A look at the latest raw data dump from Curiosity: our first sharp view of the rover and immediate surroundings, plus 18 of the full-resolution descent imager frames are now available. Check out the gravel on Curiosity's deck!!
Curiosity fired up her Navigational Cameras on Sol 2 and began to take a look around her. The first four full-resolution frames are enough for a small 3D panorama that shows a lovely landscape. I think we're going to like it here!
It's such a rare joy to be able to dive into the images returned from a brand-new mission. The very first images that come to Earth and get posted on the Web are usually of relatively poor quality compared to what comes later, and Curiosity's are no exception to that rule.
The Curiosity mission's final pre-landing press briefing wrapped up a short while ago. There wasn't much in the way of news, which is a good thing. Curiosity is healthy. Odyssey is healthy. There's not much left to do but wait.
I just came out of a press briefing at JPL, on the morning of the day before Curiosity's landing. The panel seemed fairly calm -- anxious, certainly, but the happy kind of anxiety that precedes something that could be great.
I know it’s been all Curiosity, all the time on this blog for the last couple of weeks, and that’s not likely to change much for the next couple of weeks. But I don’t want people to forget that there’s another rover exploring Mars’ ancient geology. Opportunity has been taking spectacular photos of Whim Creek and Endeavour Crater this last week.
Join me and Bill Nye to blow off some steam on Saturday night as we anticipate Curiosity’s landing! In the spirit of such nerdtacular gatherings as W00tstock and LeetUp, we’re having a big party at the Paseo Colorado here in Pasadena to celebrate Curiosity!
The June Solstice issue of our member magazine The Planetary Report is out! The feature article, by W. Scott Kardel of the International Dark-Sky Association, looks at the ecological, economic, and philosophical problem of light pollution. My inside-the-cover Snapshots from Space features image processing work by Gordan Ugarkovic. Bill Nye's Planetary Society Kids section shows you how to build your own MarsDial, and on its back page I share some weird and interesting facts about Mars' moons.
Pluto is now known to have at least five moons (Charon, Nix, Hydra, P4, and the newly discovered P5), and its burgeoning population might pose a risk to New Horizons during its flyby, three years from now.
Welcome to my monthly roundup of the activities of our intrepid robotic emissaries across the solar system! Curiosity is about to land; Opportunity has rolled through sol 3000; Odyssey is back online, having switched to a spare reaction wheel; Dawn is now in High-Altitude Mapping Orbit 2; and Cassini is taking advantage of its newly inclined orbit to get spectacular series of images of Saturn's rings.
When people first hear about how Curiosity will land on Mars, their first question always is: are they nuts? This is the second in a multi-part series describing how -- and why -- Curiosity will land this way, in excruciating detail.
Hang out with Fraser Cain and amateur astronomers all over the world in Cosmoquest's Virtual Star parties conducted over Google+. Here's how -- plus an inspiring video produced by Google to show just how cool this is.
A newly published paper shows trans-Neptunian object Salacia to be unexpectedly large; it's somewhere around the tenth largest known thing beyond Neptune. It has a companion one-third its size, making it appear similar to Orcus and Vanth.
When people first hear about how Curiosity will land on Mars, their first question always is: are they nuts? This is the first in a multi-part series describing how -- and why -- Curiosity will land this way, in excruciating detail.
This Cosmoquest Science Hangout featured Ravi Prakash, Curiosity Entry, Descent, and Landing Systems Engineer. He explained how Curiosity will land on Mars, and why they've changed things since Spirit and Opportunity landed.
According to a Chinese spaceflight forum, Chang'E program chief scientist Ouyang Ziyuan recently announced that Chang'E 2 has departed the Sun-Earth L2 point and is now en route to asteroid 4179 Toutatis!
This week's Cosmoquest Google+ Space Hangout, featured me, Fraser Cain, Amy Teitel, and Nicole Gigliucci. We talked about Curiosity's landing, exoplanets, the Fermi Paradox, and tropical lakes on Titan.
A reader comment on Jay Pasachoff's post last week about Venus transits viewed from other planets had me asking whether transits of other planets were also interesting to astronomers. Jay provided some answers!
NuSTAR, the most sensitive X-ray telescope ever developed, launched successfully at 16:00 UT. This was a fun launch to watch, because the launch vehicle was a Pegasus XL air-launched rocket, dropped like a bomb from open bay doors of an L-1011 airplane.
There was good news and bad news in this morning's press briefing about Curiosity rover's upcoming landing on Mars, just eight weeks from now. First, the good news: the landing ellipse has shrunk. The bad news: there's a contamination problem with the drill, and the Odyssey orbiter is in safe mode.
