Hope the Turkey was Good! The Comet and the Launch — Not So Much

Hope the Turkey was Good! The Comet and the Launch — Not So Much

Not that there isn’t a lot to be thankful for, and not that it wasn’t an interesting day, but the two big space events that were supposed to take place this Thanksgiving Day fizzled out:  Comet ISON and SpaceX’s first launch to a geostationary transfer orbit.

Scientists were hoping that Comet ISON would survive its close encounter with the Sun early this afternoon Eastern Standard Time (EST), but it soon became clear that if any part of it did, it wasn’t much.   NASA had several of its spacecraft trained on the Sun to keep track of ISON as it came within a million miles of the Sun’s surface, but for most of the critical time around 1:30 pm Eastern Standard Time (EST), nothing of the comet’s nucleus was visible.   After the time of the closest approach was well over and some scientists were calling it a day, something — they still are not sure what — was seen in an image from the NASA/ESA SOHO spacecraft that might possibly suggest that remnants might still be there.  Scientists are continuing to debate it as Thursday draws to a close EST.  Phil Plait, well known as the “Bad Astronomer” posted on his Slate site that “predicting comets is like predicting cats.  Good luck with that.” 

The second big event was SpaceX’s rescheduled launch of the SES-8 communications satellite, SpaceX’s first attempt to place a satellite into geostationary transfer orbit.  The countdown proceeded perfectly to a 5:39 pm EST launch, but an instant before T-0, the onboard computer aborted the launch.    The launch window was 65 minutes long and SpaceX recycled the count hoping it could diagnose and remedy the problem and still launch today.   It reset the clock to T-32 minutes and 7 seconds for a launch at 6:44 pm EST and resumed the count.  But with just 48 seconds to go, the company called it off.  SpaceX CTO Elon Musk tweeted (@elonmusk):  “We called manual abort.  Better to be paranoid than wrong. Bringing rocket down to borescope engines…”  That means it will be a few days before they try again.

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