Emily Lakdawalla's blogs from 2014
Looking ahead to what we can expect from Earth's exploration of the rest of the solar system in 2015, there's an obvious theme: Dwarf planets.
At the American Geophysical Union meeting, the Curiosity mission announced that an instrument had finally definitively detected methane in Mars' atmosphere. It exists at a low background level, but there was a spike to about ten times that, which lasted for a couple of months before disappearing. What that means is unclear.
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; after four revisions and updates, it's now version 2.0 of the list.
In San Francisco, in an annual tradition, more than 20,000 geologists are descending on the Moscone Center. I'll be attending #AGU14 this week, but you can also watch press briefings and many of the sessions online.
China is moving forward with plans to launch an orbiter and rover to Mars in the 2020 launch opportunity. The Mars program also includes plans for sample return in 2030.
It's been a long journey, but it's nearly over: New Horizons is just about ready to begin its science mission to Pluto, Charon, Styx, Nix, Kerberos, and Hydra. I'll remind you of New Horizons' capabilities and simulate how Pluto will appear in optical navigation images.
Hayabusa2 successfully launched on December 3, 2014 at 04:22 UTC, and embarked on its interplanetary journey about two hours later. During the launch, cameras captured video of the spacecraft fairing separation.
Posted by Emily Lakdawalla on 2014/12/02 10:54 CST
Hayabusa2's H-IIA rocket has just reached its launchpad! Japan's next asteroid sample return mission was supposed to launch this weekend, but weather has not been good at the Tanegashima launch site and it has been delayed four days already. If the weather holds, it will launch December 3 at 04:22 UT (13:22 JST, or December 2 at 20:22, PT). UPDATED to add links to live webcasts.
Posted by Emily Lakdawalla on 2014/11/19 07:50 CST
At Pahrump Hills, Curiosity is becoming the field geologist she was intended to be.
Posted by Emily Lakdawalla on 2014/11/19 01:57 CST
A set of photos released by Mars Orbiter Mission last week completes the set of Mars spacecraft observations of the comet. Now we wait for science results!
This morning ESA released a set of images of the Philae lander taken by the Rosetta orbiter during -- and after -- the lander's first touchdown. The images contain evidence for the spot Philae first touched the comet, and a crucial photo of Philae's position several minutes into its first long bounce.
Emily Lakdawalla gives a status report on Philae from the European Space Operations Centre (ESOC) in Darmstadt.
I'm just getting up to speed on the news from overnight, which is mostly good: Philae remained in contact with the orbiter (which means the CONSERT radar sounding experiment was working), and it's sitting stably on the surface, although it's not anchored in any way. And they released the first ÇIVA image from the ground!
The landing happened on time just after 16:02 UT today! Philae mission manager Stephan Ulamec said: "Philae is talking to us! The first thing he told us was the harpoons have been fired and rewound. We are sitting on the surface." Those words later turned out not to be true; but we do know at least that Philae survived the landing and is returning good data.
Here it is. We knew hours ago that Philae separation happened, but there's nothing like seeing a photo, seeing Philae's mothership receding into the distance.
Philae is "go" for landing. But there has been drama overnight. One of the steps to prepare for landing did not proceed as planned. UPDATE: At 09:03 UTC, the lander separated from the orbiter, beginning a 7-hour descent to the surface of the comet.
It's been a day of calm before the storm here at the European Space Operations Centre in Darmstadt, as we get ready for the big event tomorrow: Philae's hoped-for landing on a comet. The first of four "go-no-go" decisions has been made, and it's a "go." Mission navigators have gotten data back from Rosetta that indicates that the spacecraft is on the correct trajectory to deliver Philae to the comet.
I'm reporting live from the press room at the European Space Operations Centre in Darmstadt, Germany. There's little news on Philae yet except that its status is good. Meanwhile, Rosetta scientists presented their first early comet results at the Division for Planetary Sciences meeting in Tucson, Arizona, which I watched from afar using Twitter.
