Emily Lakdawalla's blogs from 2012
A recently launched Earth-observing satellite is using the stars to practice its pointing, and caught a neat animation of Jupiter.
Join us for our weekly Google+ Hangout Thursday at noon PT / 2000 UT. This week, I'm excited to have as a guest Sarah Hörst. Sarah is a postdoc at the University of Colorado whose current line of research involves experimental work on the complex atmospheric chemistry of Titan. She is also applying to be an astronaut!
My collage of all the asteroids and comets visited by spacecraft is probably the single most popular image I have ever posted on this blog. I've now updated it to be in color and to include Toutatis.
The Chang'E 2 mission flyby of Toutatis succeeded in acquiring images. Oh my goodness, did they succeed. These, in combination with the incredible radar images still being acquired from Goldstone and innumerable optical observations, make Toutatis one of the best-studied asteroids in the solar system.
The twin GRAIL spacecraft are nearly out of fuel, and are being directed to a controlled impact near the north pole on the near side of the Moon on December 17. Before the end, though, they did some cool things, including flying within 2000 meters of mountaintops, and catching video of Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter in flight.
My final set of reviews of children's books for 2012: five recommended nonfiction books for a range of ages.
Last week the GRAIL mission published their first scientific results, and what they have found will send many geophysicists back to the drawing board to explain how the Moon formed and why it looks the way it does now. To explain how, I'm going to have to back way up, and explain the basic science behind gravity data.
Near-Earth asteroid 4179 Toutatis will be passing within 7 million kilometers of Earth on December 12. Both radio telescopes and the Chang'E 2 spacecraft will be acquiring images.
Monday was the big Curiosity day at the fall meeting of the American Geophysical Union. A morning press briefing was followed by an afternoon science session. I traveled to San Francisco briefly just to attend those two events. Here's my notes on the first science reports from the mission.
The Planetary Society has a new weekly Google+ Hangout time slot, Thursdays at noon PT / 1800 UT. This week, Casey Dreier and I talked about the Curiosity kerfuffle and NASA's future rover plans. Here's the archived recording.
Now that Casey has explained the budget implications of yesterday's 2020 rover announcement, and The Planetary Society has issued a formal statement, I thought it was time for me to talk briefly about science.
I'm in San Francisco, reporting from the American Geophysical Union meeting. This morning, there was a much-anticipated press briefing featuring the latest results from Curiosity.
Posted by Emily Lakdawalla on 2012/11/30 03:32 CST
Good news, everyone! The OSIRIS-REx team wants to give as many kids as possible a chance to Name That Asteroid! The contest entry deadline has been extended to December 31.
With all the hoopla surrounding the unknown results of the first analysis of a soil sample by Curiosity's Sample Analysis at Mars (SAM) instrument, I thought an explainer would be useful. What is SAM, what is it designed to measure, and what is the nature of its results? Here you go.
Water ice at Mercury's poles? That's crazy, right? The MESSENGER team has made a very good case that radar-bright material seen by the Arecibo telescope is, in fact, water ice, covered in most places by a veneer of dark organic material.
Remember the amazing photo of Saturn's north pole that I posted yesterday? Now, thanks to an amateur image processor, it moves, and the motions of the individual clouds within the belts are mesmerizing.
On Saturday, while parked for the Thanksgiving holiday at the edge of Glenelg, Curiosity took a lovely panorama pointed to the east and into Glenelg.
Michael Benson's Planetfall and a children's edition of his earlier book Beyond put the gorgeous pictures returned from space front and center.
Springer has made online access to PDF copies of several of their journals free through November 30. One of them, Space Science Reviews, is the one that publishes the canonical papers on most spacecraft instruments. It's a bonanza!
This week's Cosmoquest Astronomy Hour Google+ Hangout at 1600 PST / midnight UTC on Wednesday will feature me and Fraser Cain talking about what Curiosity's been up to, and answering your questions.
This morning while driving to work I heard a terrific story about Curiosity on National Public Radio from Joe Palca, NPR's science correspondent. It was a great story despite the fact that it contained virtually no news. The nugget of non-news is that SAM's analysis of Mars soil has yielded some unspecified, exciting, but not-yet-confirmed result. But that's not really what Palca's story is about.
Curiosity is a rover again at last! She was parked at the dune named Rocknest for 40 sols, from sol 60 through 99. On sol 100, she drove right on top of the dune, obliterating her five scoop marks. Then on sol 102 she took a good long, 35-meter drive so that she's now right on the edge of the "high thermal inertia unit" that attracted her to the spot the team has named Glenelg.
After a false start earlier this year, the first chunk of Dawn Framing Camera data from Vesta has finally made it to the Planetary Data System. As a first step to understanding the data set, I've built some index pages to these cool images.
When Casey invited me to participate in last Friday's "Sagan Slam," I wasn't sure what I would read, but I found a great letter of his explaining why women, as well as men, should be considered among the world's great explorers.
I asked Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter to take a photo, and it turned out better than I had imagined: an incredibly fresh, well-preserved, dramatically rayed oblique impact crater.
