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Guest blogs from 2015

Pretty Pictures of the Cosmos: Distant Galaxies

Adam Block • December 24, 2015

Astrophotographer Adam Block shares stunning his images of far-away spiral galaxies.

InSight's Problems: Possible Impacts

Van Kane • December 23, 2015

Van Kane details the potential repercussions of the launch delay of InSight Mars lander on the rest of NASA's Discovery mission program.

OSIRIS-REx Completes Mechanical Environmental Testing

Dante Lauretta • December 18, 2015

The OSIRIS-REx team successfully and safely completed sine vibration (sine vibe) testing on the spacecraft prior to the Thanksgiving holiday. The sine vibe tests are designed to verify the system performs as expected after being exposed to flight-like low frequency vibration input.

Our Global Volunteers: December 2015 Update

Kate Howells • December 17, 2015

As 2015 wraps up, The Planetary Society celebrates yet another year of public outreach.

Live from Sagamihara: Akatsuki in Orbit, Day 1

Sanjay Limaye • December 08, 2015

One day after closest approach, Akatsuki is now speeding away from Venus at 4.09 kilometers per second and is 180,000 kilometers from the planet. In his last report from Sagamihara, Sanjay Limaye gets some updates on the new orbiter's trajectory.

Colors in Planetary Imaging

Travis Rector • December 08, 2015

When looking at an image of, say, a galaxy, have you ever wondered to yourself, “Is this real?” Trevor Rector explains how astronomical images are processed.

Jupiter's Great Red Spot

Björn Jónsson • December 07, 2015

On the 20th anniversary of Galileo's orbit insertion around Jupiter, amateur image processor Björn Jónsson shares some of the mission's first images of Jupiter's iconic massive storm.

Live from Sagamihara: Akatsuki Orbit Insertion Success!

Sanjay Limaye • December 07, 2015

The Akatsuki team achieved something that no mission as done before – put a spacecraft into orbit around a planet using only the attitude control thrusters. An event that one could not even conceive or propose!

Live from Sagamihara: Akatsuki Orbit Insertion - Second Try

Sanjay Limaye • December 06, 2015

Venus researcher Sanjay Limaye reports from the Institute of Space and Astronautical Science (ISAS) in Sagamihara on the status of Akatsuki's second Venus orbit insertion attempt.

Back from the Brink: Akatsuki Returns to Venus

Ralph Lorenz • December 04, 2015

Perhaps forgotten by the general public in the West, a long-lost spacecraft is set to enter orbit around our sister planet in December, picking up where ESA’s Venus Express left off when its operations ended last year.

Mars Exploration Rovers Update: Reality Bites but Opportunity Climbs to "Treasure Trove"

A.J.S. Rayl • December 03, 2015

Opportunity faced the challenges of winter as well as technological issues in November, but pressed on, hiking up hill and into a geological treasure trove that may well present the scientists with the evidence they need to solve the clay mineral mystery of Marathon Valley.

Dawn Journal: Descent to LAMO

Marc Rayman • December 02, 2015

Dawn's Chief Engineer and Mission Director Marc Rayman previews what's in store as the spacecraft moves into its final mapping orbit around dwarf planet Ceres.

Fall issue of The Planetary Report is Here!

Donna Stevens • November 30, 2015

At last! The fall issue of The Planetary Report is off the press—or ready for Planetary Society members to download now.

How Can We Write About Science When People Are Dying?

Nadia Drake • November 25, 2015

Stories about exploration and wonder can be powerful antidotes to seemingly endless suffering and destruction.

DPS 2015: Solar System Formation

Erika Nesvold and John Debes • November 20, 2015

At the 47th Division of Planetary Systems meeting, many presentations touched on some of the most contentious and poorly known aspects of how planets form.

OSIRIS-REx Progressing Through Environmental Testing

Dante Lauretta • November 16, 2015

The OSIRIS-REx spacecraft continues to make steady progress toward launch in September 2016. Environmental testing is now underway to ensure the spacecraft is ready for the many conditions it will experience over its mission.

