With the New Year upon us, what can we look forward to in 2014? For me, the main event of 2014 is that ESA's Rosetta mission finally -- finally! -- catches up to the comet it has been chasing for a decade. We will lose LADEE, gain two Mars orbiters, and launch Hayabusa2. The year begins with an amazing 24 spacecraft exploring or cruising toward various planetary destinations.
As promised, Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter's sharp eyes spotted the Chang'e 3 lander and Yutu rover on the lunar surface on December 25. The hardware shows up as a few bright pixels throwing long, dark shadows, clearly visible in a before-and-after comparison.
When Spirit and Opportunity landed in 2004, I was with the science team in charge of a group of high-school students called the Red Rover Goes to Mars Student Astronauts. We're coming up on the 10th anniversary of the landings -- what have those "kids" grown up into?
There was a lot of action on Chang'e 3 over the weekend! I have lots of pictures to share, including the highest-quality one I've seen of the rover on the surface, plus video of the rover making tracks on the Moon and a 3D view of the lander.
Alien Seas is ostensibly a book about "oceans in space," but it delivers so much more. The slender volume contains essays by many active planetary scientists who also happen to be excellent writers, each one of them playing a different riff on the idea of oceans in different environments in the solar system.
Today there was a lengthy press briefing by several members of the Chang'e 3 science team. A complete transcript was posted in Chinese. I have run it through two machine translators and found it to be quite informative, not just about the mission but also about attitudes about Chinese space exploration and foreign cooperation. I also have a cool fan-produced video to share.
Juno's Earth flyby represented the first opportunity for many of the science instruments to be used on a planetary target. There were terrific photos of Earth and the Moon, plus a cool project to see if Juno could detect intelligent life on Earth.
Here it is! Animated gifs, composed of screen grabs from Chinese state television, of the Yutu rover rolling on to the lunar surface. This was a replay, but it was no less thrilling for that; the actual rollout happened at 20:40 UT (12:40 PT). Six wheels on soil! Woohoo!
Transmitting images all the way down, China's Chang'e 3 lander successfully arrived on the lunar surface at 13:11:18 -- half an hour before the scheduled landing time. Rover deploy is set for a few hours later.
According to numerous Chinese news reports, Chang'e 3's landing on the Moon is now scheduled to begin at 21:40 Beijing time on December 14, which is 13:40 UT or 05:40 PT. That's about two hours earlier than previously stated.
In which I finally get around to writing about a paper published last August: Enceladus' plumes sometimes spout more and sometimes spout less, depending on where Enceladus is in its orbit. This discovery was enabled by Cassini's longevity at Saturn, and we'll be able to follow up on it, as long as Cassini is allowed to complete its mission.
Next week is the annual Fall Meeting of the American Geophysical Union (AGU), an enormous gathering of geoscientists of all varieties that occurs every year at the Moscone Center in downtown San Francisco. AGU is putting increasing effort into making it possible to attend some sessions virtually, and press briefings will be webstreamed, too.
I'm returning to the deep dive into the literature that began with articles about lunar basins and then explored the geologic time scales of Earth, Moon, and Mars. Now it's time to catch up to the last decade of Mars research and learn what "phyllosian", "theiikian", and "siderikian" eras are.
Comet ISON reached perihelion at 18:25 UT (10:25 PT) on November 28. It's an event that's was watched around the world, accompanied by tons of commentary and streams of photos. We will update this blog entry periodically with links to all the resources that we hear of for following the comet's progress.
On December 1 at 17:30 UTC, Chang'e 3 launched atop a Long March 3B rocket on a direct lunar transfer trajectory. It is scheduled to enter orbit December 6 and land December 14. The rocket was equipped with cameras that recorded thrilling video of the launch and final departure of the probe.
Two Hangouts bookended comet ISON's perihelion, hosted by Chuck Beuter of Comet Festival South Bend. On November 25, it was I and Ron Kaitchuck. On December 2, Alex Filippenko and I discussed what happened to the comet over Thanksgiving.
Today I am delighted to welcome India into the ranks of interplanetary travelers: Mars Orbiter Mission has successfully propelled itself onto an interplanetary trajectory, departing Earth forever and setting sail for Mars. Congratulations to India, to the Indian Space Research Organisation, to the mission's scientists and engineers, and to the people of India.
