Saturday, December 22, 2007

Monday, December 17, 2007

New mission for Deep Impact

http://www.space.com/missionlaunches/071213-deepimpact-epoxi.html

These probes live on and on to do other things. A good way to get more bang for the buck.

New Sun Cycle?

http://www.space.com/scienceastronomy/071217-solar-cycle-24.html

Mars Video

http://www.jpl.nasa.gov/videos/whatsup/whatsup20071213/?msource=mm121407&tr=y&auid=3253402

Don't miss Mars. It looked great last Friday.

Europa Video

http://www.jpl.nasa.gov/videos/europa/europa20071213/?msource=mm121407&tr=y&auid=3253396

Comet Harley 2 it is!

NEWS RELEASE: 2007-150 December 13, 2007
NASA Sends Spacecraft on Mission to Comet Hartley 2
NASA has approved the retargeting of the Epoxi mission for a flyby of comet Hartley 2 on Oct. 11, 2010. Hartley 2 was chosen as Epoxi's destination after the initial target, comet Boethin, could not be found. Scientists theorize comet Boethin may have broken up into pieces too small for detection.
The Epoxi mission melds two compelling science investigations -- the Extrasolar Planet Observation and Characterization and the Deep Impact Extended Investigation. Both investigations will be performed using the Deep Impact spacecraft.
In addition to investigating comet Hartley 2, the spacecraft will point the larger of its two telescopes at nearby previously discovered extrasolar planetary systems in late January 2008. It will study the physical properties of giant planets and search for rings, moons and planets as small as three Earth masses. It also will look at Earth as though it were an extrasolar planet to provide data that could become the standard for characterizing these types of planets.
"The search for exosolar planetary systems is one of the most intriguing explorations of our time," said Drake Deming, Epoxi deputy principal investigator at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, Md. "With Epoxi we have the potential to discover new worlds and even analyze the light they emit to perhaps discover what atmospheres they possess."
The mission's closest approach to the small half-mile-wide comet will be about nearly a thousand kilometers (620 miles). The spacecraft will employ the same suite of two science instruments the Deep Impact spacecraft used during its prime mission to guide an impactor into comet Tempel 1 in July 2005.
If Epoxi’s observations of Hartley 2 show it is similar to one of the other comets that have been observed, this new class of comets will be defined for the first time. If the comet displays different characteristics, it would deepen the mystery of cometary diversity.
"When comet Boethin could not be located, we went to our backup, which is every bit as interesting but about two years farther down the road," said Tom Duxbury, Epoxi project manager at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif.
Mission controllers at JPL began directing Epoxi towards Hartley 2 on Nov. 1. They commanded the spacecraft to perform a three-minute rocket burn that changed the spacecraft's velocity. Epoxi’s new trajectory sets the stage for three Earth flybys, the first on Dec. 31, 2007. This places the spacecraft into an orbital "holding pattern" until it’s time for the optimal encounter of comet Hartley 2 in 2010.
"Hartley 2 is scientifically just as interesting as comet Boethin because both have relatively small, active nuclei," said Michael A'Hearn, principal investigator for Epoxi at the University of Maryland, College Park.
Epoxi’s low mission cost of $40 million is achieved by taking advantage of the existing Deep Impact spacecraft.
JPL manages Epoxi for NASA's Science Mission Directorate, Washington. The spacecraft was built for NASA by Ball Aerospace & Technologies Corp., Boulder, Colo.
For information about Epoxi, visit http://www.nasa.gov/epoxi .

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Organic Compounds in Mars Meteorite

http://www.space.com/scienceastronomy/071211-mars-meteorite.html

This is a very important discovery. It will give scientists a clue about what to look for with the Mars Science Laboratory heading for Mars in 2009.

Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter Update

Guy Webster 818-354-6278Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif. guy.webster@jpl.nasa.gov
NEWS RELEASE: 2007-146 Dec. 11, 2007
Mars Orbiter Examines 'Lace' and 'Lizard Skin' Terrain
SAN FRANCISCO - Scrutiny by NASA's newest Mars orbiter is helping scientists learn the stories of some of the weirdest landscapes on Mars, as well as more familiar-looking parts of the Red Planet.
One type of landscape near Mars' south pole is called "cryptic terrain" because it once defied explanation, but new observations bolster and refine recent interpretations of how springtime outbursts of carbon-dioxide gas there sculpt intricate patterns and paint seasonal splotches.
"A lot of Mars looks like Utah, but this is an area that looks nothing like Planet Earth," said Candice Hansen of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif., deputy principal investigator for the High Resolution Imaging Science Experiment (HiRISE) camera on NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter.
In addition to radially branching patterns called "spiders," which had been detected by an earlier Mars orbiter, other intriguing ground textures in the area appear in the new images. "In some places, the channels form patterns more like lace. In others, the texture is reminiscent of lizard skin," Hansen said.
Results from all six instruments on the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, which reached Mars last year, are described in dozens of presentations this week by planetary scientists in San Francisco at the fall meeting of the American Geophysical Union.
By taking stereo pictures of a target area from slightly different angles during different orbits, HiRISE can show the surface in three dimensions. Channels found to widen as they run uphill in the cryptic terrain region testify that the channels are cut by a gas, not a liquid.
Earlier evidence for jets of gas active in the region came from fan-shaped blotches appearing seasonally, which scientists interpret as material fallen to the surface downwind of vents where the gas escapes. Some of the fans are dark, others bright. "The dark fans are probably dust, but the exact composition of the brighter fans had remained unknown until now," said Tim Titus of the U.S. Geological Survey's Astrogeology Team, Flagstaff, Ariz.
Observations by the new orbiter's Compact Reconnaissance Imaging Spectrometer for Mars suggest that the bright fans are composed of carbon-dioxide frost. Here's the story researchers now propose: Spring warms the ground under a winter-formed coating of carbon dioxide ice. Thawing at the base of the coating generates carbon-dioxide gas, which carves channels as it pushes its way under the ice to a weak spot where it bursts free. The jet of escaping gas carries dust aloft and also cools so fast from expanding rapidly that a fraction of the carbon dioxide refreezes and falls back to the surface as frost.
The processes creating the cryptic terrain are current events on Mars. Repeated HiRISE observations of the same target area show the downwind fans can form and grow perceptibly in less than five days.
Other new findings from the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter reveal processes of Martian environments long ago. A team including Chris Okubo of the University of Arizona, Tucson, used stereo HiRISE images to examine layered deposits inside Mars' Candor Chasma, part of Valles Marineris, the largest canyon system in the solar system.
"The high-resolution structural map allowed us to interpret the geological history of the area," Okubo said. "The layers are tilted in a way that tells us they are younger than the canyon." Spectrometer studies of the composition of these deposits had indicated water played a role in their formation, but their age relative to the formation of the canyon had been uncertain. The new findings suggest water was present after the canyon formed.
JPL, a division of the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena, manages the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter mission for the NASA Science Mission Directorate, Washington. Lockheed Martin Space Systems, Denver, is the prime contractor for the project and built the spacecraft. The University of Arizona operates the HiRISE camera, which was built by Ball Aerospace and Technology Corp., Boulder, Colo. The Compact Reconnaissance Imaging Spectrometer for Mars team, led by Johns Hopkins University's Applied Physics Laboratory, includes expertise from universities, government agencies and small businesses in the United States and abroad.

