Hubble: SpaceX to the Rescue

Image (Credit): The Hubble Space Telescope orbiting Earth. (

The Washington Post reports that NASA and SpaceX are looking into the idea of extending the life of the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope, which has already been in service more than 30 years. The space telescope’s orbit has been deteriorating since 2009, when it was last visited for repairs. The current orbit should be okay until the mid-2030s, and then it will fall to Earth.

To keep the Hubble in service for even more years, it would need to be pushed into a higher orbit. This is where SpaceX comes in. It can assist NASA by moving Hubble just 40 miles higher in order to get another 15 to 20 years out of the space telescope.

The article notes that the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) was not developed to replace Hubble but rather to complement it. Hence, the extra life for Hubble means more and better astronomical observations over additional years in conjunction with the JWST. For instance, we will get more shots like the one below where the Hubble captured the Double Asteroid Redirection Test (DART) mission before and after it struck the asteroid.

Update: I have also included the JWST DART image below just to show the two space telescopes can work in tandem.

Image (Credit): This animated GIF combines three of the images NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope captured after NASA’s DART spacecraft intentionally impacted Dimorphos, a moonlet asteroid in the double asteroid system of Didymos. The animation spans from 22 minutes after impact to 8.2 hours after the collision took place. As a result of the impact, the brightness of the Didymos-Dimorphos system increased by 3 times. The brightness also appears to hold fairly steady, even eight hours after impact. (NASA, ESA, Jian-Yang Li (PSI); animation: Alyssa Pagan (STScI))
Image (Credit): This animation gif is a timelapse of images from NASA’s JWST. It covers the time spanning just before impact at 7:14 p.m. EDT, Sept. 26, through 5 hours post-impact. Plumes of material from a compact core appear as wisps streaming away from where the impact took place. An area of rapid, extreme brightening is also visible in the animation. (NASA, ESA, CSA, Cristina Thomas (Northern Arizona University), Ian Wong (NASA-GSFC); Joseph DePasquale (STScI))

A Day in Astronomy: Launch of the Orbiting Solar Observatory 7

Image (Credit): Artist’s impression of NASA’s Orbiting Solar Observatory 7 circling the Earth. (NASA)

On this day in 1971, NASA launched the Orbiting Solar Observatory 7 satellite to study the Sun. It successfully completed its mission and remained in orbit through July 9, 1974.

According to a December 31, 1972 report by Ball Brothers Research Corporation, the goal of the Orbiting Solar Observatory program was to make observations and measurements contributing to:

  • Determination of details of the sun’s atmospheric structure, composition and physical state and the process of energy transport radially outward and inward;
  • Determination of origin, energy supply, and solar/terrestrial consequences of transient solar phenomena such as sun spots, flares, radio bursts, and particle bursts;
  • Prediction of transient solar events and their consequences by combining data with those from other spacecraft, rockets, balloons, and ground-based observations; and
  • Secondary objectives including study of the earth and celestial objects.

You can read more about the Orbiting Solar Observatory 7 mission here.

NASA launched eight successful Orbiting Solar Observatory missions in all, but the program had some problems along the way. One satellite launched in 1965 failed to reach orbit, with the satellite burning up in the atmosphere. In another case, a rocket motor test in 1964 went awry, killing three men and wounding eight others.

Pic of the Week: The Rings of Neptune

Image (Credit): JWST image of Nepture showing its rings and moons. (NASA, ESA, CSA, STScI)

This week’s image is from the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST). It clearly shows the rings of Neptune as well as a number of its moons (the image below is a broader shot labeling those moons). It is an impressive shot by the JWST within our solar system, similar to the space telescope’s recent image of Jupiter.

Here is more about the image from NASA:

In this Webb image, Neptune resembles a pearl with rings that look like ethereal concentric ovals around it. There are 2 thinner, crisper rings and 2 broader, fainter rings. A few extremely bright patches on the lower half of Neptune represent methane ice clouds. Six tiny white dots, which are six of Neptune’s 14 moons, are scattered among the rings. The background of the image is black.

The Neptune image was uploaded to the NASA website on September 21, just a few days shy of the actual date in the calendar when Neptune was observed for the first time ever – September 23. The year was 1846 and the observer was German astronomer Johann Galle.

Image (Credit): JWST labeled image of Nepture showing its rings and moons. (NASA, ESA, CSA, STScI)

NASA News: An Eye on Hurricane Ian

Image (Credit): Images from the ISS’s instruments monitoring Hurricane Ian as the storm neared Cuba. (NASA/JPL-Caltech)

It may have been a bad week for NASA regarding the delayed launch of the Artemis I mission from Florida, but it has been a good week for NASA as it illustrates the benefits of monitoring Hurricane Ian as it crosses the Caribbean and heads towards Florida.

Two NASA instruments on the International Space Station (ISS) in particular are helping with this monitoring:

  • Compact Ocean Wind Vector Radiometer (COWVR) to measure the amount of rain in the atmosphere; and
  • Temporal Experiment for Storms and Tropical Systems (TEMPEST) to track the volume of ice particles pushed into the upper atmosphere by the storm.

Together these instruments give us a much better understanding of the storm hitting the eastern coast of the United States. In this type of situation, any additional details can assist civic leaders and potentially save lives.

We are all fascinated by NASA’s images showing dust storms sweeping across Mars or highlighting the Great Red Spot on Jupiter, which represents a violent storm that has marked the planet’s surface for hundreds of years. Enormous storms mark and transform the face of our Earth as well. Monitoring our own planetary storm systems is another worthwhile goal for our NASA scientists.

In Case You Missed It: Moons of Exomoons

Image (Credit): Example of an Earth-sized moon around a Neptune-sized moon around Jupiter. (Cool World Labs)

Hearing about the moonlet targeted by the DART spacecraft reminded me of a recent video discussing whether exomoons could have their own moons. It was a piece by Cool World Labs titled “Can Moons Have Moons?” It gets into the “Hill Sphere,” which is an astronomical body’s region in which it dominates the attraction of satellites. It can get pretty complex, as the drawing above demonstrates, but its an interesting concept that has yet to be proven in our own solar system or elsewhere. Given that Cool World Labs is already finding exomoons, it may be only a matter of time before we experience these submoons.