On June 6 I hosted the Cosmoquest Weekly Science Hour. My guest was Dan Durda of the Southwest Research Institute. We talked asteroids, impact mitigation, searches for Vulcanoids, and suborbital experiments, and then he took us through how he creates his digital space art.
Ray Bradbury passed away last night, June 5, 2012, at the age of 91. He was a friend to the Planetary Society and an inspiration to its members. We'd like you members to share your recollections and stories of his singular influence in your lives.
A measurement of the Andromeda galaxy's proper motion shows it's coming directly at us, and will collide with the Milky Way in 4 billion years. The event will transform the appearance of our night sky.
This month, Opportunity is roving again, while Curiosity approaches Mars; Cassini's finally seeing rings, and will fly by Mimas, Titan, and Tethys; GRAIL has completed its primary mission and is journeying toward the second; Dawn is climbing to the HAMO2 orbit; and a rare transit of Venus is coming up on June 5/6.
It was just a coincidence, but a cool one, that I got a chance to visit the Mojave Spaceport so soon after the dramatic "New Space" success of the launch and Space Station docking of SpaceX's Falcon 9 and Dragon.
Cassini obtained its first high-resolution images of Methone on May 20, 2012. Methone is one of the smallest regular moons of Saturn, having a diameter of only about 3 kilometers. It was the first moon that Cassini discovered, very early in Cassini's mission at Saturn, in 2004.
Image magician Daniel Machacek has done it again, producing a jaw-dropping view of Mars from Viking Orbiter 1, featuring a frosty Argyre basin and stretching across to a series of faults called Thaumasia Fossae.
Welcome to my monthly roundup of the activities of our intrepid robotic emissaries across the solar system! I count 16 spacecraft that are actively performing 13 scientific missions at Mercury, Venus, the Moon, Mars, Vesta, Saturn, and at the edge of the heliosphere. This month's highlight: Cassini's about to fly close past Enceladus and Dione.
Welcome to the Planetary Society's new website! What you're looking at right now is the result of months of continuous effort by the very small Web team here at the Society. Our goal was to create a new home for the Planetary Society on the Internet that reflects the way things have changed since our last redesign: changes in the Planetary Society, changes in space exploration, and changes in the way the Internet functions.
I enthused about these Helene images the first time they came down from Cassini, and then forgot about them, and then was thrilled anew a couple of weeks ago when Daniel Macháček posted his version, processed from data published by the Cassini imaging team on April 1.
The Twitterverse is buzzing this morning with news that the Science Programme Committee of the European Space Agency has recommended that the next large European mission be JUICE, a mission to explore the three icy Galilean satellites and eventually to orbit Ganymede.
A long-awaited data set is finally public (well, long-awaited by me, at least). The Rosetta team has now published their data from the July 10, 2010 flyby of asteroid (21) Lutetia. This data set is absolutely stunning, and my friends in the amateur image processing community wasted no time in creating art out of it.
Someone on Twitter pointed me to a paper recently posted to ArXiv titled "Evidence for 9 planets in the HD 10180 system." If the (tentative) conclusion holds up, HD 10180 will be the first exoplanetary system known to have more planets than our own.
In the last few days as it's rounded periapsis in its current orbit of Saturn, Cassini has taken a lot of great photos of Saturn's moons. One series of photos was taken from pretty close to Janus, a moon about a third the diameter of Enceladus that orbits between the F and G rings. And among those, several were taken with the moon sitting in front of Saturn.
My notes on a two-part presentation by collaborators Jim Richardson and David Minton about the sizes of things in the Kuiper belt, a story they told by looking at Saturn's moons. How does that work? What connects Saturn's moons to the Kuiper belt is craters.
A. J. S. Rayl has just posted her monthly update on the goings-on at Meridiani planum, noting that the update recaps the 99th month of the Mars Exploration Rover mission. There's a lot of detail on how the radio-tracking campaign is going. While she's not driving, Opportunity's acting like a lander, with radio antennas on Earth performing Doppler tracking to allow very fine measurement of Mars' orbital motion.
Welcome to my monthly roundup of the activities of our intrepid robotic emissaries across the solar system! I count 16 spacecraft that are actively performing 13 scientific missions at Mercury, Venus, the Moon, Mars, Vesta, Saturn, and at the edge of the heliosphere.
