Emily Lakdawalla's blogs from 2016
What's ahead for our intrepid space explorers in 2017? It'll be the end of Cassini, but not before the mission performs great science close to the rings. OSIRIS-REx will fly by Earth, and Chang'e 5 will launch to the Moon, as a host of other spacecraft continue their ongoing missions.
Today is the solstice, the longest winter night at Earth's north pole, the longest day of summer in the south. To give a little light to northerners in darkness today, please enjoy this gallery of images of (mostly) sunlit north poles across our solar system.
ExoMars Trace Gas Orbiter's science team enjoyed the opportunity in November to test out their science instruments on Mars. One of the tests involved imaging Phobos from an unusual angle.
It's been a drive-heavy two months for Curiosity. Since my last update, the rover has drilled at a site named Sebina, then traveled about 500 meters to the south across increasingly chunky-looking Murray rocks to a new attempted drill site at Precipice. They were planning to attempt a new drilling technique at Precipice, but encountered a new problem with the drill instead.
ESA issued an update on the Schiaparelli landing investigation today, identifying a problem reading from an inertial measurement unit as the proximate cause of the crash. Meanwhile, ExoMars Trace Gas Orbiter is operating its science instruments for the first time this week, and HiRISE has released calibrated versions of the Schiaparelli crash site images.
Emily's eighth annual kids' space book recommendation post includes lots of new books for kids of all ages, 0 to 18.
As she did before for Curiosity, Emily Lakdawalla has searched through the HiRISE image archive for photos of the Opportunity landing site and sorted them all out so that you don't have to.
Juno may be staying in its 53.5-day orbit for quite a while. Here's a list of the future dates of the next 20 close approaches to Jupiter if the mission stays in that orbit, as well as the latest, near-final version of JunoCam's "Marble Movie."
Cassini is going to make a major change to its orbit, getting much close to Saturn, setting up 20 "F-ring" orbits. ExoMars will get two science orbits before beginning aerobraking. Long March 5 will have its first launch, while many Earth-observing missions, including Himawari-9 and GOES-R, will go up. But Juno science is on hold.
Following up the detection of the Schiaparelli crash site by Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter CTX, the higher-resolution HiRISE camera has now definitively identified the locations of lander impact site, parachute with backshell, and heat shield impact site on the Martian surface.
Last week's Division for Planetary Sciences/European Planetary Science Congress meeting was chock-full of science from New Horizons at Pluto.
Just a day after the arrival of ExoMars Trace Gas Orbiter and its lander Schiaparelli, Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter has taken a photo of the landing site with its Context Camera, and things do not look good.
Today, the Opportunity rover attempted a difficult, never-before-possible feat: to shoot a photo of an arriving Mars lander from the Martian surface. Unfortunately, that attempt seems not to have succeeded. Opportunity has now returned the images from the observation attempt, but Schiaparelli is not visible.
The third-largest object known beyond Neptune, 2007 OR10, has a moon. The discovery was reported in a poster by Gábor Marton, Csaba Kiss, and Thomas Mueller at the joint meeting of the European Planetary Science Congress and the Division for Planetary Sciences of the American Astronomical Society (DPS/EPSC) on Monday.
The Juno mission posted a status report late Friday afternoon, indicating that they will not perform the originally planned period reduction maneuver during their next perijove (closest approach to Jupiter) on October 19. The delay changes the start date of the science mission and also all the future dates of Juno's perijoves.
Schiaparelli is GO for landing, and ExoMars TGO is GO for orbit insertion! When to expect ExoMars events: Schiaparelli separation, final trajectory maneuvers, landing events, orbit insertion, and press briefings.
In the two months since my last Curiosity update, the rover has traversed the scenic Murray Buttes, drilled at Quela, and driven another 300 meters southward.
It's always a delight to sink my teeth into a new data set, and I have spent this week playing with one I've been anticipating for a long time: ISRO's Mars Orbiter's Mars Colour Camera, or MCC. MCC is unique among current Mars cameras in its ability to get color, print-quality, wide-angle, regional views of Mars.
ExoMars Trace Gas Orbiter arrives on October 19, and it will deliver the Schiaparelli lander to its brief life on the Martian surface. Juno's headed into its science orbit, MOM has released science data, and New Horizons will finally finish downlinking Pluto flyby data.