Pretty Pictures of the Cosmos: Lesser-Known Beauty

Adam Block • November 13, 2015

Award-winning astrophotographer Adam Block shares stunning images of a few rarely-imaged pieces of our universe.

Detecting Dust Devils with Insight

Ralph Lorenz • November 11, 2015

Planetary scientist and dust devil expert Ralph Lorenz describes how the upcoming Mars InSight lander's sensitive seismometer might be able to detect dust devils.

A Day in the Solar System: 28 October 2015

Bill Dunford • November 09, 2015

On October 28th, the Cassini spacecraft flew through the geyser plume of Saturn's moon Enceladus. But Cassini was not the only spacecraft operating in the solar system that day.

Jupiter Weather Report: 2014/15 Apparition

Leigh Fletcher • November 05, 2015

A summary of Jupiter's changing face as seen from Earth during its 2014/2015 apparition.

Mars Exploration Rovers Update: Opportunity Hits Winter Slopes at Marathon Valley

A.J.S. Rayl • November 04, 2015

Opportunity hit the slopes of her seventh winter haven on the south side of Marathon Valley in October as the mission entered the 130th month of what was initially slated to be a 90-day tour.

A Roundup of Dust Devil Research

Ralph Lorenz • November 02, 2015

Planetary scientist Ralph Lorenz briefs us on the current state of our knowledge on dust devils on Earth and Mars.

Dawn Journal: A Bounty of Data

Marc Rayman • October 30, 2015

Dawn has completed another successful campaign to acquire a wealth of data in its exploration of dwarf planet Ceres, providing our clearest and most complete view ever of this world.

Journey to Space

Andrew Pauly • October 30, 2015

Members of The Planetary Society staff visit the new "Journey to Space" exhibit at the California Science Center in all its wonder.

New Concepts to Explore the Jovian System

Van Kane • October 28, 2015

Last year, NASA’s managers invited the European Space Agency to propose a small spacecraft to explore the Jovian system. Van Kane describes the recently-posted results of ESA's concept studies for two possible missions.

Why Return to the Columbia Hills?

Alex Longo • October 23, 2015

Where should NASA’s next Mars rover, the Mars 2020 sample caching mission, land? One site under consideration is Spirit's old stomping ground, the Columbia Hills.

Preparing for the Journey to the Moon, Mars and Beyond

Deepak Dhingra • October 21, 2015

Deepak Dhingra reports on a planetary analog field trip exploring a very young volcanic terrain in Idaho at Craters of the Moon National Monument and Preserve.

The Success of European Rover Challenge

Łukasz Wilczyński • October 16, 2015

In September, the second edition of European Rover Challenge (ERC)—the biggest space and robotics event in Europe—took place in Poland. Who took home the top spot?

OSIRIS-REx Spacecraft Assembly Nearly Complete

Dante Lauretta • October 14, 2015

The OSIRIS-REx mission continues to make great progress and is in the Assembly, Test, and Launch Operations (ATLO) phase of the program. There's been many great accomplishments leading up to this point.

Mars 2020 and the Adaptive Caching Assembly: An Intern’s Perspective

Jake Rosenthal • October 12, 2015

Jet Propulsion Laboratory summer intern Jake Rosenthal shares his thoughts on the Mars 2020 sample caching technology currently in development.

Discovery Finalists

Van Kane • October 09, 2015

Van Kane rounds up the missions selected to move onto the next round in NASA's Discovery proposal process.

Mars Exploration Rovers Update: Opportunity Rocks on Ancient Water During Walkabout

A.J.S. Rayl • October 02, 2015

Opportunity continued her walkabout around Marathon Valley in September and sent home more evidence of significant water alteration and, perhaps, an ancient environment inviting enough for the emergence of life.

Dawn Journal: 8 Years in Space

Marc Rayman • September 28, 2015

On the 8th anniversary of the launch of the Dawn spacecraft, Chief Engineer and Mission Director Marc Rayman gives his annual summary of Dawn’s progress on its interplanetary travels.

