Sunday, September 23, 2007

Irelands Twenty First Whirlpool Star Party 2006 by Deirdre Kelleghan

Published in Reflector

On September 29th,30,th and October 1st this year the provincial town of Birr will buzz with people whose common interest is the wonder of the night sky and a collective deep appreciation of the historic setting of Birr castle and Irish astronomy.

The cosmic wonder that is the Whirlpool Galaxy in Canes Venactici was observed in the 1840’s under the dark skies of Birr Castle in the midlands of Ireland. The instrument used was known as the Great Leviathan of Parsonstown. This 72-inch reflector was at that time, the largest telescope of its kind in the world. The light gathering abilities of its giant mirror enabled the 3rd Earl of Rosse, William Parsons to view and draw the spiral nature of M51 in the spring of 1845.

First discovered in October 1773 by Charles Messier, it took the Great Leviathan to bring to the worlds notice its spiral structure. The Earl captured this through an accurate rendition of its nebulous nature, in a painting of the Whirlpool which is much admired today. The Galaxy is also known as Rosse’s Nebula or Lord Rosse’s Question Mark. William Parsons is credited with assigning the name Whirlpool to this spiral Galaxy.

William Parsons, drawings of M51 in 1845 closely resemble some modern photographs. I like to think of the light from M51, thirty seven million light years away and sixty five thousand light years across, traveling down the wooden telescope tube in April 1845 to the eye of the beholder William Parsons and onto his page, a frozen moment in time. One has to ponder what William would say if he could view the Hubble images of this beautiful structure today.

William’s earlier drawings in 1844 using his 36 inch reflector of M1 did look a bit crab like and the name is now synonymous with this Messier object.

Birr Castle has been a home and a working place to many distinguished astronomers over the years. Some of the most interesting work I think was done by Otto Boeddicker who spent a lot of time observing and drawing the Milky Way from the grounds of the castle. His drawings are outstanding and if you take the time to really look at them and indeed to invert them in Photoshop you will be in awe of the detail and the quality of the skies Heir Boeddicker recorded with the assiduity of his eyes and his dexterity of his hand, a testament to the light pollution free and dark skies of nineteenth century Ireland.

The quality of the telescope and the appetite of for discovery and science placed Birr and Ireland at the center of the astronomical world. Every year for the past twenty years the world is reminded of Ireland's past and present involvement in the pursuit of celestial delights. Shannonside Astronomy Club has hosted the now world famous Whirlpool Star Party for the last two decades and in 2006 the twenty first occasion of this prestigious event is well on in the planning stages.

Over the years the Whirlpool has been a magnet for such luminaries as the John Dobson, David Levy, and Kelly Beatty to name but a few.

The twenty first Whirlpool Star Party, has its share of illustrious speakers lining up to make it one of the most interesting gathering of astronomers ever to grace its platform.

Special guests this year include the eminent American astronomer Jane Houston Jones, Senior Outreach Specialist for the Cassini Program at JPL. Morris Jones one of California’s most respected astronomers will also intrigue the attendees with his considerable knowledge and experience.

The Cassini mission to Saturn and the Saturnian system is one of the most visually breathtaking and scientifically rich space exploration missions of our time. The Saturn Observation Campaign is unique as it splices interest in robotic space exploration with amateur astronomy. This Cassini outreach program endeavors to educate at many levels in an eclectic manner to a global audience.

Jane and Morris have many awards for their astronomical achievements, including having a minor planet named in their honor (22338) Janemojo 1992 LE. This was for their work in bringing the wonder of the night sky to the public with their prolific outreach sidewalk astronomy sessions.

NASA research pilot Triple Nickel will tell Whirlpool attendees about his work training astronauts for weightlessness through stomach churning parabolic flight. Triple also helps shuttle pilots to feel like they have landed the Space Shuttle hundreds of times without even blasting off. He uses the Johnson Space Center Shuttle Training Aircraft (STA) to accomplish this simulated experience which prepares the pilots for the real life achievement on their return from space.

The Great Leviathan is under repair and maintenance and it is hoped that it will rise to the occasion and thrill astronomers from around the world who will attend the twenty first Whirlpool Star party and who will enjoy the experience of observing in Birr Castle.

