We have completed reconnaissance missions to all eight of the planets, and will soon perform surveys of two dwarf planets, Ceres and Pluto. Among the most compelling targets for future flagship missions are the solar system's moons. Can we use Phobos as a base from which to tele-operate Mars missions? Is there prebiotic chemistry or even life within the buried oceans of Europa, Ganymede, or Enceladus, or in the methane-ethane rivers and lakes on Titan? What could we learn about the Kuiper belt by studying Neptune's captured moon Triton? What could human explorers do on our own Moon using technology developed over the last 40 years?
These questions drive interest in future missions among scientists, but it's an uphill battle to sell decisionmakers on the value of expensive missions to objects that are "only" moons. For us to capitalize on the successes of our reconnaissance missions, it is essential to educate the public about the reasons that other worlds' moons are so exciting, and that they are worlds every bit as worthy of study as the planets.
Recent Blog Entries about our Moon, Phobos, Europa, Ganymede, Enceladus, Titan, and Triton
If there's one thing I've learned after decades of studying the first human voyages to another world, it's that there is always more to discover about Apollo. Case in point: The Apollo 8 Earthrise photo that became one of the iconic images of the 20th century.
Today there was a lengthy press briefing by several members of the Chang'e 3 science team. A complete transcript was posted in Chinese. I have run it through two machine translators and found it to be quite informative, not just about the mission but also about attitudes about Chinese space exploration and foreign cooperation. I also have a cool fan-produced video to share.
It's time to reassess Europa exploration, past, present and future. The Destination Europa! session at AGU, inspired by the eponymous website and movement, didn't take exactly that message as its theme, but it's what I got from the presentations. What an ELECTRIFYING meeting this has been for Europa exploration!
Fresh off of Chinese state television are lovely pictures taken by Chang'e 3 lander and rover of each other!
Here it is! Animated gifs, composed of screen grabs from Chinese state television, of the Yutu rover rolling on to the lunar surface. This was a replay, but it was no less thrilling for that; the actual rollout happened at 20:40 UT (12:40 PT). Six wheels on soil! Woohoo!
Transmitting images all the way down, China's Chang'e 3 lander successfully arrived on the lunar surface at 13:11:18 -- half an hour before the scheduled landing time. Rover deploy is set for a few hours later.
In which I finally get around to writing about a paper published last August: Enceladus' plumes sometimes spout more and sometimes spout less, depending on where Enceladus is in its orbit. This discovery was enabled by Cassini's longevity at Saturn, and we'll be able to follow up on it, as long as Cassini is allowed to complete its mission.
In 2016, The Planetary Society’s LightSail program will take the technology a step further.