Earth's first-ever landing on a comet is a week away. On November 12 at 8:35 UT, Philae will separate from Rosetta. Seven hours later, it will arrive at the surface of the comet. Hopefully, Philae will survive the landing, and begin to return data.
It's been two weeks since comet Siding Spring passed close by Mars, and six of the seven Mars spacecraft have now checked in with quick looks at their images of the encounter. I round up all the results.
The Chang'e 5 test vehicle service module did not follow the sample return capsule into Earth's atmosphere. Instead, it successfully performed a divert maneuver, and is now on its way to the Earth-Moon L2 point
The Chang'e 5 test vehicle landed successfully in Inner Mongolia today after an 8-day mission. It demonstrated technology that China plans to use for automated sample return by the Chang'e 5 mission in 2017.
On October 27, JAXA provided media with an opportunity to view the Hayabusa2 spacecraft at the Tanegashima space center, where it's making final preparations for launch. Koumei Shibata was there, and took several photos. And artist Go Miyazaki has shared several terrific new renderings of the spacecraft in flight.
The Chang'e 5 test vehicle's short mission is more than half over. It has rounded the far side of the Moon and is on its way back to Earth for a planned October 31 test of lunar sample return technology. It's not a science mission -- it's an engineering mission -- but it has managed to return an absolutely iconic photo of its distant home, seen across the very unfamiliar far side of the Moon.
I have been horribly behind in posting images from Rosetta's exploration of comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko, and that's a shame, because the spacecraft has lately been exploring the comet from a range of only 10 kilometers. From that range, the NavCam gets sub-meter resolution, and we're seeing a menagerie of odd surface features
At the Geological Society of America conference this week, Curiosity scientists dug into the geology of Gale crater and shared puzzling results about the nature of the rocks that the rover has found there.
China launched to the Moon today! The spacecraft will have a brief, 8-day mission, out to the Moon and back. It is an engineering test for the technology that the future Chang'e 5 sample return mission will need to return its precious samples to Earth.
All seven Mars spacecraft are doing perfectly fine after comet Siding Spring's close encounter with Mars.
The nucleus of comet Siding Spring passes close by Mars on Sunday, October 19, at 18:27 UTC. Here are links to webcasts and websites that should have updates throughout the encounter.
Curiosity spent a total of four weeks at Confidence Hills, feeding samples to SAM and CheMin several times. On two weekends during this period, the rover's activities were interrupted by faults with the robotic arm. Curiosity drove away from Confidence Hills on sol 780, and is ready to observe comet Siding Spring over the weekend.
What a huge relief: there is finally a place for New Horizons to visit beyond Pluto. A team of researchers led by John Spencer has discovered three possible targets, all in the Cold Classical part of the Kuiper belt. One is particularly easy to reach. New Horizons would fly past the 30-45-kilometer object in January 2019.
Today the Mars Orbiter Mission released a nice four-image animation of teeny dark Phobos crossing Mars' huge orange disk. Mars Orbiter Mission joins a long line of Mars missions that have produced images of Mars and Phobos together.
Watch as our enormous moon -- a quarter the diameter of the planet -- just winks out as it passes into Earth's long shadow, in an animation captured from more than 100 million kilometers away.
It's now been two years since Dawn wrapped up its work at the second-largest asteroid. What else did we get from the Vesta encounter besides great photos? Recently, I asked Dawn's deputy project scientist, Carol Raymond, for help in summarizing a few of the big things Dawn taught us.
ISRO has released a second global image of Mars from the Mars Colour Camera on Mars Orbiter Mission, and smack dab in the center of it is Gale crater, home to Curiosity.
I'm thrilled to be able to share with you all a spectacular set of images of Rosetta's comet, produced from NavCam data by a master space image processing enthusiast.