Just a little view of the presentations to come at Whirlpool 2006 in Ireland, more speaker confirmations and details will be available shortly

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Apollo 11 Moon Landing Memories

July 20 1969, I was just 12 years old. I lived in a regular suburban house with regular suburban parents, I was the eldest of five at the time, and as with most families then we had to be in bed at 8pm on weeknights, maybe 9.30pm at weekend’s school holidays or not that was the way it was. I was really interested in the Moon landing and really wanted to see it Telefis Eireann were going to cover the story with a special programme. I must have pestered them just the right way and at just the right time, and I was allowed much to my surprise to stay up and see how the story unfolded. Pic - My airfix model of The Eagle Lander.

Telefis Eireann didn’t start broadcasting until 6pm in those days and the Moon coverage programme started at 9pm and was presented by Kevin O’Kelly. We had a small black and white TV with a rabbit ear aerial, it had lots of dots on the screen and problems with the vertical and horizontal hold, as TV’s of that era often suffered with this affliction, unpredictably and always inappropriately. Televisions from 1969 had the original rolling news way before Sky! ‘Hitting the box’ as it was referred to, was the required cure when twiddling the dials at the back did not fix the problem. Late into the night only my Dad and I were still watching fine-tuning and adjusting the TV to get the best picture. There were lots of previews and progress reports, and chat about what was going to happen. I had never been up so late in my life, but this was the biggest moment in the history of space exploration up to then and I was going to see it live from the surface of the Moon. I remember a lot of beeps and tech talk from Houston (Houston Texas was the mission control center for the Apollo mission) to the Command Module and from Houston to the Lunar Lander, and the tiny triangular window which was the view from the Eagle as it came in to land on the surface of the Moon.

Apollo 11Transcript

EAGLE: 540 Feet, down at 30 feet per second …down at 15 … 400 feet down a 9…forward…350 feet down a 4… 300 feet, down 3½ … 47 forward… 1½ down…13 foreword…11 forward coming down nicely…200 feet, 4½ down…5½ down…5 percent…75feet …6 forward …lights on…down 2½…kicking some dust… 30 feet, 2½ faint shadow…4 forward… 4 forward… drifting to right a little …OK…

HOUSTON: 30 Seconds fuel remaining

EAGLE: Contact light! OK, engine stop…descent engine command override off…

HOUSTON: We copy you down, Eagle

EAGLE: Houston, Tranquility Base here. The Eagle has landed!

Touchdown 9 18 pm A Caption on the TV screen saying “man on the Moon”, overlaid onto live shots of Houston control room.

There was continuous coverage in preparation for the Moonwalk, which was originally scheduled for 2.00am but delayed. Pictures of mission control, the sound of Houston - Apollo conversations and then the first TV pictures from the lunar surface just few minutes before the Moonwalk. I remember the endless hours waiting for the hatch to open, Kevin O’Kelly had to do a lot of talking, and a lot of speculation about what was going on and just what the two astronauts Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin were doing inside the lunar landing module.

Many people all over Ireland waited and waited to see this monumental moment and at last at 3.56am Neil Armstrong came down the ladder and said those words “One small step for man one giant leap for mankind” it was a chokingly emotional thing to see live on TV a man standing on the surface of the Moon 250,000 miles from Earth the first man ever to be on another world. At 4.16 am Armstrong was joined on the lunar surface by Buzz Aldrin. I remember how they bounced around in the Moons weaker gravity and I remember the American flag being placed on the lunar surface. Collins orbited the Moon in the Command Module waiting for Armstrong and Aldrin to blast off when their incredible visit was over and re -dock for the journey home. I had to get some sleep and my dad had to go to work the next day, as it was Monday so we went to bed even though it was amazing television. Next morning Telefis Eireann had a special broadcast at 6.26am to cover the lift off from the Moon, I don’t remember seeing that live, I think I saw it on the news later in the evening.

For many days after the Moonwalk was repeated on TV. It really was an incredible achievement and the astronauts were so courageous because if something went wrong with the Lunar Module there was no way back to Earth for them and Michael Collins would have had a crushingly lonely trip home if he could have done it by himself.

The Apollo 11 crew left among other things a 9 by 7 inch stainless steel plaque on the Moon, to commemorate the landing and provide basic information of the visit to any other beings that may eventually see it. The plaque reads:

Here men from the Planet Earth first set foot upon the Moon, July 1969, A.D.

We came in peace for all mankind.

The plaque depicts the two sides of planet Earth, and is signed by the three astronauts, Armstrong, Aldrin and Collins as well as US President Richard Nixon.

