip in deep space." The orbit is stable because Orion will be subject to the gravitational pull of both the Earth and the Moon, which will help it to stay in position while minimizing fuel consumption.

During the distant retrograde orbit, NASA will be able to put Orion's systems through their paces in an environment far away from our planet. The Artemis 1 mission is primarily about testing Orion before the spacecraft takes humans back to the Moon for the first time in over half a century.

Earlier this week, Orion successfully carried out a flyby of the Moon wherein it got as close as 81 miles to the lunar surface. This was the first of two maneuvers needed to get Orion into its retrograde orbit before today's burn.

You'll be able to watch the distant retrograde orbit burn live below. NASA says the feed will include real-time views of the mission whenever bandwidth allows.

Hubble spots colliding galaxies in a spectacular dance

Hubble is still providing dramatic pictures of the universe despite the arrival of the James Webb Space Telescope. NASA and the ESA have released a Hubble image of Arp-Madore 417-391, a strange galaxy collision about 670 million light-years away. Their gravitational tug-of-war has produced an odd ring-like shape where the two galactic cores are relatively close and the star "plumes" form a circle.

The telescope spotted the merger using its long-serving Advanced Camera for Surveys, which has helped detect strange galaxies and even dark matter. Researchers are using the orbital hardware to build a list of follow-up observations for the much newer James Webb telescope, which has sometimes been used in tandem with Hubble to study space objects.

The Arp-Madore 417-391 galaxy collision in its greater context.
ESA/Hubble & NASA, Dark Energy Survey/DOE/FNAL/DECam/CTIO/NOIRLab/NSF/AURA, J. Dalcanton

You may not see Hubble leading these discoveries for much longer. The telescope has suffered a number of system failures in recent years, and is expected to plummet to Earth as soon as 2030 if there are no interventions. While NASA and SpaceX are considering boosting Hubble's orbit to keep it active, that extended lifespan isn't guaranteed. This galaxy crash may represent one of the telescope's last hurrahs, even if the observatory has years left in space.

NASA's Orion crew vehicle successfully completes Moon flyby

NASA's Orion spacecraft has successfully completed one of the key maneuvers of its maiden journey: a flyby of the Moon during which it got as close as 81 miles to the lunar surface. This was important for a few reasons, not least because it marked a critical test for the propulsion system.

Orion carried out four trajectory correction burns on its way to the Moon, but this time around, the orbital maneuvering system engine fired for 2 minutes and 30 seconds. This accelerated Orion at a rate of more than 580MPH. At the time the burn started, the uncrewed spacecraft was traveling at 5,023MPH, 238 miles above the Moon. Shortly after the burn, it was 81 miles above the lunar surface and it was traveling at 5,102MPH.

The flyby burn was one of two necessary maneuvers for Orion to enter its retrograde orbit around the Moon. Next up is the distant retrograde orbit insertion burn, which is slated to take place on Friday at 4:52PM ET. Orion will remain in this orbit for around a week to test various systems, including guidance, navigation, communication, power and thermal control. Of note, the distant retrograde orbit will take Orion 40,000 miles past the Moon. The spacecraft is scheduled to return to Earth on December 11th.

NASA will reveal more details about the flyby burn and offer updates on post-launch assessments for the Space Launch System rocket and Exploration Ground Systems (including the launch tower) at a press conference on Monday at 5PM ET. Meanwhile, engineers have been looking into RAM faults in the star tracker system, which have been resolved with power cycles. Another team examined an issue that has caused one of the eight service mobile units suppling solar array power to the crew module to open on a few occasions without a command. NASA says there have been no mission impacts as a result of these hiccups.

Watch NASA's Orion capsule pass 80 miles from the Moon starting at 7:15 AM

NASA's Artemis I mission will hit a key milestone today as the Orion capsule makes its "outbound powered flyby" of the Moon, getting as close as 80 miles to the surface. The burn is the first of two maneuvers required to enter what's known as a "distant retrograde orbit" (DRO) around the Moon. During the flyby, cameras inside and outside the spacecraft will document the view, with shots of the Moon, Earth and Orion itself. "It’s going to be spectacular," said lead flight director Rick LaBrode. 

