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Blogs

Emily Lakdawalla's blogs from 2014

Upcoming public appearances: me, Bill Nye, and Planetary Radio Live in Washington and Los Angeles

Posted by Emily Lakdawalla on 2014/04/22 05:06 CDT | 1 comments

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!

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Rosetta update: Instrument commissioning going well; Philae cameras activated

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.

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Pretty picture: Sunset over Gale crater

Posted by Emily Lakdawalla on 2014/04/14 10:38 CDT | 5 comments

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.

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Curiosity update: Initial reconnaissance of the Kimberley, sols 585-595

Posted by Emily Lakdawalla on 2014/04/11 12:08 CDT | 3 comments

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.

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Help name the last phase of the Cassini mission!

Posted by Emily Lakdawalla on 2014/04/10 06:31 CDT | 12 comments

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.

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Look how clean Opportunity is now!

Posted by Emily Lakdawalla on 2014/04/09 10:28 CDT | 1 comments

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.

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Commander Dave Scott's Masursky Lecture from LPSC 2014

Posted by Emily Lakdawalla on 2014/04/04 03:21 CDT | 5 comments

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.

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Great new image of Curiosity from HiRISE, just across Dingo Gap

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.

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More excitement in the outermost solar system: 2013 FY27, a new dwarf planet

Posted by Emily Lakdawalla on 2014/04/02 10:49 CDT | 7 comments

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 .

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LPSC 2014: Titan's Land of Lakes

Posted by Emily Lakdawalla on 2014/03/31 07:44 CDT | 2 comments

Report from a varied session on Titan's lakes at this year's Lunar and Planetary Science Conference.

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Curiosity update, sols 570-583: Arrival at Kimberley and preparation for an arm workout

Posted by Emily Lakdawalla on 2014/03/28 03:00 CDT | 3 comments

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.

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Hangout on Air: Why yesterday was a good day for Solar System Science

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.

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Comet spotted! Rosetta's first sight of Churymov-Gerasimenko since wakeup

Posted by Emily Lakdawalla on 2014/03/27 09:58 CDT | 2 comments

Rosetta has turned on its cameras and sighted its comet for the first time since waking from hibernation. Next activity: waking the Philae lander.

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A second Sedna! What does it mean?

Posted by Emily Lakdawalla on 2014/03/26 04:28 CDT | 11 comments

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.

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Snapshots of Science from the 2014 Lunar and Planetary Science Conference

Posted by Emily Lakdawalla on 2014/03/25 02:45 CDT | 2 comments

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.

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LPSC 2014: Water on...Vesta?

Posted by Emily Lakdawalla on 2014/03/21 04:03 CDT | 3 comments

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.

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ICE/ISEE-3 update: Amateurs detect its signal while professionals study contacting it

Posted by Emily Lakdawalla on 2014/03/20 10:12 CDT | 5 comments

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.

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LPSC 2014: Plate tectonics on another world: Europa

Posted by Emily Lakdawalla on 2014/03/19 01:28 CDT | 7 comments

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.

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Curiosity update, sols 563-569: Kimberley ahoy!

Posted by Emily Lakdawalla on 2014/03/16 05:12 CDT | 1 comments

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.

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Titan's lakes: The basics

Posted by Emily Lakdawalla on 2014/03/15 10:30 CDT | 7 comments

Since Seth MacFarlane tweeted that this weekend's episode of Cosmos was going to include a segment on lakes on Titan, I thought I'd write a post explaining the basics of Titan lakes.

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Lunar and Planetary Science Conference 2014 preview

Posted by Emily Lakdawalla on 2014/03/14 01:44 CDT | 2 comments

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!

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Spacecraft phone home: Cool Deep Space Network data visualization

Posted by Emily Lakdawalla on 2014/03/14 11:04 CDT | 5 comments

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.

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Pretty Picture: Three Wanderers

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.

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The new Cosmos: Standing Up in the Milky Way

Posted by Emily Lakdawalla on 2014/03/10 11:55 CDT | 78 comments

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.

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The Very Large Telescope sights Rosetta's comet target, sees activity beginning

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.

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Curiosity update, sols 549-562: Shooting past Kylie on the road to Kimberley

Posted by Emily Lakdawalla on 2014/03/06 07:35 CST | 7 comments

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.

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2015 will be the Year of the Dwarf Planet, and you need to tell people about it!

Posted by Emily Lakdawalla on 2014/03/05 07:00 CST | 10 comments

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.

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Checking in on Chang'e 3 and Yutu from Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter: Yep, still there!

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.

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A new map of Mars from some pretty old data

Posted by Emily Lakdawalla on 2014/03/04 11:46 CST | 3 comments

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.

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Brief Yutu update: Slightly more detail on what's keeping rover from roving

Posted by Emily Lakdawalla on 2014/03/03 12:13 CST | 4 comments

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."

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Pretty pictures of terraced craters on Mars

Posted by Emily Lakdawalla on 2014/02/27 10:16 CST | 3 comments

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?

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A little fun with Cassini rings images

Posted by Emily Lakdawalla on 2014/02/25 06:51 CST | 7 comments

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.

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Sunset on Chang'e 3's third lunar day: Yutu not dead yet, but not moving either

Posted by Emily Lakdawalla on 2014/02/24 12:38 CST | 4 comments

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.

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Curiosity update, sols 540-8: New rules and longer drives

Posted by Emily Lakdawalla on 2014/02/20 05:53 CST | 3 comments

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.

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Predicting Pluto's moons and moondust

Posted by Emily Lakdawalla on 2014/02/19 01:39 CST | 2 comments

Why didn't we discover Pluto's moons until more than a decade after Hubble launched? Mark Showalter helps me answer this question.