On the return journey to earth I recall the splash down and recovery. A large aircraft carrier in the Pacific Ocean, a partly clouded sky and the world’s press, everyone waiting for to see the parachute bringing the Apollo crew back to Earth. I recall the crew displayed in an oblong chamber with big windows and people looking in at them. The reason for the chamber was the paranoia about Moon bugs or Moon viruses that might have contaminated the astronauts, all of them even though Collins did not set foot on the surface. So they endured this quarantine and later on August 13 they had a ticker tape parade in New York, which I saw, on the news. This was to honor these brave men who had been on an extraordinary journey and had survived.

Back in February 1969 when I was 11years old, I had bought National Geographic Magazine it came with supplement map of the Moon showing the proposed landing sites for the Apollo missions. It says in the bottom left hand corner of the map about the proposed Apollo 11 mission for July 1969


Interestingly enough, while the Moon has not as yet become a launch pad to the universe, July 20 1969 is linked directly to my life today. My interest in space exploration has led me to write several articles on the subject and these have been published in amateur astronomy magazines.

In November 2004 I had the pleasure of attending the National Concert Hall to see Buzz Aldrin Face to Face with Gay Byrne an amazing interview with the second man on the moon. Colonel Aldrin is an extremely interesting man and he held the packed hall for over two hours with his recollections of his life and his historic visit to the moon. I was proud to join in the standing ovation at the end of this prestigious event.

I am also a member of the Saturn Observation Campaign the purpose of which is to bring awareness of Saturn and of the Cassini Huygens to people in general and I have had some success with this also. Image below , showing Ring World in Greystones .

The senior outreach specialist for the Cassini Huygens mission Jane H Jones has provided me with posters, collector cards, tattoos, bookmarks etc to give away to school children and in December 2004, I screened the wonderful DVD Ring World for 340 pupils and teachers over two days in a national school in Greystones. This was a big success and I provided as many classes as possible with promotional material. I also made my own models of Saturn and Titan and gave some classes a talk on the mission. Since then I have been back in this school showing some pupils the sites and sounds of Titan as provided by Cassini, the sounds really interested them and I had to play them more than once. These national school children have a real interest in space but have little or no knowledge of what is going on in the world of space exploration so its very rewarding to bring this information to their attention.


The Apollo 11 Moon landing in July 1969 had a profound effect on my life. It gave me an interest in astronomy and space that has stayed with me ever since.

Ring World in Greystones Dec 2004

I got a Tasco telescope for Christmas that year and in the spring I bought an Airfix Apollo 11 Eagle Lunar Lander Model, which I still have today. The National Geographic Map is in my study and is packed with Moon information, and is along with the Lunar Module some of my favorite things. I remember also queuing up with hundreds of people at the American Embassy in Ballsbridge to see the Moon rock when it came to Dublin. It was displayed in a large perspex or glass bubble held in a giant claw mounted like a precious diamond! I filed past the Moon rock in awe of this alien vision. I will never forget the Apollo 11 Moon landing as long as I live and I would hope to see people landing on Mars or on another world sometime in the future of my life.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007


Deirdre Kelleghan September / October 2004 Arcturus

“ Man must rise above the Earth – to the top of the atmosphere and beyond – for only then will he fully understand the world in which he lives”

Socrates, 469 – 399 BC

NASA has a series of ‘Discovery’ probes, they are unmanned and designed to explore our solar system. Genesis, built at a cost of 200 million dollars, is one of these probes.

Inexpensive by NASA standards, the mission of Genesis is to capture retrieve and bring back particles of the solar wind to help explain the origins of our solar system. The solar wind is made up of parts of the solar corona rushing into interplanetary space at supersonic speed.

The Genesis Space Probe

Images Courtesy NASA/JPL- Caltech

The solar wind, blown continuously by the sun passes the Earth at an average speed of 400 kilometers per second and eventually blends with the interstellar medium

beyond the edge of the Solar System.

During its passage it sweeps up evaporated gases from Planets and Comets along with fine particles of meteoritic dust and even cosmic rays of galactic origin. The influence of the solar wind is felt throughout interplanetary space and it provokes in the Earths atmosphere

Polar Aurora and magnetic storms.

In November 2003, when I visited Iceland I witnessed this wonderful phenomenon. The experience of seeing the Aurora Borealis certainly brought home to me the magical movement of colors and the twisting display produced by the interaction of the solar wind and the Earth’s magnetic field. It’s amazing to think that the Genesis Mission will capture pure untainted particles of the solar wind.

The space probe Genesis was launched on August 8 2001 from the Kennedy Space Center, Cape Canaveral, Florida on a Delta 7341 rocket. It left Earth’s atmosphere and traveled out to a point

where gravity from the Earth and Sun are precisely balanced. This point is called the ‘L1 Lagrange Point’ and is clear of the Earth’s magnetosphere. In November 2001 Genesis went into orbit around the L1 point, and not around any object.

