A Wave Making Waves & Suction Storms

(Originally posted 2/3/17 on Read With The Gringa)

An enormous gravity wave is making waves in space exploration circles. The wave of excitement began when Akatsuki, a space probe that is the handiwork of JAXA, Japan’s space agency, observed a 6,000 mile long gravity wave. That’s the longest gravity wave ever recorded by humans in outer space. But why is this a big deal? What does it mean? I mean, after all, gravity waves have been discovered before. Is this just a big deal because this is the largest one scientists have observed?

What a gravity wave does is affect a planet’s atmosphere. It can cause weather disturbances. What kind of weather does Venus have? With an atmosphere of 96% carbon dioxide, 3% nigrogen, a tiny speck of water vapor (about .003%), and a density nearly 90 times greater than Earth’s, things could be very interesting on Venus should a storm begin to brew.

Picture peeking out the window of your Venus habitat and seeing golden, yellow clouds billowing that stink of that rotten egg stench of sulfur. Imagine watching as they raced across the sky at more than 200 mph. And consider that you would have to be looking through glass several inches thick to withstand the atmospheric pressure outside. Sounds kind of cool, doesn’t it! But, really, is there more to this excitement than just discovering the longest gravity wave ever?

December, 2015, JAXA’s Akatsuki observed the largest gravity wave ever over one of Venus’ mountain ranges. It looks like a whitish, bow shape in the image below:


When the probe made its journey once again over this region a month later, the wave wasn’t there. The original thought that the wave was stationary had to be discarded. What scientists now theorize is that the gravity wave formed in Venus’ lower atmosphere and was then gradually pulled into the upper atmosphere by the rapid rotation of clouds. Once it reached the upper atmosphere it dissipated. So, on Venus, a storm is really like a great big gravity vacuum rather than wind and rain like Earthlings are accustomed to. Instead of stuff falling down, stuff is sucked up.

For scientists, this gives them more clues to understand what conditions are like on the surface of the planet. Instead of a lower atmosphere that is stable, quiet and boring, scientists are more inclined to believe that life on Venus’ surface could be quite thrilling and dynamic. It also means that any plans for a surface mission would require rovers that could withstand the possibility of a massive gravity suction storm. The gringa envisions the tornado scene that the “Wizard of Oz” opens with. That would be life on Venus if things weren’t “nailed” down really, really well. Or, Venus colonists could all just live in bouncy castles. When a massive gravity suction storm approaches you batten down the hatches, ride out the storm and who knows where you end up! New neighbors and new landscape when it all blows over. How exciting!

Sources: JAXA



Whip It & Whip It Good

Japan has created a solution for space litterbugs: an electric whip. No, we are not going to be subjecting engineers, scientists and astronauts to high voltage public floggings. Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) is going to become the garbage collectors of outer space with their newly deployed trash collecting tether system. Sounds cool, huh? Yeah, the gringa thought her dear readers would get a kick out of this technology.

Guess how long this baby is? Six football fields… 600 yards and about the size of a clothesline. Incredible. But how does it work? Well, we’ll find out once it gets unpacked from the goodie package onboard the Kounotori 6 spacecraft that was scheduled to deliver its payload December 14 to the International Space Station (ISS).  Called EDT (for electrodynamic tether), its mission is to lasso about 20,000 pieces of space debris that are classified as hazardous on Earth-bound tracking systems.

What makes space junk dangerous? Well, in and of itself a single piece may eventually fall to Earth. Depending on its size and the materials it is made of, it could cause serious damage and possibly even fatal injuries once it impacts Earth. In addition, multiple pieces of debris could collide. That might cause space garbage to change trajectory and possibly collide with the ISS. Such an event could kill our astronaut crews. So, JAXA’s space garbage collection mission is a noble cause. But why the electricity?

The electricity is not for zapping space junk into submission. It is how the tether is directed and guided. Astronauts will use the tether to guide garbage into a trajectory that will destroy it before impact by traveling through the fieriest (is that a word?) path possible.

What kind of stuff is out there that we should be worried about? Well, there is space junk the size of a school bus. Something that big could become very problematic. Coolest of all is that the whip has cameras mounted so we will eventually get to see it in action. But you can see it get launched on its way to the ISS in the video below:

The next video below was posted on JAXA’s YouTube channel in anticipation of the live use of the EDT. At the time that the gringa penned this post there was no video available. However, by the time the scheduled post is on the blog, hopefully you will get to see some live feed of astronauts whipping outer space clean!