This week's Cosmoquest Astronomy Hour Google+ Hangout at 1600 PDT / 2300 UTC on Wednesday will feature Pamela Conrad, the deputy principal investigator for Curiosity's Sample Analysis at Mars (SAM) instrument. Tune in to learn more about how this experiment will change our view of Mars, and to ask your questions!
A sharp-eyed amateur noticed two images of Titan taken 20 months apart from nearly exactly the same perspective, and they illustrate how the shifting of Saturn's seasons has brought change to Titan's atmosphere.
I'm directing a question at professional and amateur space scientists and educators: could I make slide sets that would help you educate the public about what's going on in planetary exploration?
Today I stumbled upon the Lunar and Planetary Institute's Lunar Sample Atlas, and was reminded of how much I love petrographic thin sections. They can make unassuming, cruddy looking rocks beautiful.
Curiosity has already spent more than three weeks at Rocknest, working through the very slow process of commissioning the sample handling systems. While parked, she's taken a couple of amazing photo mosaics.
Posted by Emily Lakdawalla on 2012/10/29 11:20 CDT
In an annual tradition, I review eight children's story books with planetary and astronomy themes. Favorites include Pieces of Another World by Mara Rockliff and Solar System Forecast by Kelly Kizer Whitt.
Posted by Emily Lakdawalla on 2012/10/29 11:32 CDT
Today hurricane Sandy is a major threat to life and property across the west coast of the northern Atlantic ocean. I just want to give thanks in advance to all the people who have devoted their careers to making sure that Americans have sufficient warning of devastating, unstoppable weather events like this one.
Scientific conferences have become more fun since it suddenly became cool to be a geek. I thoroughly enjoy the "geek uniform" of witty T-shirt and jeans, and did my best to wardrobe myself in relevant geekwear each day of the meeting. This post is for all the people at DPS who asked where my clothes came from.
Continuing my writeup of notes from last week's Division for Planetary Sciences meeting: presentations on the risks of future asteroid impacts. How much risk do we face, and what are the appropriate actions to take in the face of that risk?
Posted by Emily Lakdawalla on 2012/10/23 10:15 CDT
Join me and Fraser Cain for a brief update on Curiosity and other exciting science presented at last week's Division for Planetary Sciences meeting, and get your pressing space questions answered! The Google+ Hangout is on Wednesday, October 24, at 16:00 PDT / 23:00 UTC. Note: this one will end about 15 minutes early.
Planetary Surface Processes provides a rigorous overview of every process that shapes the appearance of planetary surfaces, and I'll be referring to it to help me explain everything from impact cratering to isostasy.
New ground-based images of Uranus show more finely detailed structure than any photos I have ever seen.
A summary of just one talk from the Division for Planetary Sciences meeting, by Lindy Elkins-Tanton, which provided a neat explanation for how asteroids can be melted and layered on the inside yet have a primitive-looking exterior.
In the first full day of the annual meeting of the Division of Planetary Sciences of the American Astronomical Society, I listened to scientific sessions on icy worlds and on an exoplanet in a four-star system.
I've just arrived in Reno, Nevada for the annual meeting of the Division of Planetary Sciences of the American Astronomical Society. Here's an introduction and a few useful links; stay tuned the rest of the week for new science from all over the solar system and beyond.
I've been waiting for the publication of this book for years. Phil Stooke's International Atlas of Mars Exploration, just published by Cambridge University Press, is an exhaustively awesome labor of love, chronicling the first five decades of Mars exploration in pictures, maps, and facts.
A Curiosity press briefing yesterday gave some of the first results from ChemCam and APXS on the rock "Jake Matijevic." It was a little too much petrology for most people; I do my best to explain.
The landscapes that surround Curiosity are picture-postcard beautiful.
Curiosity shot a lovely panoramic view of the distant rim of Gale crater in the dramatic lighting of late afternoon on sol 49. Damien Bouic has colorized it, and it is beautiful.
It's becoming a biweekly thing -- join me, Fraser Cain, and now Casey Dreier for an update on Curiosity and a chance for you to get your Curiosity questions answered! The Google+ Hangout is on Wednesday, October 10, at 16:00 PDT / 23:00 UTC.
A report in the Times of India states that India's Mars mission's main engine is now being tested.
It's a quarterly feast day for me: the day that the Cassini mission delivers three months' worth of data to NASA's Planetary Data System. Here's a few images processed from the October 1, 2012 data release.
Engineers requested that Curiosity be driven to a "nice sandbox" to play in for the first soil sample, and it appears that a sand drift named Rocknest satisfies that requirement.
Curiosity has been shooting photos of the Sun as Phobos and Deimos cross its face, and -- as far as I can tell -- captured sunspots as well.
A beautiful panoramic view of the varied rocks of Glenelg has been transmitted from Curiosity on Mars. But before going any further, it's time to run the first Martian sand through the soil sampling system.
Welcome to my monthly survey of the activities of robots across the solar system! Tomorrow is the equinox at Mars; both Curiosity and Opportunity will be spending the month actively analyzing Martian rocks. It'll be a less active month for Cassini, as Saturn passes through solar conjunction late next month.