The solar wind streams off the Sun in all directions at speeds of 400 km/s (almost 1 million miles per hour). The source of the solar wind is the Sun's hot Corona. The Corona’s temperature

being so high that the

Sun's gravity cannot hold on to it.

The solar wind generated by our nearest star is quite different from the Earth’s surface.

Wind on Earth is created by differences in atmospheric pressures. This ‘wind’ carries about one million tons of hot

Plasma away from the Sun every second – this plasma consists of electrically charged particles with temperatures reaching 100,000 Kelvin’s

While in orbit, the Genesis space probe was bathed by the solar wind that is hurled out from the Sun. These solar wind particles are similar to material from which the planets are formed and include atoms, ions, and high-energy particles.

Once it was in position, the Genesis space probe uncovered its collectors. Particles of solar wind were embedded in the collector arrays, wafer’s made of ultra-pure silicon gold, sapphire and diamond in purest form. The samples of solar wind will be inside a capsule designed to re-enter the Earth’s atmosphere safely. After 884 days collecting solar samples the Sample Return Capsule is re-stowed. The space probe then sets out to return to Earth, just a few hours before re-entry the Sample Return Capsule will be separated from the space probe. This is where the mission takes on a Hollywood movie scenario.

On September 8th 2004, an exciting mid-air recovery of the Sample Return Capsule will take place over the Utah desert. It has a specially designed heat shield to protect it from the 2000oC heat generated during re-entry. Once it has done this, a special parachute will open to slow down the capsule and allow it to slowly glide towards the surface of the Earth. To protect this extra special cargo of sun particles a specially trained crew of military pilots assisted by Hollywood stunt aviators (from the movie industry) will catch the capsule with a specially designed hook. Mission designers do not want the samples to be damaged by a landing on hard ground. This will be achieved when the capsule reaches a sufficiently low altitude - a helicopter will snag the parachute lines before it reaches the ground. The solar wind samples will be stored and cataloged under ultra-pure cleanroom conditions and made available to the world’s scientific community for study. They will be the first samples from space since the Apollo 17 mission when it returned with moon rock in December 1972.

The Genesis space probe itself will head into orbit around the Sun to further investigate this phenomenal star.

The sample particles of the solar wind that Genesis brings back will help scientists to understand the composition of the Sun and the origins of our Solar system.

Cosmic Lobster Pot

By Deirdre Kelleghan Published Realta March/April 2006

“There are infinite worlds both like and unlike this world of ours.

For the atoms being infinite in number, as was already proved, are borne on, far out into space. For those atoms which are of such nature that a world could be created by them, or made by them, have not been used up either on one world, or a limited number of worlds… So that there nowhere exists, an obstacle to the infinite number of worlds”

Epicurus 4 Century BC

I always visualise Cassini’s journey through the Saturnian system as a kind of orchestrated cosmic dance.Cassini moves silently at great speed in its petal shaped overlapping orbit. This precisely executed dance brings Cassini frequently through the icy ring plane north to south and then back again on the opposite side of the planet, south to north. This robot ship continues on its unparalleled odyssey of exploration. Onboard, Cassini is the custodian of twelve science instruments all primed to seek, gather, and process the offerings of this unique planetary system. Collectively they are performing one of the most important scientific probing’s of Saturn and its many moons in the history of space exploration.

One of these science instruments is the Cosmic Dust Analyser. The CDA looks a bit like a golden lobster pot, and that is not such a bad analogy. This apparatus is trawling the interplanetary ocean for particles of cosmic dust, micro particles that are the messengers of the origins of life.

Cosmic dust what is it; Cosmic dust are clouds or particles of dust and gases occurring throughout interplanetary ,and interstellar space this is a physical material that occurs in our solar system and in our universe. Interplanetary cosmic dust is only temporarily about as it is dissipated from its sources and swept out of the interplanetary sea, to interstellar space. Interstellar cosmic dust particles, the ejecta of dying stars, thrown out and mixed with interstellar gases and other gathered elements in space, recycle and create new stars and new beginnings of possible life. Interstellar dust and gas the building blocks of stars, planets and all life forms. This is I think a kind of the circular system that demonstrates one of the basic laws of the conservation of matter “In any physical or chemical change, matter is neither created nor destroyed but merely changed from one form to another”

The Cosmic Dust Analyser is a passive instrument, it does not send out anything to detect what it is designed for. It simply waits at its station onboard Cassini and its quarry comes to it.

