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Posted on June 3rd, 2014

Out of this World – The Great Red Spot, Hubble and Asteroids

The Great Red Spot

For as long as I can remember, I have been both terrified and enamored with the Universe surrounding our planet. Space in all its vast, cold emptiness harbors the most beautiful and terrifying bodies. My earliest memory of space is learning about the planets in our solar system, and the Great Red Spot on Jupiter is the most memorable of these. Knowing that three Earths can fit inside this giant storm blew my mind as a child. I never fully recognized just how large the Universe was and how insignificant the Earth was by comparison.

After decades of observation, it looks as though the Great Red Spot is rapidly shrinking. The earliest measurements taken of the giant storm were in the late 1800s and it was calculated at approximately  25,500 miles across at its widest point. In 1979, it is was measured at 14,500 miles across; and now it’s down to 10,250 miles across. The storm appears to be reducing by approximately 580 square miles per year. While the reason is unknown, one hypothesis is that small eddies which are consumed by the storm are slowing its momentum. It’s amazing to think that an anti-cyclonic storm that can consume the entire Earth may dissipate in my lifetime.


The Hubble Space Telescope is entering its 25th year in space, and to celebrate, NASA put together a list of statistics. Since its mission began, Hubble has made over 1 million observations, surveyed 38,000 celestial bodies, imaged 100 terabytes of data and resulted in more than 11,000 scientific papers. Hubble has helped us understand and visualize our Universe in ways we couldn’t imagine previously. As Hubble performs its last mission, we look to the future with the James Webb Telescope and remember all the great accomplishments Hubble has made possible.


To continue our asteroid saga, NASA astronauts are now completing mock spacewalks in their Neutral Buoyancy Laboratory, which appears to be a very large swimming pool. Using mock ups of the Orion spacecraft and the robotic spacecraft that will be used to capture asteroids, two seasoned astronauts tested the techniques necessary to perform the planned experiments. One of which is collecting samples from the asteroid using a battery powered pneumatic hammer, because swinging a hammer in space just sounds like a bad idea.

Astronauts test a pneumatic hammer in the Neutral Buoyancy Laboratory.

They also tested a new version of a spacesuit that could be used when performing spacewalks on an asteroid. To save space on Orion, engineers are constructing a suit that will work for both spacewalks and for launches and re-entries. Modifications still have to be made on the new spacesuit in order to increase its mobility and handling.

Katie Nelson
Geospatial Ninja
(303) 718-7163

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