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Wright Flyer Test Flights at Fort Myer, VA Featured Print

Wright Flyer Test Flights at Fort Myer, VA

The Wright Flyer demonstrations at Fort Myer, Virginia on September 3, 1908. In January 1907 the Wright Brothers submitted a bid to the U.S. War Department to design a plane for $25, 000. This bid came as a response to a War Department request issued a month earlier for a "Heavier-than-air Flying Machine." While Wilbur Wright went off to Paris to promote the Wright Flyer, Orville Wright stayed in Dayton, Ohio to design a plane for the Army Signal Corps. By August Orville's plane was ready and he headed to Fort Myer, Virginia, where the air trials were to take place. From August 20, 1908, to September 17, 1908, Orville performed test flights for the Army. On September 17th a split propeller caused the plane to crash, injuring Orville and killing his passenger, Lieutenant Thomas Selfridge. In spite of the crash the Army believed that the Wright plane would work. In July 1909, when Orville was able to fly again, he completed the test flights and surpassed all of the Army's requirements for a military plane: to carry a passenger for at least 125 miles at a speed of 40 miles per hour and stay aloft for at least one hour, easily transportable, controllable and steerable at all times and in all directions, and land without damage. On August 2, 1909, the Signal Corps accepted the Wright Flyer as the world's first military aircraft, naming it Signal Corps Airplane No. 1


Pale Blue Dot Revisited Featured Print

Pale Blue Dot Revisited

For the 30th anniversary of one of the most iconic images taken by NASA's Voyager mission, a new version of the image known as "the Pale Blue Dot." Planet Earth is visible as a bright speck within the sunbeam just right of center and appears softly blue, as in the original version published in 1990 (see PIA00452). This updated version uses modern image-processing software and techniques to revisit the well-known Voyager view while attempting to respect the original data and intent of those who planned the images. In 1990, the Voyager project planned to shut off the Voyager 1 spacecraft's imaging cameras to conserve power and because the probe, along with its sibling Voyager 2, would not fly close enough to any other objects to take pictures. Before the shutdown, the mission commanded the probe to take a series of 60 images designed to produce what they termed the "Family Portrait of the Solar System." Executed on Valentine's Day 1990, this sequence returned images for making color views of six of the solar system's planets and also imaged the Sun in monochrome. The popular name of this view is traced to the title of the 1994 book by Voyager imaging scientist Carl Sagan, who originated the idea of using Voyager's cameras to image the distant Earth and played a critical role in enabling the family portrait images to be taken. The image of Earth was originally published by NASA in 1990. It is republished here to commemorate the 30th anniversary of the Family Portrait of the Solar System (see PIA00451) and the Pale Blue Dot image in particular. The planet occupies less than a single pixel in the image and thus is not fully resolved. (The actual width of the planet on the sky was less than one pixel in Voyager's camera.) By contrast, Jupiter and Saturn were large enough to fill a full pixel in their family portrait images. The direction of the Sun is toward the bottom of the view (where the image is brightest). Rays of sunlight scattered within the camera optics stretch across the scene. One of those light rays happens to have intersected dramatically with Earth. From Voyager 1's vantage point — a distance of approximately 3.8 billion miles (6 billion kilometers) — Earth was separated from the Sun by only a few degrees. The close proximity of the inner planets to the Sun was a key factor preventing these images from being taken earlier in the mission, as our star was still close and bright enough to damage the cameras with its blinding glare. The view is a color composite created by combining images taken using green, blue and violet spectral filters by the Voyager 1 Narrow-Angle Camera. They were taken at 4:48 GMT on Feb. 14, 1990, just 34 minutes before Voyager 1 powered off its cameras forever. Like the original version, this is technically a "false-color" view, as the color-filter images used were mapped to red, green and blue, respectively. The brightness of each color channel was balanced relative to the others, which is likely why the scene appears brighter but less grainy than the original. In addition, the color was balanced so that the main sunbeam (which overlays Earth) appears white, like the white light of the Sun. At its original resolution, the newly processed color image is 666 by 659 pixels in size; this is Figure A. The main image is an enlarged version. The image was processed by JPL engineer and image processing enthusiast Kevin M. Gill with input from two of the image's original planners, Candy Hansen and William Kosmann.

Supernova SN1987A in the Large Magellanic Cloud Featured Print

Supernova SN1987A in the Large Magellanic Cloud

Glittering stars and wisps of gas create a breathtaking backdrop for the self-destruction of a massive star, called supernova 1987A, in the Large Magellanic Cloud, a nearby galaxy. Astronomers in the Southern hemisphere witnessed the brilliant explosion of this star on Feb. 23, 1987. Shown in this NASA Hubble Space Telescope image, the supernova remnant, surrounded by inner and outer rings of material, is set in a forest of ethereal, diffuse clouds of gas. This three-color image is composed of several pictures of the supernova and its neighboring region taken with the Wide Field and Planetary Camera 2 in Sept. 1994, Feb. 1996 and July 1997. The many bright blue stars nearby the supernova are massive stars, each more than six times heftier than our Sun. They are members of the same generation of stars as the star that went supernova about 12 million years ago. The presence of bright gas clouds is another sign of the youth of this region, which still appears to be a fertile breeding ground for new stars. In a few years the supernova's fast moving material will sweep the inner ring with full force, heating and exciting its gas, and will produce a new series of cosmic fireworks that will offer a striking view for more than a decade.