Saturday, December 22, 2007

Monday, December 17, 2007

New mission for Deep Impact

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

New Sun Cycle?

Mars Video

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

Europa Video

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 .

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Organic Compounds in Mars Meteorite

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.
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,
Grey Hautaluoma 202-358-0668Headquarters,
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: .

Mars Rover Update

Friday, December 07, 2007

Don't miss the huge sunspot!

Dry Martian Clouds

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

Hinode Solar Probe Update

Google Lunar X Prize Off to a Flying Start!

The more the merrier!

Saturn's Flying Saucer Moons

Mars Rover Update

Status (Spirit Breaks Free; Opportunity still studying Victoria Crater):

Spirit Pictures (Racing for daylight):

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