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Saturday, February 28, 2015

Honoring Mr. Spock...

In honor of the late Leonard Nimoy, astronaut Terry Virts does the Vulcan hand salute inside the Cupola aboard the International Space Station...on February 27, 2015.
NASA / Terry Virts

Astronaut Salutes Nimoy From Orbit (Press Release)

International Space Station astronaut Terry Virts (@AstroTerry) tweeted this image of a Vulcan hand salute from orbit as a tribute to actor Leonard Nimoy, who died on Friday, Feb. 27, 2015. Nimoy played science officer Mr. Spock in the Star Trek series that served as an inspiration to generations of scientists, engineers and sci-fi fans around the world.

Cape Cod and Boston, Massachusetts, Nimoy's home town, are visible through the station window.

Source: NASA.Gov

Friday, February 27, 2015

OSIRIS-REx Update: Assembly About to Kick Into High Gear...

An artist's concept of NASA's OSIRIS-REx spacecraft preparing to take a sample from asteroid Bennu.
NASA / Goddard / Chris Meaney

Construction to Begin on NASA Spacecraft Set to Visit Asteroid in 2018 (Press Release)

This week marked the completion of an important step on the path to spacecraft assembly, test, and launch operations for the Origins Spectral Interpretation Resource Identification Security Regolith Explorer or OSIRIS-REx mission.

The team met at the Lockheed Martin facility in Littleton, Colorado during the week of February 23, 2015 to review the plan for integrating all of the systems on the spacecraft, such as the scientific instrumentation, electrical and communication systems, and navigation systems. Successful completion of this System Integration Review means that the project can proceed with assembling and testing the spacecraft in preparations for launch in September 2016. Assembly and testing operations for the spacecraft are on track to begin next month at the Lockheed Martin facilities in Littleton.

The OSIRIS-REx spacecraft will travel to a near-Earth asteroid, called Bennu, and bring at least a 2.1-ounce sample back to Earth for study. The mission will help scientists investigate how planets formed and how life began, as well as improve our understanding of asteroids that could impact Earth.

NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, will provide overall mission management, systems engineering and safety and mission assurance for OSIRIS-REx. Dante Lauretta is the mission's principal investigator at the University of Arizona. Lockheed Martin Space Systems in Denver will build the spacecraft. OSIRIS-REx is the third mission in NASA's New Frontiers Program. NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama, manages New Frontiers for the agency's Science Mission Directorate in Washington.

Source: NASA.Gov

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At the Lockheed Martin facility in Littleton, Colorado, engineers are about to combine the OSIRIS-REx spacecraft's core structure with its hydrazine fuel tank and boat tail assembly.
Lockheed Martin

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Dawn's Target Is REALLY Starting to Reveal Itself...

Two images of the dwarf planet Ceres that were taken by NASA's Dawn spacecraft from a distance of about 29,000 miles (46,000 kilometers), on February 19, 2015.
NASA / JPL - Caltech / UCLA / MPS / DLR / IDA

'Bright Spot' on Ceres Has Dimmer Companion (Press Release)

Dwarf planet Ceres continues to puzzle scientists as NASA's Dawn spacecraft gets closer to being captured into orbit around the object. The latest images from Dawn, taken nearly 29,000 miles (46,000 kilometers) from Ceres, reveal that a bright spot that stands out in previous images lies close to yet another bright area.

"Ceres' bright spot can now be seen to have a companion of lesser brightness, but apparently in the same basin. This may be pointing to a volcano-like origin of the spots, but we will have to wait for better resolution before we can make such geologic interpretations," said Chris Russell, principal investigator for the Dawn mission, based at the University of California, Los Angeles.

Using its ion propulsion system, Dawn will enter orbit around Ceres on March 6. As scientists receive better and better views of the dwarf planet over the next 16 months, they hope to gain a deeper understanding of its origin and evolution by studying its surface. The intriguing bright spots and other interesting features of this captivating world will come into sharper focus.

"The brightest spot continues to be too small to resolve with our camera, but despite its size it is brighter than anything else on Ceres. This is truly unexpected and still a mystery to us," said Andreas Nathues, lead investigator for the framing camera team at the Max Planck Institute for Solar System Research, Gottingen, Germany.

Dawn visited the giant asteroid Vesta from 2011 to 2012, delivering more than 30,000 images of the body along with many other measurements, and providing insights about its composition and geological history. Vesta has an average diameter of 326 miles (525 kilometers), while Ceres has an average diameter of 590 miles (950 kilometers). Vesta and Ceres are the two most massive bodies in the asteroid belt, located between Mars and Jupiter.

