National Geographic

Category archives for Breaking Orbit

A Grand Tour of the Universe

Armchair astronomers take note: This space atlas is for you. Yes, that kind of atlas—a series of maps and charts that evokes the ability to navigate a place, usually by ship or some sort of vehicle. The maps are remarkably detailed—Mercury’s surface incorporates the latest data from the orbiting Messenger spacecraft and the crater names might surprise you (Mark Twain, Botticelli, Dali, Shakespeare). On Venus nearly every feature is named after goddesses or famous women.

NASA’s New Station-Spotting Service

If you have ever thought it would be cool to watch the International Space Station in the sky, NASA is making it a lot easier to do just that. A new website sends alerts to skywatchers wanting to catch the space outpost flying over their backyard.

Space Shuttle Atlantis Rolls to Retirement

Kennedy Space Center said goodbye to their final departing space shuttle orbiter on Friday, though Atlantis only had to travel 9.8 miles (15.8 km) to her new home just off-site in the process. “It’s bittersweet seeing her go,” said one NASA employee, “but at least she’ll be nearby.” The same can’t be said for the…

Amazing New Time-Lapse: Shuttle Endeavour’s Complete LA Journey

This stunning new time-lapse video of the space shuttle Endeavour’s shuffle through the streets of Los Angeles is quite simply, the best.

Space Shuttle Endeavour Inspires Los Angeles

According to some, people in Los Angeles are hard to impress. But bring a real spaceship to town and tow it through the streets? That’ll do it.

Dragon Spits Shooting Stars

This long weekend skywatchers get to see the annual peak of the Draconid meteor shower. While not the most prolific cosmic fireworks show it reliably puts on a nice display and this year with the moon out of the way – sky conditions are set to be ideal. Like other meteor showers the Draconids get…

How to Drive a Mars Rover

From 120 million miles away, a team at “drivers” must tell the Mars rover Curiosity where to go as it approaches a steep, rocky slope. They work their computer screens with an arcade-like intensity—you almost expect them to reach for the joystick. But that’s not how you drive on Mars. It’s much more complicated than that, and the stakes could hardly be higher.

Discovering the World’s Astronomical Heritage

What places best describe humankind’s fascination with the universe? Try Navajo star ceilings, the Temple of Isis in Egypt, or Stonehenge. Maybe it’s Qing Dynasty instruments at the Beijing Ancient Observatory or mountaintop telescopes in Chile. These places are now recognized as astronomical heritage sites as part of a joint initiative of UNESCO and the International Astronomical Union.

Inside the Space Shuttle Carrier Aircraft

This week, when the space shuttle Endeavour flies from Kennedy Space Center to Los Angeles and its new home at the California Science Center, it also means the retirement of the Boeing 747 Shuttle Carrier Aircraft (SCA) that has been responsible for transporting all the space shuttles for over 35 years.

Neil Armstrong’s Legacy for Astronomers

Not many people can say they’ve met the first man on the moon. But mingle with astronomers gathered in Beijing for a conference and you’ll come across one or two—even at breakfast—who can reflect personally about Neil Armstrong.

Primetime Gazing at Our Most Distant Planet

Planets like Venus, Mars, Jupiter and Saturn are easy to spot when they shine at their brightest but the outermost planet, Neptune, is a bit of a challenge even when at its best. Now is the best viewing prospects of the year for Neptune as it reaches opposition on August 24th – meaning the gas…

Scene of a Martian Landing

It has the feel of a crime scene shot—a grainy black-and-white photo with arrows pointing to where the salient evidence was found. But the absorbing image is instead a marvel of space science, an actual photo that shows where the five portions of the now celebrated Mars Science Lab/Curiosity descent capsule landed.

Curiosity Landing on Mars Greeted with Whoops and Tears of Jubilation

Breaking Orbit guest blogger Marc Kaufman describes the joyful atmosphere, relief and pride inside the NASA Jet Propulsion Jet Laboratory a few hours ago, when scientists, engineers and technicians got confirmation from Mars that after years of hard work and a nail-biting descent their roving science laboratory Curiosity had been placed on the Red Planet apparently exactly as planned.

Mission to Mars: Why Curiosity’s Landing is a Moment to Savor

By dropping the one-ton rover Curiosity into a Martian crater (with a three-mile high mountain nearby!), and equipping it to search over two years for the building blocks of possible extraterrestrial life; humans are once again at a great moment of adventure and exploration to savor.

Meet the Delta Aquarids Meteor Shower

While not as famous as some other annual meteor showers, the Delta Aquarids are a reliable sky show, and they are set to peak this weekend.  Skywatchers will have to be real night owls to get the most out of this celestial event. With the moon setting after midnight local time, the darkest skies and…