Towards a Jupiter Weather Forecast

Leigh Fletcher • September 24, 2015

Trying to keep track of the ever-changing face of Jupiter is a pretty big challenge—its a dynamic world that can fascinate and surprise every time we turn our telescopes towards it.

Xtronaut – A New Approach to Education and Public Outreach

Dante Lauretta • September 22, 2015

Historically, NASA missions set aside a portion of their budgets for education and public outreach, or EPO. However, the OSIRIS-REx EPO budget got deleted in 2013 as part of a broader federal policy change. Dante Lauretta decided to make a run at a private company to recover the lost OSIRIS-REx EPO program – and Xtronaut was born!

Searching for the Origins of Earth’s Water

Van Kane • September 17, 2015

Three recently proposed low-cost space missions all aim to answer the same question: Where did Earth's abundant water come from?

Finding the Surveyor retro-rockets on the Moon

Phil Stooke • September 15, 2015

Planetary scientist Phil Stooke may have found the retro-rockets from NASA's Lunar Surveyor missions, sent to the Moon in preparation for Apollo.

A Workhorse at Mars

Tanya Harrison • September 11, 2015

The Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) Context Camera (CTX) is almost a silent star at Mars. The latest MRO data release brought the total number of available CTX images to over 70,000, covering well over 90% of the Red Planet at a stunning resolution of 6 meters per pixel.

IceBreaker: The Search for Life on Mars

Van Kane • September 08, 2015

The IceBreaker mission, proposed to NASA's Discovery program for low-cost missions, would seek out life on the northern plains of Mars.

Aluminum Shapemodel of Comet 67P

Mattias Malmer • September 04, 2015

Mattias Malmer describes his MacGyver-esque process in creating a homemade aluminum version of 67P/Churyumov–Gerasimenko.

Mars Exploration Rovers Update: Opportunity Digs Marathon Valley Walkabout

A.J.S. Rayl • September 03, 2015

Opportunity drove farther into Marathon Valley in August, dug into what appears to be a water-altered rock, and took a lot of picture postcards in what is turning out to be a distinctively different site from any that the mission has found since the robot field geologist landed in 2004.

Populating the OSIRIS-REx Science Deck

Dante Lauretta • September 01, 2015

The assembly of the OSIRIS-REx spacecraft continues, with many elements integrated onto the spacecraft ahead of schedule. Last month both OTES and OVIRS were delivered to Lockheed Martin and installed on the science deck.

Field Report from Mars: Sol 4119 - August 26, 2015

Larry Crumpler • August 26, 2015

Opportunity is moving down into a large valley that cuts through the rim of Endeavour crater, into some interesting scenery.

Outer Planet News

Van Kane • August 25, 2015

NASA's Outer Planet Analysis Group is currently meeting to hear the agency's current plans and to provide the feedback of the scientific community on those plans.

Dawn Journal: Mapping Ceres

Marc Rayman • August 22, 2015

More than two centuries after its discovery, Ceres is being mapped in great detail by the Dawn spacecraft. Chief Engineer and Mission Director Marc Rayman gives an update on Dawn's progress.

Pretty Pictures of the Cosmos: Long Exposures

Adam Block • August 21, 2015

Astrophotographer Adam Block brings us images showcasing beauty in details requiring extended exposures to capture.

Roving Mars—In Utah

Bill Dunford • August 19, 2015

Students gather in the desert to answer the University Rover Challenge, pushing the limits of the tech that will drive future Mars exploration.

New Curiosity Self-Portrait

Damia Bouic • August 11, 2015

Amateur image processor Damia Bouic shares new stunning images from Curiosity—including a "selfie" from a whole new angle.

MERLIN: The Creative Choices Behind a Proposal to Explore the Martian Moons

Van Kane • August 10, 2015

Van Kane presents one of the three missions from the latest round of NASA Discovery proposals with the goal of exploring Mars' moons.

