Tag Archives: NASA


Sometime between 2007 and 2018–no one knows when–IMAGE woke up and started talking. The satellite may have been chattering away at Earth for years unheard and unnoticed. Now, NASA has to find a way to answer.

LONG-DEAD NASA SPACECRAFT WAKES UP: Amateur astronomer Scott Tilley has a hobby: He hunts spy satellites. Using an S-band radio antenna in Roberts Creek, British Columbia, he regularly scans the skies for radio signals from classified objects orbiting Earth. Since he started 5 years ago, Tilley has bagged dozens of secret or unlisted satellites. “It’s a lot of fun,” he confesses.

Earlier this month, Tilley was hunting for Zuma–a secretive United States government satellite lost in a launch mishap on Jan. 8th–when a J-shaped curve appeared on his computer screen. “It was the signature of a lost satellite,” he says, “but it was not Zuma.”

In a stroke of good luck that has dizzied space scientists, Tilley found IMAGE, a NASA spacecraft that “died” more than 10 years ago.

An artist’s concept of IMAGE flying over Earth’s north pole.

Short for “Imager for Magnetopause-to-Aurora Global Exploration,” IMAGE was launched in 2000 on a flagship mission to monitor space weather. Mapping the ebb and flow of plasma around Earth, IMAGE was able to watch our planet’s magnetosphere respond almost like a living organism to blasts of solar activity, while its ultraviolet cameras took gorgeous pictures of Earth’s global auroras.

“It had capabilities that no other spacecraft could match–before or since,” says. Patricia Reiff, a member of the original IMAGE science team at Rice University.

IMAGE was in the 5th year of its extended mission on Dec. 18, 2005, when the spacecraft suddenly went silent. No one knows why, although suspicions have focused on a power controller for the spacecraft’s transponder, which might have temporarily failed.

The one hope was a reboot: When IMAGE’s solar-powered batteries drained to zero during a eclipse by the Earth, onboard systems could restart and begin transmitting again. “If revival occurs, the mission should be able to continue as before with no limitations,” noted NASA’s IMAGE Failure Review Board in their 2006 report.

A deep eclipse in 2007, however, failed to produce the desired result. “After that, we stopped listening,” says Reiff.

Radio signals from IMAGE, detected by Scott Tilley on Jan. 20, 2018. [more]

That is, until Scott Tilley started looking for Zuma. “When I saw the radio signature, I ran a program called STRF to identify it,” he says. Developed by Cees Bassa, a professional astronomer at the Netherlands Institute for Radio Astronomy, STRF treats Earth-orbiting satellites much like binary pulsars–deducing their orbital elements from the Doppler shifts of their radio signals. “The program immediately matched the orbit of the satellite I saw to IMAGE. It was that easy,” says Tilley.

Sometime between 2007 and 2018–no one knows when–IMAGE woke up and started talking. Now, NASA has to find a way to answer.

“The good news is, NASA is working on a recovery plan,” says Reiff. “UC Berkeley still has a ground station that was used for realtime tracking and control. They are scrambling to find the old software and see it they can get the bird to respond. Apparently there are data side lobes on the transmission, so that is a good sign.”

Researchers would love to have IMAGE back. The spacecraft has a unique Big Picture view of Earth’s magnetosphere and “its global-scale auroral imager would be fantastic for nowcasting space weather,” says Reiff. “Fingers crossed!!”

This is a developing story. Stay tuned for updates.

Hubble reboots Messier Catalogue

Back in the 1940s, Miss Williamson of the Montreal Centre of the RASC, got many enthusiastic star gazers interested in amateur astronomy by challenging them to find all the objects in the Messier Catalogue.  The idea caught on, and is now every astronomer’s first major challenge. In Miss Williamson’s day, there were no GoTo telescopes; the object was to learn your way around the night sky by finding the 110 Messier objects by “Star Hopping“. This is still the way to earn your Messier certificate. I’m more than halfway through, having mostly the Virgo cluster to explore.  More about the Messier Club.

And if they ever publish this Hubble version as a book, I WANTS IT!!!       CPL

Hubble reboots Messier Catalog

NASA used images from the Hubble Space Telescope to create their own version of the Messier catalog.
For this stunning image of the spiral galaxy M106, multiple exposures from Hubble were combined with ground-based images from the amateur astronomer Robert Gendler. The galaxy was initially discovered in 1781 by Pierre Mechain, Charles Messier’s observing assistant.
Today, NASA published the Hubble Space Telescope’s version of the Messier catalogue, a list of 110 deep-sky objects (including nebulae, star clusters, and galaxies) that French astronomer Charles Messier began almost 250 years ago.

This new reboot of the Messier collection features beautiful Hubble images of 63 deep-sky objects from the original catalog. While astronomy enthusiasts may see some images they have seen before (such as the Pillars of Creation in the Eagle Nebula), the catalog also includes several unpublished images that NASA processed specifically for this project.


Space Weather News for Oct. 20, 2017

METEORS FROM HALLEY’S COMET: Earth is entering a stream of debris from Halley’s Comet, source of the annual Orionid meteor shower. Last night, NASA’s network of all-sky meteor cameras detected 23 Orionid fireballs over the USA–a result of comet dust hitting the atmosphere at speeds exceeding 65 km/s (145,000 mph). Forecasters expect the shower to peak on Oct. 21-22 with as many as 25 meteors per hour. Visit Spaceweather.com for observing tips and sky maps.

Remember, SpaceWeather.com is on Facebook!
Above: An Orionid fireball streaks over the Allegheny Observatory in Pittsburgh on Oct. 20, 2017. Photo credit: NASA’s All-Sky Fireball Network. More images may be found in the Realtime Meteor Photo Gallery.

The Women of NASA LEGO

Shamelessly snitched from File 770:

HISTORIC FIGURES. The Women of NASA LEGO set goes on sale November 1. The collectible was produced after winning fan approval through the LEGO Ideas website.

Four trailblazing figures from NASA’s history are set to launch as new LEGO minifigures on Nov. 1. NASA astronauts Sally Ride and Mae Jemison, astronomer Nancy Grace Roman and computer scientist Margaret Hamilton are celebrated for their contributions to space exploration and astronomy in the new LEGO Ideas set, “Women of NASA.” Based on a fan-proposed and supported design, the set includes representations of the four female space pioneers, as well as three LEGO builds that recreate the spacecraft and settings where the women made their mark on space history. “Great for role playing space exploration missions,” LEGO said in a press release announcing the set on Wednesday (Oct. 18). “Explore the professions of some of the groundbreaking women in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) with the LEGO Ideas Women of NASA set,” The 231-piece building toy is recommended for ages 10 and older. It will retail for $24.99.


Goodbye, and thanks for all the science!

NASA’s Cassini spacecraft and ESA’s Huygens probe expanded our understanding of the kinds of worlds where life might exist and eight more reasons the mission changed the course of planetary exploration.  Nine Reasons Cassini-Huygens Matters




Loss of contact with the Cassini spacecraft occurred at 4:55 a.m. PDT (7:55 a.m. EDT), with the signal received by NASA’s Deep Space Network antenna complex in Canberra, Australia.


NASA suspends InSight mission to Mars

Unable to fix a leak with the mission’s main science instrument in time to make the 2016 launch window, NASA must wait two years to try again.
“The JPL and CNES teams and their partners have made a heroic effort to prepare the InSight instrument, but have run out of time given the celestial mechanics of a launch to Mars,” said JPL Director Charles Elachi. “It is more important to do it right than take an unacceptable risk.”
Read more from Sky and Telescope.
Or if you are really, really into Mars missions, pop over to the NASA site.