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Emily Lakdawalla's blogs from 2015

A moon with atmosphere

Emily Lakdawalla • April 08, 2015

What is the solar system moon with the densest atmosphere? Most space fans know that the answer is Titan. A few of you might know that Triton's is the next densest. But what's the third? Fourth? Do any other moons even have atmospheres? In fact, they do; and one such atmosphere has just been discovered.

Pretty Cassini pictures: animation of Iapetus' north pole, and other fun

Emily Lakdawalla • April 03, 2015

Now that Cassini has returned to Saturn's equatorial plane, it has lots of opportunities to observe Saturn's moons. For about a week, Cassini has been taking regular sets of images of Iapetus, which I've assembled into an animation.

LPSC 2015: MESSENGER's low-altitude campaign at Mercury

Emily Lakdawalla • March 25, 2015

At last week's Lunar and Planetary Science Conference, the MESSENGER team held a press briefing to share results from the recent few months of incredibly low-altitude flight over Mercury's surface. The mission will last only about five weeks more.

Prometheus, Pandora, and the braided F ring in motion

Emily Lakdawalla • March 23, 2015

Cassini recently took a long, high-resolution movie of the F ring, catching a view of its ringlets, clumps, and streamers, and two potato-shaped moons, Prometheus and Pandora.

LPSC 2015: First results from Dawn at Ceres: provisional place names and possible plumes

Emily Lakdawalla • March 19, 2015

Three talks on Tuesday at the Lunar and Planetary Science Conference concerned the first results from Dawn at Ceres. Chris Russell showed a map of "quads" with provisional names on Ceres, Andreas Nathues showed that Ceres' bright spot might be an area of plume-like activity, and Francesca Zambon showed color and temperature variations across the dwarf planet.

LPSC 2015: "Bloggers, please do not blog about this talk."

Emily Lakdawalla • March 19, 2015

One presenter at the Lunar and Planetary Science Conference asked the audience not to blog about his talk because of the embargo policy of Science and Nature. I show how this results from an incorrect interpretation of those policies. TL;DR: media reports on conference presentations do not violate Science and Nature embargo policies. Let people Tweet!

LPSC 2015: Philae at comet Churyumov-Gerasimenko

Emily Lakdawalla • March 18, 2015

In my first post from the 2015 Lunar and Planetary Science Conference, I discuss the latest work on Philae images, and some cometary polymers.

Adding Churyumov-Gerasimenko to my scale comparison of comets and asteroids

Emily Lakdawalla • March 13, 2015

Having found a color photo of the comet, I finally added Churyumov-Gerasimenko to my scale comparison of comets and asteroids visited by spacecraft.

If it's March, it must be LPSC

Emily Lakdawalla • March 13, 2015

Next week is the 46th Lunar and Planetary Science Conference (LPSC), and Emily Lakdawalla will be attending to tweet and blog about news from Rosetta; Curiosity; MESSENGER; GRAIL; Chang'e 3; Dawn; New Horizons; Cassini; and more.

An internal ocean on Ganymede: Hooray for consistency with previous results!

Emily Lakdawalla • March 12, 2015

A newly published paper confirms a subsurface ocean at Ganymede. An ocean there was already suspected from its magnetic field and predicted by geophysics; new Hubble data confirms it, and even says it is in the same place we thought it was before. Such consistency is rare enough in planetary science to be worth celebration.

What to expect when you're expecting a flyby: Planning your July around New Horizons' Pluto pictures

Emily Lakdawalla • March 10, 2015

As New Horizons approaches Pluto, when will the images get good? In this explainer, I tell you what images will be coming down from Pluto, when. Mark your calendars!

Mini mission updates: Dawn in orbit; Curiosity short circuit; Rosetta image release; Hayabusa2 in cruise phase; and more

Emily Lakdawalla • March 06, 2015

Dawn has successfully entered orbit at Ceres, becoming the first mission to orbit a dwarf planet and the first to orbit two different bodies beyond Earth. I also have updates on Curiosity, Rosetta, Mars Express, Hayabusa2, the Chang'e program, InSIGHT, and OSIRIS-REx.

Mars Orbiter Mission Methane Sensor for Mars is at work

Emily Lakdawalla • March 04, 2015

After several months of near-silence, ISRO's Mars Orbiter Mission has released on Facebook the first data product from its Methane Sensor For Mars. Don't get too excited about methane yet: there is no positive or negative detection. The news here is that the Methane Sensor for Mars is working, systematically gathering data. They also released several new photos of Mars.

Watch Ceres rotate: A guide to interpreting Dawn's images

Emily Lakdawalla • March 03, 2015

NASA held a press briefing on the Dawn mission yesterday, sharing some new images and early interpretations of them. I see lots of things that intrigue me, and I'm looking forward to Dawn investigating them in more detail. I invite you to check out these photos yourself, and offer you some guidance on things to look for.

At last, Ceres is a geological world

Emily Lakdawalla • February 25, 2015

I've been resisting all urges to speculate on what kinds of geological features are present on Ceres, until now. Finally, Dawn has gotten close enough that the pictures it has returned show geology: bright spots, flat-floored craters, and enigmatic grooves.

Curiosity update, sols 864-895: Drilling at Pink Cliffs

Emily Lakdawalla • February 20, 2015

Curiosity's second drilling campaign at the foot of Mount Sharp is complete. The rover spent about a month near Pink Cliffs, an area at the base of the Pahrump Hills outcrop, drilling and documenting a site named Mojave, where lighter-colored crystals were scattered through a very fine-grained rock.