New Lunar Mission for NASA

DC Agle 818-393-9011Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif.agle@jpl.nasa.gov
Grey Hautaluoma 202-358-0668Headquarters, Washingtongrey.hautaluoma-1@nasa.gov
NEWS RELEASE: 2007-145 December 11, 2007
New NASA Mission to Reveal Moon's Internal Structure and Evolution
At a Monday, Dec. 10 meeting of the American Geophysical Union, NASA's Associate Administrator for Science Alan Stern announced the selection of a new mission that will peer deep inside the moon to reveal its anatomy and history.
NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif., will manage the Grail mission. The spacecraft will be built by Lockheed Martin Space Systems, Denver.
The Gravity Recovery and Interior Laboratory, or Grail, mission is a part of NASA's Discovery Program. It will cost $375 million and is scheduled to launch in 2011. Grail will fly twin spacecraft in tandem orbits around the moon for several months to measure its gravity field in unprecedented detail. The mission also will answer longstanding questions about Earth's moon and provide scientists a better understanding of how Earth and other rocky planets in the solar system formed.
"Grail’s revolutionary capabilities stood out in this Discovery mission competition owing to its unsurpassed combination of high scientific value and low technical and programmatic risk," Stern said. "Grail also offers to bring innovative Earth studies techniques to the moon as a precursor to their possible later use at Mars and other planets."
Scientists will use the gravity field information from the two satellites to X-ray the moon from crust to core to reveal the moon's subsurface structures and, indirectly, its thermal history.
The study technique Grail will use was pioneered by the joint U.S.-German Earth observing Gravity Recovery and Climate Experiment, or Grace, mission launched in 2002. The Grace satellites measure gravity changes related to the movement of mass within Earth, such as the melting of ice at the poles and changes in ocean circulation. As with Grace, both Grail spacecraft will be launched on a single launch vehicle.
Grail’s principal investigator is Maria Zuber of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge. Zuber's team of expert scientists and engineers includes former NASA astronaut Sally Ride, who will lead the mission's public outreach efforts. A camera aboard each spacecraft will allow students and the public to interact with observations from the satellites. Each Grail spacecraft will carry the cameras to document their views from lunar orbits.
Grail will support NASA's exploration goals as the agency returns humans to the moon by 2020. In 2008, the agency will launch the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter, to circle the moon for at least a year and take measurements to identify future robotic and human landing sites. The orbiter also will look for potential lunar resources and document aspects of the lunar radiation environment. After a 30-year hiatus, the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter represents NASA's first step toward returning humans to the moon. The orbiter will be accompanied by another spacecraft, called the Lunar Crater Observation and Sensing Satellite mission, which will impact the lunar south pole to search for evidence of polar water frost.
"As NASA moves forward with exploration endeavors, our lunar science missions will be the light buoy leading the path for future human activities," said Jim Green, director of the Planetary Division, Science Mission Directorate, Washington.
Created in 1992, NASA's Discovery Program sponsors a series of scientist-led, cost-capped solar system exploration missions with highly focused scientific goals. The Grail proposal was selected from 24 submissions in response to a 2006 Announcement of Opportunity for the program. Proposals were evaluated for scientific merit, science implementation merit, and technical, management and cost feasibility.
For more information about NASA's Discovery Program, visit: http://discovery.nasa.gov/ .

Mars Rover Update

http://www.jpl.nasa.gov/news/news.cfm?release=2007-144&msource=14314407&tr=y&auid=3238833

Friday, December 07, 2007

Don't miss the huge sunspot!

http://spaceweather.com/swpod2007/07dec07/Pete-Lawrence1.jpg?PHPSESSID=8ks56g4taledc4i8163s4sp325

Dry Martian Clouds

http://www.space.com/scienceastronomy/071206-mars-air.html

It is only simulated. Hopefully we will have full Martian Weather Reports some day...

Hinode Solar Probe Update

http://www.skyandtelescope.com/news/12168371.html

Google Lunar X Prize Off to a Flying Start!

http://www.space.com/businesstechnology/071206-private-odyssey.html

http://www.space.com/news/071206-update-astrobotic-lunarxprize.html

The more the merrier!

Saturn's Flying Saucer Moons

http://www.space.com/scienceastronomy/071206-saturn-moons.html

Mars Rover Update

Status (Spirit Breaks Free; Opportunity still studying Victoria Crater):
http://marsrovers.jpl.nasa.gov/mission/status.html

Spirit Pictures (Racing for daylight):
http://marsrovers.jpl.nasa.gov/gallery/press/spirit/20071129a.html

I wonder how Opportunity is going to handle this winter. It is closer to the equator so it gets more sunlight overall. I also wonder if it will get less dust clearing events now that it is down the crater. Seems like it would.

