Emily Lakdawalla's blogs from 2014
I have a spate of several public appearances coming up; I hope some of you can come out and see me and other Planetary Society folks, including Bill Nye and two, count them, two Planetary Radio Live events!
Posted by Emily Lakdawalla on 2014/04/22 12:46 CDT
Rosetta and Philae have very nearly completed a six-week phase of spacecraft and instrument checkouts to prepare the mission to do science. Recently, the lander used its cameras for the first time since hibernation, producing some new photos of Rosetta in space.
Imagine yourself on a windswept landscape of rocks and red dust with mountains all around you. The temperature -- never warm on this planet -- suddenly plunges, as the small Sun sets behind the western range of mountains.
Curiosity has been busy performing a survey of the Kimberley, walking the length of the outcrop and taking enormous quantities of photos. The team is now ready to go in for a closer look, and maybe even to drill.
The scientists on the Cassini team are incredibly excited about the final, "proximal orbit" phase of the mission. But they want a punchier name for it, and they're asking the public for help.
While climbing Murray Ridge, Opportunity enjoyed a major cleaning event that has left the rover's solar panels more dust-free than they have been in years. The rover captured a pretty panorama of the newly clean deck with its Pancams, and James Sorenson processed the version shown here.
A video of Apollo astronaut David Scott's lecture to the Lunar and Planetary Science Conference. His talk was an absolute treat: funny, educational, engaging, full of joy at his adventure, though at the end, a little angry that we've not sent more humans back. It's well worth 45 minutes of your time.
Posted by Emily Lakdawalla on 2014/04/03 06:26 CDT
A Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter HiRISE image taken on February 10 shows Curiosity having just made deep, dark tracks across the Dingo Gap dune.
On the heels of last weeks reports of a second Sedna and a ringed Centaur comes a third cool outer solar system discovery: A new, likely large member of the Kuiper belt. With an absolute magnitude of about 3.0, the new object currently known as 2013 FY27 is the tenth brightest object beyond Neptune .
Some arm faults caused delays on Curiosity's approach to Kimberley, but the rover is now parked at its north edge, examining the "striated unit" up close with arm-mounted instruments.
Posted by Emily Lakdawalla on 2014/03/27 11:52 CDT
On Wednesday, March 26, two important discoveries in the outer solar system were announced: the discovery of the second confirmed member of the Inner Oort Cloud (2012 VP113) and the discovery of rings around the planetesimal Chariklo. In a Hangout on Air, a rag-tag group of planetary scientists and astronomers active on Twitter talked about the discoveries.
Rosetta has turned on its cameras and sighted its comet for the first time since waking from hibernation. Next activity: waking the Philae lander.
2012 VP113 is a new world that has been discovered on a Sedna-like orbit. What does that mean? It could imply the existence of a planet X, but doesn't prove it. It does suggest that a lot more Sednas are waiting to be discovered.
Vignettes from dozens of LPSC talks: GRAIL and LADEE at the Moon; ice and craters and conglomerates and organics and gullies on Mars; polar deposits and volatile elements on Mercury; tectonics on Enceladus; and more, until my brain was so full I could barely speak.
At the Lunar and Planetary Science Conference, Jennifer Scully discussed possible water-carved gullies in an unusual location: within craters on Vesta. Water-carved gullies on Mars I can accept; but on an airless lumpy body? I was intrigued.
Since the last time I reported on ICE/ISEE-3, there have been several developments. Its signal has been detected by several Earth-based observers, and there is now some (though slight) hope of reestablishing command over the spacecraft.
Simon Kattenhorn and Louise Prockter may finally have found subduction zones on Europa, which would it the only other place in the solar system besides Earth that is known to have active plate tectonics.
With a series of drives over the last week, Curiosity is now approaching her next science stop at Kimberley. The distinctive knobs of the Kimberley outcrop are visible in photos taken on sol 569.
It's that time of year again: my favorite annual space science meeting, the Lunar and Planetary Science Conference, takes place all next week in Houston, Texas. Get ready for reports on everything from Mercury to the Moon to Mars to Miranda!