JAXA announced the launch date for their Hayabusa2 asteroid sample return mission today: November 30 at 13:24:48 Japan standard time (04:24:48 UT / November 29 at 20:24:48 PST)
The biggest news on Curiosity of late is that the rover has drilled her fourth full drill hole on Mars! Drilling happened at a site called "Confidence Hills" on sol 759. But before she did that, she took a long series of amazing photos of rock formations at Jubilee Pass, Panamint Butte, and Upheaval Dome.
Ever since I first learned about the capabilities of Mars Orbiter Mission's small payload of science instruments, I have been anticipating one type of data in particular: global color views of Mars captured in a single 2000-pixel-square frame. Just days after entering orbit, Mars Orbiter Mission has delivered on that promise.
ESA announced today that Philae will be landing on November 12, 2014. What time the landing occurs depends on which landing site they use. If they go to the prime landing site, "site J," Earth should receive word of the successful landing at 16:00 UTC (08:00 PST). If they go to the backup site, "site C," news will reach Earth at about 17:30 UTC (09:30 PST). Mark your calendars!
On Sepember 22 at 02:24 UTC, Earth received word that MAVEN had ended its orbit insertion burn on time, completing its journey to Mars. Today MAVEN has released some of its very first data, taken by the Imaging Ultraviolet Spectrograph just eight hours after arrival.
Here are a few links to what will hopefully be working video feeds watching India's first-ever attempt to place a spacecraft into orbit around another planet. Begin watching in just a few hours, at 6:15 IST / 00:45 UT / 17:45 PDT for an orbit insertion burn scheduled to begin at 07:30 IST / 04:00 UT / 19:00 PDT!
Today's the day that MAVEN enters orbit at Mars, bringing the number of Mars orbiters up to four. So far everything looks good. The orbit insertion burn should begin tonight at 18:50 PDT / 01:50 UTC. I'll be on stage with Mat Kaplan and Rich Zurek at Planetary Radio Live, keeping up to date with the latest news from the spacecraft; here is a timeline in PDT, UTC, CEST, and IST to help you follow along.
Mars Orbiter Mission's fated arrival day is approaching fast! Here is the timeline of orbit insertion events, converted from India Standard Time to Universal, European, and Pacific time zones, and corrected for the 12.5 minutes it will take signals to reach Earth from Mars.
This morning, the European Space Agency announced the selection of a landing site for little Philae on the head of comet Churyumov-Gerasimenko. Although a primary site has been selected, landing Philae successfully is going to be tough, and the mission is now working to manage people's expectations.
A lot has happened behind the scenes on the Curiosity mission in the last few weeks. The mission received a pretty negative review from a panel convened to assess the relative quality of seven different proposed extended planetary science missions. Then, just a week later, the mission announced big news: they have arrived at Mount Sharp.
At the European Planetary Science Congress held this week in Portugal, the Rosetta team showcased some early science results from Rosetta's mission to comet Churyumov-Gerasimenko.
Mars Orbiter Mission to test-fire main engine before orbit insertion
UPDATE: Test firing to take place September 22
According to a report in the Times of India, ISRO is deciding today whether to test-fire Mars Orbiter Mission's main engine to make sure it will work for their all-important orbit insertion maneuver on September 24. Both ISRO's Mars Orbiter Mission and NASA's MAVEN are in good health and on track for their arrivals in three weeks.
ESA released another set of NavCam images of the comet today, and lo and behold, there are jets! We knew they were there, from an earlier OSIRIS image, but it's tremendously cool to see the comet behaving like a proper comet should.
Last year, rumors swirled that NASA may be so pinched for dollars that the agency might end the Cassini mission early. Today, Cassini received the welcome news that it has formally been funded through the planned end of its extended-extended mission in 2017. A huge congratulations to the Cassini mission!
Posted by Emily Lakdawalla on 2014/09/01 12:01 CDT
After a pause of about a week in daily image releases from Rosetta, ESA has begun sharing four-image sets of photos of comet Churyumov-Gerasimenko and invited the public to help produce pretty pictures from them.
The excitement is building for Hayabusa2! The spacecraft is now complete and ready to be shipped to its launch site. JAXA unveiled its next interplanetary traveler to the media in a special event on August 31.