Thursday, December 06, 2007

Saturn's Icy Moons

Carolina Martinez 818-354-9382Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif. carolina.martinez@jpl.nasa.gov
Preston Dyches 720-974-5859Space Science Institute, Boulder, Colo.media@ciclops.org
NEWS RELEASE: 2007-142 Dec. 6, 2007
Images of Saturn's Small Moons Tell the Story of Their Origins
Imaging scientists on NASA's Cassini mission are telling a tale of how the small moons orbiting near the outer rings of Saturn came to be. The moons began as leftover shards from larger bodies that broke apart and filled out their "figures" with the debris that made the rings.
It has long been suspected that Saturn's rings formed in the disintegration of one or several large icy bodies, perhaps pre-existing moons, by giant impacts. The resulting debris quickly spread and settled into the equatorial plane to form a thin disk surrounding the planet. And the small, irregularly shaped ring-region moons were believed to be the leftover pieces from this breakup.
Now, several years' worth of cosmic images of Saturn's 14 known small moons have been used to derive the sizes and shapes of most of them, and in about half the cases, even masses and densities. This information, published in the Dec. 7 issue of the journal Science, has led to new insights into how some of these moons may have formed.
The tip-off was the very low density of the inner moons, about half that of pure water ice, and sizes and shapes that suggested they have grown by the accumulation of ring material. The trouble was, these moons are within and near the rings, where it is not possible for small particles to fuse together gravitationally. So how did they do it? They got a jump start.
"We think the only way these moons could have reached the sizes they are now, in the ring environment as we now know it to be, was to start off with a massive core to which the smaller, more porous ring particles could easily become bound," said Carolyn Porco, Cassini imaging team leader from the Space Science Institute in Boulder, Colo. Porco is the lead author of the first of two related articles published in this week's issue of Science.
Simple calculations and more complicated computer simulations have shown that ring particles will readily become bound to a larger seed having the density of water ice. By this process, a moon will grow even if it is relatively close to Saturn. The result is a ring-region moon about two to three times the size of its dense ice core, covered with a thick shell of porous, icy ring material. To make a 30-kilometer moon (19 miles) requires a seed of about 10 kilometers (6 miles).
Where did such large cores come from? And when did this all take place?
"The core may in fact be one of the remnants from the original ring-forming event," said co-author Derek Richardson, professor of astronomy at the University of Maryland, College Park, "which might have been left intact all this time and protected from additional collisional breakup by the mantle of ring particles around it."
Just exactly when the rings formed is not known. "But it is not out of the question that the moons date back to the time of ring formation," said Porco.
The researchers show that the cores of Pan and Daphnis, which orbit within gaps in the outer A ring, were large enough to open narrow gaps. Accretion, or accumulation of material, they say, probably occurred quickly. The moons grew and their gaps widened, achieving their present sizes before the gaps were completely emptied of material, and probably before the local rings reached their present thickness.
So how did Pan in the main rings, and Atlas, which orbits just beyond the outer edge of the main rings, get the prominent equatorial ridges that make them look like flying saucers? The second paper reports evidence for a secondary stage of accretion that occurred after the moons' growth was completed and after the rings flattened to their present 20-meter (66 feet) thickness.
"Our computer simulations show that the ridges must have accreted rapidly when Saturn's rings were thin, forming small accretion disks around the equators of Pan and Atlas," said Sebastien Charnoz, lead author and an associate of imaging team member Andre Brahic at the University Paris-Diderot and CEA Saclay, in France. "The ridges might be the remains of 'fossilized' accretion disks, fundamental structures seen at all scales in the universe, from planetary rings to galaxies."
Images of Saturn's small moons are available at: http://saturn.jpl.nasa.gov and http://www.nasa.gov/cassini and http://ciclops.org.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Moon Rocket Parachute

http://science.nasa.gov/headlines/y2007/15nov_parachute.htm?list199286

Saves money!

Uncommon Moon

Whitney Clavin 818-354-4673Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif.NEWS RELEASE: 2007-132 Nov. 20, 2007
Astronomers Say Moons Like Ours Are Uncommon
The next time you take a moonlit stroll, or admire a full, bright-white moon looming in the night sky, you might count yourself lucky. New observations from NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope suggest that moons like Earth’s – that formed out of tremendous collisions – are uncommon in the universe, arising at most in only 5 to 10 percent of planetary systems.
"When a moon forms from a violent collision, dust should be blasted everywhere," said Nadya Gorlova of the University of Florida, Gainesville, lead author of a new study appearing Nov. 20 in the Astrophysical Journal. "If there were lots of moons forming, we would have seen dust around lots of stars – but we didn't."
It's hard to imagine Earth without a moon. Our familiar white orb has long been the subject of art, myth and poetry. Wolves howl at it, and humans have left footprints in its soil. Life itself might have evolved from the ocean to land thanks to tides induced by the moon's gravity.
Scientists believe the moon arose about 30 to 50 million years after our sun was born, and after our rocky planets had begun to take shape. A body as big as Mars is thought to have smacked into our infant Earth, breaking off a piece of its mantle. Some of the resulting debris fell into orbit around Earth, eventually coalescing into the moon we see today. The other moons in our solar system either formed simultaneously with their planet or were captured by their planet's gravity.
Gorlova and her colleagues looked for the dusty signs of similar smash-ups around 400 stars that are all about 30 million years old – roughly the age of our sun when Earth's moon formed. They found that only 1 out of the 400 stars is immersed in the telltale dust. Taking into consideration the amount of time the dust should stick around, and the age range at which moon-forming collisions can occur, the scientists then calculated the probability of a solar system making a moon like Earth's to be at most 5 to 10 percent.
"We don't know that the collision we witnessed around the one star is definitely going to produce a moon, so moon-forming events could be much less frequent than our calculation suggests," said George Rieke of the University of Arizona, Tucson, a co-author of the study.
In addition, the observations tell astronomers that the planet-building process itself winds down by 30 million years after a star is born. Like our moon, rocky planets are built up through messy collisions that spray dust all around. Current thinking holds that this process lasts from about 10 to 50 million years after a star forms. The fact that Gorlova and her team found only 1 star out of 400 with collision-generated dust indicates that the 30-million-year-old stars in the study have, for the most part, finished making their planets.
"Astronomers have observed young stars with dust swirling around them for more than 20 years now," said Gorlova. "But those stars are usually so young that their dust could be left over from the planet-formation process. The star we have found is older, at the same age our sun was when it had finished making planets and the Earth-moon system had just formed in a collision."
For moon lovers, the news isn't all bad. For one thing, moons can form in different ways. And, even though the majority of rocky planets in the universe might not have moons like Earth's, astronomers believe there are billions of rocky planets out there. Five to 10 percent of billions is still a lot of moons.
Other authors of the paper include: Zoltan Balog, James Muzerolle, Kate Y. L. Su and Erick T. Young of the University of Arizona, and Valentin D. Ivanov of the European Southern Observatory, Chile.

Friday, November 16, 2007

Mars Rover Update

Status (Spirit: power level going down, workarounds for rock abrasion tool; Opportunity: Also has rock abrasion tool problems):
http://marsrovers.jpl.nasa.gov/mission/status.html

Spirit Pictures:
http://marsrovers.jpl.nasa.gov/gallery/press/spirit/20071105a.html
Looking for safe haven for the winter.

Opportunity Pictures:
http://marsrovers.jpl.nasa.gov/gallery/press/opportunity/20071113a.html

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Get Off My Sand Dune!

Martain that is:
http://www.space.com/scienceastronomy/071113-scitues-slowpoke-mars-dunes.html

Mars Express Update

http://www.space.com/scienceastronomy/071108-marsexpress-mff.html

Ares 5 Rocket Work Parceled Out

http://www.space.com/news/071030-sn-ares-fieldassign.html

Martian Spy Plane

http://www.space.com/businesstechnology/071031-tw-darpa-spyplane.html

Look out above!