The flyby is "the big burn that will actually move Orion and send it toward the planned distant retrograde orbit" that allows it to burn less fuel, LaBrode said earlier. "DRO allows Orion to spend more time in deep space for a rigorous mission to ensure spacecraft systems, like guidance, navigation, communication, power, thermal control and others are ready to keep astronauts safe on future crewed missions," said Artemis mission manager Mike Sarafin.

The capsule's service module ICPS engine, developed by the European Space Agency (ESA), will fire for 2 minutes and 30 seconds. As Orion passes behind the Moon, engineers will lose contact for approximately 34 minutes starting at 7:26 AM. It will spend 6 to 19 days in DRO to collect data and allow mission controllers to assess spacecraft performance, according to the space agency. 

So far, the mission has gone mostly to plan. However, two "active anomaly resolution teams" are investigating faults in the star tracker system's random access memory and a malfunctioning power conditioning and distribution unit. "Both systems are currently functioning as required, and there are no mission impacts related to these efforts," NASA said. 

NASA's Orion spacecraft on track to begin Moon flyby on November 21st

The Orion crew vehicle is exceeding expectations on its way to the Moon. NASA provided an update on Artemis 1 following the mission’s successful launch early Wednesday morning. "Orion has been performing great so far," Vehicle Integration Manager Jim Geffre said during a press briefing NASA held on Friday. “All of the systems are exceeding expectations from a performance standpoint.”

Artemis 1 seeks to confirm the crew vehicle can safely carry human astronauts to Earth’s natural satellite. The journey marks Orion's first trip beyond our planet's orbit. In 2014, the spacecraft completed a two-orbit test flight around Earth. A successful flight would pave the way for a manned mission to the Moon and eventually NASA’s first crewed lunar landing since Apollo 17 in 1972.

.@NASA_Orion is performing extremely well and is now more than halfway to the Moon. Since launch, we've tested the optical navigation system and performed external inspections to assess the Orion's condition. Latest updates on #Artemis I are available at

— Jim Free (@JimFree) November 19, 2022

The agency expects Artemis 1 to reach the Moon on November 21st. At that point, the spacecraft will perform the first of four main engine burns NASA has planned for the mission. At times, Orion will fly little more than 81 miles (130 kilometers) above the lunar surface. "We will be passing over some of the Apollo landing sites," Flight Director Jeff Radigan said. Four days later, NASA plans to conduct a second burn to put Orion in a distant orbit around the Moon before finally setting the spacecraft on a return trajectory toward the Earth. If all goes according to plan, Orion will land in the Pacific Ocean on December 11th.

Orion’s early successes are a welcome development after the troubles NASA encountered with its Space Launch System heavy-lift rocket. The space agency was forced to delay the launch of Artemis 1 multiple times due to engine problems, hydrogen fuel leaks and hurricane-force winds. Early Wednesday morning, it appeared that the agency would be forced to delay the mission again after the SLS ground team discovered a leak in one of the fuel lines on the rocket’s launch tower. However, after NASA personnel tightened some bolts, the SLS lifted off, creating a dazzling nighttime display.

NASA picks SpaceX’s Starship for its second crewed Artemis lunar landing

NASA has expanded SpaceX's role in the Artemis program and has selected the company's Starship lunar lander to ferry the second batch of astronauts to the Moon. If you'll recall, the agency picked SpaceX's human landing system for Artemis 3, which will take humanity back to the Moon decades after the last Apollo mission. 

Earlier this year, NASA announced that it was accepting new lunar lander proposals for use beyond Artemis 3 to ensure "redundancy in services." While SpaceX wasn't allowed to participate, the agency did say that it was planning to exercise an option under their existing contract and was asking the company to modify its landing system to meet a new requirement. That is, for its lander to have the capability to take human spacefarers from the Gateway station, which has yet to be installed in the lunar orbit, to the Moon itself. NASA can then use this upgraded lander for future missions, as humanity attempts to establish a long-term presence on the Moon. 

NASA says in its announcement:

"The aim of this new work under Option B is to develop and demonstrate a Starship lunar lander that meets NASA's sustaining requirements for missions beyond Artemis III, including docking with Gateway, accommodating four crew members, and delivering more mass to the surface."

SpaceX's original contract with NASA was worth $2.9 billion, but this modification will add $1.15 billion to the total. The company's Starship lunar lander is expected to take astronauts to the Moon for the first time in 2025. However, NASA Inspector General Paul Martin admitted in August that the agency is expecting Artemis 3's launch date to slip to 2026. Based on his statement, NASA is anticipating delays related to the development of the human landing system and its next generation spacesuits. NASA's Artemis 4 mission, which will take four more astronauts to the Moon, will take flight in 2027 at the earliest. 