Check out the awesome new "Deep Space Network Now" page at JPL's Eyes on the Solar System to see just who the many antennas of the Deep Space Network are talking to at this moment.
Posted by Emily Lakdawalla on 2014/03/12 12:34 CDT
With all the excitement happening on missions criscrossing the solar system, I often forget to enjoy the views of our solar system that we can achieve from home. Amateur astronomers don't make the same mistake. Here's a lovely photo that Stuart Atkinson sent me, captured last night from Kendal, England, showing four special wanderers.
My daughters liked the new Cosmos and want to watch next week. I thought it was a successful beginning for a long series, and I think it'll become a weekly viewing event for our family. I hope other families think the same.
Posted by Emily Lakdawalla on 2014/03/10 02:18 CDT
Rosetta's comet target, 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko, has emerged from behind the Sun as seen from Earth, and the Very Large Telescope has photographed it. The new images show that cometary activity has already begun as Rosetta approaches for its August rendezvous.
In a series of drives, Curiosity flew past the "striated terrain" that outcropped at Kylie, and is now negotiating her way around some rockier territory as she makes her way south toward the enticing outcrops of Kimberley.
I am very excited about 2015, more so than I have been about any year since I started working at The Planetary Society. Dawn will enter orbit at Ceres, and New Horizons, which will fly past Pluto and Charon. But if we want this kind of exploration to continue, I'm challenging you, dear readers, to tell the world why such non-planetary worlds are compelling places to go exploring.
Posted by Emily Lakdawalla on 2014/03/04 01:08 CST
Seeing hardware that was built by human hands sitting on the surface of another planet never, ever gets old. Today, the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter Camera team released two new images of Chang'e 3 and Yutu on the Moon.
The United States Geological Survey recently issued an improved version of the Viking color map of Mars. This 40-year-old data set still provides the prettiest global-scale map of the planet.
Over the weekend, Chinese state news agency Xinhua reported in both Chinese and English a little bit more information on what has stilled the Yutu rover's motions across the lunar surface: "a control circuit malfunction in its driving unit."
Check out this unusual crater on Mars. It's not a very big one, less than 500 meters in diameter, and yet it has two rings. Most craters on Mars this size are simple bowl shapes. What's going on here?
It's happened again; I went into the Cassini image archive looking for something specific and wound up spending several hours playing with totally unrelated image data. Here are several beautiful images of the rings from the archives.
During the third lunar day of Change'3 surface operations the lander operated normally, performing ultraviolet astronomy and imaging Earth's plasmasphere. The rover's instruments were working, but the rover did not move.
Curiosity has tested a new driving mode -- backwards -- and achieved their longest single-day drive in three months. And they've committed to driving to the spot formerly known as "KMS-9," marking that commitment by giving it a name, "Kimberley." My route maps show you why Curiosity's views will be shifting, and Ken Herkenhoff's blog posts explain the daily activities.
After more than two months of very slow driving due to concern about the wheels and time spent choosing whether to enter "Dingo Gap" or not, Curiosity has safely crossed the dune and resumed longer drives, achieving 75 meters and crossing the 5-kilometer mark on sol 540.
A terse Xinhua news report posted today says there may be some sign of life from Yutu, now that the Sun has risen on the third lunar day since Chang'e 3 landed. It is frustratingly non-specific. UPDATE: Amateur radio operators have detected a radio signal from the rover.
A hundred days after launch, India's Mars Orbiter Mission is doing just fine, and so is NASA's MAVEN.
Posted by Emily Lakdawalla on 2014/02/10 02:39 CST
There have been tons and tons of HiRISE images of the Curiosity landing region, and it has taken quite a lot of work for me to find, locate, and catalogue them. This post is a summary of what I've found.
It's with great sadness that I report that the Goddard Space Flight Center team has determined that we will not be able to regain control of the venerable spacecraft ICE/ISEE-3 when it passes by Earth this year, after a 30-year journey around the Sun.
A few days ago, Curiosity looked westward after sunset and photographed Earth setting toward the mountainous rim of Gale crater.
The European Space Agency announced yesterday a significant milestone in the development of the next Mars mission: the core module of the ExoMars Trace Gas Orbiter has been delivered.