Dawn's mission is managed by JPL for NASA's Science Mission Directorate in Washington. Dawn is a project of the directorate's Discovery Program, managed by NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama. UCLA is responsible for overall Dawn mission science. Orbital ATK, Inc., in Dulles, Virginia, designed and built the spacecraft. The German Aerospace Center, the Max Planck Institute for Solar System Research, the Italian Space Agency and the Italian National Astrophysical Institute are international partners on the mission team. For a complete list of acknowledgements, visit:

http://dawn.jpl.nasa.gov/mission

Source: NASA.Gov

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An image of the dwarf planet Ceres that was taken by NASA's Dawn spacecraft from a distance of about 29,000 miles (46,000 kilometers), on February 19, 2015.
NASA / JPL - Caltech / UCLA / MPS / DLR / IDA

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Curiosity's Cool New Selfie on Mars...

A self-portrait of NASA's Curiosity Mars rover, taken with a camera on her robotic arm in late January of 2015.
NASA / JPL - Caltech / MSSS

Curiosity Self-Portrait at 'Mojave' Site on Mount Sharp (Press Release)

This self-portrait of NASA's Curiosity Mars rover shows the vehicle at the "Mojave" site, where its drill collected the mission's second taste of Mount Sharp.

The scene combines dozens of images taken during January 2015 by the Mars Hand Lens Imager (MAHLI) camera at the end of the rover's robotic arm. The pale "Pahrump Hills" outcrop surrounds the rover, and the upper portion of Mount Sharp is visible on the horizon. Darker ground at upper right and lower left holds ripples of wind-blown sand and dust.

An annotated version, Fig. A, labels several of the sites Curiosity has investigated during three passes up the Pahrump Hills outcrop examining the outcrop at increasing levels of detail. The rover used its sample-collecting drill at "Confidence Hills" as well as at Mojave, and in late February was assessing "Telegraph Peak" as a third drilling site.

The view does not include the rover's robotic arm. Wrist motions and turret rotations on the arm allowed MAHLI to acquire the mosaic's component images. The arm was positioned out of the shot in the images, or portions of images, that were used in this mosaic. This process was used previously in acquiring and assembling Curiosity self-portraits taken at sample-collection sites "Rocknest" (http://photojournal.jpl.nasa.gov/catalog/PIA16468), "John Klein" (http://photojournal.jpl.nasa.gov/catalog/PIA16937) and "Windjana" (http://photojournal.jpl.nasa.gov/catalog/PIA18390).

Curiosity used its drill to collect a sample of rock powder from target "Mojave 2" at this site on Jan. 31, 2015. The full-depth, sample-collection hole and the shallower preparation test hole beside it are visible in front of the rover in this self-portrait, and in more detail at http://photojournal.jpl.nasa.gov/catalog/PIA19115. The Mojave site is in the "Pink Cliffs" portion of the Pahrump Hills outcrop. The outcrop is an exposure of the Murray formation, which forms the basal geological layer of Mount Sharp. Views of Pahrump Hills from other angles are at http://photojournal.jpl.nasa.gov/catalog/PIA19039 and the inset at http://mars.jpl.nasa.gov/msl/multimedia/images/?ImageID=6968.

The frames showing the rover in this mosaic were taken during the 868th Martian day, or sol, of Curiosity's work on Mars (Jan. 14, 2015). Additional frames around the edges to extend the amount of terrain included in the scene were taken on Sol 882 (Jan. 29, 2015). The frames showing the drill holes were taken on Sol 884 (Jan. 31, 2015).

For scale, the rover's wheels are 20 inches (50 centimeters) in diameter and about 16 inches (40 centimeters) wide. The drilled holes in the rock are 0.63 inch (1.6 centimeters) in diameter.

MAHLI was built by Malin Space Science Systems, San Diego. NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, a division of the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena, manages the Mars Science Laboratory Project for the NASA Science Mission Directorate, Washington. JPL designed and built the project's Curiosity rover.

Source: NASA.Gov

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A cropped version of the Curiosity Mars rover's self-portrait, taken with a camera on her robotic arm in late January of 2015.
NASA / JPL - Caltech / MSSS

Friday, February 20, 2015

One Earth: New Horizons Message Update‏...

Support the One Earth: New Horizons Message.
Click above to visit the One Earth: New Horizons Message Website

Got this exciting e-mail in my inbox yesterday:

Dear Richard,

You are one of the people who have signed our petition to NASA requesting permission to create a message to be uploaded to the computer of NASA's Pluto-bound New Horizons mission. We are pleased to tell you that as a result of the enormous public interest this project has generated, we are concluding the final stages of the required paperwork and hope that NASA will announce our One Earth Message project soon.