For now, we're still waiting for updates on the Orion vehicle after the successful Artemis 1 launch on November 16th. You can track the spacecraft's location by following its official Twitter account, which frequently posts about its latest distance from Earth and from the Moon. 

James Webb telescope captures the hidden features of a young protostar

The James Webb Telescope has been providing clearer images of celestial bodies that had only been poorly imaged in the past ever since it became operational. Its first photo showed the "deepest" image of the distant universe to date, followed by an unprecedented photo of the Pillars of Creation and the best view we've had of Neptune's rings, among many others. Now its latest image reveals the once-hidden features of a very young protostar within the dark cloud L1527, giving us a look into how stars form and turn into something like our sun. 

The photo above shows an hourglass-like figure blazing blue and orange. This can only be seen in infrared light and was captured using James Webb's Near-Infrared Camera (NIRCam). But where's the protostar, you ask? It's actually right in the middle, or the neck of the hourglass, showing up as a black band. Stars form by gathering massive amounts of gas and dust, which spiral around the center as they're sucked in by gravity. This forms an accretion disk of material that surrounds the young star. 

Meanwhile, the blue and orange "bulbs" actually outline the cavities created by the materials shooting away from the protostar and colliding with dust around the structure. NASA says the colors represent the layers of dust in between the dark cloud and James Webb. Areas with the thinnest layer of dust show up as blue. The orange areas represent places with the thickest layer of dust, since less blue light is able to escape them. 

NASA says the 100,000-year-old protostar is at the earliest stage of star formation — our sun formed 4.6 billion years ago or so — and will give us an idea of what our solar system was like in its very early years. 

The best gifts for space lovers in 2022

It’s an exciting time to be a fan of space. NASA’s going back to the moon with the Artemis program, more and more companies are flying space tourist missions, and the new JWST observatory has already started changing the way we think of ourselves and the universe around us.

The good news is that all of this ongoing and renewed interest in space means that there’s a ton of merch out there. There’s never been a better time to be into space — or to be buying a gift for someone who loves it. These are some of our favorite things that any space lover will appreciate.

Celestron StarSense Explorer DX 130AZ


If you’re looking for a beginner telescope, the Celestron StarSense Explorer DX 130AZ is a fantastic choice. It’s easy to put together, provides a clear crisp view of night sky objects, and is relatively lightweight and portable. The telescope doesn’t have a motor, but it’s more affordable as a result. Compatibility with the StarSense app makes this telescope brilliantly easy to use and drastically reduces the time and effort it takes to find cool objects to look at in the night sky.

Buy Celestron StarSense Explorer at Amazon - $480

Startorialist JWST Cosmic Cliffs High Top Sneakers


JWST has been fully operational since June 2022, and it’s already sent us stunning images of our universe. One is a star-forming region in the Carina Nebula called the Cosmic Cliffs (fun fact, the tallest peaks are 7 light years high!) and you can get this amazing image on a classy pair of high-top sneakers from Startorialist, a STEM fashion brand. Keep in mind these are a custom order, so they may take a few weeks to ship.

Buy Cosmic Cliffs sneakers at Startorialist - $89

Banllis Decorative Astronaut and Moon Bookends


Want to spruce up someone’s book shelves? These adorable astronaut moon bookends will delight any space lover. They come in two colors, gold and gray – depending on whether you want them to pop or blend in. They aren’t the heaviest bookends, so you probably don’t want to hold up a huge stack of hardcovers with these, but they look good from both far away and close up – the detailing on the moons is an especially nice touch.

Buy bookends at Amazon - $47

The Milky Way: An Autobiography of Our Galaxy


Moiya McTier tells the story of the Milky Way in a unique way: from the point of view of the galaxy. It’s a funny and smart look at our galaxy (and humans’ place within it), and presents scientific information in an approachable and often hilarious way. Whether you’ve read every space book out there and are looking for something new or don’t know where to start, this is a unique perspective for sure.

Buy The Milky Way at Amazon - $14

Four Point Puzzles Moon Puzzle

Will Lipman Photography for Engadget

This 1,000 piece puzzle features an exquisite NASA image of the Moon’s surface. The rich detail here, and the intricate lunar features, will provide a challenge to even experienced puzzle aficionados.