In which I ask the Internet to tell me about people who deserve to have an asteroid named for them because of their work to promote racial equality, human rights, and social justice.
A beautiful Mastcam panorama from sol 528 shows a landscape so much more like Earth than anything we've explored on the Martian surface before.
At long last, on sol 526, Curiosity imaged the part of the weather instrument that was damaged during landing, but no obvious damage is visible, to me anyway. On sol 527 they drove even closer to Dingo Gap, with plans to drive onto the dune in the sol 528 drive.
As a lifetime listener of National Public Radio, it's beyond strange to hear my voice on All Things Considered! I wish it were for a happier reason, but I was invited on by Geoff Brumfiel to talk about the fate of poor Yutu.
The Sun has set for a second time at Chang'e 3's landing site on the Moon. The lander is operating normally and shut down to sleep as expected, but the rover is not responding properly to Earth command so could not prepare properly for the oncoming lunar night, and likely will not survive it.
Over the last few days, Curiosity made steady driving progress to the southwest. For several of those days, an intriguing feature has appeared on the horizon in her images. UPDATE: The Curiosity team has now decided to drive the rover toward the feature, which is now named "Dingo Gap."
The astronomy world is all a-twitter this morning over the discovery of a new supernova in M82, a galaxy that's in our astronomical backyard, "only" 12 million light-years away. And early word is that it appears to be a Type Ia supernova, the kind that's used as a standard candle to measure the expansion of the universe.
Posted by Emily Lakdawalla on 2014/01/21 05:02 CST
A higher-resolution version of the Chang'e 3 lander's panoramic view of the lunar surface has appeared on the Web, and artist Don Davis has cleaned it of artifacts to make a beautiful, seamless view. In other news, the mission has been reorganized to accommodate a possibly year-long adventure on the lunar surface.
In this fun video, the Planetary Society worked with LADEE Lunar Laser Communication Demonstration team to communicate live over their lunar link.
Woo hoo! I've got another cover story in the current (February 2014) issue of Sky & Telescope, in which I try to make sense of the Kuiper belt. This article was motivated by my observation that the discovery of many new things beyond Neptune had, through an ironic chain of events, resulted in our teaching children less about the solar system than we used to.
According to news reports from China, the Yutu rover woke up from its two-week nap at 5:09 Beijing time on January 11 (21:09 on January 10, UTC), successfully establishing communication with Earth. The lander woke up autonomously at 8:21 Beijing time / 00:21 UTC on January 12, and is also "in normal condition." UPDATED to note that the lander's camera apparently did not survive lunar night.
This is Mars is a stunning book that treats the HiRISE camera on Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter as an art photographer, exploring the variety of shapes and patterns created by wind, water, impacts, and gravity on the Martian surface.
Posted by Emily Lakdawalla on 2014/01/14 11:53 CST
In honor of the 10th anniversary of Spirit's landing on Mars, here is a new view from near the end of that mission.
A pile of Chang'e 3 photos has been released to the Web, and they are much, much better than what I've seen before. They include, for the first time, photos of Earth from the lander.
Earth's polar vortex has been in the American news all week. But we're not the only planet that has one; basically every world that has an atmosphere has a polar vortex. Here are lots of pretty pictures and animations of polar vortices.
The LRO Diviner Lunar Radiometer has been mapping the entire Moon on a nearly continuous basis since July, 2009. The Diviner team has produced maps of the thermal behavior and and a range of derived quantities at Chang’e 3 landing site that are described in this post.
Summaries of summaries
Every year, I write a feature article for the year's final issue of The Planetary Report titled "The Year in Pictures." Because The Planetary Report is a printed product, I have to compose the article before the year has ended. So here is an addendum to the printed article, a few images that came in November and December that mark significant events of 2013.
As part of the Planetary Society's celebration of the Mars Exploration Rovers' ten years on Mars, Jim Bell and I got together to look back at and tell stories about some of the great images they took.
A baby Moon and aging Venus crescents are positioned close in the sky today, and lots of people are taking beautiful photos.
Our Curiosity Knows No Bounds!
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