Solar-Thermal Propulsion

http://www.space.com/businesstechnology/071029-busmon-darpa.html

Sounds promising.

Alternative to Dark Matter

http://www.space.com/scienceastronomy/071029-mm-mog-theory.html

More of this please. I don't like Dark Matter or Dark Energy. I think the speed of light has changed with the size of the Universe.

Mars Society Update

http://www.space.com/adastra/071018-adastra-marsvolunteers.html

Zubrin is out with a new book about energy. I hope he isn't losing his focus. Alcohol fuels are okay, but plug-in hybrids are the only way to cure our addiction to oil.

Io Revealed!

http://www.space.com/scienceastronomy/071015-mm-io-atmosphere.html

More Data from Titan

http://www.space.com/scienceastronomy/071011-titan-drizzle.html
Reminds me of Blade Runner.

Juno Mission to Jupiter

http://www.space.com/news/071011-juno-rocket.html

How about:
Juno's Jaunt to Jupiter.

Say that fast 10 times.

Oddities of the Moon's Orbit

http://www.space.com/scienceastronomy/071011-moon-orbit.html

Dawn Asteroid Probe Update

http://www.space.com/missionlaunches/071011-dawn-engineupdate.html

Mars Science Laboratory Landing Sites

http://www.space.com/missionlaunches/071010-msl-landing-sites.html

Pluto Probe finding out more about Juptier

http://www.space.com/scienceastronomy/071009-jupiter-magnetosphere.html

This is the first time a probe has spent a lot of time in the shadow of Jupiter.

Best Chance to See Mars until 2014

Get out those telescopes!
http://www.space.com/spacewatch/070928_ns_mars_watch.html

Titan Update

http://www.space.com/businesstechnology/070926_tw_huygens_turbulence.html
Stormy Weather.

Go Large!

http://www.space.com/businesstechnology/070920_nasa_moonbase.html

That is how you win the space race back to the Moon.

Water on Mars Less Likely

http://www.space.com/scienceastronomy/070920_mars_tale.html
Liquid that is.

Uranus Update

http://www.space.com/searchforlife/070920_seti_ringplane.html

Crossing the ring plane

Checking for Life on Mars

http://www.space.com/missionlaunches/070917_mars_pregnancy.html

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Iapetus Report

NEWS RELEASE: 2007-101 Sept. 12, 2007

Saturn's Moon Iapetus is the Yin-And-Yang of the Solar System

PASADENA, Calif. – Scientists on the Cassini mission to Saturn are poring through hundreds of images returned from the Sept. 10 flyby of Saturn's two-toned moon Iapetus. Pictures returned late Tuesday and early Wednesday show the moon's yin and yang--a white hemisphere resembling snow, and the other as black as tar.

Images show a surface that is heavily cratered, along with the mountain ridge that runs along the moon's equator. Many of the close-up observations focused on studying the strange 20-kilometer high (12 mile) mountain ridge that gives the moon a walnut-shaped appearance.

"The images are really stunning," said Tilmann Denk, Cassini imaging scientist at the Free University in Berlin, Germany, who was responsible for the imaging observation planning.
"Every new picture contained its own charm. I was most pleased about the images showing huge mountains rising over the horizon. I knew about this scenic viewing opportunity for more than seven years, and now the real images suddenly materialized."

This flyby was nearly 100 times closer to Iapetus than Cassini's 2004 flyby, bringing the spacecraft to about 1,640 kilometers (1,000 miles) from the surface. The moon's irregular walnut shape, the mountain ridge that lies almost directly on the equator and Iapetus’ brightness contrast are among the key mysteries scientists are trying to solve.

"There's never a dull moment on this mission," said Bob Mitchell, Cassini program manager, NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif. "We are very excited about the stunning images being returned. There's plenty here to keep many scientists busy for many years."

"Our flight over the surface of Iapetus was like a non-stop free fall, down the rabbit hole, directly into Wonderland! Very few places in our solar system are more bizarre than the patchwork of pitch dark and snowy bright we've seen on this moon," said Carolyn Porco, Cassini imaging team leader at the Space Science Institute, Boulder, Colo.

The return of images and other data was delayed early Tuesday due to a galactic cosmic ray hit which put the spacecraft into a precautionary state called safe mode. This occurred after the spacecraft had placed all of the flyby data on its data recorders and during the first few minutes after it began sending the data home. The data flow resumed later that day and concluded on Wednesday. The spacecraft is operating normally and its instruments are expected to return to normal operations in a few days.

"Iapetus provides us a window back in time, to the formation of the planets over four billion years ago. Since then its icy crust has been cold and stiff, preserving this ancient surface for our study," said Torrence Johnson, Cassini imaging team member at JPL.

Cassini's multiple observations of Iapetus will help to characterize the chemical composition of the surface; look for evidence of a faint atmosphere or erupting gas plumes; and map the nighttime temperature of the surface. These and other results will be analyzed in the weeks to come.

Iapetus flyby raw images are available at: http://saturn.jpl.nasa.gov and http://www.nasa.gov/cassini and http://ciclops.org.

Japanese Moon Probe Report

http://www.space.com/businesstechnology/070912_techwed_kaguyamoon.html

NASA & Mickey

http://allearsnet.com/news/nasaday.htm#int

Mars Rover Update

Status (Spirit celebrates its second "mars" birthday, NASA still checking out Opportunity's instruments):
http://marsrovers.jpl.nasa.gov/mission/status.html

Spirit Pictures:
http://marsrovers.jpl.nasa.gov/gallery/press/spirit/20071015a.html

Opportunity Pictures:
http://marsrovers.jpl.nasa.gov/gallery/press/opportunity/20071015a.html

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Star with Comet Tail

http://science.nasa.gov/headlines/y2007/15aug_mira.htm?list199286

make sure you watch the animation.

Inflatable spacecraft update

http://www.space.com/news/070814_bigelow_sundancer.html

Mars Rover Update

Status (Spirit is doing well and lots of dust on Opportunity):
http://marsrovers.jpl.nasa.gov/mission/status.html

Spirit Pictures:
http://marsrovers.jpl.nasa.gov/gallery/press/spirit/20070919a.html

Opportunity Pictures (not new):
http://marsrovers.jpl.nasa.gov/gallery/press/opportunity/20070913a.html

On the (Moon) Beach

http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/20907029/

Titan data analyzed

http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/20992926/

The DAWN of a new age of exploration

http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/21010387/

Chinese Space Weapons

This is the best analysis I've seen on this topic:
http://www.thespacereview.com/article/930/1

Space Solar Power

Maybe someone can convince Bill Gates to put up the $100 million for a test satellite
http://www.thespacereview.com/article/931/1

Why we go into space

http://www.thespacereview.com/article/932/1

Vision for Space Exploration Review

http://www.thespacereview.com/article/933/1

I'm IN!