The CDA instrument when it is struck by one or some of these cosmic particles, not only analyses its composition but amazingly enough it has to ability to determine its orbit, its trajectory i.e. where it has originated from, and therefore its source i.e. the particle or particles may be from a place outside the Saturnian system. Particles possibly from the Jovian system of from comets or meteoroids may stray into the trawling instrument. The CDA may at first seem to be a very straight forward instrument but it has a dizzying array of electronic and chemical sensors.

The Cassini orbiter has been cruising in the Saturnian environment for over one year now and has travelled billions of miles since it left Earth in October 1997. Cassini glides through space at an average speed of 12,000 miles per hour According to the Cassini website Giovanni Cassini (the gentleman that the Cassini spacecraft is named after) in the 17th century would have gazed at cosmic dust in his telescope, probably looking at the wonderful Sagittarius or some of the larger nebulous objects like M42 or even Andromeda M31. Giovanni Cassini was also the first person to explain the zodiacal light phenomenon, demonstrating that it is of cosmic origin.

Giovanni - Dominique Cassini was born in Perinaldo Italy, on June 8, 1625. He became the head of the Observatoire de Paris in 1671; it was in this wonderful city he is credited with the discovery of the Saturnian moons Iapetus in 1671, Rhea in 1672, and Tethys and Dione in 1684. Imagine being able to do such observing with what would have been a comparatively small telescope. Imagine four hundred years later a space craft is in orbit in the Saturnian system sending back some of the greatest photographic images of all time. Cassini the ingenious robot bringing us the discoveries of Cassini the genius man.

Giovanni Cassini’s greatest gift to science was probably the discovery of the gap in Saturn’s rings, which now carries his name,’ The Cassini Division’. So the Cosmic Dust Analyser onboard the Cassini orbiter, is carrying on a science investigation that has its origins through his eyes, in the 17th century, and now in the 21st century through Cassini’s science packages.

The CDA is a cylindrical golden vessel, within the chamber lie two separate impact analyzers, a large one the High Rate Detector Target (HRD) and a smaller one the Chemical Analyser Target (CAT). Particles of matter traveling through space enter the Cosmic Dust Analyzer at random. The detection of particle impacts is achieved in two ways; one is through a High Rate Detection system, used for the high impact rates hitting the CDA during the ring plane crossings. This is for cosmic dust particles with a known speed. The High Rate Detector is primarily for carrying out measurements of particles in Saturn’s ring system.

The CAT system is for measuring the electrically charged dust particles, their speed, mass, chemical composition and even impact direction. A particle may impact on the big gold target (HRD) or the smaller (CAT) plate. These impacts cause the particles to vaporise and send there ions and atoms upward to be amplified by a multiplier device and analyzed and processed into data that tells the story of the particles in detail for Cassini’s scientists here on Earth. The Cosmic Dust Analyzer is reliably designed to measure impacts from a frequency as low as 1 impact per month to up to 10 4 impacts per second.

The CDA also has an articulation mechanism that enables it to move in accordance with the space crafts direction. It is an essential function, and has been shown to be most effective when Cassini swooped within one hundred and nine miles of the icy moon Enceladus in July 2005; CDA is profiled as “think, touch or taste” as it is a direct sensing instrument. The articulation mechanism at the base of the CDA enables it to achieve a 0 –270-degree sweep of its environment; it is attached to the obiter just below the High Gain Antenna.

The CDA needs very little power that in itself is a great quality for a science instrument operating in space. The CDA is producing output information that is invaluable to the understanding of the Saturnian system and that information combined with the other instruments is vital to the purpose of the mission. The CDA was a main player in the evidence for the venting of water ice vapour and particles discovered emanating from the south pole of Enceladus, in that close fly by of July 2005.

One of the objectives of the CDA instrument is to map the size and distribution of Saturnian ring material and to search for particles outside the extensive E ring. The quest is to analyze the chemical composition of ring particles and to determine dust and meteoroid particle distribution in the rings and in interplanetary space. These tasks are just a sample of the work set for the CDA. Because it has the ability to workout the direction a particle may have arrived from, it can therefore tell whether a particle is cometary or astroidial in origin.

The smaller inner chemical analyzer target plate is made of Rhodium; this element is the rarest of all non- radioactive metals on Earth. Rhodium is a rare lustrous silvery hard metal, a member of the platinum group and its properties include a low electrical resistance and a high resistance to corrosion.