Meanwhile, we have been hard at work creating the team and designing the website required to collect and curate the huge number of submissions you and others will send in. We have also been analyzing the many technical issues involved. We can say with confidence that our message will last 100,000 years and we may be able to extend the lifetime to a million years. Just think -- something you helped make happen will endure in the depths of the cosmos for a million years. You have already made a difference in the history of the galaxy!

We would like to invite you and your friends to "like" the One Earth Message Facebook page and follow the @OneEarthMessage account on Twitter by clicking the links below. That way, we can stay in touch and keep you informed on any developments.

One Earth Message on Facebook
One Earth Message on Twitter

Sweet!

An artist's concept of NASA's New Horizons spacecraft approaching Pluto.
NASA

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

New Horizons Update: Nix and Hydra Come Into View...

An animated GIF showing Nix and Hydra orbiting Pluto...as seen from NASA's New Horizons spacecraft between January 27 - February 8, 2015.
NASA / Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory / Southwest Research Institute

85 Years after Pluto’s Discovery, New Horizons Spots Small Moons Orbiting Pluto (Press Release)

Exactly 85 years after Clyde Tombaugh’s historic discovery of Pluto, the NASA spacecraft set to encounter the icy planet this summer is providing its first views of the small moons orbiting Pluto.

The moons Nix and Hydra are visible in a series of images taken by the New Horizons spacecraft from Jan. 27-Feb. 8, at distances ranging from about 125 million to 115 million miles (201 million to 186 million kilometers). The long-exposure images offer New Horizons’ best view yet of these two small moons circling Pluto, which Tombaugh discovered at Lowell Observatory in Flagstaff, Arizona, on Feb. 18, 1930. “Professor Tombaugh’s discovery of Pluto was far ahead its time, heralding the discovery of the Kuiper Belt and a new class of planet,” says Alan Stern, New Horizons principal investigator from Southwest Research Institute, Boulder, Colorado. “The New Horizons team salutes his historic accomplishment.”

Assembled into a seven-frame movie, the new images provide the spacecraft’s first extended look at Hydra (identified by a yellow diamond) and its first-ever view of Nix (orange diamond). The right-hand image set has been specially processed to make the small moons easier to see.

“It’s thrilling to watch the details of the Pluto system emerge as we close the distance to the spacecraft’s July 14 encounter,” says New Horizons science team member John Spencer, also from Southwest Research Institute. “This first good view of Nix and Hydra marks another major milestone, and a perfect way to celebrate the anniversary of Pluto’s discovery.”

These are the first of a series of long-exposure images that will continue through early March, with the purpose of refining the team’s knowledge of the moons’ orbits. Each frame is a combination of five 10-second images, taken with New Horizons’ Long-Range Reconnaissance Imager (LORRI) using a special mode that combines pixels to increase sensitivity at the expense of resolution. At left, Nix and Hydra are just visible against the glare of Pluto and its large moon Charon, and the dense field of background stars. The bright and dark streak extending to the right of Pluto is an artifact of the camera electronics, resulting from the overexposure of Pluto and Charon. As can be seen in the movie, the spacecraft and camera were rotated in some of the images to change the direction of this streak, in order to prevent it from obscuring the two moons.

The right-hand images have been processed to remove most of Pluto and Charon’s glare, and most of the background stars. The processing leaves blotchy and streaky artifacts in the images, as well as a few other residual bright spots that are not real features, but makes Nix and Hydra much easier to see. Celestial north is inclined 28 degrees clockwise from the “up” direction in these images.

Nix and Hydra were discovered by New Horizons team members in Hubble Space Telescope images taken in 2005. Hydra, Pluto’s outermost known moon, orbits Pluto every 38 days at a distance of approximately 40,200 miles (64,700 kilometers), while Nix orbits every 25 days at a distance of 30,260 miles (48,700 kilometers). Each moon is probably between 25-95 miles (approximately 40- 150 kilometers) in diameter, but scientists won’t know their sizes more precisely until New Horizons obtains close-up pictures of both of them in July. Pluto’s two other small moons, Styx and Kerberos, are still smaller and too faint to be seen by New Horizons at its current range to Pluto; they will become visible in the months to come.

The Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory manages the New Horizons mission for NASA's Science Mission Directorate in Washington. Alan Stern, of the Southwest Research Institute (SwRI), headquartered in San Antonio, is the principal investigator and leads the mission. SwRI leads the science team, payload operations, and encounter science planning. New Horizons is part of the New Frontiers Program managed by NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama. APL designed, built and operates the spacecraft.

