Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Neptune's companions

I think it is exciting that we might be able to glimpse one of these as the Pluto Probe passes by.

Milky Mars

Cool picture:

Hubble camera problems

At least the repair mission in 2008 will install a new one.

Digging Deep for Martian Life

Better bring a roughneck when we go to Mars.

Apollo 8 Revisited

Sounds great to me.

What can we learn by going back to the Moon?

A lot about the Earth:

Is Mars holding its breath?

Thursday, January 25, 2007

Mars Rover Update

Status (Spirit exploring Home Plate area, Opportunity circumnavigating Victoria Crater and taking pictures):

New driving capability picture:

Opportunity's journey around Victoria Crater (very interesting):

Mars Rovers Turn Three, Get Smarter

Happy Birthday Spirit and Opportunity! They are about 1.5 Mars years old.

Make sure you watch the Spirit Video at:

The hardy Mars Exploration Rovers, Spirit and Opportunity, begin their fourth year on the red planet with new software that helps them navigate, track landscape and streamline their picture-taking capabilities.

Multimedia products now playing at include:

An audio podcast interview with Dr. Steve Squyres, principal investigator for the rovers' science instruments
A "Mars 360" slide show, featuring a range of Mars missions
A video highlighting Spirit's travels on Mars; an Opportunity video will be posted next week

More information on the rovers is at .

Armchair Astronomers

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Using the Moon...

to look at the Earth!

Sounds like a great idea. The near side of the Moon always faces Earth, so it can always be looking.

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

HiRes pictures of Mars Pathfinder from Orbit

Guy Webster 818-354-6278
Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif.

Dwayne Brown 202-358-1726
NASA Headquarters, Washington

Lori Stiles 520-626-4402
University of Arizona, Tucson

Image Advisory: 2007-005 Jan. 11, 2007

New NASA Orbiter Sees Details of 1997 Mars Pathfinder Site

The high-resolution camera on NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter has imaged the 1997 landing site of NASA's Mars Pathfinder, revealing new details of hardware on the surface and the geology of the region.

The new image from the orbiter's High Resolution Imaging Science Experiment is available on the Internet at
and at links from .

The Pathfinder mission's small rover, Sojourner, appears to have moved closer to the stationary lander after the final data transmission from the lander, based on tentative identification of the rover in the image. Pathfinder landed on July 4, 1997, and transmitted data for 12 weeks. Unlike the two larger rovers, Spirit and Opportunity, currently active on Mars, Sojourner could communicate only with the lander, not directly with Earth.

The lander's ramps, science deck and portions of the airbags can be discerned in the new image. The parachute and backshell used in the spacecraft's descent lie to the south, behind a hill from the viewpoint of the lander. Four bright features may be portions of the heat shield.

Rob Manning, Mars program chief engineer at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, said, "The new image provides information about Pathfinder's landing and should help confirm our reconstruction of the descent as well as give us insights into the landing and the airbag bounces."

Dr. Alfred McEwen of the University of Arizona, Tucson, principal investigator for the High Resolution Imaging Science Experiment, said "Pathfinder's landing site is one of the most-studied places on Mars. Making connections between this new orbital image and the geological information collected at ground level aids our interpretation of orbital images of other places."

For more information on Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, visit: .

Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter is managed by JPL for NASA's Science Mission Directorate, Washington. JPL is a division of the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena. Lockheed Martin Space Systems, Denver, is the prime contractor for the project and built the spacecraft. The High Resolution Imaging Science Experiment is operated by the University of Arizona, and the instrument was built by Ball Aerospace and Technology Corp., Boulder, Colo.

The expansion of the British Empire

to the Moon!

Comet McNaught is now visible during the day

in the southern hemisphere.

Where to land?

Three spots look good for Mars Phoenix Lander:

Look out below!

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

NASA's Mars Plans

Very exciting!

By analyzing the isotopes of "potentially biogenic atmospheric constituents such as methane" we can get a clue about whether life exists on Mars right now!

Guy Webster 818-354-6278
Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif.

Dwayne Brown 202-358-1726
NASA Headquarters, Washington

News Release: 2007-002 Jan. 8, 2007

NASA Selects Proposals for Future Mars Missions and Studies

On Monday, NASA selected for concept study development two proposals for future robotic missions to Mars. These missions would increase understanding of Mars' atmosphere, climate and potential habitability in greater detail than ever before.

In addition, NASA will fund a U.S. scientist to participate in a proposed European Mars mission, as well as fund instrument technology studies that could lead to further contributions to future Mars missions.

"These mission selections represent unprecedented future research that will lead to further advancing our knowledge and understanding of the red planet's climate, and atmospheric composition," said Dr. Mary Cleave, associate administrator for NASA's Science Mission Directorate, NASA Headquarters, Washington.

Each Mars mission proposal will receive initial funding of approximately $2 million to conduct a nine-month implementation feasibility study. Following these detailed mission concept studies, NASA intends to select one of the two proposals by late 2007 for full development as a Mars Scout mission. The mission developed for flight would have a launch opportunity in 2011 and cost no more than $475 million.

The selected Mars mission proposals are:

-- Mars Atmosphere and Volatile Evolution mission, or Maven: The mission would provide first-of-its-kind measurements, address key questions about Mars climate and habitability, and improve understanding of dynamic processes in the upper Martian atmosphere and ionosphere. The principal investigator is Dr. Bruce Jakosky, University of Colorado, Boulder. NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, Md., will provide project management.

-- The Great Escape mission: The mission would directly determine the basic processes in Martian atmospheric evolution by measuring the structure and dynamics of the upper atmosphere. In addition, potentially biogenic atmospheric constituents such as methane would be measured. The principal investigator is Dr. Alan Stern, Southwest Research Institute, Boulder, Colorado. Southwest Research Institute, San Antonio, will provide project management.