The Rosetta mission will end tomorrow when the spacecraft impacts the comet. ESA took advantage of the presence of hundreds of members of the media to put on a showcase of Rosetta science. If there’s one thing I learned today from all the science presentations, it’s this: Rosetta data will be informing scientific work for decades to come.
Posted by Emily Lakdawalla on 2016/09/29 03:34 CDT
As OSIRIS-REx speeds away from Earth, it’s been turning on and testing out its various engineering functions and science instruments. Proof of happy instrument status has come from several cameras, including the star tracker, MapCam, and StowCam.
Beautiful new amateur work with 27-year-old Voyager data.
Posted by Emily Lakdawalla on 2016/09/15 09:37 CDT
Today, China launched its second modular space station, Tiangong 2.
The astronomy world is abuzz today because of ESA's announcement of the first release of data from the Gaia mission. Gaia is a five-year mission that will eventually measure the positions and motions of billions of stars; this first data release includes positions for 1.1 billion of them, and proper motions for 2 million.
Titan's north polar lakes are well-lit by summer sun in these recent Cassini images. Image processing enthusiast Ian Regan shares his recipe for processing the longer-wavelength Titan images into visually pleasing "pseudocolor."
The European Space Agency has shared plans for the end of the Rosetta mission scheduled for September 30, just three weeks from now. The landing site will be located on the "head" of the comet, next to a prominent pit now named Deir el-Medina.
Ever since its landing, Philae has been elusive. It went silent just three days later and never returned any more science data, though it made brief contact with the orbiter last summer. Now, just a month until the planned end of the Rosetta mission, the orbiter has finally located the lander in a stunning high-resolution view of the surface.
The OSIRIS-REx mission passed its flight readiness review yesterday, clearing the way for the spacecraft to launch on Thursday, September 8. Here's a schedule of next week's NASA TV briefings and a photo album of the launch preparations.
On August 27, Juno soared across Jupiter's cloud tops from pole to pole, with all instruments operating. NASA posted some terrific first results from several of the instruments today. And the JunoCam team released all 28 raw images taken during the close encounter.
The month of September begins with an annular solar eclipse visible from much of Africa on September 1. On or after September 8, we'll see OSIRIS-REx launch into a two-year cruise toward a rendezvous with asteroid Bennu. But September will close, sadly, with the end of the wonderful Rosetta mission.
NASA announced this afternoon that Juno passed through its first perijove since entering orbit successfully, with science instruments operating all the way. This is a huge relief, given all the unknowns about the effects of Jupiter's nasty radiation environment on its brand-new orbiter.
Whenever I share images from Curiosity, among the most common questions I’m asked is “what is the scale of this image?” With help from imaging enthusiast Seán Doran, I can answer that question for some of the Murray buttes.
Launch day is coming for NASA's next interplanetary explorer! OSIRIS-REx is on schedule for launch on September 8, 2016 at 19:05 EDT (16:05 PDT, 23:05 UTC) from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station. OSIRIS-REx is the first NASA planetary launch since MAVEN in 2013, and will be the last until InSight in 2018.
Curiosity has now covered most of the flat ground that lay between the Naukluft plateau and the Murray buttes. The mission took only 11 days to complete drilling work at Marimba, despite a recurrence of a problematic short in the drill. The rover is ready to drive in among the buttes, shooting spectacular photos along the way.
As it approached Jupiter from June 12 to 29, JunoCam captured an animation of the major moons orbiting the planet. The mission released a processed version of the animation on the day of orbit insertion, but took a few weeks to release the raw image data. I've prepared a page hosting all the raw data, and share a few processed versions.
This month we'll finally see JunoCam's first high-resolution images of Jupiter. We'll also see OSIRIS-REx making progress toward its September 8 launch. Both rovers are road-tripping at Mars, while ExoMars Trace Gas Orbiter has completed a major mid-course correction ahead of its October arrival.
ESA's comet-chasing Rosetta spacecraft is nearing the end of its mission. Last week, ESA announced when and where Rosetta is going to touch down. And tomorrow, it will forever shut down the radio system intended for communicating with the silent Philae lander.
Whether or not you're attending San Diego Comic-Con, you can enjoy a discussion panel with Emily Lakdawalla and five science fiction authors about the future of science fiction in the context of today's amazing scientific advances.
When are the solstices and equinoxes on the giant planets, and when are they best positioned for view from Earth? I ask these questions a lot as I write about Earth photos of giant planets, and I finally decided to gather the answers to those questions in a single post.