Opportunity is safely in Victoria Crater and doing science:
http://blog.wired.com/wiredscience/2007/09/mars-rover-as-s.html

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Cover me. I'm goin' in!

Opportunity descends into Victoria Crater.

http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/20726395/

Reuseable Launch Vehicle Article

http://www.thespacereview.com/article/925/1

NASA Press Release about Phoenix Launch

Guy Webster
Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif.
818-354-5011
guy.webster@jpl.nasa.gov

George Diller
Kennedy Space Center, Florida
321-867-2468
george.h.diller@nasa.gov

Sara Hammond
University of Arizona, Tucson
520-626-1974
shammond@lpl.arizona.edu

NEWS RELEASE: 2007-086 August 4, 2007

NASA Spacecraft Heads for Polar Region on Mars

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. - NASA's Phoenix Mars Mission blasted off Saturday, aiming for a May 25, 2008, arrival at the Red Planet and a close-up examination of the surface of the northern polar region.

Perched atop a Delta II rocket, the spacecraft left Cape Canaveral Air Force Base at 5:26 a.m. Eastern Time into the predawn sky above Florida's Atlantic coast.

"Today's launch is the first step in the long journey to the surface of Mars. We certainly are excited about launching, but we still are concerned about our actual landing, the most difficult step of this mission," said Phoenix Principal Investigator Peter Smith of the University of Arizona's Lunar and Planetary Laboratory, Tucson.

The spacecraft established communications with its ground team via the Goldstone, Calif., antenna station of NASA's Deep Space Network at 7:02 a.m. Eastern Time,after separating from the third stage of the launch vehicle.

"The launch team did a spectacular job getting us on the way," said Barry Goldstein, Phoenix project manager at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif. "Our trajectory is still being evaluated in detail; however we are well within expected limits for a successful journey to the red planet. We are all thrilled!"

Phoenix will be the first mission to touch water-ice on Mars. Its robotic arm will dig to an icy layer believed to lie just beneath the surface. The mission will study the history of the water in the ice, monitor weather of the polar region, and investigate whether the subsurface environment in the far-northern plains of Mars has ever been favorable for sustaining microbial life.

"Water is central to every type of study we will conduct on Mars," Smith said.

The Phoenix Mars Mission is the first of NASA's competitively proposed and selected Mars Scout missions, supplementing the agency's core Mars Exploration Program, whose theme is "follow the water." The University of Arizona was selected to lead the mission in August 2003 and is the first public university to lead a Mars exploration mission.

Phoenix uses the main body of a lander originally made for a 2001 mission that was cancelled before launch. "During the past year we have run Phoenix through a rigorous testing regimen," said Ed Sedivy, Phoenix spacecraft program manager for Lockheed Martin Space Systems, Denver, which built the spacecraft. "The testing approach runs the spacecraft and integrated instruments through actual mission sequences, allowing us to asses the entire system through the life of the mission while here on Earth."

Samples of soil and ice collected by the lander's robotic arm will be analyzed by instruments mounted on the deck. One key instrument will check for water and carbon-containing compounds by heating soil samples in tiny ovens and examining the vapors that are given off. Another will test soil samples by adding water and analyzing the dissolution products. Cameras and microscopes will provide information on scales spanning 10 powers of 10, from features that could fit by the hundreds into a period at the end of a sentence to an aerial view taken during descent. A weather station will provide information about atmospheric processes in the arctic region.

The Phoenix mission is led by Smith, with project management at JPL and development partnership at Lockheed Martin, Denver. The NASA Launch Services Program at Kennedy Space Center and the United Launch Alliance are responsible for the Delta II launch service. International contributions are provided by the Canadian Space Agency, the University of Neuchatel (Switzerland), the University of Copenhagen (Denmark), the Max Planck Institute (Germany) and the Finnish Meteorological Institute. JPL is a division of the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena.

Additional information on Phoenix is available online at: http://www.nasa.gov/phoenix .
Additional information on NASA's Mars program is available online at: http://www.nasa.gov/mars .

-end-

Where do Saturn's rings come from?

Whitney Clavin 818-354-4673
Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif.

Preston Dyches 720-974-5859
Space Science Institute, Boulder, Colo.

NEWS RELEASE: 2007-085 Aug. 2, 2007

Cassini Finds Possible Origin of One of Saturn's Rings

PASADENA, Calif. - Cassini scientists may have identified the source of one of Saturn's more mysterious rings. Saturn's G ring likely is produced by relatively large, icy particles that reside within a bright arc on the ring's inner edge.

The particles are confined within the arc by gravitational effects from Saturn's moon Mimas. Micrometeoroids collide with the particles, releasing smaller, dust-sized particles that brighten the arc. The plasma in the giant planet's magnetic field sweeps through this arc continually, dragging out the fine particles, which create the G ring.

The finding is evidence of the complex interaction between Saturn's moons, rings and magnetosphere. Studying this interaction is one of Cassini's objectives. The study is in the Aug. 2 issue of the journal Science and was based on observations made by multiple Cassini instruments in 2004 and 2005.

"Distant pictures from the cameras tell us where the arc is and how it moves, while plasma and dust measurements taken near the G ring tell us how much material is there," said Matthew Hedman, a Cassini imaging team associate at Cornell University in Ithaca, N.Y., and lead author on the Science paper.

Saturn's rings are an enormous, complex structure, and their origin is a mystery. The rings are labeled in the order they were discovered. From the planet outward, they are D, C, B, A, F, G and E. The main rings -- A, B and C from edge-to-edge, would fit neatly in the distance between Earth and the moon. The most transparent rings are D -- interior to C -- and F, E and G, outside the main rings.

Unlike Saturn's other dusty rings, such as the E and F rings, the G ring is not associated closely with moons that either could supply material directly to it -- as Enceladus does for the E ring -- or sculpt and perturb its ring particles -- as Prometheus and Pandora do for the F ring. The location of the G ring continued to defy explanation, until now.

Cassini images show that the bright arc within the G ring extends one-sixth of the way around Saturn and is about 250 kilometers (155 miles) wide, much narrower than the full 5,955-kilometer width (3,700 miles) of the G ring. The arc has been observed several times since Cassini's 2004 arrival at the ringed planet and thus appears to be a long-lived feature. A gravitational disturbance caused by the moon Mimas exists near the arc.

