Today’s Tidbits: October 28, 2017

Today’s Tidbits: October 28, 2017

Here are our tidbits for October 28, 2017:  Japan’s last astronaut?, GRACE ends gracefully, could Rendezvous with Rama come true? Be sure to check our website for feature stories and follow us on Twitter (@SpcPlcyOnline) for more news and live tweeting of events.

Will Norishige Kanai be Japan’s Last Astronaut?

The Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency’s (JAXA’s) next astronaut is getting ready to fly to the International Space Station (ISS). Norishige Kanai is one of three ISS crew members who will launch to the ISS on December 17, 2017 on Soyuz MS-07 and return to Earth in April 2018.

Japan’s NHK national public broadcasting organization did an interview with him, noting that Japan has no further plans to fly astronauts. Kanai is the 12th JAXA astronaut and NHK wonders if he will be the last.  JAXA is not training any more astronauts because the ISS is scheduled to end in 2024 and there are no firm plans for what will replace it. Kanai expresses hope that the situation will change and JAXA will select a new group of astronauts soon.  Click the link in the tweet to watch the interview (which is in English).

Grace Ends Gracefully

Illustration of the GRACE-1 and GRACE-2 satellites and their microwave link. Credit: NASA/JPL.

The NASA/DLR GRACE mission has ended science operations after 15 years. The twin Gravity Recovery and Climate Experiment (GRACE) satellites, GRACE-1 and GRACE-2, have been following each other in orbit around Earth since 2002.

Using a microwave ranging system, the change in distance between the two satellites could be measured “to within a fraction of the diameter of a human hair over 137 miles (220 kilometers).”  That enabled measurements of “minute changes in the gravitational pull caused by local changes in Earth’s mass, which are due mostly to changes in how water is constantly being redistributed around our planet.” Principal Investigator Byron Tapley at the University of Texas as Austin says the data has “provided paradigm-shifting insights into the interactions of our planet’s ocean, atmosphere and solid earth components.”  Learn more at: [].

GRACE-2 has run out of fuel and GRACE-1 will do so shortly.  A replacement mission, GRACE Follow-On (GRACE-FO), is scheduled for launch in late 2017 or early 2018.

A Visitor from Outside Our Solar System

Astronomers have spotted an unusual object — an interstellar visitor from outside our solar system. Rob Weyrk, an astronomer at the University of Hawai’i, discovered it in an image taken by the Pan-STARRS 1 telescope on the island of Maui.

It is designated A/2017 U1 and the university has some useful illustrations showing the object’s unusual trajectory, which tells Weyrk and others that this is not another comet or asteroid from our own solar system. [] The New York Times has a good story about this if you subscribe. []

It is zipping along at a very fast clip and will leave our solar system soon, so scientists are trying to gather as much data about it as possible.

The object poses no threat to Earth, but its existence is sparking memories of Arthur C. Clarke’s classic science fiction novel, Rendezvous with Rama. Rama was discovered in the same manner, but as the book progresses, it turns out not to be a rock ejected from another solar system, but …

The book is available from, and other sellers.

Keith Cowing at NASAWatch whimsically suggests that the International Astronautical Union (IAU) name it Rama in honor of Clarke’s book. The IAU is the entity that officially gives names or other designations to natural space objects.

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