The larger HRD is plated in Gold a soft metal which is chemically unreactive. Gold is one of the few elements to occur in a natural state. Gold is unaffected by air, water, all acids and alkalis. It is a good conductor of heat and electricity. Gold is a good reflector of infra red radiation and as it’s inert it makes an excellent coating for space satellites and instruments.

An electrically charged particle flying through the entrance grids at the front of the Dust Analyzer will induce a charged signal on the grids. The charge induced is directly proportional to the charge of the particle. This allows direct determination of its electric profile .The design of the plates leaves the signal shape created by the particle to be symmetrical allowing ease of measurement of the particle direction.

The CAT measures the electric charge carried by the dust particles, and also the impact direction, impact speed, mass and chemical composition.

In the case of the CAT plate, the dust particles’ hitting it generates ejecta made up of atoms and ions. The curved shape of the target plate at the bottom of the CAT focuses the ejecta toward the multiplier which amplifies the signal and it is within this action the information about the elemental components of the micrometeoroids is extracted and stored. The chemical analyzer has a special instrument controlled heater to decontaminate the analyzer target by heating it to 90 degrees. Thereby purifying it for its next tiny subject.

The sensor plate for the HRD is different from the CAT. It deals with High Velocity dust particles which create a large fast pulse, which is in turn also proportional to the impact particles mass and speed. The HRD is an independent instrument with its own memory and processor. Data from both detector plates is sent to Earth through the Deep Space Network and is gladly received and analyzed by awaiting scientists. It should be interesting to compare the cosmic dust analysis from the Saturnian system with those samples returned by Stardust from Comet Wild 2, which consists of cometary and interstellar dust particles. A fantastic task achieved recently bringing us closer to an understanding of our solar system and the cosmos, and the correlation of cometary dust, its origins and the solar bodies that we know.

The Chemical Analyzer Target is a development of the University of Kent in the United Kingdom. The High Rate Detector is a development of the University of Chicago. The Cosmic Dust Analyzer is cruising through space over one billion miles from planet Earth.

Just like the pixels in a photograph the tiny micro particles of cosmic dust will come together and play a part in revealing an image of the soup, the mix,the ingredients of the Universe. The Cosmic Dust Analyser continues to gather vital data on the rich tapestry of interplanetary space. It will weave a fine, complex but fascinating image of the Saturnian system at micro almost nano level.



By Deirdre Kelleghan Published Irelands Own December 2005

Artist’s conception shows Cassini –Huygens releasing the Huygens probe to Titan Image courtesy of NASA/JPL


Cassini –Huygens is a spacecraft on a mission to explore the planet Saturn and the many moons of this giant world. Titan is Saturn’s largest moon and is particularly targeted for study. This spacecraft blasted off from Cape Canaveral Florida in October 1997 over seven years ago. To put the year in context that was the year that princess Diana died, Gianni Versace was killed, comet Hall- Bop was visible in our sky’s and the movie Titanic was on our screens. Traveling every day since then at an average speed of 54,000 miles per hour this surely is an epic journey.


Cassini –Huygens is a robotic ship controlled from Earth on its journey of 3.5 billion miles, In July of this year Cassini went into orbit around Saturn and began its scientific study of this beautiful planet unique for its magnificent rings, its mysterious magnetosphere and its many moons (33 to date). This spaceship in made up of the Cassini main ship which carries on board the smaller Huygens probe. This mission is really science fiction becoming fact- Cassini is the largest spacecraft ever launched form earth, it is the size of a school bus and weighs 12,288lb, and is two stories tall, the Huygens probe is 8.86feet in diameter and weighs 766lb. Studying Saturn and its rings and moons may give us many clues to the origin of our solar system. A detailed examination will help us find out about the material from which Saturn is formed and evolved. The planet’s atmosphere is very interesting, with winds among the fastest in our solar system. Titan, Saturn’s largest moon holds unique mysteries, what is the surface made off? Information from the Hubble Space Telescope suggests there may be continents as well as oceans and lakes of liquid ethane on Titan. What kind of a place is this with chemical reactions in the atmosphere creating a variety of organic molecules that clump together and rain slowly down to the alien surface below? Cassini and its Huygens probe will try to answer these and many other questions about the Saturnian system.


