GOES O To Launch Today; An Ocean?

Apologies for the delay in writing this week! The new Astronomy video was posted on Wednesday, as it is every week. If you watch the video by way of the Astronomy Center, nothing has changed. However, if you use our Video On Demand page, you need to scroll down a bit, and on the right side you'll see Video Channels. Astronomy is just under that. I'm very excited about my first Stars In The Park program at Rickett's Glen State Park in NE Pennsylvania tonight, I will be talking about "Our Place In Our Galaxy" before everyone heads outside to view what the summer sky has to offer (assuming we get this cold front out of here in time). Meanwhile, a new weather satellite is about to be launched from Kennedy Space Center, and Cassini may have found clues that suggests an ocean on Saturn's moon, Enceladus.

Check This Out!

You may have seen this absolutely beautiful picture taken by the crew of the International Space Station, of the erupting Sarychev Peak volcano in the Kuril Islands. The volcano erupted on June 12th for the first time in twenty years. The powerful eruption blasted through the atmosphere and produced a shock wave, which may be one of several reasons why the clouds surrounding the plume were parted. A neat white "bubble" cloud formed atop the eruption plume, likely from water droplets being forced upwards, cooling quickly and then condensing. This eruption also resulted in some pretty sunsets; spaceweather.com has started a gallery of these shots, so be sure to check them out.

Sarychev Peak eruption, Kuril Islands-NASA

Through the end of the month, don't forget that you early risers can catch four of the five naked-eye planets in the early morning sky. Mercury, Venus, Jupiter and Mars can all be seen before sunrise. Jupiter rises first, shortly before midnight, EDT. The other three make appearances closer to dawn. Saturn is still hanging out close to Leo, and will actually have a close encounter with the Moon Saturday evening; look towards the west after sunset. Tonight the waxing crescent Moon will be close to the main Leo star, Regulus.

The Lunar Crater Observation and Sensing Satellite (LCROSS) was successful in completing a significant mission maneuver on Tuesday as it flew past the Moon in its very elongated, 37-day orbit. The successful "swingby" proves that the science instruments were calibrated correctly and are functioning properly. In order to calibrate the instruments, three sites were scanned on the lunar surface: craters Mendeleev, Goddard C and Giordano Bruno. Each offer a nice variety in terrain types and illumination conditions. The lunar horizon was also scanned in preparation for studying the Centaur's debris plume after its crash landing. Impact for both LCROSS and the Centaur upper stage rocket will take place within a few minutes of each other on October 9th.

Another launch is planned from Space Launch Complex 37 at Kennedy Space Center tonight, assuming the weather and mechanics are cooperating. A Delta 4 rocket carrying the GOES-O civilian weather satellite is set for launch at 6:14pm EDT tonight. Unfortunately, at the moment the weather isn't cooperating; there was some rain and a lightning strike near the launchpad just a short time ago. However, the loading of liquid oxygen into the Common Booster Core first stage is complete. Chill-down procedures for the upper stage are due to begin soon. If launch cannot take place at 6:14pm EDT, the window remains open until 7:14pm. The GOES-O satellite is the second in the GOES N series of geostationary environmental weather satellites. The GOES satellites have been crucial to meteorologists and other environmental personnel. Not only do the satellites provide observations for the weather, but also dust storms, volcanic eruptions and even forest fires. The two main instruments aboard GOES satellites are an Imager and a Sounder. Together they provide a scanner offering small-scale imaging that allows meteorologists to get images of areas where the weather is causing problems. Another feature is simultaneous and independent imaging and sounding which allows forecasters to get multiple measurements of weather events. Both of these features have been crucial to improving weather forecasts.

The Delta 4 Rocket carrying GOES-O-NASA

Cassini does it again! The spacecraft has been touring around Saturn and its moons for some time now and continues to amaze us with its incredible data and image findings. In 2005, Cassini discovered "water-ice plumes" on Saturn's moon Enceladus. These plumes appeared to be coming from surface fractures near its south pole and were expelling ice grains and vapor. Some of these plumes even escaped the atmosphere and actually replenished Saturn's E-ring! Cassini has been studying these ice grains using its Cosmic Dust Analyzer and has found sodium salt within them. This discovery led scientists to the idea that the salt must have washed out from a rock layer at the bottom of a liquid layer; the presence of liquid water is really the only way to account for the amount of salt that was detected as a result of dissolving significant amounts of materials. The process of sublimation does not account for the presence of salt. The E-rings are composed almost entirely of water-ice, but nearly every time Cassini's analyzer checked the composition it found some amount of sodium in the particles, which also contained carbonates. These carbonates contain a slightly alkaline pH value. This would mean that the liquid, combined with the heat found at the south pole and the organic compounds found within the water-ice plumes could provide an environment possibly suitable for sustaining life (as we know it). A task at hand would now be to pinpoint the location of the liquid layer; is it trapped in various "pockets" in Enceladus' crust, or connected to a huge ocean?

An idea about Enceladus-NASA

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