Virtual Kimberly Crosses the Atlantic Daily

This is a post that is a wonderful product of how our world has become flat in many ways, to foster connections among people that have never met. I hope someday my paths will indeed cross with Matthew Sampson of  Gottingen, Germany.

I write this reflection  in October 2016 sitting across the street from the Cunard Building in Liverpool, the headquarters of Cunard which has designed, built and operated some of the most amazing ocean-crossing ships.


Cunard and Liver Buildings

Cunard Building (left) next to Liver Building (right), photo taken by me September 23, 2016

In September 1994 on my very first trip to Europe from the USA I traveled about the Cunard ocean liner Queen Elizabeth II (QE2). It was all part of the 40th anniversary of the British Marshall Scholarship ( foundation, which provides scholarships to Americans to study in the United Kingdom, with the intention to provide a lasting understanding of British society.


British Marshall Scholars Class of 1994. On Board the QE II in September 1994 in New York Harbor as we were about to embark on a spectacular trans-Atlantic journey of our young lives. To be young, carefree, energetic and Europe-bound for the first time…Ah… what I would give to do it all over again!

It was a great first for me! I wrote a journal during the 5.5 day journal and posted it upon my own HTML pages, before blogging was popular.

My original 1994 impressions of my first trans-atlantic voyage can be found here.

In 2003, I was contacted by a gentleman in New York City (I sadly forget his name) who had found my personal webpage and read my journal and who entered it into a contest to feature journal entries over the last century to be featured in a series of excerpts on the QE2 successor, the Queen Mary 2 (QM2). I got my friend Joe Sacco to take a high resolution image of me to go along with the entry, with my attempt to gaze into the distance, which had been requested.

I submitted the journal and photo and then it went into a communication black hole.

The QM2 had its maiden voyage in 2004.

What was even more amazing is that in 2010, I got contacted by a Michael Sampson of Gottingen, Germany, whom I have never met before. He had been on the QM2 and saw my photo and words on the QM2. He contacted me and we had lovely discussions of his many world travels and our shared love of physics and astronomy.

This was the first time I had ever learned my journal had been selected to be shown on the QM2.

In May 2011, friends of his from Boston, MA, USA had traveled on the QM2 en route to Southhampton and took some photos of my entry in the halls of QM2.

So, a 2D image of myself crosses the Atlantic each week, between the land of my home (the USA) and my other home I miss so much (the UK).

Someday maybe I can travel across the Atlantic by ship again, and if on the QM2, it would be rather interesting for my 3D self to meet my 2D self. I betcha we’d both be looking towards the future, wondering what adventures ahead we might experience.

Being here in Liverpool these past few weeks in September/October 2016 absorbing the history of ship-building and ocean voyages, makes me long again to travel and explore again by sea.

A photo to get you to think about light and physics


I am always proud of my hubby, Robert, and especially now, as he combined his love of photography (a special hobby of his) and astronomy and went one step forward and created something new to start conversations.

Did you know he won the Insight Astrophotographer of the Year 2016 award for the special category Robotic Scopes?

He was trying to convey not just the beauty of spectra (spreading light into different colors), but how much it can tell us about the object we are observing (what it’s made of, what’s going on, etc.).

He used data from a public archive of the Liverpool Telescope, a 2-meter robotic telescope on island of La Palma in the Canaray Islands, and combined imagery and spectra  to show off the beauty and the physics of two commonly photographed planetary nebulae (both readily seen from northern hemispheres): Cats Eye Nebula (NGC 6543 in Draco) and the Ring Nebula (M57 in Lyra).

Artistically arranged to show the colors of the rainbow, which helped inspire us to name the piece Iridis, which is latin for rainbow.

Nice writeup at the Liverpool Telescope website can be found here.

Post of the Day

It’s September 21, 2016. I am in the weird & crazy place of rebranding my internet presence by collecting my scattered works into one place here.

Over the next few days this site will morph to get up to date. Then I can resume blogging in the present and capturing thoughts about the future.