Today is the day when India's Mars Orbiter Mission will fire its rocket to depart Earth and begin its 300-day journey to Mars. The rocket burn begins on December 1 at 00:49 IST (today at 19:19 UT / 11:19 PT).
Yesterday the Chinese space agency held a press briefing about the Chang'e 3 lunar lander. They announced that the rover has been named Yutu (or "Jade Rabbit," a legendary companion of the goddess Chang'e). Although it will land during the LADEE mission, it will not harm LADEE's goals -- quite the opposite, in fact.
Have kids to buy gifts for? I review some space-themed toys for kids age 1 to 12 or so: the Snap Circuits Deluxe Rover; astronaut costume accessories; the latest incarnation of Astronaut Barbie; and Lift Off Rocket Play Set. I also have a few construction toys to recommend.
Two spacecraft launched for Mars this month: Mars Orbiter Mission on November 5, and MAVEN on November 18. MAVEN is now on an interplanetary trajectory, while Mars Orbiter Mission is still in Earth orbit and will not depart for Mars until the end of the month. A lot of people are asking me: why the difference? Here's your answer, with input from Dave Doody.
There is a paper in press at Icarus by Xiaoduan Zou and five coauthors that provides the first peer-reviewed publication I've seen on the results of the imaging experiment performed during the Chang'e 2 flyby of near-Earth asteroid (4179) Toutatis.
My brother and I enjoyed watching Reading Rainbow as kids, so it's a delight for me to have had a guest post published on their blog last week. I wrote for them about how kids (with the help of their parents) can follow the adventure of the Curiosity mission through the release of their raw images.
MAVEN is just about to launch! The mission has just released their launch press kit. This post summarizes the press kit's high points, and hopefully answers most of your questions about NASA's next Mars orbiter, scheduled for liftoff Monday at 10:28 PT / 13:28 ET / 18:28 UT.
It took months of work (and no wonder) but the wait was worth it: here is Cassini's spectacular view of Saturn, captured on July 19, 2013, as Cassini passed through Saturn's shadow. If you're a little confused by the image, I'm here to help: I've posted a video explainer.
Yesterday, the Mars Orbiter Mission was commanded to perform a rocket burn that would have raised the apogee of its orbit around Earth. The spacecraft began its burn, but underperformed. ISRO has planned a supplemental burn for November 12 at 05:00 IST (today at 15:30 PT / 23:30 UT) in order to make up the deficit.
The Mars Orbiter Mission completed its first, second, and third of six planned maneuvers in Earth orbit successfully last week. However, the fourth maneuver, conducted on Sunday at 12:36 PST / 20:36 UTC / Monday 02:06 IST, failed to lift the apogee of the orbit as high as planned.
As India's Mars Orbiter Mission continues to pump up the altitude of its orbit around Earth, NASA's MAVEN is making final preparations for its direct-to-Mars launch. All is proceeding acccording to schedule toward its November 18 launch at 1:28 EST / 10:28 PST / 18:28 UTC.
When the Mars Orbiter Mission launched yesterday, it launched into Earth orbit. The Mars Orbiter Mission must perform several rocket burns in order to increase its orbital altitude before departing for Mars. The first burn was completed successfully just minutes ago.
The PSLV carrying ISRO's Mars Orbiter mission shot like a firework off the launch pad today, placing the spacecraft precisely into its planned elliptical orbit of Earth. Now the 10-month cruise phase begins. Congratulations to ISRO!
The excitement is really building toward India's first-ever attempt at an interplanetary spacecraft! Launch day is quickly approaching for the Mars Orbiter Mission. In this lengthy post, I provide answers to frequently asked questions about the mission and its goals.
China's Chang'e 3 lunar soft lander and rover are proceeding toward a planned December launch. The Long March-3B rocket departed Beijing for the Xichang launch facility yesterday, and is expected to arrive November 1. Meanwhile, 190,000 contest entries have been winnowed to a list of ten possible names for the rover.
This book is so great. I cannot imagine how many hours of happy building went into the development of the various LEGO ships and space bases included in this book, but I wish I could have participated.
