Emily LakdawallaFeb 09, 2009

Catching up on some news: LPSC, MESSENGER at perihelion, Google Mars, Okina impact

Due to the now-completed home move I've been really out of it for more than a week; it's time to catch up. Without further ado, here's some neglected news...there's much more where this came from...

The program for the 40th Lunar and Planetary Science Conference has been posted, and it is shaping up to be a marvelous meeting, held in Houston from March 23 to 27. Here's the program, in PDF format; it's all hyperlinked so you can get to lists of talks in individual sessions, from which you can get to the two-page "abstract" (really more of a mini-paper, though of course they're not peer-reviewed, so take anything you read with a grain of salt) for each talk. On Monday there's an all-day session on Phoenix results; on Tuesday there's all-day presentations on Kaguya, Chang'e 1, and Chandrayaan-1, as well as all-day sessions on Jupiter and Saturn's moons; the special deal Wednesday is MESSENGER presentations. All week long there's other Mars stuff, where the results from Odyssey, Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, Mars Express, and the rovers are all mixed up into discipline-specific sessions. I am really really sorry to say that, for personal reasons, I won't be able to attend the meeting at all this year, so I'm hereby issuing my first call for volunteers who might be attending the conference to send me reports on anything that strikes them as interesting from any portion of the meeting that they attend. Help me out, please!MESSENGER reached its orbital perihelion today, February 9, and is only 0.31 AU from the Sun. (That is, Earth is three times farther from the Sun than MESSENGER is right now.) As they have done on previous perihelion passages, the MESSENGER team is taking advantage of their proximity to the Sun to attempt a search for vulcanoids, a population of asteroids that theory states should reside in the space between Mercury and the Sun, but for whose existence no observational evidence has ever been found.

Two European astrophysical spacecraft, Herschel (designed to study the formation of stars and galaxies) and Planck (designed to measure the background radiation left over from the Big Bang) are being transported to Kourou, French Guiana, this week for their final launch preparations; the pair are scheduled to launch on the same Ariane ECA rocket on April 16, 2009.

Last week, NASA and Google announced the rollout of Google Earth 5.0, which contains a Mars-3D mode that taps into myriad online libraries of Mars image and other data -- including, notably, more than 500 HiRISE images -- in a display which sounds absolutely breathtaking; all the guys at unmannedspaceflight.com appear to be in love with it (and are now writing their own KML files to showcase rover traverses, among other things). I was hoping to download and install it before I posted about it but just haven't yet had time, so I thought I'd better mention it briefly. You can watch a quick tour here, and download the software here. Once you have Google Earth installed and started, just select "Mars" from under the Saturn-shaped icon on the top toolbar. Thanks to Ross Beyer and Brad Thomson for the tip and explanations.

Okina is supposedly going to be crashing into the Moon within the next week or two. Okina (also known as RSAT, RStar, or the Relay satellite) is one of two mini-sats deployed by Kaguya as part of its unique lunar gravity experiment. Okina is in a lower orbit than the other (Ouna); the lumpy nature of the lunar gravity field results in fairly fast decay of low orbits. Without any thrust capability to reboost its orbit, Okina's orbit is about to decay into one that intersects the lunar surface, with rather unfortunate results for the spacecraft. (This was planned and expected by the Kaguya mission.) Thanks to Phil Stooke for the tip.

Phew. That's all the time I have for today, and I still have 200 messages in my inbox. Sigh.

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