The Many Faces of Pluto and Charon

Reposted from

Today’s blog post is from Kimberly Ennico, a member of the New Horizons’ Composition Theme Team and one of the deputy project scientists. She works at NASA’s Ames Research Center in Moffett Field, California, and has been on detail to the Southwest Research Institute in Boulder, Colorado.

No one can doubt the beauty of Pluto and Charon—amazing worlds revealed by the images from NASA’s New Horizons mission. From Pluto’s mountains, glaciers, ice-volcanoes, blue skies, and layered colorings to Charon’s vast tectonic structures and enigmatic red-colored pole, these pictures and associated spectra are rich puzzles waiting to be solved.

The July 14, 2015 Pluto flyby gave us an initial look at one side of Pluto, with its iconic heart-shaped feature. But I’m interested in the full planetary perspective, finding the “other sides” of Pluto to be every bit as fascinating as the encounter hemisphere. We must remember that a flyby is a moment in time lasting a few hours. In contrast, Pluto and Charon each rotate about its axis every 6.4 Earth days. This means that when New Horizons flew through the Pluto system it captured one hemisphere of each body in incredible detail.

What do we know about the “other sides” of Pluto and its largest moon? In the three weeks before the flyby, the Long Range Reconnaissance Imager (LORRI) and Multispectral Visible Imaging Camera (MVIC) imaged Pluto and Charon every day, sometimes two or three times a day to gather as much coverage across the bodies as New Horizons closed in. LORRI is New Horizons’ primary camera, an 8-inch telescope outfitted with an unfiltered charge-coupled device (CCD) – like you’d find in your own digital camera – sensitive to visible light. MVIC is a separate instrument with multiple CCDs, for which several are outfitted with color filters. The highest resolution images of the “other sides” of Pluto and Charon were observed 3.2 Earth days earlier, around July 10-11.

Working with a subset of the data (as not all these images have been sent to Earth from New Horizons yet), we’ve received our first glimpse of these “non-encounter” hemispheres below.


Four faces of Pluto in black-and-white and color. From left to right, the central sub-observer longitudes are ~180, 240, 360 and 60 degrees East Longitude. The Pluto “Encounter Hemisphere” (indicated by the white box) is most recognizable by the “heart” feature of the informally-named Tombaugh Regio. This is also the hemisphere that today never faces Charon, as Charon is “tidally locked” to Pluto, similarly to how the Earth only sees one face of our moon. Pluto’s “Charon-facing” side is the second column from the right. Pluto’s north pole is up in all these images. The top row contains LORRI grey-scale images taken on July 13, July 12, June 27 and July 3rd, when Pluto was 620, 189, 24 and 36 LORRI pixels across, respectively. The bottom row shows MVIC “enhanced-color” images made by combining the near infrared, red and blue filters. They were taken on July 13, July 12, July 10 and July 9, when Pluto was 163, 56, 26 and 21 MVIC color pixels across, respectively. All these images surpass what we had previously seen from Hubble Space Telescope imagery where Pluto’s disk was only about 12 pixels across. Of course, New Horizons was only millions of miles from Pluto—Hubble is over 3 billion miles away! Credits: NASA/JHUAPL/SwRI


Six faces of Charon. Central sub-observer longitudes: top, from left to right, 350 (B&W), 2 (color), 32 (color); Bottom, from left to right, 67 (color), 86 (B&W), and 180 (color) degrees East Longitude. The side that faces Pluto is highlighted by the inset box. From left to right, the top row images were taken July 14, 14 and 13, 2015, with Charon spanning 523 (LORRI), 81 (MVIC), and 43 (MVIC) pixels. The bottom row images were captured from July 12, 12 and 10, 2015, with Charon spanning 28 (MVIC), 96 (LORRI), and 13 (MVIC) pixels. Charon remains a mainly neutral greyish color all around, with a distinct red northern polar cap appearing from all sides. Credits: NASA/JHUAPL/SwRI

What strikes me most about the new Pluto color images is that the latitudinal (horizontal) banding identified on the encounter hemisphere is evident all around Pluto. Specifically, the northern polar region has a distinctive color from adjacent latitudes. The darkest region, which spans the equator, also appears to continue around Pluto, showing distinct variations on the side facing Charon, which have yet to be understood.