The launch of ISRO's Mars Orbiter Mission has been delayed by about a week due to bad weather in the Indian Ocean. The new launch date is November 5 at 14:36 IST (09:06 UTC / 01:06 PST). Their launch opportunity stretches to November 19.
In which I summarize Joe Veverka's Kuiper Prize talk at the Division for Planetary Sciences meeting: "Small is NOT Dull: Unravelling the Complexity of Surface Processes on Asteroids, Comets and Small Satellites."
I try to be measured in my praise for spacecraft images. Not every photo can be the greatest space image ever. But this enormous mosaic showing the flattened globe of Saturn floating within the complete disk of its rings must surely be counted among the great images of the Cassini mission.
After entering safe mode last week during its Earth flyby, Juno returned to normal operations and downlinked all engineering and science instrument data. It entered safe mode again on Sunday night, but it is expected to re-resume normal operations late next week.
What did I learn about Curiosity at last week's Division for Planetary Sciences meeting? There were a few talks, most of which concerned soil and atmsospheric chemistry. I can summarize their conclusions with one sentence: More data is needed.
Following its Earth flyby earlier today, Juno is in safe mode. This is the protective state a spacecraft goes into when it detects a problem. But everything is okay. For more details, I just spoke with Rick Nybakken, Juno Project Manager at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory.
I'll be representing The Planetary Society on a quickly-replanned panel at tomorrow's Division for Planetary Sciences Meeting Agency Night, in the absence of any representatives from federal funding agencies.
The shutdown of the federal government continues to claim casualties. Today, the Green Bank Telescope, Very Large Array, and Very Long Baseline Arrays all shut their doors, blinding us to the radio sky and scuttling long-term research projects.
The annual meeting of the Division for Planetary Sciences of the American Astronomical Society begins on Sunday and runs for a week in Denver, Colorado. I'll be attending all week, bringing you the latest news from across the solar system.
The European Space Agency invited me to join Mars Express project scientist Olivier Witasse, and spacecraft oeprations manager Michel Denis for a Hangout on Europe's recent and future exploration of Mars and Phobos.
When LADEE launched on September 6, it launched into Earth orbit. Today, it is finally on a path that will take it to its October 6 lunar orbit insertion. Its operation is continuing normally in the face of the U.S. government's shutdown yesterday, as is that of Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter.
Yesterday, the much-anticipated comet ISON made its closest pass by Mars. Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter's HiRISE camera is the first to achieve a positive detection of the somewhat-fainter-than-expected comet in its photos.
Several Indian news sites posted a press wire article this morning indicating that India's Mars Orbiter Mission departed its assembly and testing facility in Bangalore today and is now on the way to the coastal launch site, the Satish Dhawan Space Centre at Sriharikota, a journey of about 400 kilometers.
A few days ago, I wrote a post about the basins of the Moon -- a result of a trip down a rabbit hole of book research. Here's the next step in that journey: the Geologic Time Scales of Earth and the Moon.
Indian media reported over the weekend that the Mars Orbiter Mission has passed some senior review, and has been approved to proceed toward a launch date of October 28, a week later than previously planned.
Some good news to start your weekend: the newest member of our deep-space fleet, LADEE, has successfully completed its checkout phase and is now officially in its cruise phase. It is still in Earth orbit, headed for Lunar Orbit Insertion on Sunday, October 6.
Just four months ago I posted about a paper recently published by Leslie Young and coauthors that described three possible scenarios for Pluto's atmosphere. Yesterday, Cathy Olkin, Leslie Young, and coauthors posted a preprint on arXiv that says that only one of those scenarios can be true. And it's a surprising one. The title of their paper says it all: "Pluto's atmosphere does not collapse."
Communication with the Deep Impact spacecraft was lost some time between August 11 and August 14. The team has determined the cause of the problem, and is trying to figure out how to restore communication.
What have the recent discoveries of thousands of exoplanets told us about how we got here, and whether we are alone? In Destiny or Chance Revisited, Stuart Ross Taylor attempts to answer those two questions.
LADEE's launch window opens two weeks from today, on September 6. The brief little mission aims to study the lunar atmosphere and dust environment before future soft landings disturb its currently pristine state.