Buy moon puzzle at Four Points - $28

Emily's Space Craft Jewelry

Emily's Space Craft Jewelry

Want to buy some space jewelry? Emily Lakdawalla, planetary scientist and former Senior Editor of The Planetary Society, has a space-themed jewelry shop on Etsy. And frankly, her designs are stunning. You can find everything from Hertzsprung-Russell star diagram necklaces to solar system bracelets and more.

Shop jewelry at Emily's Space Craft

Nikon 7245 Action Binoculars


Interested in looking at the night sky on the go? Consider a pair of binoculars instead of a telescope. They’re much more portable and easy to carry, and they don’t require nearly the setup that a telescope does. This Nikon ATB set is widely considered the best for stargazing — they’re lightweight, compact, and the price is equivalent to the most beginner telescopes.

Buy Nikon 7245 Action Binoculars at Amazon - $167

Svaha USA JWST Deep Field Custom Hoodie


Svaha USA is another great brand that’s got some fantastic STEM merch. They’ve even got JWST’s Deep Field image of galaxy cluster SMACS 0723 on a hoodie! If a pullover hoodie isn’t your thing, you can also find the image on tote bags, dresses, and more. These are custom printed upon ordering, so don’t wait until the last minute or you may not receive yours by the holidays.

Buy at custom hoodie at Svaha - $60

Kennedy Space Center Astronaut Training Experience

Kennedy Space Center

If you’re more of an “experience” gift giver than a “things” gift giver, then the Astronaut Training Experience might be just what you’re looking for. Located at the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex on the Space Coast of Florida, this unique trip allows visitors and guests to train like an astronaut — everything from docking to navigating the Martian surface and even performing a spacewalk in low gravity.

Buy training experience at Kennedy Space Center - $175

Astronomy Activity Book For Kids


If you have five to seven year old kid on your holiday gift list who’s fascinated by galaxies far away, this activity book is a great choice. Written by a former NASA scientist and beautifully illustrated, it contains games and projects about space, information on how to find constellations and big astronomical events such as meteor showers, and more.

Buy Astronomy Activity Book at Amazon - $9

LEGO Space Shuttle Discovery


Buying for someone who loves building things? LEGO’s space models are unparalleled. The Space Shuttle Discovery (complete with a small Hubble Space Telescope — based on the Hubble Servicing missions STS-131 in 1990) is 2,354 pieces and comes with a display stand. Of note is the fact that LEGO is retiring a few of their cool space sets this year — Discovery has been spared, but if you want the Apollo Saturn V or International Space Station, you should snag those while you can still find them.

Buy LEGO Space Shuttle Discovery at Amazon - $200

Super Cool Space Facts


If the kid on your list is more into cool facts and less into hands-on projects, this book is exactly what you think it is from the title: full of hundreds of space facts, along with full-color photos. It’s a great choice for any younger space nerd – but honestly, it’s a good read for the adults in your life who want to know more about space but don’t know where to start.

Buy Super Cool Space Facts at Amazon - $8

The Night Sky Poster by Kurzgesagt


Kurzgesagt has tons of gorgeous educational content and products. The Night Sky poster is definitely a highlight, though. It’s a detailed map of the stars, complete with highlighted constellations, planets and “messier objects” like nebulas and star clusters. Along the bottom is a brief history of astronomy and human kind’s connection to stars. If you’re shopping for someone who seems to constantly be staring off into space (literally as opposed to figuratively), they’ll definitely appreciate this touch of educational decor. — Terrence O'Brien, Managing Editor

Buy Night Sky Poster at Kurzgesagt - $25

NASA JPL Space Tourism posters


Designers at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) originally created these “Visions of the Future” posters in 2018. The whimsical posters, which imagine a future space tourism industry, were styled after the vintage National Parks posters that have long been popular with travel buffs. They’ve been adding to the collection ever since. Whether it’s Jupiter’s multicolored auroras, Venus’ peach-toned clouds or imagined nightlife on PSO J318.5-22, each one is also its own mini lesson about a piece of our solar system. NASA has the whole set available to download on its website, or you can buy physical prints (framed or unframed) from — Karissa Bell, Senior Reporter

Shop Space Tourism posters at AllPosters