Regular readers of this blog will find the content of today's 365 Days of Astronomy Podcast familiar, because it's an update on what the solar system exploration spacecraft are up to, based on my monthly "what's up" updates.
Kirby Runyon, a second-year grad student at Temple University, offered to send me some writeups of selected presentations from last week's Lunar and Planetary Science Conference, and I enthusiastically agreed.
Wednesday morning included some interesting conversations. Notably, I spoke with Pamela Gay, who is responsible for the MoonZoo citizen science program and who is presently working on developing a site through which the public will be able to help search for potential Kuiper belt objects for the New Horizons mission to encounter after the Pluto flyby.
While scanning through the talks scheduled for this week's Lunar and Planetary Science Conference I came across the following talk title: "Interannual and Seasonal Variability in the North Polar Region of Mars: Observations in Mars Years 29 and 30 by MARCI, CTX, and CRISM." My first thought was "hey, cool research spanning a long time period and across data sets." But my second was "Mars years 29 and 30? What does that mean?"
Image magician Daniel Macháček has been turning his energies to Viking Orbiter views of Mars lately, with some stunning results, like the one below. I'm not sure how he makes images that look so sharp and clean and with such rich color out of the Viking Orbiter data.
Last week the Mars Exploration Rover team dumped another 90 sols' worth of data from Mars into NASA's Planetary Data System, the national repository for space mission data. As I did once before, I dove into this fresh pile of data to pull out Opportunity's color views of the distant rim of Endeavour crater.
A Planetary Society trifecta -- that's what Neil Tyson calls this episode of his StarTalk radio show broadcast this week. His guests include the Society's Vice President, Heidi Hammel, and its Executive Director, Bill Nye, (along with the Society's friend, Steve Squyres, Principal Investigator for the Mars Exploration Rovers).
There is a fascinating new page on the Mars Exploration Rover Pancam science team's website, full of color versions of Opportunity's microscopic images. The Microscopic Imager is one of the tools on the end of the robotic arm, and serves as a hand lens for the robot geologist to explore the rocks and sands of Mars in great detail.
Space probes grant us perspective, the ability to see our place within the vastness of the solar system. But opportunities to see all of the solar system's planets in one observation are rare. In fact, there's only been one opportunity on one mission to see the whole solar system at once, until now.