As part of their study, Hedman and colleagues conducted computer simulations that showed the gravitational disturbance of Mimas could indeed produce such a structure in Saturn's G ring. The only other places in the solar system where such disturbances are known to exist are in the ring arcs of Neptune.

Cassini's magnetospheric imaging instrument detected depletions in charged particles near the arc in 2005. According to the scientists, unseen mass in the arc must be absorbing the particles. "The small dust grains that the Cassini camera sees are not enough to absorb energetic electrons," said Elias Roussos of the Max-Planck-Institute for Solar System Research, Germany, and member of the magnetospheric imaging team. "This tells us that a lot more mass is distributed within the arc."

The researchers concluded that there is a population of larger, as-yet-unseen bodies hiding in the arc, ranging in size from that of peas to small boulders. The total mass of all these bodies is equivalent to that of an ice-rich, small moon that's about 100 meters wide (328 feet wide).

Joe Burns, a co-author of the paper from Cornell University and a member of the imaging team, said, "We'll have a super opportunity to spot the G ring's source bodies when Cassini flies about 600 miles from the arc 18 months from now."

The Cassini-Huygens mission is a cooperative project of NASA, the European Space Agency and the Italian Space Agency. The Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif., manages the Cassini-Huygens mission for NASA's Science Mission Directorate, Washington. The Cassini orbiter and its two onboard cameras were designed, developed and assembled at the laboratory. The imaging team is based at the Space Science Institute, Boulder, Colo. The magnetospheric imaging instrument team is based at Johns Hopkins University, Laurel, Md.

G ring movies and images are available on the Internet at: http://www.nasa.gov/cassini, http://saturn.jpl.nasa.govand http://ciclops.org.

-end-

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

Armadillo Aerospace Update

http://www.space.com/news/070727_armadillo_modular.html

Make sure you read the last paragraph. That would be quite a feat!

Moon gas

http://www.space.com/scienceastronomy/070730_gassy_moon.html

Interesting explanation.

Moon, Asteroid, then Mars

http://www.space.com/missionlaunches/070730_asteroid_probe.html

Makes sense to me.

Gun to Space

http://www.thespacereview.com/article/920/1

Sounds promising.

Mars Phoenix Mission Overview

http://www.space.com/searchforlife/070726_seti_phoenix.html

Mars Sample Return

http://www.space.com/scienceastronomy/070726_mars_samplereturn.html

Just do it!

MIT space suit

http://www.isa.org/Content/ContentGroups/News/20071/July34/Think_more_Spiderman,_less_John_Glenn.htm

Space Based Solar Power

http://www.space.com/businesstechnology/070725_techwed_pentagon_spacepower.html

This seems like fusion, always 20 years away.

Thursday, August 30, 2007

Visit the Saturn V

in Houston:
http://www.space.com/news/cs_070720_saturnv_restored.html

Diamond Based Space Elevator

Why wait for nanotubes?
http://www.thespacereview.com/article/916/1

Review of Space Policy

Mostly a review of commentary on the Bush Administration's space policy:

http://www.thespacereview.com/article/917/1

Mars Rover Update

Status: (Both rovers are still recovering from the recent dust storm, but things are returning to normal. Opportunity has started driving again and will resume it's journey into Victoria Crater):
http://marsrovers.jpl.nasa.gov/mission/status.html

Spirit Picture (Spirit has now outlasted Viking 2):
http://marsrovers.jpl.nasa.gov/gallery/press/spirit/20070823a.html

Opportunity Picture (driving):
http://marsrovers.jpl.nasa.gov/gallery/press/opportunity/20070824a.html

The Keck's have telescope envy

http://www.skyandtelescope.com/news/home/8530807.html

Of course the Keck's still outnumber this new telescope 2-1.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Saturn has 60 moons

Feature July 19, 2007

Saturn Turns 60

Scientists have recently discovered that the planet Saturn is turning 60 –not years, but moons.

"We detected the 60th moon orbiting Saturn using the Cassini spacecraft's powerful wide-angle camera," said Carl Murray, a Cassini imaging team scientist from Queen Mary, University of London. "I was looking at images of the region near the Saturnian moons Methone and Pallene and something caught my eye."

The newly discovered moon first appeared as a very faint dot in a series of images Cassini took of the Saturnian ring system on May 30 of this year. After the initial detection, Murray and fellow Cassini imaging scientists played interplanetary detective, searching for clues of the new moon in the voluminous library of Cassini images to date.

The Cassini imaging team's legwork paid off. They were able to locate numerous additional detections, spanning from June 2004 to June 2007. "With these new data sets we were able to establish a good orbit for the new moon,” said Murray. "Knowing where the moons are at all times is important to the Cassini mission for several reasons."

One of the most important reasons for Cassini to chronicle these previously unknown space rocks is so the spacecraft itself does not run into them. Another reason is each discovery helps provide a better understanding about how Saturn's ring system and all its billions upon billions of parts work and interact together. Finally, a discovery of a moon is important because with this new knowledge, the Cassini mission planners and science team can plan to perform science experiments during future observations if and when the opportunity presents itself.

What of this new, 60th discovered moon of Saturn? Cassini scientists believe "Frank" (the working name for the moon until another, perhaps, more appropriate one is found) is about 1.2 miles (2 kilometers) wide and, like so many of its neighbors, is made mostly of ice and rock. The moon's location in the Saturnian sky is between the orbits of Methone and Pallene. It is the fifth moon discovered by the Cassini imaging team.

"When the Cassini mission launched back in 1997, we knew of only 18 moons orbiting Saturn," said Murray. "Now, between Earth-based telescopes and Cassini we have more than tripled that number – and each and every new discovery adds another piece to the puzzle and becomes another new world to explore."

Murray and his colleagues may get the chance to explore Saturn's 60th moon. The Cassini spacecraft's trajectory will put it within 7,300 miles (11,700 kilometers) in December of 2009.

The Cassini-Huygens mission is a cooperative project of NASA, the European Space Agency and the Italian Space Agency. NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, a division of the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena, Calif., manages the Cassini-Huygens mission for NASA's Science Mission Directorate, Washington, D.C. The Cassini orbiter and its two onboard cameras were designed, developed and assembled at JPL. The imaging team is based at the Space Science Institute, Boulder, Colo.

Related news releases:
+Link to Science and Technology Facilities Council:
http://www.scitech.ac.uk
+Link to Cassini Imaging Team:
http://ciclops.org

Written by: DC Agle
Media Contact: Carolina Martinez 818-354-9382

-end-

Slow Geysers on Charon

http://www.space.com/scienceastronomy/070717_charon_geysers.html

Mars's shifty poles

http://www.space.com/scienceastronomy/070713_mars_ice.html

Pratt & Whitney Rocketdyne wins Ares 1 contract

http://www.space.com/news/070716_nasa_ares1_engine.html

Spacesuit Design

http://www.space.com/businesstechnology/070716_sleek_spacesuits.html

Monday, August 20, 2007

Happy Birthday Voyager(s)!