On Christmas day Cassini will release Huygens and the probe will start its 21-day decent to the surface of Titan. A day worth waiting for is January 14 2005 as this is the day the Huygens probe will parachute to the surface of Titan after its seven year journey to seek out new information and along with Cassini dramatically increase our knowledge of the solar system. The Huygens probe will gather information about Titans atmosphere, take many photographs and do other scientific wizardry, reporting back to Cassini all of these treats of information to the eagerly waiting scientists and news media here on earth. Cassini will tour the Saturnian system for four more years after that and I am sure will go down in history as one of NASA’s greatest achievements. You can follow this exciting mission on the Cassini Huygens website.

The Christmas day release of the Huygens probe will be counted down on the website’s clock, days minutes and seconds to separation and then days minutes and seconds to one of the greatest achievements in the history of the exploration of our solar system touch down on Titan. You can become closely connected to this mission and the Saturn story by becoming a member of The Saturn Observation Campaign. This a project that gives amateur astronomers educators and enthusiasts of all abilities an opportunity to study the wonders of the beautiful planet Saturn. The Campaign encourages people to access a wide bank of knowledge about the planet Saturn and to share this information with others in their community. This project is also very much linked with the Cassini-Huygens Mission to Saturn and Titan.

The Saturn Observation Campaign is directed by NASA and JPL (JPL are the Jet Propulsion Laboratory Californian Institute of Technology, these are the people who manage the Cassini - Huygens Mission). The SOC website gives an abundance of information about Saturn and the mission; these websites are an educators paradise and an enthusiasts dream. The SOC is targeted to bring Saturn and Cassini into the lives of people of all ages who are unaware of this jewel of a planet and the extraordinary efforts going on to understand it and further our knowledge of our solar system. To become a member of SOC you can fill out the application form on line or e-mail Jane Houston Jones at Jane is the senior outreach specialist with the Cassini -Huygens Programme for NASA / JPL.and is a leading amateur astronomer in the United States of America.


The total mission effort expended will exceed 20,000 work-years, or roughly 2/3 what it took to build the Great Pyramid at Giza. Nearly 5,000 people have worked on Cassini at one time or another. The spacecraft is the size and weight of an empty 30-passenger school bus. It contains 12km/s of wire and 58 computers. The gravity-assist gains of 22 km/s for cruise and 35km/s for the Saturn tour would not be possible using normal rocket engines without consuming millions of kilograms of fuel. The swingbys of Venus and Earth alone save the equivalent of 75 tonnes of fuel. Cassini is designed to withstand the heat or 2.7 Suns. Cassini will travel 3.5 billion kilometres to reach Saturn and another 2.4 billion kilometres during its 4-year tour. The spacecraft reached a maximum planet relative speed of 1112.700 km/h just before it fired its main rocket engine to brake into orbit about Saturn .The narrow angle camera can read a newspaper headline at a distance of nearly 1.6 kilometres. The spacecraft is so steady when pointing its instruments that its rate of movement is 100 times less than a clock’s hour hand. Over two trillion bits of data will be returned, equivalent to 2,400 sets of the Encyclopaedia Britannica. All of this information is received by large radio telescopes that must capture a signal whose power level is only 20 billionths of a billionth of one watt. Each of the three 70 meter Deep Space Network antennas used is as large as a football field. The signal typically takes at least an hour to reach the Earth from Saturn. The spacecraft will be carrying a small DVD containing 616,400 signatures from 81 different countries, including the signatures of Jean-Dominique Cassini and Christiaan Huygens the 17th century astronomers. Their signatures were scanned in from ancient manuscripts and are very appropriately included on the disc. If Saturn’s rings were around the earth they would stretch almost to the moon, as they are 200.000 miles in diameter.



ber /December 2004 in Orbit

In November 2001, I registered with

NASA to take part in the ‘SEND YOUR NAME TO MARS’ project. When the Mars Exploration Rover

2003 mission finally landed its two space probes on the surface of Mars, I knew then that my name and the names of 4 million other

people from around the world had also landed on the red planet. I have been following the progress of the mission since and I came across

another interactive project connected with the Mars mission. The venture is called ‘Rock Around the World’ and it calls on interested people to take part in a symbiotic and simultaneous experiment involving the analysis of rocks on Mars and on Earth.

This is an invitation from NASA to take part in a geological experiment where you literally send your rock to Arizona for NASA to analysis. You may think what is so special about that? well the equipment used to drill and analyse your rock is the same equipment used on Mars in the Mars Exploration Rover 2003 Mission.

