Snapshots from Space
by Emily Lakdawalla
Follow the thrilling adventures of planetary missions, past and present, and see the stunningly beautiful photos that they return from space!
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Posted by Emily Lakdawalla on 2015/02/20 06:59 CST
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.
A series of images just sent to Earth from New Horizons clearly shows Pluto's moons Nix and Hydra orbiting the Pluto-Charon binary.
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.
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.
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.
Brief updates on four ongoing missions: JAXA's Akatsuki and Hayabusa 2, and China's Chang'e 3 and Chang'e 5 test vehicle. JAXA has articulated the new science plan for Akatsuki. Hayabusa 2'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.
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.
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!
Today I'm excited to show you some previously unreleased images from Mars Orbiter Mission, containing Mars' moons Phobos and Deimos.
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?