The Rosetta team has announced the selection of five regions on Churyumov-Gerasimenko that they will study as possible landing sites for little Philae. Now, as Rosetta surveys the comet from its second triangular "orbit" at an average distance of 60 kilometers, the mission will target these spots for extra attention.
Shooting video of a lumpy moon crossing the Sun and turning it into a giant googly eye is not a new activity for Curiosity, but I get a fresh thrill each time I see one of these sequences downlinked from the rover.
In honor of the 25th anniversary of the Voyager 2 flyby of Neptune, image magician Björn Jónsson has produced two new global mosaics of the distant ice giant, the highest-resolution ever made.
The Mars gremlins really had it in for Curiosity this month. A computer glitch and slippery sand conspired to delay the rover's progress toward Mount Sharp. And shifting rocks proved unsafe for drilling. The rover will continue driving toward Mount Sharp, departing Bonanza King without drilling, skirting Hidden Valley along a plateau to its north.
Rosetta spent the week transitioning to a lower orbit from which it continues to observe the comet. This weekend, the mission will select about five landing sites for more detailed study. They have also now estimated the mass of the comet.
Now that a Tiger Team has assessed the nature and causes of damage to Curiosity's wheels, I can finally answer your frequently-asked questions about what wheel damage means for the mission, and why it wasn't anticipated.
Rosetta has nearly completed its first funky three-cornered orbit in front of the comet. Each day we're getting views of the nucleus from more directions. I step you through Churyumov-Gerasimenko's geography.
Now that we have reasonable confidence that our Mars orbiters will be safe from the close passage of comet Siding Spring, we are free to be excited about the opportunity that the encounter represents. At a community workshop on August 11, representatives from Mars missions shared their plans for great comet science.
What's that in the distance? A binary star? Those are two little round worlds dancing in circles, whirling around a point in space located between the two of them. It's Pluto and Charon, clearly separated by New Horizons' camera.
After a journey of more than a decade, Rosetta has finally arrived at comet 67P Churyumov-Gerasimenko. Confirmation of the successful rocket firing came at about 9:30 UTC via a webcast from ESA's Operations Centre in Darmstadt, Germany.
Posted by Emily Lakdawalla on 2014/08/05 06:27 CDT
On Wednesday's "Virtually Speaking Science" podcast, The Planetary Society’s Emily Lakdawalla and Space.com contributor Rod Pyle look back at the first two years of the Curiosity Rover’s mission on Mars, and look ahead to the future of Mars exploration. NBC News science editor Alan Boyle is the host for the show, which airs at 5pm Pacific / midnight UTC.
It's just two days now until Rosetta arrives in its initial 100-kilometer "orbit" of comet Churyumov-Gerasimenko, and the latest view from Rosetta's NavCam is fascinating. Circular features on the comet remind me of Tempel 1 as seen by Deep Impact and Stardust.
A shift in position has brought shadows into view from Rosetta, outlining scarps and ridges on Churyumov-Gerasimenko.
Rosetta's view of the comet is getting better and better. Today they released a new image from the high-resolution OSIRIS camera, and it's a very fresh one, taken only two days ago. Distinct features are coming into view. And it's finally detailed enough for me to compare it to the five other comets we've visited in the past.
A journey of nearly a decade is almost over. Rosetta is making its final approach to comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko, and the comet's strange shape is beginning to come into focus. As of today, the spacecraft is only 2000 kilometers away from the comet, and 8 days away from arrival.
For the last four weeks, the name of the game for Curiosity has been driving. But these weeks of driving have been more challenging than they used to be.
Just after completing the primary mission of 669 sols on Mars, Curiosity's managers planned a special day -- June 26, 2014 -- in which mostly women were assigned to the more than 100 different operational roles.
Despite the fact that it hasn't moved for 6 months, the plucky Yutu rover on the Moon is still alive. Its signal is periodically detected by amateur radio astronomers, most recently on July 19. A story posted today by the Chinese state news agency offers a new hypothesis to explain the failure of the rover's mobility systems.