News Release: 2007-092 Aug. 20, 2007

Pioneering NASA Spacecraft Mark Thirty Years of Flight

PASADENA, Calif. - NASA's two venerable Voyager spacecraft are celebrating three decades of flight as they head toward interstellar space. Their ongoing odysseys mark an unprecedented and historic accomplishment.

Voyager 2 launched on Aug. 20, 1977, and Voyager 1 launched on Sept. 5, 1977. They continue to return information from distances more than three times farther away than Pluto.

"The Voyager mission is a legend in the annals of space exploration. It opened our eyes to the scientific richness of the outer solar system, and it has pioneered the deepest exploration of the sun's domain ever conducted," said Alan Stern, associate administrator for NASA's Science Mission Directorate, Washington. "It's a testament to Voyager's designers, builders and operators that both spacecraft continue to deliver important findings more than 25 years after their primary mission to Jupiter and Saturn concluded."

During their first dozen years of flight, the Voyagers made detailed explorations of Jupiter, Saturn, and their moons, and conducted the first explorations of Uranus and Neptune. The Voyagers returned never-before-seen images and scientific data, making fundamental discoveries about the outer planets and their moons. The spacecraft revealed Jupiter's turbulent atmosphere, which includes dozens of interacting hurricane-like storm systems, and erupting volcanoes on Jupiter's moon Io. They also showed waves and fine structure in Saturn's icy rings from the tugs of nearby moons.

For the past 18 years, the twin Voyagers have been probing the sun's outer heliosphere and its boundary with interstellar space. Both Voyagers remain healthy and are returning scientific data 30 years after their launches.

Voyager 1 currently is the farthest human-made object, traveling at a distance from the sun of about 15.5 billion kilometers (9.7 billion miles). Voyager 2 is about 12.5 billion kilometers (7.8 billion miles) from the sun. Originally designed as a four-year mission to Jupiter and Saturn, the Voyager tours were extended because of their successful achievements and a rare planetary alignment. The two-planet mission eventually became a four-planet grand tour. After completing that extended mission, the two spacecraft began the task of exploring the outer heliosphere.

"The Voyager mission has opened up our solar system in a way not possible before the Space Age," said Edward Stone, Voyager project scientist at the California Institute of Technology, Pasadena, Calif. "It revealed our neighbors in the outer solar system and showed us how much there is to learn and how diverse the bodies are that share the solar system with our own planet Earth."

In December 2004, Voyager 1 began crossing the solar system's final frontier. Called the heliosheath, this turbulent area, approximately 14 billion kilometers (8.7 billion miles) from the sun, is where the solar wind slows as it crashes into the thin gas that fills the space between stars. Voyager 2 could reach this boundary later this year, putting both Voyagers on their final leg toward interstellar space.

Each spacecraft carries five fully functioning science instruments that study the solar wind, energetic particles, magnetic fields and radio waves as they cruise through this unexplored region of deep space. The spacecraft are too far from the sun to use solar power. They run on less than 300 watts, the amount of power needed to light up a bright light bulb. Their long-lived radioisotope thermoelectric generators provide the power.

"The continued operation of these spacecraft and the flow of data to the scientists is a testament to the skills and dedication of the small operations team," said Ed Massey, Voyager project manager at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif. Massey oversees a team of nearly a dozen people in the day-to-day Voyager spacecraft operations.

The Voyagers call home via NASA's Deep Space Network, a system of antennas around the world. The spacecraft are so distant that commands from Earth, traveling at light speed, take 14 hours one-way to reach Voyager 1 and 12 hours to reach Voyager 2. Each Voyager logs approximately 1 million miles per day.

Each of the Voyagers carries a golden record that is a time capsule with greetings, images and sounds from Earth. The records also have directions on how to find Earth if the spacecraft is recovered by something or someone.

NASA's latest outer planet exploration mission is New Horizons, which is now well past Jupiter and headed for a historic exploration of the Pluto system in July 2015.

For a complete listing of Voyager discoveries and mission information, visit the Internet at:

http://www.nasa.gov/voyager andhttp://voyager.jpl.nasa.gov/ .

Monday, July 30, 2007

Mars Rover Tracks

Very cool shot:
http://www.space.com/imageoftheday/image_of_day_070711.html

Mars Rover Project Movie

http://www.space.com/php/video/player.php?video_id=060707Rovers_end

It ain't over 'till its over!

Mars weather

http://www.space.com/scienceastronomy/070710_st_mars_storms.html

No Dawn until September

http://www.space.com/missionlaunches/070708_dawn_update.html

Phoenix Lander Update

Guy Webster/Veronica McGregor 818-354-6278/9452
Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif.

Dwayne Brown/Grey Hautaluoma 202-358-1726/0668
NASA Headquarters, Washington

Sara Hammond 520-626-1974
University of Arizona, Tucson

NEWS RELEASE: 2007-076 July 9, 2007

NASA Readies Mars Lander for August Launch to Icy Site

PASADENA – NASA's next Mars mission will look beneath a frigid arctic landscape for conditions favorable to past or present life.

Instead of roving to hills or craters, NASA's Phoenix Mars Lander will claw down into the icy soil of the Red Planet's northern plains. The robot will investigate whether frozen water near the Martian surface might periodically melt enough to sustain a livable environment for microbes. To accomplish that and other key goals, Phoenix will carry a set of advanced research tools never before used on Mars.

First, however, it must launch from Florida during a three-week period beginning Aug. 3, then survive a risky descent and landing on Mars next spring.

"Our 'follow the water' strategy for exploring Mars has yielded a string of dramatic discoveries in recent years about the history of water on a planet where similarities with Earth were much greater in the past than they are today," said Doug McCuistion, director of the Mars Exploration Program at NASA Headquarters, Washington. "Phoenix will complement our strategic exploration of Mars by being our first attempt to actually touch and analyze Martian water -- water in the form of buried ice."

NASA's Mars Odyssey orbiter found evidence in 2002 to support theories that large areas of Mars, including the arctic plains, have water ice within an arm's reach of the surface.

"Phoenix has been designed to examine the history of the ice by measuring how liquid water has modified the chemistry and mineralogy of the soil," said Peter Smith, the Phoenix principal investigator at the University of Arizona, Tucson.