New Robotic Spacecraft Posters

Bill Dunford • August 06, 2015

Another round of posters to celebrate historic planetary missions.

Update on NASA Mars Rover Plans

Van Kane • August 05, 2015

The second in a series of meetings to select the landing site for the Mars 2020 rover is in progress. Van Kane gives us an update.

Mars Exploration Rovers Update: Opportunity Enters Marathon Valley, Begins Walkabout

A.J.S. Rayl • August 03, 2015

Nearly seven Earth years after Opportunity set its sites on Endeavour Crater, the rover cruised into Marathon Valley, the once-but-a-dream destination.

Pretty Pictures of the Cosmos: Star Stream

Adam Block • July 31, 2015

Award-winning astrophotographer Adam Block presents the first-ever high-resolution color images of the "star stream halo" of the spiral galaxy NGC 4414.

Our Global Volunteers: July 2015 Update

Kate Howells • July 31, 2015

The Planetary Society's volunteers around the world have been busy these past few months, with all the excitement surrounding Asteroid Day, the LightSail test mission, the New Horizons and Dawn missions, and other space milestones!

Dawn Journal: Descent to HAMO

Marc Rayman • July 30, 2015

With a wonderfully rich bounty of pictures and other observations already secured, Dawn is now on its way to an even better vantage point around dwarf planet Ceres.

Field Report from Mars: Sol 4060 - June 26, 2015

Larry Crumpler • July 29, 2015

Larry Crumpler gives an update on the Opportunity rover's activities in Spirit of St. Louis crater.

DSCOVR's Halo

Dave Doody • July 28, 2015

The Deep Space Climate Observatory (DSCOVR) has begun sending us fresh, whole-hemisphere images of our own fragile planet. Some sources say that the spacecraft is "orbiting" the L1 point. Dave Doody thinks this warrants some scrutiny.

Proposals to Explore the Solar System’s Smallest Worlds

Van Kane • July 27, 2015

Van Kane rounds up some of the latest NASA Discovery mission proposals aiming to explore our solar system's smallest bodies.

Help map Mars' south polar region!

Tanya Harrison • July 24, 2015

The science team of NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter wants your help in mapping out the weird and wonderful features of Mars' south polar region!

Summer 2015 edition of The Planetary Report is here

Donna Stevens • July 23, 2015

The summer edition of The Planetary Report has printed and will soon be at your door.

What in the world(s) are tholins?

Sarah Hörst • July 22, 2015

The question “why is Pluto red” has been answered with a word that most people have never heard of and perhaps even fewer people can actually define—“tholins”.

Dawn at Ceres: A haze in Occator crater?

Andrew Rivkin • July 21, 2015

While Pluto deservedly stole the headlines last week, Chris Russell’s Dawn update at the Exploration Science Forum at NASA Ames reminded us that the other dwarf planets are also sharing their secrets with eager scientists.

OSIRIS-REx – Testing In Progress

Annie Wargetz • July 17, 2015

While the OLA, OCAMS, and REXIS instruments on the OSIRIS-REx spacecraft continue working towards their deliveries, other hardware onsite at Lockheed is undergoing testing prior to installation. The hardware is put through tests here on Earth prior to launching into space.

MarCO: Planetary CubeSats Become Real

Van Kane • July 08, 2015

NASA recently announced the Mars Cube One (MarCO) mission, which will fly two CubeSat spacecraft past Mars as part of its larger InSight Mars mission.

Explore Pluto in Google Earth!

Alex Parker • July 08, 2015

The Pluto encounter team is producing the first maps of Pluto using images collected by New Horizons. You can now easily download the map and explore the best Pluto maps ever made!

Saturn in Widescreen: The Voyager 2 Approach Movie

Ian Regan • July 07, 2015

Ian Regan shares his mesmerizing animated sequence of Voyager 2's approach to Saturn—and explains the process behind its creation.

