This paper is making the rounds today and describes new observations of the Ceres asteroid/dwarf planet (take your pick) located in the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter. The Dawn Mission has been orbiting Ceres (the second of two asteroids the mission is visiting) for the last year, staring down at the surface. What it’s found is water literally in the place where the Sun don’t shine.
The paper comes courtesy of Nature Astronomy, which is a newly formed journal from the Nature publishing group. And, in a nice turn of events, it comes along with this video that gives you a nice background in why the result is exciting and what the impact is. This is one of the better press release videos that I’ve seen in the last few years and I hope it’s an indication of a higher level of production quality than we’ve had to go on before.
Unfortunately, the video is a little difficult to embed here, so you’ll have to click through to their site above to check it out. Go watch.
I’ve got a serious soft spot for people who spend all of their time and energy building an amazing scientific instrument, then have to stick it on top of a rocket, put it underneath a plane, and then drop the damn thing out of the sky.
Here, it’s the Cyclone Global Navigation Satellite System, or CYGNSS.
This is actually a pretty inventive concept; you fly a constellation of tiny satellites (each weighing about 20 kg) that are glorified GPS receivers. The catch is that they can listen to the signals both directly from the GPS satellites and the signals that reflect off of the Earth’s surface. This gives you information about the surface conditions (ocean chop, wind conditions, etc) that will give atmospheric scientists a pretty big boost in trying to understand hurricanes and to predict their path.
Unlike with NuSTAR, CYGNSS launched from Kennedy Space Center (not an atoll in the middle of the south pacific) and during the day. So they get a chase plane:
Oddly enough, there’s still a lag between the video and the audio. For NuSTAR this was about three or four seconds from we heard the “3, 2, 1, Drop!” and when we actually saw the rocket drop out of the cargo hold of the L-1011 aircraft that serves as the “first stage” of the launch.
So, understanding how hurricanes work and how to predict their motion sounds like a good thing right? It is worth stating here that this was funded out of the NASA Earth Science Mission Directorate, which is precisely the section of NASA that President-Elect Trump and many Republicans wants to seriously cut. Innovative missions like this that leverage technology that’s already existing may simply no longer exist in the coming years. Something to think about.
In the meantime, go watch the launch video again and look forward to new and exciting science coming from CYGNSS.