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The twin GRAIL spacecraft are nearly at the end of their three-month cruises to the Moon. Currently being discussed is an extended mission for GRAIL that would begin after the June eclipse and last through most of December 2012.
Just a few of the amazing photos of Comet Lovejoy that have been taken from the southern hemisphere over the last few days. Comet Lovejoy is the first Kreutz sungrazer to have been discovered from the ground in 40 years, and after its surprising survival of its passage close to the Sun, it has been putting on a spectacular show in southern skies.
When I posted about the really cool Cassini SAR images of Enceladus a few weeks ago, I initially wrote that this was the first-ever SAR image of an icy moon other than Titan. Several people (some readers and two members of the Cassini science team!) corrected that statement: Cassini has performed SAR imaging of other icy moons (including Enceladus) before.
A large team of researchers has announced in a Nature article the discovery of not one, but two, Earth-sized planets orbiting a star named Kepler-20. This article separates the observational facts from the quite-likely-to-be-true inferences from the downstream speculations.
In celebration of the 40th anniversary of Mariner 9's November 13, 1971 arrival at Mars, Daniel Macháček has produced a morphed animation of the images that Mars' first orbiter took while approaching the planet.
A report on a press briefing about Voyager 1 at the Fall 2011 American Geophyisical Union meeting. The spacecraft has entered a new region between our solar system and interstellar space, which scientists are calling the stagnation region.
On the November 6, 2011 flyby of Enceladus -- the third such flyby in just a few weeks -- the Cassini mission elected to take a SAR swath instead of using the optical instruments for once. So here it is: the first-ever SAR swath on Enceladus. In fact, the only other places we've ever done SAR imaging are Earth, the Moon, Venus, Iapetus, and Titan.
I was inspired by my recent trip to Goldstone to put together this poster showing all three of the great 70-meter dishes of the Deep Space Network. There's one at each of the three complexes, at Goldstone, at Robledo (near Madrid, Spain), and at Tidbinbilla (near Canberra, Australia).
As I was beginning my research for my two magazine articles on the Curiosity rover's upcoming mission to Mars, I needed to figure out for myself how exactly this gigantic, ungainly machine fit in to the context of past Martian missions.
Not many subjects remain for which it is possible to assemble everything that we know about it in one book. Even for those subjects for which our knowledge is limited, knowledge seems always to be expanding exponentially. This is not true, however, for the Galilean satellites of Jupiter.
Among Europa scientists there are two warring factions: the thick-icers and the thin-icers. The question is how thick is the ice shell that overlies Europa's subsurface ocean (the existence of which pretty much everyone agrees on).
I said I wasn't going to post again unless the spacecraft talked to us, but I changed my mind because finally there were official comments today about the status of the mission from Roskosmos head Vladimir Popovkin.
Last week, the team put all of the data from Deep Impact's deep-sky imaging session online, and challenged visitors to see what they could make from it. I made some photos of M51, but there were some challenges.
Ever since the space shuttle Endeavour was awarded to the California Science Center I've been curious about the question of how they will ever get a shuttle from Los Angeles International Airport across more than 10 miles of densely developed city land in the United States to Endeavour's eventual home in Exposition Park.
Anticipating the close flyby of asteroid 2005 YU55 yesterday, the Jet Propulsion Laboratory invited media to tour Goldstone, one of three facilities that make up NASA's Deep Space Network. I've always wanted to see these massive radio dishes up close, so I jumped at the chance!
Unless you've been living under a rock you've probably heard that there is a relatively large (400-meter) asteroid passing closer to Earth than the orbit of the Moon today -- in just a few minutes, as a matter of fact.
I am ecstatic to report that at 20:16 UTC, millions of passengers on board the Planetary Society's Phobos LIFE biomodule launched into space inside the Phobos Sample Return (also known as Phobos Grunt or Phobos Soil) spacecraft.
Russia's Phobos-Grunt sample return spacecraft, carrying the Planetary Society's Phobos LIFE experiment, plus China's Yinghuo-1 Mars minisatellite, are poised for launch at Baikonur! The launch window opens in less than six hours, at 20:16 UTC.
About a week after Curiosity passed through the same milestone, Phobos-Grunt and Yinghuo-1 -- still slated for a November 8 launch -- were encapsulated in their payload fairing in preparation for being stacked on their rocket. And, of course, our little Phobos LIFE capsule is inside there too!
It's still three weeks until Curiosity's launch date, but the spacecraft has already been placed on top of its rocket. The Kennedy Space Center's Curiosity photo album now has lots of pictures of the spacecraft being enclosed inside the payload fairing (the rocket's "nose cone") and hoisted to the top of the Atlas V.
Today I'm reviewing -- and recommending -- two art-laden books. Michael Carroll's Drifting on Alien Winds is nonfiction, while the IAAA's The Beauty of Space is an art book, but both books are about describing our understanding of the alien-yet-familiar worlds across our solar system, and what they'd look like if we could stand on them.
The Dawn mission to Vesta continues to release an image every day, and recently they have been releasing lots of color images. I like color pictures for aesthetic reasons, but color is actually a very important property of planetary surfaces.
Last month I posted a preliminary version of a slide I was working on for use in my public presentations, a slide that contains everything in the solar system bigger than 400 kilometers across, and invited comment. I've listened to all of your comments and corrections and come up with a second version.
Well, that was awesome. The NPP Earth observation satellite launched successfully an hour or so ago, and I was with a chilled but thrilled crowd of a few hundred people to watch it at Vandenberg Air Force Base.