Sources:  JAXA

Image Credit:  www.npr.org

The Hi’s & Lo’s of JAXA

Back in February space agencies around the world were cheering on the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) as it launched a new space observation satellite that was going to get us all some darn answers about black holes. This joint effort between JAXA and NASA caused a bit of confusion among outsiders because the satellite went by different names depending on if you were an Eastern space enthusiast (Hitomi for you) or a Western space enthusiast (ASTRO-H for you).

The gringa prefers the moniker Hitomi. This Japanese word has several meanings, all of which the gringa likes much better than the anacronym ASTRO-H. Hitomi literally means the “pupil of the eye”. However, when you break the word down into its phonetical language parts “hito” and “mi” it becomes “beautiful history”. As I look into the vastness of space and the stars that are kazillions of years old, the cosmos most certainly is the most beautiful history I have ever beheld.

Unfortunately, however, Hitomi’s story is not so pretty. Launched back in February, space fans everywhere were so excited that soon the satellite would be orbiting about 300 miles above us and collect data on X-rays emitted by black holes as well as galaxy clusters. Scientists have been eager for any means to gather more information since the detection of gravitational waves were announced which are directly related to black holes.

After a successful launch the evening of February 16, JAXA and NASA announced that Hitomi’s solar arrays were operating properly and began anticipating the arrival of data and images. Japan’s sixth satellite for the research of X-ray astronomy, the science community waited with bated breath for what they were certain was going to be groundbreaking information from the latest state of the art space satellite technology.

By March 26, contact with Hitomi was lost. By April the announcement came that finally, all hope was lost as well. Bye-bye Hitomi.

Once Hitomi reached its orbit things began to go wrong. Scientists reported that communication was lost within days and that their only conclusion was that the satellite had most likely disintegrated. A quarter of a billion dollars converted to space junk in a matter of weeks. How terribly disappointing. The director general of JAXA, Saku Tsuneta, officially announced the abandonment of the project with his deepest regrets.

Researchers believe that the solar panels that control the instruments may have broken away from the satellite. This would have basically transformed the satellite into a rudderless ship adrift in space. It will be about twelve more years before anything matching Hitomi’s capabilities will launch when the European Space Agency (ESA) completes a similar project.

On a side note, the gringa is surprised that conspiracy theorists haven’t jumped all over this story. When communication was first lost with the satellite, hope was revived when JAXA detected three signals they believed originated from Hitomi. However, after more scrutiny, it was discovered that the signals were not from the spacecraft. Hmmm. The gringa wonders just where, or whom, those signals came from. Could it have been some very clever and covert space aliens who captured human technology? Only time will tell!






Image Source: i.dailymail.co.uk





Calling All Young People! Physics Is Phun!

If kids are finding science studies boring and exhibit no interest in pursuing a career in something like physics, they just haven’t made the right connections! Look, the future of our planet’s survival depends on every generation producing fantastic scientific minds with a passion for discovery. And, trust the gringa, science, especially physics, is anything BUT boring! I mean, just check out this amazing GIF and video that illustrate physics in action. One looks like dots traveling in a straight line but they are actually traveling on curves. The other looks like the dots are traveling in a circular pattern but they are actually traveling in a straight line:


Now that the gringa’s got your attention, what exactly can a person do as a physicist? Well, you can create really cool art like this or you could work for other people. If you work for NASA you can follow their astrophysics goal:  “Discover how the universe works, explore how it began and evolved and search for life on planets and other stars.” To do that involves all sorts of interesting work like:

  • Stargazing through incredible observatories like: Hubble Space Telescope, Chandra X-ray Observatory, and the Spitzer Space Telescope
  • Work with teams from all over the world: European Space Agency and Japan’s JAXA space agency
  • Perform all sorts of wacky experiments to test theories about things like: black holes, the Big Bang, dark matter, dark energy, existence of extra-terrestrial life, suitability of distant planets to support life
  • Design any manner of dangerous stuff mom and dad won’t let you build in the garage: rockets, lasers, rocket fuel, robots, super colliders that annihilate atoms

So kids, get excited about science! If it’s boring in the classroom, search for inspiration. There are folks like physicist Derek Muller who makes science loads of fun. On his blog and YouTube channel, “Veritasium”, you can learn about science in a way that is interesting and also relevant to what the world needs to day. Check out one of the gringa’s favorite videos of Muller’s (grapes + microwave = plasma):

Look, kids, the truth is agencies like NASA needs you. Your mom and dad need you. The entire world needs you. Let’s face it, the world is in need of some major repair. The days of Batman and Flash Gordon are over. The heroes the world needs now are scientists. So, put on your goggles (and a cape if it inspires you) and get crackin’.