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What are Mercury's hollows?

Posted by Emily Lakdawalla on 2014/02/18 09:33 CST | 10 comments

I've been fascinated by Mercury's hollows ever since MESSENGER discovered them. Two recent papers look at where they are found to try to figure out how they form.

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Curiosity Update, sols 534-540: Over Dingo Gap, onto softer sand

Posted by Emily Lakdawalla on 2014/02/13 12:55 CST | 5 comments

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.

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Possible hope for Yutu: "Situation is getting better," but no details [UPDATED]

Posted by Emily Lakdawalla on 2014/02/12 02:50 CST | 5 comments

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.

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All's well in cruise phase for Mars-bound spacecraft MAVEN and Mars Orbiter Mission

Posted by Emily Lakdawalla on 2014/02/11 10:15 CST | 5 comments

A hundred days after launch, India's Mars Orbiter Mission is doing just fine, and so is NASA's MAVEN.

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HiRISE image coverage of the Curiosity field site on Mars

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.

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ICE/ISEE-3 to return to an Earth no longer capable of speaking to it

Posted by Emily Lakdawalla on 2014/02/07 10:47 CST | 41 comments

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.

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Looking Backward: Curiosity gazes upon the setting Earth

Posted by Emily Lakdawalla on 2014/02/05 11:58 CST | 8 comments

A few days ago, Curiosity looked westward after sunset and photographed Earth setting toward the mountainous rim of Gale crater.

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ExoMars baby pictures: Spacecraft core module delivered to assembly site

Posted by Emily Lakdawalla on 2014/02/04 03:03 CST | 3 comments

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.

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Naming asteroids in honor of Nelson Mandela

Posted by Emily Lakdawalla on 2014/02/04 02:13 CST | 4 comments

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.

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An extended mission for LADEE

Posted by Emily Lakdawalla on 2014/02/03 09:39 CST | 2 comments

The LADEE team has managed their fuel frugally enough to permit a one-month mission extension; they now plan to impact the Moon on or around April 21, 2014.

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Beautiful view into the valley beyond Dingo Gap, Curiosity sol 528

Posted by Emily Lakdawalla on 2014/01/31 02:41 CST | 6 comments

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.

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Curiosity update: imaging the nonfunctioning REMS boom, closer to Dingo Gap

Posted by Emily Lakdawalla on 2014/01/29 04:22 CST | 2 comments

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.

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LADEE spotted by Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter!

Posted by Emily Lakdawalla on 2014/01/29 03:11 CST

Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter has managed to snap a photo of the other current lunar orbiter, LADEE, at the Moon.

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I'm on All Things Considered today, talking about poor Yutu

Posted by Emily Lakdawalla on 2014/01/28 05:06 CST | 7 comments

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.

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Bad news for Yutu rover

Posted by Emily Lakdawalla on 2014/01/25 05:33 CST | 8 comments

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.

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Curiosity images "Dingo Gap," sols 519-521

Posted by Emily Lakdawalla on 2014/01/24 05:45 CST | 1 comments

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."

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Super-close supernova in M82

Posted by Emily Lakdawalla on 2014/01/22 11:31 CST | 8 comments

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.

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New version of panoramic view from Chang'e 3

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.

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Video: Lunar Laser Communication Demonstration sends Bill Nye over the Moon

Posted by Emily Lakdawalla on 2014/01/21 01:23 CST | 1 comments

In this fun video, the Planetary Society worked with LADEE Lunar Laser Communication Demonstration team to communicate live over their lunar link.

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Rosetta is awake!

Posted by Emily Lakdawalla on 2014/01/20 02:33 CST | 5 comments

It was a tense half an hour for Rosetta fans all over the world as we waited for a spike in a graph to inform us that Rosetta had awoken from a 31-month slumber to phone home.

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"Secrets of the Kuiper Belt" in Sky & Telescope

Posted by Emily Lakdawalla on 2014/01/16 11:17 CST | 2 comments

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.

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Updates on Chang'e 3: Rover and lander both awake, good science data received

Posted by Emily Lakdawalla on 2014/01/14 05:01 CST | 8 comments

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.

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Book Review: This Is Mars

Posted by Emily Lakdawalla on 2014/01/14 01:14 CST | 2 comments

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.

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Blast from the past: Spirit sunrise panorama at Troy

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.

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Finally, some high-quality photos from Chang'e 3!

Posted by Emily Lakdawalla on 2014/01/10 11:37 CST | 6 comments

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.

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Polar vortices across the solar system

Posted by Emily Lakdawalla on 2014/01/09 11:49 CST | 2 comments

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.

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Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter Diviner maps geologic context of Chang'e 3 landing site

Posted by Emily Lakdawalla on 2014/01/08 01:53 CST | 1 comments

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.

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It's that time of year again: Happy LPSC deadline day, and happy haiku

Posted by Emily Lakdawalla on 2014/01/07 06:52 CST | 1 comments

Conference abstracts
Summaries of summaries
Geo-poetry

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2013: The Year in Pictures, an addendum

Posted by Emily Lakdawalla on 2014/01/07 03:22 CST | 1 comments

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.

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Looking back at 10 years of imaging by the Mars Exploration Rovers (Video)

Posted by Emily Lakdawalla on 2014/01/03 01:43 CST | 5 comments

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.

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Pretty picture: Two crescents: New moon, old Venus

Posted by Emily Lakdawalla on 2014/01/02 03:21 CST | 6 comments

A baby Moon and aging Venus crescents are positioned close in the sky today, and lots of people are taking beautiful photos.

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