We're now just about 12 hours away from Juno's Jupiter orbit insertion. As anticipation ramps up, NASA has released this sneak peek at JunoCam's approach movie, made of views of Jupiter and its largest moons shot during the final approach, up until about five days ago.
The big day is almost here. Juno begins firing its main engine at 20:18 PT / 23:18 ET / 03:18 UT on July 4/5, and the maneuver should be over 35 minutes later at 20:53 / 23:53 / 03:53. Here's how you can follow the mission through its most hazardous event since launch.
Highlights this month include the impending arrival of Juno at Jupiter, the approval of extended missions for all of NASA's solar system spacecraft, and public data releases from Rosetta, New Horizons, and Cassini.
Jupiter is growing in Juno's forward view as the spacecraft approaches for its orbit insertion July 5 (July 4 in the Americas). The mission has released images from JunoCam and sonifications of data from the plasma waves instrument as Juno begins to sense Jupiter.
The future Chang'e 4 lunar farside landing mission is rapidly taking shape. Now the mission's team is coming to a consensus on the landing location, as well as on the mission's instrument package.
It's apparently National Selfie Day. I'm not entirely sure who has the authority to declare these things, or why they decided we needed a National Selfie Day, but since the self-portrait is one of my favorite subgenres of spacecraft photography, I couldn't resist writing about them.
Today NASA held a press briefing and released a press kit for the impending orbit insertion of the Juno spacecraft. The 35-minute orbit insertion burn is scheduled to begin July 5 at 03:18 UTC (July 4 20:18, PDT). Here's a timeline for events relating to orbit insertion.
Posted by Emily Lakdawalla on 2016/06/16 12:26 CDT
Today ESA released ExoMars Trace Gas Orbiter's first photo of Mars, taken from a distance of 41 million kilometers. It's no more detail than you can get through a pair of a binoculars, just a little taste of what's to come.
Curiosity is at a turning point in its mission to Mount Sharp, both literally and figuratively. Having drilled at three sample sites in 7 weeks, the rover took a left turn, changing its trajectory from a generally westward driving path to a southward one. It is now poised to cross the Bagnold dune field at Murray buttes.
Reporter Nadia Drake has been following the status of Arecibo very closely, and recently wrote two articles explaining what it means that the National Science Foundation has begun an environmental review process for the giant radio telescope.
Videos of two recent talks I've given, one intended for a general audience and one aimed at professionals.
Juno will go in to orbit at Jupiter on July 5 (July 4 in North and South American time zones), and it's carrying a camera that's going to take really awesome photos of Jupiter. But you're going to have to be patient. Emily Lakdawalla explains why.
Your monthly roundup of the adventures of the 20+ robots exploring our solar system.
The Voyager data set is a gift to Earth that keeps on giving. This week, I've seen three great new images processed from this old data set.
OSIRIS-REx's long journey to an asteroid has begun. The spacecraft departed Colorado on Friday, May 20, travelling aboard an Air Force C-17 to the Payload Hazardous Servicing Facility at Kennedy Space Center.
Japan's Akatsuki Venus orbiter is well into its science mission, and has already produced surprising science results. The mission, originally planned to last two years, could last as many as five, monitoring Venus' atmosphere over the long term.
Last week, the Rosetta mission released a large quantity of science data to the worldwide public, including photos from the mission's close observation phase and the Philae landing.
May 2016 will be yet another month of fairly routine operations across the solar system -- if you can ever use the word "routine" to describe autonomous robots exploring other planets. ExoMars' cruise to Mars has started smoothly, and Juno is only two months away from Jupiter orbit insertion. Earthlings will witness a Mercury transit of the Sun on May 9.
Curiosity has drilled into Mars for the 10th time at a site named Lubango, on sol 1320 (April 23, 2016). Lubango is in a bright-toned halo around a crack in the Stimson sandstone unit on the western edge of the Naukluft Plateau.
Today I'm participating in a program called the International @SpaceApps Women in Data Bootcamp. I'm presenting a brief talk highlighting the way that my personal discovery of NASA's image data archives shaped my path into public communication about science, and briefly showcasing three other women who do amazing work with public image data.
Mars Odyssey has been in space for 15 years. It flies in a special "sun-synchronous" orbit, crossing the equator at roughly the same local time every day. Over time, the Odyssey mission has changed what that local time of day is, and I just realized something cool about how those changes show up in the geometry of its images.
