Jen Visits JPL – The Centre of the Universe!: November 11, 2013

Show notes for the 11th of November 2013 (Lest we forget)

Hosts: Paul, Lianne, Hugh, Jen
Title: Jen Visits JPL – The Centre of the Universe!

This week in space/astronomy history:

1. November 13, 1971 – Mariner 9 becomes first spacecraft to orbit Mars.

2. November 16, 1974 – The infamous message to M13 globular cluster via Arecibo observatory. This was part of a ceremony to mark the reopening of the famous radio observatory.

3. November 12, 1833 – The Great Leonid Meteor Shower

4. November 14, 1797 – Sir Charles Lyell, 1st Baronet, Kt FRS is born (he died February 22, 1875). He was a British lawyer and the foremost geologist of his day. He is best known as the author of Principles of Geology, which popularisedJames Hutton‘s concepts of uniformitarianism (the idea that the earth was shaped by the same processes still in operation today).


1. LUX finds no signal of WIMPs, a candidate particle for Dark Matter. The York Universe team invited Dr. Matthew Johnson to the ‘air waves’ (Assistant Professor at York University and Associate Faculty at the Perimeter Institute for Theoretical Physics) to help explain the impact of the LUX results on the search for dark matter. Dr. Johnson is a theoretical physicist whose primary research includes cosmology, field theory, string theory, and gravitation. (Suggested Reading: LUX website, arXiv preprint, Universe Today article)

2. Magdalayan safely in orbit and preparing for Mars Orbital Insertion. First Indian satellite to travel to Mars. Despite a bit of engine trouble, the orbital burns were completed, with more to come. (Suggested Reading: Universe Today article)

3. Russian Cosmonauts take Olympic torch for a spacewalk. Third olympic torch to fly in space (1996, 2000 aboard one of the space shuttles), although first one to ever leave the spacecraft and go out in the open. The torch went up to the ISS on November 6th, 2013 and came down on November 10th, 2013. Special tethers were used to make sure it didn’t inadvertently become another piece of space junk. (Suggested Reading: SpaceDOTcom article, Slate Video).

4. Aaaand speaking of space junk, GOCE burned up over the falkland islands, becoming the first ESA mission in 25 years to make an uncontrolled re-entry. It’s estimated that between 20-25% of the satellite’s one tonne mass would have survived the descent through the atmosphere.

Major Topics Discussed:

1. NASASocial
York Universe host Jen Zomederis spent two days at a NASASocial held in Pasadena at JPL where she got to visit the Spacecraft Assembly Facility, the JPL Earth Science Center, Mission Control, and the Mars Yard. She also got to learn about JPL’s 5 upcoming missions: 1. SMAP – a mission which will produce global maps of soil moisture for tracking water availability around our planet. 2. ISS- RapidScat – a scatterometer instrument that will be mounted outside of the ISS to measure ocean surface wind speeds and directions. 3. OCO-2 – This Earth remote-sensing satellite will study atmospherics carbon dioxide from space. 4. Jason 3- will be measuring the height of the ocean surface. 5. RACE- a cubesat which will make water vapor measurements.
It turns out that ⅓ of JPL missions are Earth missions!
(Suggested Reading: JPL engineers testing rover for mission to Europa (Video), JPL Missions to Study Earth (was streamed live)

2. Kepler releases new data!
(Suggested Reading: Kepler Press Release)
Excerpt From NASA:
“Scientists from around the world are gathered this week at NASA’s Ames Research Center in Moffett Field, California, for the second Kepler Science Conference [to] discuss the latest findings resulting from the analysis of Kepler Space Telescope data [including]
…discovery of 833 new candidate planets…increased by 29 percent [since last January] and now totals 3,538
…the largest increase of 78 percent was found in the category of Earth-sized planets …the observed trend that smaller planets are more common. (674 now in total)
…Ten of these candidates are less than twice the size of Earth and orbit in their sun’s habitable zone
…four more habitable zone candidates have been confirmed, including two in a single system.
…most stars in our galaxy have at least one planet.
…one in five stars like the sun is home to a planet up to twice the size of Earth, orbiting in a temperate environment. “
Kepler is of course sitting a bit dead in the water at the moment after the failure of two of its reaction wheels, which leaves it unable to point accurately–a problem because the observation pattern for Kepler was for it to point at one location in the sky over and over and over again for years. Reaction wheel failures are actually a common way for satellites to end their life cycles–Hyabusa,  Dawn, TIMED, FUSE, Mars Odyssey all ended this way. Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS) will pick up where Kepler has left off in 2017, so we’ve got that to look forward to once we run out of data from exoplanets.

Thanks for listening!
-YorkUniverse Team
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