Friday, December 24, 2004

it's a bird, it's a plane...

... it's the International Space Station, visible to the eye for the next month or so. NASA has a handy list of viewing times for hundreds of cities around the world, and if you're not on the list you can use their SkyWatch applet to figure out viewing times for your location.

In other NASA/ESA news, tonight the Huygens probe will be released from the Cassini orbiter to begin its 3-week trip to Saturn's largest moon, Titan. Regardless of whether it's a successful landing or a lawn-dart, it's pretty spectacular... Huygens has been piggybacked on Cassini since the 15 October 1997 launch, awaiting our first plunge through Titan's atmosphere.

Also in January the 'Spirit' and 'Opportunity' Mars rovers, originally designed for 90-day missions, will celebrate a full year of interplanetary rock-humping. Spirit landed on 3 January 2004, and Opportunity landed on 24 January 2004. You may notice that on NASA's site today is listed as 'Sol 346' for the Spirit rover, and with only 10 days until 3 January there appear to be some days missing to make a full 365-day year. This is because Mars has a day that is 1.0278 times as long as Earth's (24hrs 37mins versus 23hrs 57mins), and 346 Mars days (or 'Sols') times 1.0278 is 355 Earth days. The 'full year' of mission time is Earth-centric too... a year on Mars is 687 of our days.

And finally on 12 January Deep Impact will launch, with a probe destined for an intentional 23000 mph crash landing on (or in, actually) comet Tempel 1. Deep Impact will be carrying the most powerful camera yet flown into space, and additionally the impact will be observed by NASA's Chandra, Hubble and Spitzer space telescopes as well as many ground-based scopes.