NASA

Orion spacecraft takes off from Cape Canaveral!
Nasa.gov / Nasa.gov

The “Block M” has officially made its way into space.  

This morning at 7:05 a.m. EST, the Orion Crew Exploration Vehicle carried by the Delta IV heavy rocket took off from Cape Canaveral, Florida with a University of Michigan flag on board.

NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory

Michigan stargazers will get a treat this fall.

Comet ISON was first spotted last year, and since then some have said it could be the ‘comet of the century’.

The comet should first appear in the night sky in mid-November.    If it survives a close pass by the sun, it would reappear in December.

John French is the interim director of the Michigan State University-Abrams Planetarium.    He hopes Comet ISON will live up to the hype.

Read about U of M scientists' and space enthusiasts' reaction to last night's successful landing of Curiosity on Martian terrain after the dreaded “seven minutes of terror." Follow the link to also see the accompanying video reaction to the landing at NASA.

Mike Trenchard / Earth Sciences & Image Analysis Laboratory , Johnson Space Center (Wikimedia Commons)

The University of Michigan has been selected to lead a $152 million NASA satellite project aimed at improving hurricane and extreme weather prediction.

The school announced today that the Cyclone Global Navigation Satellite System is designed to make accurate measurements of ocean surface winds throughout the life cycle of tropical storms and hurricanes. It's made up of small satellites to be carried into orbit.

Information collected will enable scientists to explore key air-sea interactions that take place near the core of storms.

Principal investigator Christopher Ruf is a professor of atmospheric, oceanic and space sciences, and electrical engineering and computer sciences. The satellite system science team includes Aaron Ridley and Derek Posselt, who are professors of atmospheric, oceanic and space sciences.

John Cudworth / Creative Commons

Star gazers in Michigan are preparing for a rare occasion Tuesday night when the path of the planet Venus can be seen crossing the sun.

The event is known as the transit of Venus and it only happens, in pairs, every hundred years or so. The next transit of Venus isn’t for another 100 years.

I stumbled across the transit while gulping down an awesome new beer at one of my favorite spots in Benton Harbor, The Livery Microbrewery.

I chose a Venusian Ale for the ingredients. I’m a sucker for “Michigan made” so the blend of “Michigan Red Wheat malts meet all Northern Michigan hops and 60# of Dark Michigan Honey” was right down my alley. Then co-owner Leslie Pickell told me all about the beer made especially for their transit of Venus viewing party – complete with an awesome art show inspired by the transit AND a keg-time-capsule for the people alive during the next transit. 

Once I started looking around, I discovered dozens of viewing parties across the state. Here's a short list:

NASA

You've probably caught wind of the space junk hurtling toward the earth's atmosphere.

If not, you can catch up on the story here: Your Friday Forecast: Sunny, with a 1-in-21-Trillion Chance of Getting Hit by Orbital Debris.

The latest projections from NASA: debris from the six-ton "Upper Atmosphere Research Satellite" (UARS) that survives re-entry is less likely to land in the U.S.

From NASA:

As of 10:30 a.m. EDT on Sept. 23, 2011, the orbit of UARS was 100 miles by 105 miles (160 km by 170 km). Re-entry is expected late Friday, Sept. 23, or early Saturday, Sept. 24, Eastern Daylight Time. Solar activity is no longer the major factor in the satellite’s rate of descent. The satellite’s orientation or configuration apparently has changed, and that is now slowing its descent. There is a low probability any debris that survives re-entry will land in the United States, but the possibility cannot be discounted because of this changing rate of descent. It is still too early to predict the time and location of re-entry with any certainty, but predictions will become more refined in the next 12 to 18 hours.

If you're one of the lucky ones that stumbles upon newly fallen space junk, NASA wants to make sure you don't touch it... you might cut yourself.

@NASA just tweeted - "Nothing radioactive on . Main reason NOT to touch anything that you think could be debris: sharp metal cuts."

Mariner 10 / NASA

Today is a big day for lovers of the planet Mercury, the closest planet to the sun.

NASA's MESSENGER (Mercury Surface, Space Environment, Geochemistry, and Ranging) vehicle will start to orbit Mercury today.

Of all the terrestrial planets, Mercury remains one of the most mysterious.

NASA's Mariner 10 took some photos during flybys back in 1974 and 1975. And more recently, MESSENGER took some photos and grabbed some samples on a flyby in 2008.

The New York Times had a piece on what scientists learned about Mercury from the 2008 flyby:

An instrument aboard Messenger sampled Mercury’s surface composition by catching some of the charged atoms that have been knocked into space. Silicon, sodium and sulfur were detected. So was water.

“Which is a real surprise,” said Thomas H. Zurbuchen, an associate professor of atmospheric, oceanic and space sciences at the University of Michigan and lead author of another paper in Science. “The first time we took a whiff of the planet, it’s right there.”

One possibility is that the water exists as ice in the shaded parts of craters in the polar regions.

Today, MESSENGER will begin orbiting the planet every 12 hours. Engineers at the University of Michigan say "an onboard device dubbed FIPS (Fast Imaging Plasma Spectrometer), a soda-can sized sensor designed and built at the University of Michigan will take atmospheric measurements, studying the evolution of rocky planets as it orbits Mercury."

Here, Thomas Zurbuchen, the lead engineer from the University of Michigan, talks about FIPS:

Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood will reveal the results Tuesday afternoon of a year-long NASA investigation into claims of sudden acceleration in Toyota vehicles.

Toyota recalled millions of vehicles last year – many because of the potential for loose floor mats to entrap the gas pedal.  In other cases, the gas pedal wouldn’t fully release.

But hundreds of lawsuits allege that Toyota vehicles can also speed out of control because something is wrong with the electronic throttle control system, perhaps due to electromagnetic interference – a problem NASA knows a lot about.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration released a preliminary report last year suggesting that in some cases, the sudden acceleration was the fault of drivers, because they hit the gas pedal instead of the brake.

Toyota says it has failed to find any problems with its electronic throttle control systems.  The company did pay record fines last year for delaying recalls.