Last week, Pamela Gay of CosmoQuest announced that their Moon Mappers citizen science project is out of its beta phase and ready for prime time. Moon Mappers enlists the help of the public to perform the gargantuan task of mapping the sizes and positions of craters photographed on the Moon by Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter. Crater counting is the most powerful tool geologists have for figuring out how old planetary surfaces are. But when you have Terabytes of data, it's simply impossible for one scientist to count all the craters
Here's a newly announced contest that is right up my alley and, I hope, of interest to regular readers of this blog. ESA has just announced "Hubble's Hidden Treasures," a contest to encourage what I've been trying to get people to do for years: trawl through the Hubble archives to find unappreciated tresures of photos and make them pretty for public consumption. They have two categories, one for newbies (who can use image processing tools provided on ESA's website) and one for more serious amateurs (who can use other software).
This month will see GRAIL begin its science mission measuring the Moon's gravity field. MESSENGER will complete its primary mission at Mercury, celebrating its one-Earth-year-in-orbit anniversary with a big data release, and immediately begin work on its one-year extended mission. Mars will pass its solstice, ushering in warmer days for Opportunity. Coincidentally, this month will see Jupiter's southern winter solstice, too, though there are no spacecraft there to notice it. Out at Saturn, Cassini will have two encounters with Enceladus this month, one of them distant, one of them at 74 kilometers altitude.
One of the more exciting talks last week was given by Antoine Lucas about his work with Oded Aharonson "denoising" Cassini radar images of Titan. Cassini's radar images are superior to the camera photos in revealing fine details and topography on Titan's surface, but they do suffer from a random noise component that makes the pictures look snowy. Antoine and Oded have developed a method for removing much of this noise.
I just sat in the "small bodies" session at the Lunar and Planetary Science Conference, listening to three talks about Phobos. The first was by Abby Fraeman, who looked at data on Phobos and Deimos from the two imaging spectrometers in orbit at Mars. The next talk, by L. Chappaz, was motivated by Phobos-Grunt's mission. It asked: if you grabbed 200 grams of soil from the surface of Phobos, how much of that material would actually have originated on Mars? Then there was a particularly interesting talk that dealt with the question of how Phobos' grooves formed.
Water ice at Mercury's poles? That's crazy, right? Mercury is so close to the Sun that it seems inconceivable that you could have water ice there. But Mercury's rotational axis has virtually no tilt (MESSENGER has measured its tilt to be less than 1 degree), so there are areas at Mercury's poles, most often (but not always) within polar craters, where the Sun never rises above the horizon to heat the surface.
One of the topics I found most exciting yesterday was a series of talks on Titan's climate. Bob West showed how Titan's detached haze has shifted with time. Zibi Turtle presented about how Titan's weather has changed with these seasonal changes. Jason Barnes followed up Zibi's talk -- which was based on Cassini camera images -- with a study of the same regions using data from Cassini's imaging spectrometer, trying to figure out what was going on with that brightening. Ralph Lorenz talked about rainfall rates on Titan. Jeff Moore asked: what if Titan hasn't always had a thick atmosphere?
Yesterday I was treated to a little tour (little, because it's a little building) of Honeybee Robotics' office here in Pasadena. Honeybee is developing some great technology for future space missions for Earth, Mars, and beyond.
It is always thrilling to see relics of human exploration out there on other worlds. Today, the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter Camera team posted some new photos of two defunct spacecraft: the Luna 17 lander and the Lunokhod 1 rover. I've posted images of the two craft before, but the ones released today are much better.
In this week's Snapshots from Space video, I talk about the Voyager 1 images of Jupiter -- how many there are (tens of thousands), and what a challenge they represent for image processors. But, I promise, the effort is worth it. Here's just one example: it's a color, crescent view of Jupiter, taken by Voyager 1 as it departed.
JAXA's solar sail mission IKAROS is still hibernating, and there's no way of knowing if the spacecraft will reawaken or not. They try to raise contact with the spacecraft once a month, with the last attempt being made on March 10; we can only wait to see if they'll succeed. What better time to release a theme song for the mission? IKAROS has always been even more full of personality even than other JAXA missions (which is saying a lot).
Two brief mission updates. First, the good news: NASA announced yesterday that the twin GRAIL spacecraft have begun the science phase of the mission, transmitting precisely timed signals to each other in order to map the Moon's gravity field. The bad news: according to ESA, since the recent solar storm passed Venus, both of Venus Express' star trackers are suddenly unable to detect stars.
Clearly, this is Saturn, and its rings, and if you look closer you can see a tiny circle, on top of the rings, which is Mimas, and two stars in the background. It should look weird to you that while the rings are bright, Mimas is a black dot. What is happening here? Nearly everything in this picture is lit by light that has not arrived directly from the Sun.
Last night the Sun unleashed a large coronal mass ejection in our direction. Here is a compilation of images from SOHO's two LASCO cameras, plus a prediction from the new space weather prediction model that I learned about at the American Geophysical Union in December. The storm will arrive at Earth on March 8.