Sources: www.nasa.govhttps://www.youtube.com/channel/UCHnyfMqiRRG1u-2MsSQLbXA, Tumblr_o17qz1y1Rf1r2geqjo1_540, www.facebook.com/physicsastrophysics

Image Source:







Space For Europe IS the ESA

With ESA Astronaut Tim Peake performing a spacewalk this week on the International Space Station, the gringa thinks it’s only fitting to turn the limelight toward Europe’s space agency and their long history of achievement. The European Space Agency (ESA) is to Europe what NASA is to the United States, JAXA is to Japan and Rocosmos is to Russia. ESA is comprised of 22 member states who collaborate with their financial resources and intellectual talents to provide a gateway to the stars for all of Europe. Members are: Austria, Belgium, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Ireland, Italy, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland and the United Kingdom. Canada, Bulgaria, Cyprus, Malta, Latvia, Lithuania, Slovakia and Slovenia all make their own contributions as well through contractual agreements of cooperation.

The goals of the ESA are to discover more about Earth and its surrounding Solar System, as well as the entire Universe. These goals are met while at the same time promoting development of European technologies and sharing these with the world’s other space agencies.

Paris is the location of ESA headquarters. Germany is where ESA’s Astronaut Centre and Space Operations Centre are located. Astronomy Centres are found in Canada and Spain with the Earth Observation centre in Italy. The UK houses the centre for Space Applications and Telecommunications and launch bases are scattered throughout Belgium, the U.S.A., Russia and French Guiana. It can be rather dizzying with all of these operational centres spread all over the world. So, to keep things simple, because the gringa likes simple, for more information about ESA, simply go to their website, www.esa.int, or drop them a line or pick up the phone:

Communication Department
European Space Agency
8-10 rue Mario Nikis
75738 Paris
Cedex 15

Tel: + 33 1 5369 7155
Fax: + 33 1 5369 7690

ESA desires to explore space for peaceful purposes. While doing this it wants Europeans to benefit economic growth from the support services required to travel to the stars. Since its conception over thirty years ago, ESA has focused on long-term goals that are adaptable to a world that changes rapidly. The gringa wishes to highlight just a smattering of successful ESA missions:

  • ESRO-4, 1972: The ESRO-4 (European Space Research Organisation) satellite carried five experiments concentrating on Earth’s ionosphere, atmosphere, radiation belts and penetration of solar particle radiation into the magnetosphere. It was launched on 22 November 1972, on a NASA Scout rocket from the Western Test Range in California, and reentered Earth’s atmosphere after a successful mission on 15 April 1974.
  • 1977-2002 Mission Meteosat: launched multiple weather satellites
  • 1979 Mission Ariane: first launch of commercial launcher to secure Europe’s independent space access
  • 1983 Mission Spacelab: launched laboratory module for NASA’s Space Shuttle
  • 1985 Mission Giotto: intercept of Halley’s Comet and Comet Grigg-Skjellerup
  • 1990 Mission Hubble Space Telescope: ESA contribution of solar arrays and Faint Object Camera for Hubble Space Telescope
  • 1998 Mission ARD: launch of first European experimental re-entry vehicle
  • 2003 Mission Mars Express: launch of Europe’s first Red Planet orbiter
  • 2005 Mission Venus Express: launch of Europe’s first Venus orbiter
  • 2008-2012 Mission ATV: launch space truck for ISS re-supply
  • 2015 Mission Lisa Pathfinder: launch of technology to detect gravitational waves

Which brings the gringa to the current ESA Mission, “Principia”.  This six month mission is named after Isaac Newton’s book on physics, “Naturalis Principia Mathematica”. Peake’s mission objectives are to maintain the weightless research laboratory, conduct over thirty scientific experiments, and perform a spacewalk with fellow crewman Astronaut Tim Kopra, working together to replace a Solar Shunt Unit.

Preparing for the spacewalk involves breathing pure oxygen for two hours (to purge nitrogen) before embarking. Once spacesuits are donned, the astronauts enter an airlock where air pressure is gradually reduced until they can safely exit the ISS.

Upon successful completion of Mission Principia, ESA will then turn its attention and efforts to the next scheduled mission, Mission Exomars. Later on this year ESA will launch a Mars orbiter, rover and surface platform to the Red Planet. The gringa is so excited! To Mars! To Mars!


Source and Photo Credit:  www.esa.int


Allow Me To Introduce You To JAXA

Who is JAXA? JAXA is the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency and they have been very busy. In 2010 JAXA was disappointed when their orbiter “Akatsuki”, which, in  English, means “dawn”, failed in its mission to orbit Venus. However, JAXA is not one to give up. The agency kept at it for five years and finally, in December, accomplished its mission.