I posted my rock to Arizona
in February 2004 and only recently I checked the Rock Around the World web site and got a nice surprise to discover my rock displayed on screen. A map of the World is presented on the page peppered with red dots; e

ach of the dots represents a rock received. On the map of Ireland there was only one red dot that day, I clicked on it and there was my rock from Ireland the spectra analysis was not completed as yet. The Rock Around the World project drills and analysis rocks from all over the World with the same newly developed drills (Rat’s) that are carried on board the Mars Rover

Explorers Spirit and Opportunity. In order to look at the interior of rocks, a field geologist on Earth uses a rock hammer. On the Mars Rovers, the job of a rock hammer is done by the RAT — the Rock Abrasion Tool. The RAT is positioned against a rock by the rover's instrument arm,

and uses a grinding wheel to remove dust and we

athered rock, exposing fresh rock underneath. The

RAT exposes an area nearly 5 cm (2 inches) in diameter, and grinds down to a depth of about 5 mm (0.2 inches).

The rock particles are then brought inside the Rover and analysis by the Mössbauer Spectrometer. The Mössbauer Spectrometer sensor head is small enough to fit in the palm of your hand. It is one of four instruments mounted on the turret at the end of the rover arm. Its electronics are housed inside the body of the Rover (in the Warm Electronics Box, or WEB). Measurements are taken by placing the instrument's sensor head directly against a rock or soil sample. One Mössbauer measurement takes about 12 hours.

The Rock around the World project gives the scientists the ability
to compare rock profiles on Mars with rock profiles on Earth. It tests these instruments capability and endurance. It develops a worldwide profile of rock samples. A database of interested people to perhaps get involved in future experiments this is a real time working study of these special drills (Rat’s) and the analysis of the data produced. The study would also help anticipate and problems that might occur with the drilling and the analysis of material focused on by Spirit and Opportunity as they go about their mission on the surface of Mars.

The Mars Rover Exploration Mission has been a resounding success and so far the rovers Spirit and Opportunity have surpassed their anticipated lifespan and are still being directed to different locations in the Gustav and
Meridiani area’s on Mars. The rovers have completed their primary requirements and are continuing their work on the red planet.

The rovers were designed to discover evidence of liquid water in Mar’s past, and they did so in dramatic fashion. Both rovers have had their missions officially extended by NASA to at least September, and will continue for as long as possible after that. People taking part in the Rock Around the World project will get:

§ A certificate of participation from NASA

§ Your rock will be

analyzed by space technology

§ An analysis of your rock

§ Your rock will be presented on the Rock Around the World website

§ Your rock will be placed in a museum of special rocks for study

§ The fun of taking part no matter what age you are

To take part in the Rock pr

oject you must send a rock to Arizona and fulfill certain requirements (Detailed below)

Minimum requirements

Optional requirements

A rock – Minimu

m 2/ Maximum 6”

(I sent a 2”X 4” rock)

Latitude /Longitude of location where rock was found

This can be achieved precisely by logging on to


Name of geographic feature where rock was collected


Copy of map with location

Marked where rock was collected

Full Address

Photo of rock beside ruler for scale

Clean rock

Photo of location where rock was collected

I wrapped my rock in bubble

wrap and then in a jiffy bag. It cost € 10 to se

nd it.

Short paragraph describing area

where rock was found

Send your rock to:

Dr Phil Christensen

Mars Space Flight Facil


Arizona State University

PO Box 876305

Temple, AZ 85287 – 6305



This is the photograph of my rock as it appears on the website and beside it one of the analyses, this rock is mostly quartz but interestingly has a reading of 6%Opal and is a common rock in the Bray area. My rock also had a general analysis and a metamorphic analysis available on the website my rock number is RAT W00520. Spirit and Opportunity have now spent over one year on the surface of Mars, the anniversary was on January 3rd 2005 and both rovers have worked so well for over 380 Sol (a sol is a day on Mars).Both rovers have been covered in a thin layer of Martian dust but are still moving around well and still drilling rocks and sending back extraordinary photographs of the Martian surface. Check out the gallery which is updated regularly

The next major step in Mars Exploration is taking shape with preparation of NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter for launch in just seven months. This spacecraft is scheduled for launch on August 10th 2005 and will in less than two years from now, will begin a series of global mapping, regional survey and targeted observations from a near-polar, low-altitude Mars orbit. These observations will be unprecedented in terms of the spatial resolution and coverage achieved by the orbiter's instruments as they observe the atmosphere and surface of Mars while probing its shallow subsurface as part of a "follow the water" strategy.

Image of the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter being fitted with science instrumentsBelow the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter in preparation.

This extraordinary picture of a meteorite

found by Opportunity on the surface of

Mars the first time a meteorite of any kind

has been found on another Planet!