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What's up in the solar system in April 2011

Emily Lakdawalla • March 31, 2011

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.

Mars Exploration Rovers Update: Spirit's Silence Haunts, Opportunity Roves on to Endeavour

A.J.S. Rayl • March 31, 2011

The Mars Exploration Rover mission experienced a month of highs tempered by one haunting low as it neared completion of its 87th month of a three-month tour this month. While Opportunity wrapped up its work at the youngest, freshest crater the rovers have explored to date, Spirit remained silent as the point of maximum sunshine for the Martian year came and went, further dimming once high hopes that the rover would phone home and rove on as summer settled on the southern hemisphere of Mars.

Images and data now pouring in from MESSENGER at Mercury

Emily Lakdawalla • March 30, 2011

Today the MESSENGER mission held a press briefing to show off some of the first images and other data that are streaming in from the spacecraft, now that it has entered Mercury orbit.

MESSENGER delivers its first image from Mercury

Emily Lakdawalla • March 29, 2011

This is MESSENGER's very first photo from Mercury orbit, a wide-angle view that reaches right to Mercury's south pole, exposing a very tiny sliver of territory not previously seen by spacecraft.

LPSC 2011: Lunar Layers

Mike Malaska • March 29, 2011

Some recent high-resolution images from the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter Camera (LROC) have revealed large blocks on the lunar surface that show evidence of layers. The layered blocks were seen near the crater Aristarchus, which is a bright crater in the northeast quadrant of the nearside Moon.

Saturn's storm: A quick turnaround from Hubble

Emily Lakdawalla • March 28, 2011

Saturn's raging northern storm has been watched since it began by amateur astronomers, and now Cassini is getting in to the act too. Presumably once astronomers realized the magnitude of what was going on, some of Earth's great observatories were also occasionally pointed at the ringed planet to watch the storm grow.

A radio show on Mercury and a space carnival

Emily Lakdawalla • March 28, 2011

Today's Planetary Radio features Sean Solomon on the successful arrival of MESSENGER at Mercury. After checking that out, wander over to the 190th Carnival of Space, hosted this week by Paul Gilster over at Centauri Dreams.

Phobos LIFE gets a ride on Endeavour as Shuttle LIFE!

Emily Lakdawalla • March 25, 2011

The Planetary Society is contributing this thing called the Living Interplanetary Flight Experiment (LIFE) to Russia's Phobos sample return mission -- it's basically a sealed puck with dormant microbes inside that'll fly to Mars and back in the return capsule, and biologists will take a look to see what damage the little bugs suffered during their space journey.

Checking in on Jupiter: the belt is coming back

Emily Lakdawalla • March 25, 2011

Since it's been several months since I last took a look at Jupiter, I thought it was time to see what's up with the South Equatorial Belt.

The end of Stardust

Emily Lakdawalla • March 25, 2011

So, it's over. Stardust's last transmission to Earth was yesterday, March 24, 2011 at 23:33 UTC. Its final act was to burn up all of its last remaining fuel, a move intended to help engineers validate their guesses for how much fuel actually remained in the tanks.

In honor of Stardust: The Annefrank encounter

Emily Lakdawalla • March 24, 2011

Since Stardust is being decommissioned today I thought it'd be fitting to take a look back at one of its data sets. I hadn't fiddled with the Annefrank data set before, and it was small and easy to deal with.

Tomorrow is Stardust's very last day

Emily Lakdawalla • March 23, 2011

What's that in my eye? Must be a piece of stardust that's making my eyes water as I read that Stardust will be given its very last command tomorrow, a command that'll end its long life, but give its builders one more piece of valuable data in the process.

A zoomable MastCam is not going to make it to Mars

Emily Lakdawalla • March 23, 2011

I hate being the bearer of bad news, but here it is. Amid all the building excitement for Curiosity -- the successes in testing, the delivery of the instruments, the fun of tuning in to Curiosity Cam to peek in on engineers doing their work in preparing the next rover for launch -- I've learned that a much-anticipated (but not required) feature is not going to make it on to the rover.

LPSC 2011: Sponge-moon Hyperion

Mike Malaska • March 23, 2011

Saturn's moon Hyperion has a bizarre sponge-like appearance that is in dramatic contrast to other heavily cratered bodies in the solar system.

Evidence for rain on Titan

Emily Lakdawalla • March 22, 2011

Last week, Zibi Turtle and Jason Perry and a dozen other coauthors published a paper in Science discussing evidence for rain on Titan.

Encouragement from space for Japan

Emily Lakdawalla • March 22, 2011

I saw this posted by @Akatsuki_JAXA (the Akatsuki Venus mission's official Twitter identity) and thought it was cute so I'm sharing it here.

Dawn's instruments are being roused for Vesta approach

Emily Lakdawalla • March 21, 2011

Today the Dawn imaging team released a photo from the main camera, the Framing Camera, symbolizing that they're preparing to start Dawn approach science; the other two science instruments, a spectrometer and a neutron detector, are also being turned on and checked out.

Neat video of Curiosity drive testing (plus a code-cracking challenge)

Emily Lakdawalla • March 21, 2011

The Jet Propulsion Laboratory has posted a short video showing some recent testing of an engineering model of the Mars Science Laboratory in their outdoor Mars Yard; they're testing the performance of the rover's driving capability over slopes of varying steepness and covered with bedrock, compacted sand, and very loose sand.

MESSENGER successfully entered orbit at Mercury!

Emily Lakdawalla • March 17, 2011

Just a brief post to announce that at 01:00 UTC MESSENGER completed a 15-minute burn of its main engines to enter orbit at Mercury!

Mercury: a moon-scale body

Emily Lakdawalla • March 17, 2011

As I wait for the MESSENGER Mercury Orbit Insertion webcast to start, I thought I'd fiddle with some images to point out that Mercury is a bridge between the scales of planets and the scales of moons.

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