Technically, Pluto science observations don't begin for New Horizons until 2015, but the spacecraft will take a series of photos of Pluto and Charon from July 20 to 27 as it begins the first of four optical navigation campaigns.
What a great piece of news to receive upon returning home from vacation! There is now a small piece of the solar system named for me: asteroid 274860 has been formally named "Emilylakdawalla" by the International Astronomical Union. Here is everything I've been able to learn about my namesake asteroid.
I could not wait to post these amazing new images of comet Churymov-Gerasimenko from Rosetta. The nucleus of the comet is clearly a contact binary -- two smaller (and unequally sized object) in close contact.
As Cassini celebrates 10 years at Saturn, we're beginning to see its long-term observations of Saturnian moons bear fruit. A surprising new result: While Prometheus exerts control over the F ring and Atlas, Pandora -- long thought to be a shepherd of the F ring -- does not.
On Monday JPL put out a press release marking one year since Curiosity landed -- one Mars year, that is! There was a new version of the Kimberley self-portrait, and a video update on wheel wear testing. While we've been celebrating on Earth, Curiosity has been driving, driving, driving, on a new "safe transit route" taking her southward toward the black sand dunes ringing Mount Sharp.
The two spacecraft currently orbiting the two innermost planets are both flying low in their orbits in the final phases of their missions. MESSENGER just performed a rocket burn to raise its orbit slightly, while Venus Express did the opposite.
I am both elated and relieved that Rob Manning and William Simon have written Mars Rover Curiosity: An Inside Account from Curiosity's Chief Engineer. The book delivers on the promise of its title, in a slender volume that is full of great stories you'll read nowhere else.
Posted by Emily Lakdawalla on 2014/06/19 10:42 CDT
Rosetta has now completed its three largest rendezvous burns as it approaches ever closer to comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko. Beginning on July 2, Rosetta will now conduct weekly burns, through August 6. Meanwhile, the cometary activity of April and May has quieted again, leaving the comet looking smaller than it did before.
Will New Horizons have a mission after Pluto? Ground-based searches have failed to turn up anything that New Horizons can reach. Now Hubble is joining the search, but time is running out: a discovery must be made within the next two months.
Posted by Emily Lakdawalla on 2014/06/16 04:44 CDT
Curiosity has been busy. The rover has traveled more than half a kilometer since my last update, making steady progress beyond the Kimberley toward Murray Buttes. There hasn't been much time for science, but they sneaked in an observation of a Mercury transit across the sun, and a neat MARDI video of the rover driving.
India's Mars Orbiter Mission has accomplished its second trajectory correction manuever, a small rocket burn lasting only 16 seconds. Meanwhile, NASA's MAVEN is testing out its instruments, with one obtaining "first light" on Mars.
Rosetta is now in the final phase of its approach to comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko after a decade-long journey. The two largest burns have now succeeded, and Rosetta reported this morning via Twitter that the second burn was close to perfect.
How scientists are working with CRISM, an aging but still exceptional spectrometer on Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, to find the rocks where Opportunity's work will tell the story of ancient water on Mars.
The last couple of weeks have seen Curiosity return to the business of making steady headway toward Murray Buttes and, beyond them, Mount Sharp. Eight of the last 14 sols have seen drives ranging in length from 30 to 104 meters, racking up a total of more than half a kilometer. They are now occasionally working a shortened planning timeline that allows them to squeeze more drive sols into Curiosity's schedule.
Planetary Society guest blogger Katherine Mack is just the latest of a great many writers whose work has been copied, uncredited, on the website of the British tabloid.
Posted by Emily Lakdawalla on 2014/05/27 07:13 CDT
Today I received an email notification of new public releases of some image data sets. I always love seeing new public space image data, but this notification was bittersweet: it included the first public release of the very last image data returned to Earth by Deep Impact, of a distant comet ISON.
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.