Now that Akatsuki is orbiting Venus its cameras are transmitting a steady stream of images. One orbit cycle takes about thirteen and one-half Earth days. JAXA is tweaking its orbit path to eventually get its orbit cycle to nine Earth days. That will result in Akatsuki being closer to Venus which will improve the clarity of the images it sends back to JAXA.

Venus is a hot, volcanic planet that is about the same size as Earth. And, when I say hot, the gringa means hot enough to melt lead. Akatsuki will gather data on the weather and atmosphere of this steamy planet. Scientists are interested in the volcanoes.

JAXA operates all missions with the purpose to help create a safe society that can utilize space. The agency seeks to be a leader in technology and have technology used wisely for the benefit of society. The Japanese believe that as humans evolve, happiness should increase. JAXA is inspired to overcome the difficulties facing mankind. They intend to act responsibly to meet the expectations society has for the work the Agency performs. The slogan JAXA operates under is “Explore to Realize”.

JAXA desires to contribute to the well being of all people on Earth through their research and development. They believe this can be achieved by improving quality of life, providing safety and security, developing sustainable methods for living, and expanding the knowledge of all peoples.

JAXA was established in October of 2003. The following Spring the agency successfully performed its first series of flight tests for their Stratosphere Stationary Platform. Since their first successful test flights, JAXA has continued to perform successfully. Just a few of their many accomplishments throughout the years:

  • July, 2005, the agency launched “Suzaku”, an X-ray astronomy satellite.
  • July through August of 2005 Japanese Astronaut Souichi Noguchi joined the NASA Space Shuttle “Discovery” mission.
  • December, 2005, JAXA made history with the first EVER optical inter-satellite communication between Optical Inter-orbit Communications Engineering (OICETS) and the Advanced Relay and Technology Mission “ARTEMIS” of the European Space Agency (ESA)
  • 2006-2007, successfully launched eight different space vehicles
  • March, 2008, Astronaut Takao Doi served aboard NASA Space Shuttle “Endeavor” on mission to attach Experiment Logistics Module-Pressurized Section (ELM-PS) of JAXA’s Experiment Module “Kibo” to the International Space Station (ISS)
  • June, 2008, Astronaut Akihiko Hoshide served aboard NASA Space Shuttle “Discovery” on mission to attach Pressurized Module (PM) and Remote Manipulator System of JAXA’s Experiment Module “Kibo” to the ISS.
  • July, 2009, Astronaut Koichi Wakata attached Exposed Facility of JAXA’s Experiment Module “Kibo” to ISS. First Japanese Astronaut to complete a long-stay mission and returned home aboard NASA Space Shuttle “Endeavour”
  • December, 2009, Astronaut Souichi Noguchi served aboard Russian Soyuz spacecraft on mission to ISS, completed long-stay mission, returning to Earth June, 2010
  • June, 2011, Astronaut Satoshi Furukawa served aboard Russian Soyuz spacecraft on mission to ISS and returned to Earth November, 2011
  • July, 2012, Astronaut Akihiko Hoshide served aboard Russian Soyuz spacecraft on mission to ISS, returning to Earth November, 2012
  • November, 2013, Astronaut Wakata served aboard Russian Soyuz spacecraft on mission to ISS. March, 2014, Astronaut Wakata became first Asian commander of ISS. Returned to Earth May, 2014

JAXA has big plans for 2016. It expects to launch the Mercury Magnetosphere Orbiter (MMO) after it successfully completes a round of tests performed by the European Space Agency (ESA). It will launch from the Guiana Space Center in French Guiana.

It is also committed to being an active world partner in resolving the many issues humanity must resolve that are related to climate change. JAXA will use the ALOS-2 satellite to monitor and collect data related to deforestation. All data will be available to everyone worldwide through open access on the Internet.

JAXA aims to develop a tracking system for tropical forests. JAXA will be joined in its efforts by the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) and many private corporations. By constantly monitoring worldwide forest loss, the agency hopes that this initiative will lead to successful conservation solutions. A public access website should be up and running by March, 2017 and will be updated every six weeks with the latest findings.

Goals are to restrain illegal logging and conserve forests that are critical to help reduce the effects of climate change. During 2009-2012 Brazil was cooperating with monitoring efforts. Over 2,000 incidents were revealed and action was taken that helped reduce the destruction of forests by forty percent. It is clear that this effort and mission JAXA is undertaking is a significant contribution to the future security of humanity by helping to minimize the effects of climate change.

With agencies like JAXA looking out for the interests of people all over the world, the gringa is confident that this place we all call home has a future where there is great hope. The international cooperation of so many space agencies is an inspiration that we can become a global community where our differences are not obstacles, but, rather, strengths. Because the gringa thinks the world would be a very boring place if we were all alike.

Source & Photo Credit: www.global.jaxa.jp