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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.
The IXV spaceplane, designed to demonstrate reentry technologies, splashed down in the Pacific Ocean this morning after a successful, 100-minute test flight.
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.
To understand the possible distribution of life in the Universe it is important to study planet formation and evolution. These processes are recorded in the chemistry and mineralogy of asteroids and comets, and in the geology of ancient planetary surfaces in our Solar System.
Aomawa Shields discusses a workshop she designed for underrepresented girls in grades 6-8 that will teach key concepts in astronomy, highlighting what is beyond what we can see with our eyes, using nontraditional methods.
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.
A FOIA request offers insight into NASA's planetary science extended mission review process, which seems, at best, confusing, and at worst—with adjectival ratings like “Very Good/Good”—arbitrary.