Emily Lakdawalla's blogs from 2014
Posted by Emily Lakdawalla on 2014/10/20 12:07 CDT
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 Hayabusa 2 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 Hayabusa 2! 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.
Mars Express and Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter are keeping their eyes in the sky on Curiosity. There's a nice newly public color image of all of Gale Crater from HiRISE, and two new HiRISE images within the Curiosity landing site.
Have you ever wished you could enjoy the astronauts' view of Earth from the Space Station? Now, you can. Just go to the live feed from the High Definition Earth Viewing (HDEV) experiment, crank it up to its highest resolution, let it take over your monitor, and watch Earth spin by.
Curiosity and Opportunity self-portraits show one rover accumulating dust, the other losing it. Check out these cool before-and-after comparisons.
Venus Express, currently the only spacecraft orbiting our nearest planetary neighbor, will soon meet a fiery end in Venus' atmosphere. But its work isn't over yet. ESA will maneuver Venus Express to dip into the uppermost Venus atmosphere and study how the spacecraft responds to atmospheric pressure, giving ESA valuable experience in aerobraking.
Finally, a new drill site! For the first time in nearly a year, Curiosity has put drill bit to rock and acquired a new sample of Martian material for her analytical instruments to chew on. Scientific data collection at Windjana is now complete; Curiosity drove away last night, on sol 630.
New photos from ESA's comet-chaser show its destination comet, 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko, developing a coma.
Posted by Emily Lakdawalla on 2014/05/13 11:53 CDT
Earth's brilliant colors shine above the drab lunar horizon in this new "Earthrise" photo from the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter. An animation that accompanied the image release helped me to write an explainer on how pushframe cameras like Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter's Wide-Angle Camera works.
Rosetta is in the final stage of its approach to comet 67P Churyumov-Gerasimenko. Yesterday, the spacecraft successfully performed the first of ten burns it needs to match velocity with the comet.
Curiosity took a new self-portrait on sol 613. This post contains a tip for would-be Curiosity image processors on how to make their Curiosity mosaics better: removing the smearing effect of bright objects in MAHLI photos.
An attempt to corral the discussion of the IAU planet definition in one place on planetary.org, so that we may be free to actually discuss Kuiper belt observations and scientific results on posts elsewhere on this site.
After completing the initial reconnaissance of the Kimberley outcrop two weeks ago, Curiosity is, at last, moving toward a drill site. The science team selected the location last week: a spot near the base of Mount Remarkable, into what they have been calling the "middle unit" at the Kimberley.
LADEE ended its mission as planned with a crash into the lunar surface on April 17. Just days prior, it turned its star tracker camera toward the lunar horizon and captured a striking series of images of the lunar sunrise and zodiacal light.
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!
In 2016, The Planetary Society’s LightSail program will take the technology a step further.