New Horizons spots Nix and Hydra circling Pluto and Charon

Emily Lakdawalla • February 18, 2015

A series of images just sent to Earth from New Horizons clearly shows Pluto's moons Nix and Hydra orbiting the Pluto-Charon binary.

An active comet, from a distance

Emily Lakdawalla • February 13, 2015

Rosetta has closed to within 50 kilometers of Churyumov-Gerasimenko, on its way to a very close, 6-kilometer flyby of the comet tomorrow. To prepare for the flyby, Rosetta traveled much farther away, allowing it to snap these amazing photos of an increasingly active comet from a great distance.

Cassini begins a year of icy moon encounters with a flyby of Rhea

Emily Lakdawalla • February 12, 2015

At last! Cassini is orbiting in Saturn's ring plane again. I do enjoy the dramatic photographs of Saturn's open ring system that Cassini can get from an inclined orbit, and we won't be getting those again for another year. But with an orbit close to the ring plane, Cassini can repeatedly encounter Saturn's icy moons, and icy moon flybys are my favorite thing about the Cassini mission.

Rosetta shifts from sedate circular orbits to swooping flybys

Emily Lakdawalla • February 10, 2015

For the period of time before and after the Philae landing, Rosetta was able to orbit the comet close enough that it was in gravitationally bound orbits, circling the comet's center of gravity. As the comet's activity increases, the spacecraft has to spend most of its time farther away, performing occasional close flybys. The first of these is at 6 kilometers, on February 14.

A new mission for Akatsuki, and status updates for Hayabusa2 and Chang'e

Emily Lakdawalla • February 09, 2015

Brief updates on four ongoing missions: JAXA's Akatsuki and Hayabusa2, and China's Chang'e 3 and Chang'e 5 test vehicle. JAXA has articulated the new science plan for Akatsuki. Hayabusa2's ion engines have checked out successfully. The Yutu rover is still alive on the Moon, and Chang'e 5 test vehicle has successfully tested crucial rendezvous operations in lunar orbit.

Ceres coming into focus

Emily Lakdawalla • February 06, 2015

The Dawn mission released new images of Ceres yesterday, taken on February 4, when Dawn had approached to within 145,000 kilometers. More details are coming into view, and they're fascinating. For one thing, there's not just one white spot any more: there are several.

New Horizons returns first images from mission's Pluto approach phase

Emily Lakdawalla • February 04, 2015

Here they are, the first images of Pluto from the approach phase of the New Horizons mission. Science has begun; we're on the home stretch!

Mars Orbiter Mission images Mars' moons, including the far side of Deimos

Emily Lakdawalla • February 04, 2015

Today I'm excited to show you some previously unreleased images from Mars Orbiter Mission, containing Mars' moons Phobos and Deimos.

Talking to Pluto is hard! Why it takes so long to get data back from New Horizons

Emily Lakdawalla • January 30, 2015

As I write this post, New Horizons is nearing the end of a weeklong optical navigation campaign. The last optical navigation images in the weeklong series will be taken tomorrow, but it will likely take two weeks or more for all the data to get to Earth. Two weeks! Why does it take so long?

Ceres: Just a little bit closer (and officially better than Hubble)

Emily Lakdawalla • January 27, 2015

Last week's Dawn images of Ceres were just slightly less detailed than Hubble's best. This week's are just slightly better.

A second ringed centaur? Centaurs with rings could be common

Emily Lakdawalla • January 27, 2015

Chiron, which is both a centaur and a comet, may also have rings.

At last! A slew of OSIRIS images shows fascinating landscapes on Rosetta's comet

Emily Lakdawalla • January 26, 2015

The first results of the Rosetta mission are out in Science magazine. The publication of these papers means that the OSIRIS camera team has finally released a large quantity of closeup images of comet Churyumov-Gerasimenko, taken in August and September of last year. I explain most of them, with help from my notes from December's American Geophysical Union meeting.

Curiosity update, sols 814-863: Pahrump Hills Walkabout, part 2

Emily Lakdawalla • January 21, 2015

Curiosity has spent the last two months completing a second circuit of the Pahrump Hills field site, gathering APXS and MAHLI data. The work has been hampered by the loss of the ChemCam focusing laser, but the team is developing a workaround. Over the holidays, the rover downlinked many Gigabits of image data. The rover is now preparing for a drilling campaign.

New Dawn images of Ceres: comparable to Hubble

Emily Lakdawalla • January 20, 2015

Dawn has captured a series of photos of a rotating Ceres whose resolution is very close to Hubble's, and they show tantalizing surface details.

Beagle 2 found?

Emily Lakdawalla • January 16, 2015

What happened to Beagle 2? It's been a mystery for 11 years. That mystery appears to have been solved.

Ten years after the Huygens landing: The story of its images

Emily Lakdawalla • January 15, 2015

The landing of Huygens on Titan was a significant moment for planetary science and a great accomplishment for Europe. But the Huygens landing also stimulated the development of the international community of amateur image processors that does such great work with space images today. I was in the midst of it all at the European Space Operations Centre in Darmstadt.

Short updates on Akatsuki and Chang'e missions

Emily Lakdawalla • January 06, 2015

A few recent newspaper articles provide some updates on the status of Japan's Venus mission, Akatsuki, and the service module of China's Chang'e 5 test vehicle, Xiaofei. In brief: Akatsuki still plans to attempt to enter orbit in December of this year, while Chang'e 5 T1 is headed to lunar orbit. Meanwhile, the Chang'e 3 mission has released an interesting image of M101, the Pinwheel Galaxy.

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