For a few weeks over November and December, a rare launch window to Mars opens, and then slams shut agin. Mars launch windows only happen once each 26 months, so if you miss the window, you have to wait more than two years for the next one.
I'm (hopefully) headed to the launch of a Delta II (the last currently scheduled Delta II!) at Vandenberg Air Force Base, as one of only 20 people selected to participate out of more than 600 who registered.
JAXA's solar sail demonstration craft IKAROS is still puttering along, 17 months after it launched, and its controllers back on Earth keep coming up with new things to try with it. I'm pretty amazed by the most recent trick: reversing its spin direction. This may not sound like a big deal, but it is, especially for IKAROS.
I consider October and November to be book review season. We're well out of the mental coasting of summer and have gotten into the groove of school and work in fall, and are in the relative quiet before the insanity of the season that stretches from Thanksgiving to the New Year, when much of the Western world will be scrambling to shop for presents for friends and family.
I know I just posted about Phobos-Grunt on Friday, but there are lots of new pictures from Baikonur Cosmodrome (Russia's main launch facility in Kazakhstan) showing Phobos-Grunt being removed from its shipping crate and tipped upright in preparation for its launch in early November.
It should give you a feeling of déjà vu: a defunct satellite's orbit is decaying, and because that orbit is circular it's going to be impossible to predict where and when along its ground track it's going to happen.
With little fanfare, the Dawn mission continues releasing a new picture from Vesta every day. This one is definitely my favorite among their recent releases, a closeup on one of Vesta's strange streaky bright craters.
It's been a week of very heavy science on this blog, so I thought it'd be nice to go into the weekend with a post in which a breathtaking picture speaks for itself, without needing my thousands of words.
It's already the last day of the DPS/EPSC meeting in Nantes, France, and I've fallen seriously behind on writing up my notes. I thought I'd get some less pleasant notes out of the way before I returned to science.
It's been a very full day at the DPS-EPSC 2011 joint meeting. My day was less full than it might have been, because I overslept and missed most of the morning's session. I really needed the rest though so I think it was probably for the best!
Today they turned on the scientific fire hose at the Division of Planetary Sciences / European Planetary Science Congress meeting happening here in Nantes, France. My brain already feels full and I still have four more days!
I'm leaving shortly for Nantes, France to attend the 2011 joint meeting of the Division of Planetary Sciences (DPS) of the American Astronomical Society and the European Planetary Science Congress (EPSC). You may be saying, wait, why is the American Astronomical Society having a meeting in France?
Without a doubt the most exciting events in space in October are Cassini's two, count them, two extremely close flybys of Enceladus, spaced only eighteen days apart, on October 1 and 19 (and followed by a third one on November 6).
Since Cassini currently orbits Saturn within the plane of Saturn's rings, it has lots of chances to catch two or more moons in the same photo. One such "mutual event" happened on September 17, featuring four moons: Titan, Dione, Pan, and Pandora.
A new Mars mission, MAVEN, has finally leapt the hurdle separating its existence as an idea from its material existence. Here's MAVEN's baby picture: the just-completed "primary structure" of the spacecraft.
If you are reading this and happen to recall an entry that struck you as particularly educational or having a particularly beautiful picture or whatever, I'd very much appreciate it if you could note that in the comments (or by email or Twitter, if you prefer).
In a now-routine act of obtaining detailed photographs of robots from Earth sitting on the surface of another planet, the HiRISE camera on Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter has captured a view of Opportunity sitting on the rim of Endeavour crater.
About four years ago I wrote a blog entry about an ESA press release about paper published in Nature that suggested that Saturn's moons Tethys and Dione might have volcanic activity, like Enceladus. A new paper published in Icarus casts doubt on that conclusion.
Unless you've been living under a rock you've probably heard that a very large Earth-orbiting satellite is going to be reentering Earth's atmosphere soon, and there's a small but nonzero chance of debris coming down where somebody might actually find it.
When Hayabusa's sample return capsule was first opened and found to be very clean-looking inside, I doubted that there could be enough material for laboratory analysis. JAXA announced later that they scraped about 1500 dust grains from the inside with a teflon spatula, and these likely came from Itokawa.
This amazing video has already been posted by basically every other space blogger but I can't resist featuring it too, especially because I just realized that it was not made by NASA but instead by a member of the public digging into public NASA archives of image data -- yay for amateurs!
I spent much of the past week attending the Caltech Space Challenge, a student-organized international competition to design a human mission to a Near-Earth asteroid. It was a great week, and one of the most positive, upbeat and hopeful programs I have participated in concerning the future of space exploration.
I'm preparing a talk for the Pacific Astronomy and Telescope Show here in Pasadena on Sunday afternoon at 1:45. I have spent the morning putting together a slide that I have long wanted to have for presentations.
Every day's image release from the Dawn spacecraft shows something on Vesta that is weird and cool and difficult to explain. The images come out with very little information describing what is going on to make those weird landscapes.
Jeff Moore's presentation was cool because of the discussion it stimulated. He considered what exogenic processes might be operating on Pluto's surface. What's an exogenic process? It's something that modifies the shape of the surface from the outside, and doesn't require the body to be geologically active inside.
Here's a lovely picture from the Canberra DSN this morning, showing two of the workhorse 34-meter antennas communicating with the nearby GRAIL spacecraft. In the distance, the huge DSS-43 talks to the solar observatory STEREO-B.
GRAIL is trying for launch today at 8:29 PDT / 12:29 UT or 9:08 PDT / 6:08 UT., and here I am at 5:00 am my time ready to watch. As before, I'm watching the feed through Spaceflight Now's GRAIL mission status center.