In August, India's prime minister announced the intent to build and launch a Mars orbiter in time for the November 2013 launch window, an insanely fast schedule. The structure of the spacecraft has now been delivered.
Curiosity has successfully photographed a crescent Phobos in a bright daylit Martian sky.
I'm hosting this week's Cosmoquest Science Hour, and plan to take viewers on a virtual tour of those mountains on Curiosity's horizon, and show you where Curiosity is likely to go. Join me and Fraser Cain here at 1600 PDT / 2300 UTC Wednesday.
I drove up to Edwards Air Force Base today to see the shuttle carrier aircraft NASA 905 carry in the space shuttle Endeavour, which will be delivered to Los Angeles tomorrow. I'm not a great photographer but I do have a 3D camera; here's an album.
It's now the early hours of sol 44, and JPL held a phone briefing today with the latest news from Curiosity. She's now driven about 300 meters, and has stopped at her first science target, a rock the team has named for the late Jake Matijevic.
Posted by Emily Lakdawalla on 2012/09/19 11:38 CDT
Piggybacked on the shuttle carrier aircraft NASA 905, Endeavour has departed Florida for the last time. Her journey will take her to Los Angeles, where she'll begin a new and different kind of mission at the California Science Center.
An amateur-processed mosaic of some intriguing-looking broken rocks along Curiosity's traverse. They were intriguing enough to photograph with the Mastcam -- but not enough to stop and check them out, as Curiosity has already rolled on.
Posted by Emily Lakdawalla on 2012/09/14 06:28 CDT
Curiosity has completed Commissioning Activity Period 2 and is on the road again. I asked Daniel Limonadi to explain a couple of the photos of tests being performed on CHIMRA, and took the opportunity to ask him an amusing question that came up during a previous Google+ Hangout.
Fraser Cain and I had a wide-ranging conversation about Curiosity's recent activities on Mars during the Cosmoquest Astronomy Hour.
Dawn's last images of Vesta peek into previously shadowy north polar territory. As the spacecraft leaves Vesta behind, its science team requests help from the public.
Posted by Emily Lakdawalla on 2012/09/11 12:27 CDT
I am rarely so glad to admit that I was wrong as when it's about the failure of a mission. Only last month, I speculated that IKAROS's mission was done. And now the news comes that IKAROS has been heard from -- twice! -- on September 6 and 8, 2012.
MAHLI opened its "eye" on sol 33, seeing Mars clearly for the first time. On sol 34, Curiosity used MAHLI to survey the parts that Mastcam can't see, including a view right underneath the rover.
Posted by Emily Lakdawalla on 2012/09/06 01:00 CDT
I noticed today that I hadn't seen any amateur-processed versions of Voyager's departing shots of Uranus, so I decided to give it a try.
It's an active time in interplanetary exploration! Curiosity has begun roving Mars, and Opportunity's not wasting any time either. Dawn has just departed Vesta and begun the more than two-year cruise to Ceres. Juno is in the middle of a big deep-space maneuver, setting up next year's Earth flyby.
Yesterday, August 27th, 2012, was, in a sense, the 50th anniversary of interplanetary travel. Fifty years ago yesterday, Mariner 2 launched toward Venus, and became the first object to leave Earth and travel to another world.
If you've been obsessively checking the Curiosity raw images websites for new pictures from Mars, you might have noticed something weird: a bunch of Mastcam images and a few from MARDI that are black-and-white instead of color, and which have a peculiar checkerboard pattern.
The top of the mountain has finally been filled in, and Damien Bouic has produced what I think is the definitive version of Curiosity's first color panorama.
Posted by Emily Lakdawalla on 2012/08/21 09:58 CDT
Governor Brown has declared August 22, 2012 "Space Day." I'm not sure what it means, but I love the repeated use of the word "whereas."
Notes from this morning's press conference. Curiosity has successfully steered the corner wheels and deployed and restowed the robotic arm. ChemCam tests went well over the weekend. But one of the two wind speed sensors in REMS appears to have suffered permanent damage during landing.
Damien Bouic took Curiosity's Hazcam images of Aeolis Mons / Mount Sharp and merged them with a beautiful 360-degree Navcam panorama to give us our first look at what the view will look like once the mission finally gets higher-resolution images that include the mountain's peak.
Some notes from this morning's Curiosity press briefing: the rover will be driving to "Glenelg" to investigate the "high thermal inertia unit." I explain what that means, with psychedelic Odyssey THEMIS images of the landing site.
I'm hosting this week's Cosmoquest Astronomy Hour, and rather than having a special guest I'll be speaking myself about what's going on with Curiosity, and will leave lots of time to answer people's questions. Join me at 1600 PDT / 2300 UTC at cosmoquest.org/hangouts.
A fantastic video produced by Brian Lynch combines the thumbnail images from Curiosity's Mars Descent Imager (MARDI) with the audio from the control room during landing night and a detailed timeline from spaceflight101.com.
An asteroid or comet headed for Earth is the only large-scale natural disaster we can prevent. Working together to fund our Shoemaker NEO Grants for astronomers, we can help save the world.