Source: New Horizons Website

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Still images showing Nix and Hydra orbiting Pluto...as seen from NASA's New Horizons spacecraft between January 27 - February 8, 2015.
NASA / Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory / Southwest Research Institute

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Ceres Beckons Even More...

Two images of the dwarf planet Ceres that were taken by NASA's Dawn spacecraft from a distance of 52,000 miles (83,000 kilometers), on February 12, 2015.
NASA / JPL - Caltech / UCLA / MPS / DLR / IDA

Dawn Approaches: Two Faces of Ceres (Press Release)

These two views of Ceres were acquired by NASA's Dawn spacecraft on Feb. 12, 2015, from a distance of about 52,000 miles (83,000 kilometers) as the dwarf planet rotated. The images have been magnified from their original size.

The Dawn spacecraft is due to arrive at Ceres on March 6, 2015.

Dawn's mission to Vesta and Ceres is managed by the Jet Propulsion Laboratory for NASA's Science Mission Directorate in Washington. Dawn is a project of the directorate's Discovery Program, managed by NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama. UCLA is responsible for overall Dawn mission science. Orbital ATK, Inc., of Dulles, Virginia, designed and built the spacecraft. JPL is managed for NASA by the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena. The framing cameras were provided by the Max Planck Institute for Solar System Research, Göttingen, Germany, with significant contributions by the German Aerospace Center (DLR) Institute of Planetary Research, Berlin, and in coordination with the Institute of Computer and Communication Network Engineering, Braunschweig. The visible and infrared mapping spectrometer was provided by the Italian Space Agency and the Italian National Institute for Astrophysics, built by Selex ES, and is managed and operated by the Italian Institute for Space Astrophysics and Planetology, Rome. The gamma ray and neutron detector was built by Los Alamos National Laboratory, New Mexico, and is operated by the Planetary Science Institute, Tucson, Arizona.

Source: NASA.Gov

Thursday, February 12, 2015

New Horizons Update: Watching A Dwarf Planet Dance...

An animated GIF showing Pluto and Charon revolving around each other at their barycenter...as seen from NASA's New Horizons spacecraft between January 25-31, 2015.
NASA / Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory / Southwest Research Institute

The View from New Horizons: A Full Day on Pluto-Charon (Press Release)

This time-lapse “movie” of Pluto and its largest moon, Charon, was recently shot at record-setting distances with the Long-Range Reconnaissance Imager (LORRI) on NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft. The movie was made over about a week, from Jan. 25-31, 2015. It was taken as part of the mission’s second optical navigation (“OpNav”) campaign to better refine the locations of Pluto and Charon in preparation for the spacecraft’s close encounter with the small planet and its five moons on July 14, 2015.

Pluto and Charon were observed for an entire rotation of each body; a “day” on Pluto and Charon is 6.4 Earth days. The first of the images was taken when New Horizons was about 3 billion miles from Earth, but just 126 million miles (203 million kilometers) from Pluto – about 30% farther than Earth’s distance from the Sun. The last frame came 6½ days later, with New Horizons more than 5 million miles (8 million kilometers) closer.

The wobble easily visible in Pluto’s motion, as Charon orbits, is due to the gravity of Charon, which is about one-eighth as massive as Pluto and about the size of Texas.

Faint stars can be seen in background of these images. Each frame had an exposure time of one-tenth of a second, too short to see Pluto’s smaller, much fainter moons. New Horizons is still too far from Pluto and its moons to resolve surface features.

Another animated GIF showing Pluto and Charon revolving around each other at their barycenter...as seen from NASA's New Horizons spacecraft between January 25-31, 2015.
NASA / Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory / Southwest Research Institute

The Pluto-Charon Dance: This close up look at Pluto and Charon, taken as part of the mission’s latest optical navigation (“OpNav”) campaign from Jan. 25-31, 2015, comes from the Long Range Reconnaissance Imager (LORRI) on NASA's New Horizons spacecraft.

The time-lapse frames in this movie were magnified four times to make it easier to see Pluto and Charon orbit around their barycenter, a mutual point above Pluto’s surface where Pluto and Charon’s gravity cancels out – this is why Pluto appears to “wobble” in space. Charon orbits approximately 11,200 miles (about 18,000 kilometers) above Pluto’s surface.

Each frame had an exposure time of one-tenth of a second, too short to see Pluto’s smaller, much fainter moons.

"These images allow the New Horizons navigators to refine the positions of Pluto and Charon, and they have the additional benefit of allowing the mission scientists to study the variations in brightness of Pluto and Charon as they rotate, providing a preview of what to expect during the close encounter in July," says Alan Stern, the New Horizons principal investigator from the Southwest Research Institute in Boulder, Colorado.

The Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory manages the New Horizons mission for NASA's Science Mission Directorate in Washington. Alan Stern, of the Southwest Research Institute (SwRI), headquartered in San Antonio, is the principal investigator and leads the mission. SwRI leads the science team, payload operations, and encounter science planning. New Horizons is part of the New Frontiers Program managed by NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama. APL designed, built and operates the spacecraft.

Source: New Horizons Website

Friday, February 06, 2015

Akatsuki Update: Trying One More Time to Set Sail Around Venus...

An artist's concept of the Akatsuki spacecraft orbiting Venus.
JAXA

Venus Climate Orbiter Akatsuki Re-injection to Venus Orbit and Observation Plan‏ (Press Release)

The Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency has decided the schedule for the Venus Climate Orbiter Akatsuki to be injected into the Venus orbit in the winter of 2015, as well as its observation plan.

After failing to be inserted into the Venus orbit in December 2010, JAXA has been carefully studying another attempt opportunity for the injection when the orbiter meets Venus in the winter of 2015.

After being injected into the orbit, the Akatsuki will observe the atmosphere of Venus, which is often referred to as a twin sister of the Earth, through remote sensing. Its observations are expected to develop "Planetary Meteorology" further by elucidating the atmospheric circulation mechanism and studying the comparison with the Earth.

1. Injection schedule to Venus orbit

Planned date: Dec. 7 (Mon.), 2015 (Japan Standard Time)

2. Observation plan

The observation plan of the Akatsuki is to measure the following with a multiple number of wave lengths from an elliptical orbit around Venus whose period is eight to nine days.

(1) When flying further away from Venus, or about 10 times the radius of Venus from the planet, the Akatsuki will continuously observe Venus as a whole to understand its clouds, deep atmosphere, and surface conditions.

(2) When flying closer to Venus, or less than 10 times the radius of Venus, the orbiter will conduct close-up observations to clarify cloud convection, the distribution of minute undulatory motions and their changes.

(3) When the Akatsuki comes closest to Venus, it will observe the layer structure of clouds and the atmosphere from a lateral direction.

(4) When the orbiter is in the shade of the sun, it will monitor lightning and airglow (night glow.)

(5) The Akatsuki will also observe to capture the atmospheric layer structure and its changes by emitting radio waves that penetrates the atmosphere of Venus and receiving them on the ground.

Source: Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency

Wednesday, February 04, 2015

Curiosity Update: Just Another Day Roving on Mars...

An image of NASA's Curiosity Mars rover (denoted by the blue box) in the middle of 'Pahrump Hills' at Mount Sharp...as seen by the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter circling high above the Red Planet on December 13, 2014.
NASA / JPL - Caltech / Univ. of Arizona

Curiosity Rover at 'Pahrump Hills' (Press Release)

NASA's Curiosity Mars rover can be seen at the "Pahrump Hills" area of Gale Crater in this view from the High Resolution Imaging Science Experiment (HiRISE) camera on NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter. Pahrump Hills is an outcrop at the base of Mount Sharp. The region contains sedimentary rocks that scientists believe formed in the presence of water.

The location of the rover, with its shadow extending toward the upper right, is indicated with an inscribed rectangle. Figure A is an unannotated version of the image. North is toward the top. The view covers an area about 360 yards (330 meters) across.

HiRISE made the observation on Dec. 13, 2014. At that time, Curiosity was near a feature called "Whale Rock." A map showing the rover's path for the weeks leading up to that date is at http://mars.jpl.nasa.gov/msl/multimedia/images/?ImageID=6884. The inset map at http://mars.jpl.nasa.gov/msl/multimedia/images/?ImageID=6913 labels the location of Whale Rock and other features in the Pahrump Hills area.

The bright features in the landscape are sedimentary rock and the dark areas are sand. The HiRISE team plans to periodically image Curiosity, as well as NASA's other active Mars rover, Opportunity, as the vehicles continue to explore Mars.

This image is an excerpt from HiRISE observation ESP_039280_1755. Other image products from this observation are available at http://hirise.lpl.arizona.edu/ESP_039280_1755.

The University of Arizona, Tucson, operates HiRISE, which was built by Ball Aerospace & Technologies Corp., Boulder, Colorado. NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, a division of the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena, manages the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter Project and Mars Science Laboratory Project for NASA's Science Mission Directorate, Washington.

Source: NASA.Gov

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A self-portrait of NASA's Curiosity Mars rover, taken with a camera on her robotic arm in late April of 2014.
NASA / JPL - Caltech / MSSS