The Senate Appropriations Committee’s FY 2016 CJS Bill

Jason Callahan • July 02, 2015

Congress has made good progress so far this year in moving the annual appropriations bills that fund the government. However, a looming budget battle over the sequestration and budget caps threaten to sideline progress until Congress and the White House reach agreement. Here’s the current situation.

Mars Exploration Rovers Update: Opportunity Phones Home after Conjunction Healthy, Ready to Rove

A.J.S. Rayl • July 02, 2015

After three weeks of being in a communications blackout on the other side of the Sun during the Earth-Mars solar conjunction, Opportunity phoned home, reporting that she is healthy and ready to continue her mission.

Dawn Journal: Ceres' Intriguing Geology

Marc Rayman • June 30, 2015

Dawn is continuing to unveil a Ceres of mysteries at the first dwarf planet discovered. Mission Director Marc Rayman gives us an update.

Inclusive Astronomy Conference

Meredith Rawls • June 25, 2015

Last week, more than 150 astronomers gathered in Nashville for a conference to examine fundamental questions in our field: Who gets to practice astronomy? How can we make astronomy more inclusive?

Field Report from Mars: Sol 4039 - June 4, 2015

Larry Crumpler • June 12, 2015

Larry Crumpler gives an update on the Opportunity rover and plans for its upcoming journey after solar conjunction.

Telling Pluto’s Story, One Fragment at a Time

Mark Showalter • June 11, 2015

Mark Showalter explains how determining basic information about Pluto's small moons—Kerberos and Styx—is more complicated than initially thought.

NASA Goes First Class for Europa

Van Kane • June 10, 2015

Over the last several years, engineers at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory and Applied Physics Laboratory have rethought the entire approach to exploring Europa. NASA now has a concept that's affordable.

The Planetary Society at Earth Day NYC

Kate Howells • June 05, 2015

Volunteer Network Coordinator Kate Howells reports on our first time participating in New York City's enormous Earth Day celebration.

Using Cardboard to Tour Mars

Scott Maxwell • June 04, 2015

Former Mars rover driver Scott Maxwell uses Google Cardboard to take a tour of the Red Planet.

Mars Exploration Rovers Update: Opportunity Tours Spirit of St. Louis Crater

A.J.S. Rayl • June 03, 2015

Opportunity spent a mostly merry month of May on Mars touring Spirit of St. Louis Crater, stopping at science targets named in honor of Charles Lindbergh and the incredible flight he took 88 years ago.

Lonny Baker: An Appreciation

Tom Kemp • June 01, 2015

Global Volunteer Coordinator Tom Kemp pays a heartfelt tribute to The Planetary Society's first Global Volunteer Leader, Lonny Baker.

Dawn Journal: Spiralling Closer to Ceres

Marc Rayman • May 29, 2015

Dawn's Chief Engineer and Mission Director Marc Rayman gives an update as the spacecraft's orbit takes it even closer to the dwarf planet Ceres.

Pretty Pictures of the Cosmos: Special Qualities

Adam Block • May 27, 2015

Award-winning astrophotographer Adam Block shares some images of nebulae and a galaxy with some special qualities to each of them.

Two Months from Pluto!

Paul Schenk • May 19, 2015

Two months. Eight and half weeks. 58 days. It's a concept almost too difficult to grasp: we are on Pluto's doorstep.

Mars Plans Advance (and Occasionally Fade)

Van Kane • May 08, 2015

In the last two months, there has been significant news about the European-Russian 2018 mission and about NASA’s 2020 rover. NASA also has announced that it would like to send a new orbiter to the Red Planet in the early 2020s.

OSIRIS-REx – Seeking Answers to the Sweet Mystery of Life

Jason Dworkin • May 07, 2015

The nature of the origin of life is a topic that has engaged people since ancient times. The samples to be collected by OSIRIS-REx, returned to the Earth in 2023 and archived for decades beyond that, may indeed hide the secrets to the origin of life.