NASA has selected Dr. Alian Wang of Washington University, St. Louis, to participate as a member of the science team for the European Space Agency's ExoMars mission. Wang will receive approximately $800,000 to study the chemistry, mineralogy and astrobiology of Mars using instrumentation on the ExoMars mission, scheduled for launch in 2013.

NASA also has selected two proposals for technology development studies that may lead to further NASA contributions to ExoMars or other Mars missions. The two technology development studies, funded for a total of $1.5 million, are:

-- Urey Mars Organic and Oxidant Detector: The Urey instrument would investigate organics and oxidant materials on Mars using three complementary detection systems. The principal investigator is Dr. Jeffrey Bada, University of California at San Diego. The instrument would be built and managed at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif.

-- Mars Organic Molecule Analyzer, or Moma: The instrument would investigate organic molecular signatures and the environment in which they exist using a mass spectrometer and gas chromatograph. The principal investigator is Dr. Luann Becker, University of California at Santa Barbara.

These selections were judged to have the best science value among 26 proposals submitted to NASA in August 2006 in response to an open announcement of opportunity.

The Mars Scout program is an initiative for innovative, relatively low-cost missions selected on a competitive basis.

NASA's Mars Exploration Program seeks to characterize and understand Mars as a dynamic system, including its present and past environment, climate cycles, geology and biological potential. The Mars Exploration Program Office is managed by JPL, a division of the California Institute of Technology, Pasadena, for the Mars Exploration Program, Science Mission Directorate, Washington.

For information about NASA and agency programs, visit .

WAM lovers need not apply!

W(e) A(int) M(etric) lovers have no hope of getting a job with NASA to return to the Moon:

Yay! Metric all the way!

WAM: See Former Chicago Tribune columnist Bob Greene to complain:

Land Speed Record - 800 mph or bust!

This isn't about outer space, but I really like what this team is trying acomplish.

Here is a listing of the upcoming showings on the Discovery Channel of their efforts through 2005:

Hubble's Replacement

Make sure you watch the video on the first page.

Did Viking probes on Mars kill the Martians?

Sounds plausible to me.

Thursday, January 04, 2007

Mars Rover Update

Status (Spirit hit by dust storm, but okay. Opportunity is still driving around Victoria Crater):

Opporutnity Images (panorama of Victoria crater -> murky):

Book of Mars Rover images:

First light for SOPHIA

the flying telescope!

It is still on the runway, but so far so good.

Titan has liquid lakes

But they aren't made of water!


Titan Has Liquid Lakes, Scientists Report in Nature
Scientists report definitive evidence of the presence of lakes filled with liquid methane on Saturn’s moon Titan in this week’s journal Nature cover story.

Radar imaging data from a July 22, 2006, flyby provide convincing evidence for large bodies of liquid on Titan today. A new false-color radar view gives a taste of what Cassini saw. Some highlights of the article follow below.

Lake Characteristics:

-Radar-dark patches are interpreted as lakes based on their very low radar reflectivity and morphological similarities to lakes, including associated channels and location in topographic depressions.

-Radar-dark surfaces are smooth and most likely liquid, rock, ice or organics. More than 75 radar-dark patches or lakes were seen, ranging from 3 kilometers (1.8 miles) to more than 70 kilometers (43 miles) across.

-Some lakes appear partly dry, while others seem liquid-filled. Some of the partly filled lakes may never have filled fully, or may have partly evaporated at some point in the past. The dry lakes have margins or rims and a radar brightness similar to the rest of the surrounding terrain, making them appear devoid of liquid.

-The varying states of how full the lakes are suggest that lakes in this region of Titan might be temporary on some unknown timescale.

-Approximately 15 of the dark patches seem filled and show no clear evidence of erosion. These dark patches resemble terrestrial lakes confined within impact basins (for example, Clearwater Lakes in Canada) or within volcanic calderas (for example, Crater Lake, Oregon). The nest-like nature of these lakes and their limited range of sizes make it unlikely that they originated from an impact. A volcanic origin for the depressions is possible, given their appearance.

-Some lakes have steep margins and very distinct edges, suggesting a topographic rim. These lakes are consistent with seepage or groundwater drainage lakes.

-Other lakes have diffuse, more scalloped edges, with a gradual decrease in radar brightness towards the center of the lake. These lakes are more likely to be associated with channels, and may be either drainage lakes or groundwater drainage lakes.

-Yet other lakes have curvy channel-like extensions, similar in appearance to terrestrial flooded river valleys (for example Lake Powell).

-Bright patches near the lake edges could be small islands peeking through the surface. Floating “icebergs” are unlikely because most materials would not float in liquid hydrocarbons.

Other Observations:
-Based on the lake characteristics, Cassini scientists think they are observing liquid-filled lakes on Titan today. Another possibility is that these depressions and channels formed in the past and have now been filled by a low-density deposit that is darker than any observed elsewhere on Titan. However, the absence of wind-blown features in this area makes the low-density hypothesis unlikely.

-These northern hemisphere lakes are the strongest evidence yet that Titan’s surface and atmosphere have an active hydrological cycle, though with a condensable liquid other than water. In this cycle, lakes are filled through methane rainfall or intersect with a subsurface layer saturated with liquid methane.

-As Titan’s seasons progress over the 29-year cycle of Saturn’s orbit around the sun, lakes in the winter hemisphere should expand by steady methane rain, while summer hemisphere lakes shrink or dry up entirely.

To read more about the radar imaging data from the July 2006 flyby, go to Cassini Finds Lakes on Titan's Arctic Region .

Tuesday, January 02, 2007