Regular readers of this blog will find the content of today's 365 Days of Astronomy Podcast familiar, because it's an update on what the solar system exploration spacecraft are up to, based on my monthly "what's up" updates.
April 2011 will see MESSENGER begin the science phase of its orbital mission at Mercury, and should, I think, also see the start of Dawn's approach observations of Vesta. At Mars, Opportunity is back on the road again, rolling inexorably toward Endeavour. At Saturn, Cassini will continue its focus on Saturn and Titan science.
Wednesday morning included some interesting conversations. Notably, I spoke with Pamela Gay, who is responsible for the MoonZoo citizen science program and who is presently working on developing a site through which the public will be able to help search for potential Kuiper belt objects for the New Horizons mission to encounter after the Pluto flyby.
Last week, planetary astronomers Anne Verbiscer, Michael Skrutskie, and Doug Hamilton published a paper in Nature succinctly titled "Saturn's Largest Ring." In the paper, they announce the discovery, using the Spitzer infrared space telescope, of a gargantuan, previously unseen ring around Saturn, encompassing the orbit of Phoebe.
Despite still being more than six years and just over 18 Astronomical Units from the Pluto system, the project team for New Horizons is conducting the second and final portion of our Pluto Encounter Preliminary Design Review (EPDR) tomorrow and the next day.
As New Horizons continues its journey (it's now approaching the orbital distance of Saturn, though it's very far from that planet in space), the mission is taking advantage of the recent experience with the Jupiter flyby to plan out the science operations for the Pluto-Charon encounter.
This afternoon Alan Stern posted to unmannedspaceflight.com that New Horizons has successfully completed the trajectory correction maneuver that lines the spacecraft up for its July 14, 2015 encounter with Pluto.