Curiosity has driven onward from Namib dune across a highstanding unit of rock called the Naukluft Plateau. Despite some frustrating sols lost to a short circuit in the RTG and DSN troubles, the rover has made progress, and performed lots of 3D imaging of weirdly wind-eroded rocks.
This month (actually, today), Cassini had a relatively close flyby of Titan, and New Horizons will observe a very distant Kuiper belt object named 1994 JR1. Akatsuki has just fine-tuned its orbit around Venus, and Hayabusa2 has begun an 800-hour ion engine thrusting phase to steer it toward near-Earth asteroid Ryugu.
At last week's Lunar and Planetary Science Conference, I enjoyed a large number of talks about Ceres. Now in its Low-Altitude Mapping Orbit, Dawn is showering scientists with high-resolution, color data.
If it's March, it's time for LPSC, the Lunar and Planetary Science Conference. The 2016 LPSC runs from March 21 to 25; I'll be attending the first three days of it.
The ExoMars Trace Gas Orbiter and Schiaparelli lander are safely on their way to Mars! The two lifted off at 9:31 UTC today, March 14, 2016. Orbiter and lander will arrive at Mars on October 19 at approximately 16:00 UTC. The lander is expected to last about 3 days. The orbiter will spend a year aerobraking before beginning its science mission.
ESA's ExoMars Trace Gas Orbiter and Schiaparelli lander are in the final preparations for a launch as early as Monday, toward an October 2016 Mars orbit insertion and landing in Meridiani Planum. Launch on a Proton rocket is expected at 09:31:42 UT Monday, March 14. A Breeze-M upper stage will send the spacecraft on to Mars, with separation at 20:13 UT.
Posted by Emily Lakdawalla on 2016/03/09 03:41 CST
NASA has decided to move forward with the InSight mission after its delay last December, setting a new launch date of May 5, 2018. That will put the landing on Mars on November 26, 2018. In order to launch in two years, one of its two science instruments must be redesigned.
A new paper by Renu Malhotra proposes that an undiscovered distant planet could have organized extremely distant Kuiper belt objects into orbital resonances.
Welcome to my monthly inventory of the 20-plus spacecraft actively exploring our solar system. Highlights of this month include the impending launch of the ExoMars Trace Gas Orbiter and Schiaparelli lander, currently planned for March 14, and the resumption of regular VMC Mars images by Mars Express.
Emily is back to work on her Mars Science Laboratory book, which has a new publication date and a new title.
Image processing enthusiast Ian Regan produced a pretty view of Titan's lake-filled north pole, now visible to Cassini's cameras in the summer sun.
Inspired by the Mars Webcam on Mars Express, ESA's Cluster mission has turned on a camera on the Cluster spacecraft for the first time since their launch more than 15 years ago. UPDATE: It has now acquired images of Earth.
Posted by Emily Lakdawalla on 2016/02/16 01:30 CST
Recently, space image processing enthusiast Thomas Appéré noticed that Curiosity had taken five photos of exactly the same spot on the rim of Gale crater, identical but for being taken at different times of day. That spot was due north of the rover, so the rising and lowering Sun illuminates the rounded hummocks of the crater rim differently from early morning to early afternoon.
Curiosity has spent the last month sampling and processing dark sand scooped from the side of Namib Dune. The rover has now departed Namib and is preparing to cross the Bagnold dune field, while working to diagnose an anomaly with the CHIMRA sample handling mechanism.
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 five revisions and updates, it's now version 3.0 of the list.
January 24 was the 30th anniversary of the Voyager flyby of Uranus. Uranian moons have been on my mind ever since New Horizons sent us close-up images of Charon. On the occasion of the anniversary, Ted Stryk produced latest-and-greatest versions of the Voyager views of these worlds.
What's going on with our robotic planetary missions? In February I count more than 20 planetary spacecraft exploring six targets beyond Earth or cruising to new destinations.
Here, for the first time in a format easily accessible to the public, are hundreds and hundreds of science-quality images from the Chang'e 3 lander and Yutu rover.
It's looking likelier that there is an undiscovered planet orbiting beyond the Kuiper belt. If it's there, it's roughly 10 times the mass of Earth (or about half the mass of Neptune), likely never gets closer to the Sun than about 100 AU, and takes more than 10,000 years to orbit the Sun.
Tomorrow, Cassini will fly by Titan, picking up a gravity assist that will tilt its orbit slightly up and out of the ring plane. That will end what has been a wonderful year of frequent encounters with Saturnian moons.
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.