What's ahead for our intrepid space explorers in 2017? It'll be the end of Cassini, but not before the mission performs great science close to the rings. OSIRIS-REx will fly by Earth, and Chang'e 5 will launch to the Moon, as a host of other spacecraft continue their ongoing missions.
Cassini is going to make a major change to its orbit, getting much close to Saturn, setting up 20 "F-ring" orbits. ExoMars will get two science orbits before beginning aerobraking. Long March 5 will have its first launch, while many Earth-observing missions, including Himawari-9 and GOES-R, will go up. But Juno science is on hold.
ExoMars Trace Gas Orbiter arrives on October 19, and it will deliver the Schiaparelli lander to its brief life on the Martian surface. Juno's headed into its science orbit, MOM has released science data, and New Horizons will finally finish downlinking Pluto flyby data.
Titan's north polar lakes are well-lit by summer sun in these recent Cassini images. Image processing enthusiast Ian Regan shares his recipe for processing the longer-wavelength Titan images into visually pleasing "pseudocolor."
The month of September begins with an annular solar eclipse visible from much of Africa on September 1. On or after September 8, we'll see OSIRIS-REx launch into a two-year cruise toward a rendezvous with asteroid Bennu. But September will close, sadly, with the end of the wonderful Rosetta mission.
This month we'll finally see JunoCam's first high-resolution images of Jupiter. We'll also see OSIRIS-REx making progress toward its September 8 launch. Both rovers are road-tripping at Mars, while ExoMars Trace Gas Orbiter has completed a major mid-course correction ahead of its October arrival.
Highlights this month include the impending arrival of Juno at Jupiter, the approval of extended missions for all of NASA's solar system spacecraft, and public data releases from Rosetta, New Horizons, and Cassini.
This month (actually, today), Cassini had a relatively close flyby of Titan, and New Horizons will observe a very distant Kuiper belt object named 1994 JR1. Akatsuki has just fine-tuned its orbit around Venus, and Hayabusa2 has begun an 800-hour ion engine thrusting phase to steer it toward near-Earth asteroid Ryugu.
Tomorrow, Cassini will fly by Titan, picking up a gravity assist that will tilt its orbit slightly up and out of the ring plane. That will end what has been a wonderful year of frequent encounters with Saturnian moons.
The Division of Planetary Science (DPS) Meeting saw many exciting scientific discussions spanning the range of processes on different planetary bodies, as well as their replication in the laboratory and in models.
If you were to download the entire catalog of photos taken at Saturn to date by Cassini and then animate them like a flipbook, how long would it take to watch them all pass by? The Wall Street Journal's Visual Correspondent Jon Keegan has your answer: nearly four hours.
I'm back from two weeks' vacation, so it's time to catch up on the status of all our intrepid planetary missions, from Akatsuki to the Voyagers and hitting the Moon, Mars, asteroids, comets, and Saturn in between.