Why is this interesting? Coloring on Pluto is thought to have been the result of hydrocarbons called tholins that have formed in the atmosphere and have been “raining” down on Pluto’s surface over the millennia. We’re investigating whether Pluto’s colored terrains are primarily due to changes in or movements of its surface ices, specifically whether they have been undergoing seasonal effects –changing in temperature over time from the amount of cumulative sunlight – which could display itself as horizontal banding. The presence of that vast reservoir of methane, nitrogen and carbon monoxide ices in Pluto’s “heart” complicates the picture and could serve as a visible marker to trace changes.

Over the next few months, as more of this late-approach imagery gets downlinked from the spacecraft’s recorders, we will continue to piece together this colorful story of Pluto and Charon – from all sides.

Getting ready for the 2015 Pluto encounter. 2014 summer’s annual checkout brings high data payoff.

Reposted from

You walk up to the Restaurant at the End of the Solar System, ready to try that slice of “Pluto on ice” that you heard amazing things about. The chef behind the counter asks, “So, how would you like your data? “ Without hesitation, you reply “Well calibrated.”

Pretty pictures or spectra make no sense “without context.” For images, we need to know how many kilometers map to a pixel and for each raw digitized value, a mapping from bits to energy units (like magnitude or ergs/cm^2/s). For spectra, we need to know how much spatial information is covered per pixel plus what each pixel’s response to wavelength and brightness is. For particle instruments, we need to what energy and from which direction that ion or dust grain came.

Before launch every New Horizons instrument underwent intensive laboratory characterization: “pre-flight calibration.” They were subject to spatial targets, integrating spheres, laser pulses, particle accelerators, to name a few good “known” sources, to get “translations” from bits stored to disk to “real” units like wavelength, flux energy, intensity, etc. After launch such “translations” were verified with “in-orbit” calibrations, where, for example, instead of a lab source, the instruments stared at stars or inspected Jupiter and its moons. Each year, the team executes an ACO, or Annual Check-Out, where instrument performances are trended and teams look for changes. Additional observations provide information to remove “unwanted artifacts” like hot-pixels, readout smearing, ghosts, etc.

Summer 2014 is ACO-8, our 8th annual checkout since launch. It showcases our last calibrations prior to the 2015 Pluto encounter. It’s jammed packed with observations that are done yearly for trending, but also some new ones to make sure the New Horizons instrument suite is “well calibrated.” Highlights include new radiometric calibrations for the LEISA IR spectrometer, a long stability test for the REX radio experiment, and a test for revised thresholds for PEPSSI, the high-energy particle detector. More calibration data is taken during the 2015 Pluto fly-by, and together, these data sets are placed in the data reduction pipeline to translate bits to “real” values. Resources and time aboard the spacecraft to execute these observations are limited, so a series of reviews and assessments are done prior to each checkout.

The team is eager to get the data from ACO-8. We wake up June 15th. After a similar series of spacecraft subsystem checkouts, the New Horizons payload calibrations begin and continue through August. It may not be the Pluto fly-by, but this summer’s data will play a big role in the science return from New Horizons next year!


Demonstration of read-out smear removal, preserving the photon count, in LORRI’s calibration pipeline. The data in the smear is caused by imperfections in the CCD readout when illuminated by a lot of light. The source of the photons is from the object being imaged, so we need to correctly relocate the information. Data without good calibration is messy.


As a New Horizons deputy project scientist, Kimberly Ennico manages instrument readiness and calibration aspects of the mission. Her expertise includes instrument development, space qualification and calibration; optical/infrared astronomy; optical/infrared detectors, optics, cameras and spectrometers; and science communication.