"In addition, our instruments can assess whether this polar environment is a habitable zone for primitive microbes. To complete the scientific characterization of the site, Phoenix will monitor polar weather and the interaction of the atmosphere with the surface."
With its flanking solar panels unfurled, the lander is about 5.5 meters (18 feet) wide and 1.5 meters (5 feet) long. A robotic arm 2.3 meters (7.7 feet) long will dig to the icy layer, which is expected to lie within a few inches of the surface. A camera and conductivity probe on the arm will examine soil and any ice there. The arm will lift samples to two instruments on the lander's deck. One will use heating to check for volatile substances, such as water and carbon-based chemicals that are essential building blocks for life. The other will analyze the chemistry of the soil.

A meteorology station, with a laser for assessing water and dust in the atmosphere, will monitor weather throughout the planned three-month mission during Martian spring and summer. The robot's toolkit also includes a mast-mounted stereo camera to survey the landing site, a descent camera to see the site in broader context and two microscopes.

For the final stage of landing, Phoenix is equipped with a pulsed thruster method of deceleration. The system uses an ultra-lightweight landing system that allows the spacecraft to carry a heavier scientific payload. Like past Mars missions, Phoenix uses a heat shield to slow its high-speed entry, followed by a supersonic parachute that further reduces its speed to about 217 kilometers per hour (135 miles per hour). The lander then separates from the parachute and fires pulsed descent rocket engines to slow to about 9 kilometers per hour (5.5 miles per hour) before landing on its three legs.

"Landing safely on Mars is difficult no matter what method you use," said Barry Goldstein, the project manager for Phoenix at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif. "Our team has been testing the system relentlessly since 2003 to identify and address whatever vulnerabilities may exist."

Researchers evaluating possible landing sites have used observations from Mars orbiters to find the safest places where the mission's goals can be met. The leading candidate site is a broad valley with few boulders at a latitude equivalent to northern Alaska.

Smith leads the Phoenix mission, with project management at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory and the development partnership located at Lockheed Martin, Denver. International contributions are provided by the Canadian Space Agency, the University of Neuchatel, Switzerland, the University of Copenhagen, Denmark, the Max Planck Institute, Germany, and the Finnish Meteorological Institute. Additional information on the Phoenix mission is available online at: http://www.nasa.gov/phoenix .

Additional information on NASA's Mars program is available online at: http://www.nasa.gov/mars .

Pathfinder anniversary

http://www.skyandtelescope.com/news/8309962.html

Make sure you watch the NASA video:
http://mars.jpl.nasa.gov/gallery/video/movies/Pathfinder320.mov

Sponge Moon

http://www.space.com/scienceastronomy/070704_sponge_moon.html

NASA saves money!

http://www.space.com/news/070704_recycled_missions.html

Sounds like a great idea to me.

SOFIA update

http://www.space.com/searchforlife/070705_seti_sofia.html

Hydrocarbons on Hyperion

Carolina Martinez 818-354-9382
Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif.

Ruth Dasso Marlaire 650-604-4709
Ames Research Center, Moffett Field, Calif.

NEWS RELEASE: 2007-071 July 4, 2007

NASA Finds Hydrocarbons on Saturn's Moon Hyperion

PASADENA, Calif. - NASA's Cassini spacecraft has revealed for the first time surface details of Saturn's moon Hyperion, including cup-like craters filled with hydrocarbons that may indicate more widespread presence in our solar system of basic chemicals necessary for life.

Hyperion yielded some of its secrets to the battery of instruments aboard Cassini as the spacecraft flew close by in September 2005. Water and carbon dioxide ices were found, as well as dark material that fits the spectral profile of hydrocarbons.

A paper appearing in the July 5 issue of Nature reports details of Hyperion's surface craters and composition observed during this flyby, including keys to understanding the moon's origin and evolution over 4.5 billion years. This is the first time scientists were able to map the surface material on Hyperion.

"Of special interest is the presence on Hyperion of hydrocarbons--combinations of carbon and hydrogen atoms that are found in comets, meteorites, and the dust in our galaxy," said Dale Cruikshank, a planetary scientist at NASA's Ames Research Center, Moffett Field, Calif., and the paper's lead author. "These molecules, when embedded in ice and exposed to ultraviolet light, form new molecules of biological significance. This doesn't mean that we have found life, but it is a further indication that the basic chemistry needed for life is widespread in the universe."

Cassini's ultraviolet imaging spectrograph and visual and infrared mapping spectrometer captured compositional variations in Hyperion's surface. These instruments, capable of mapping mineral and chemical features of the moon, sent back data confirming the presence of frozen water found by earlier ground-based observations, but also discovered solid carbon dioxide (dry ice) mixed in unexpected ways with the ordinary ice.
Images of the brightest regions of Hyperion's surface show frozen water that is crystalline in form, like that found on Earth.

"Most of Hyperion's surface ice is a mix of frozen water and organic dust, but carbon dioxide ice is also prominent. The carbon dioxide is not pure, but is somehow chemically attached to other molecules," explained Cruikshank.

Prior spacecraft data from other moons of Saturn, as well as Jupiter's moons Ganymede and Callisto, suggest that the carbon dioxide molecule is "complexed," or attached with other surface material in multiple ways. "We think that ordinary carbon dioxide will evaporate from Saturn's moons over long periods of time," said Cruikshank, "but it appears to be much more stable when it is attached to other molecules."

"The Hyperion flyby was a fine example of Cassini's multi-wavelength capabilities. In this first-ever ultraviolet observation of Hyperion, the detection of water ice tells us about compositional differences of this bizarre body," said Amanda Hendrix, Cassini scientist on the ultraviolet imaging spectrograph at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif.

Hyperion, Saturn's eighth largest moon, has a chaotic spin and orbits Saturn every 21 days. The July 5 issue of Nature also includes new findings from the imaging team about Hyperion's strange, spongy-looking appearance. Details are online at: http://ciclops.org/view.php?id=3303 .

The Cassini-Huygens mission is a cooperative project of NASA, the European Space Agency and the Italian Space Agency. JPL, a division of the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena, manages the Cassini-Huygens mission for NASA's Science Mission Directorate, Washington.

More information on the Cassini mission is available at: http://www.nasa.gov/cassini .

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Mars Rover Update

Status (Spirit is examining volcanic rocks; Opportunity is waiting for a massive dust storm to end before trying to enter Victoria Crater):

http://marsrovers.jpl.nasa.gov/mission/status.html

No new pictures

Thursday, July 05, 2007

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Mars Rover Update

Status (Spirit's solar panels got cleaned by the wind and power is up to more than 600 watts; it is still looking at rocks at Home Plate. Opportunity is on Cape Verde and observing Duck's Bay where it might drive into Victoria Crater):

http://marsrovers.jpl.nasa.gov/mission/status.html

No new pictures.