Sunset on Mars

Damia Bouic • May 06, 2015

Long before Curiosity's landing, the description of the color camera made ​​me dream: I imagined what wonderful pictures we could get of sunsets and sunrises on Mars. They finally came on sol 956, the 15th of April, 2015.

Mars Exploration Rovers Update: Opportunity Logs Sol 4000, Digs Spirit of St. Louis Crater

A.J.S. Rayl • May 05, 2015

After investigating some flat, light and dark toned rocks around Spirit of St. Louis Crater in April, Opportunity chalked up another milestone achievement – the 4000th sol or Martian day of surface operations.

Mars Exploration Rovers Special Update: MERathon Celebrates Opportunity's Marathon

A.J.S. Rayl • May 01, 2015

MER mission ops team members joined other engineers and scientists, some who previously worked on the MER mission, to take on the challenge of a relay marathon to celebrate Opportunity's milestone achievement.

Dawn Journal: Getting Down to Science at Ceres

Marc Rayman • May 01, 2015

Dawn Mission Director and Chief Engineer Marc Rayman gives a status update on the mission, having finally arrived at dwarf planet Ceres.

Looking Down On Jupiter's North Pole

Ted Stryk • April 28, 2015

Ted Stryk shares the most direct view of a Jovian pole ever captured by a spacecraft.

New Horizons One Earth Message

Mark Washburn • April 24, 2015

The One Earth Message Project is going to send a message to the stars, and we invite members of the Planetary Society to join us in this historic endeavor.

Can nuclear waste help humanity reach for the stars?

Tim Tinsley • April 23, 2015

With the shortage of plutonium-238 to power space missions, Europe has decided to focus on an accessible alternative material that could power future spacecraft: americium-241.

Development of the OSIRIS-REx Sampling System: TAGSAM and the SRC

Dante Lauretta • April 21, 2015

The OSIRIS-REx team has been busy assembling and testing the Touch-and-Go Sample Acquisition Mechanism (TAGSAM) and the Sample Return Capsule (SRC).

What Color Does the Internet Think Pluto Is?

Alex Parker • April 20, 2015

Astronomers have known for a long time that Pluto’s surface is reddish, so where did the common idea that Pluto is blue come from?

The Cosmic Microwave Oven Background

David Wilson • April 17, 2015

Over the past couple of decades the Parkes Radio Telescope in Australia has been picking up two types of mysterious signals, each lasting just a few milliseconds. The source of one of these signals may have finally been found—and an unexpected source at that.

Pretty Pictures of the Cosmos: Life and Death in the Universe

Adam Block • April 17, 2015

Astrophotographer Adam Block brings us images showcasing the evolutionary cycles in our universe.

Artist's Drive: A Sol 950 Colorized Postcard

Damia Bouic • April 14, 2015

Amateur image processor Damia Bouic shares the process behind creating stunning panoramas with Curiosity images.

NASA's Mission to Europa May Get More Interesting Still

Van Kane • April 11, 2015

NASA officials have asked their European counterparts if they would like to propose contributing a small probe to NASA's Europa mission planned for the mid-2020s.

Field Report from Mars: Sol 3978 - April 3, 2015

Larry Crumpler • April 09, 2015

Larry Crumpler gives an update on Opportunity's exploration of Mars as it approaches the entrance to Marathon Valley.

Discovery Lives

Jason Callahan • April 08, 2015

Last month teams of scientists from around the United States submitted proposals for the thirteenth mission in NASA’s Discovery program. Jason Callahan discusses this latest round of proposals.

Mars, In Depth

Bill Dunford • April 07, 2015

See the latest three-dimensional landscapes captured by the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter.

Planetary Report: The Spring Equinox 2015 Issue

Donna Stevens • April 05, 2015

The Planetary Report's editor, Donna Stevens, brings you the first issue of 2015!

A Love Letter to Science Education

Whitney Pratz • April 03, 2015

The Planetary Society Operations Assistant Whitney Pratz reports from the National Science Teacher Association Conference and on the development of our youth education and outreach program, Planetary Kids.

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