Monthly Archives: December 2013

NASA in 2013

Yesterday was a look back at highlights from ESA, today we have the same for NASA.

Although I only mention two agencies, there were more including Japan, India and especially China making their mark.

The same can easily be said for the new commercial space companies such as Space X and Orbital,



Rosetta Gets to Work in 2014

Not too long into 2014 the Rosetta spacecraft will be brought out of hibernation after 957 days.

The ESA’s Rosetta mission to comet Churyumov–Gerasimenko starts a new chapter with the awakening of Rosetta at 10:00 UTC on 20 January 2014.

The mission, in typical ESA style, is very bold. The spacecraft travels beyond the main asteroid belt powered by solar cells. Once it gets to the the comet (rendezvous is in August 2014) the goal then becomes to put a lander on the comet surface.

If all that wasn’t enough, Rosetta will tag along with Churyumov–Gerasimenko for the next year!

I was hoping to put up something about the Mars Express flyby of Phobos but I’ve heard nothing so far.


Video Source

Phobos Flyby

Mark your calendars, tomorrow (29 December 2013) ESA’s Mars Express spacecraft will flyby the Martian moon Phobos at just 45 km / 28 miles! That’s close!

So close in fact, the Mars Express will be pulled “a few tens of centimeters” off course. ESA scientists will be ready, they will be measuring the small changes in the frequency of the radio signals and turn them into measurements of gravity, mass, and density at different locations on the moon. Cool stuff!

The closest approach will be at 07:09 UTC, let’s see that’s 02:09 EST. For perspective this animation is at x 1000 speed.

ESA’s Mars Express page

Video source

Dark Sun Clouds

Dark "cloud" on the Sun.  Credit: Solar Dynamics Observatory/NASA.
Dark “cloud” on the Sun. Credit: Solar Dynamics Observatory/NASA.

Well not really clouds, all the same, this is something to see.

Better yet check out the “best” version of the movie mentioned in the caption (below) from the SDO site (click to see other movie formats).

A dark clump of plasma rose up above the Sun, then twisted and spun about before it broke away and dissipated (Dec. 16-17, 2013). You can see the effect of magnetic forces pulling it this way and that over the 12-hour video clip before it is thrust into space by a coronal mass ejection. The large, bright loops emerging from the Sun north of the small mass trace magnetic field lines above several active regions. The images were taken in a wavelength of extreme ultraviolet light that reveals ionized iron heated to a million degrees.

Mena Crater

Mercury's Mena crater.  Click for larger. Credit: NASA/Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory/Carnegie Institution of Washington
Mercury’s Mena crater. Click for larger. Credit: NASA/Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory/Carnegie Institution of Washington

The MESSENGER spacecraft is still going strong around Mercury the closest planet to the Sun. Considering the environment this spacecraft is doing spectacular work.

This is Mena crater, nice resolution too as this crater is 15 km (9 mi) across. I keep thinking “wings” coming out of the crater. Check the links in the image caption below to put things in perspective.

From the MESSENGER website:

Here we get a closer look at the fresh, bright-rayed crater Mena. Solidified impact melt forms a smooth pond on the western side of the crater floor. This asymmetry is due to the fact that Mena formed on the sloping rim of an older crater, as seen in this wider view.

This image was acquired as a targeted set of stereo images. Targeted stereo observations are acquired at resolutions much higher than that of the 200-meter/pixel stereo base map. These targets acquired with the NAC enable the detailed topography of Mercury’s surface to be determined for a local area of interest.

Northern Hexagon of Saturn

Nice!  Saturn in natural color is always good anyway, but this is amazing.
Nice! Saturn in natural color is always good anyway, but this is amazing.

Nice! Saturn in natural color is always good anyway, but this is amazing.

From the Cassini site:

The globe of Saturn, seen here in natural color, is reminiscent of a holiday ornament in this wide-angle view from NASA’s Cassini spacecraft. The characteristic hexagonal shape of Saturn’s northern jet stream, somewhat yellow here, is visible. At the pole lies a Saturnian version of a high-speed hurricane, eye and all.

To learn more about Saturn’s north polar region see PIA14944 and PIA14945.

This view is centered on terrain at 75 degrees north latitude, 120 degrees west longitude. Images taken using red, green and blue spectral filters were combined to create this natural-color view. The images were taken with the Cassini spacecraft wide-angle camera on July 22, 2013.

This view was acquired at a distance of approximately 611,000 miles (984,000 kilometers) from Saturn. Image scale is 51 miles (82 kilometers) per pixel.

The Cassini-Huygens mission is a cooperative project of NASA, the European Space Agency and the Italian Space Agency. The Jet Propulsion Laboratory, a division of the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena, manages the 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 operations center is based at the Space Science Institute in Boulder, Colo.

In the Crow’s Nest – SST

Joe asked if anyone was manning the “Crows Nest”, yes, and they are about to get an even better look.


Advanced Space Surveillance Telescope (SST) readies for 9,000-mile journey to Western Australia to enable valuable monitoring of objects 22,000 miles above Earth

As satellites become more common, they face growing risk of colliding with space debris and even each other. The U.S. Department of Defense has thus made space situational awareness a top priority to maintain communication, Earth observation and other critical capabilities upon which military, civilian and commercial functions rely. Traditional telescope technology, however, has difficulty finding and tracking small objects—such as debris and satellites—across wide tracks of sky, especially at the increasingly crowded geosynchronous orbits roughly 22,000 miles above the Earth’s surface.

To help overcome these challenges, DARPA has developed the Space Surveillance Telescope (SST). Through its unique combination of several novel technologies, the SST program seeks to enable much faster discovery and tracking of previously unseen, hard-to-find small objects in geosynchronous orbits. The SST will soon move from its current mountaintop location in New Mexico, where the system underwent operational testing and evaluation, to Australia, where it will provide key space situational awareness from the southern hemisphere—an area of the geosynchronous belt that is still largely unexplored.

Read the rest of the press release at the DARPA site.

BTW, our ice storm continues, it’s a mess out there. Power is back for now.

Curiosity Wheel Update

You may remember we had a post about the condition of the wheels on Curiosity back on November 28 (see Curiosity-Update).

A wheel from Curiosity showing wear and tear.  Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS
A wheel from Curiosity showing wear and tear. Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

The condition of the wheels also caught the attention of Curiosity’s team back here on Earth (from NASA):

Left-Front Wheel of Curiosity Rover, Approaching Three Miles

The left-front wheel of NASA’s Curiosity Mars rover shows dents and holes in this image taken during the 469th Martian day, or sol, of the rover’s work on Mars (Nov. 30, 2013). The image was taken by the Mars Hand Lens Imager (MAHLI) camera, which is mounted at the end of Curiosity’s robotic arm. By that sol, Curiosity had driven 2.78 miles (4.47 kilometers). An uptick in the pace of wear and tear on the rover’s wheels in the preceding few weeks appears to be correlated with driving over rougher terrain than during earlier months of the mission. Routes to future destinations for the mission may be charted to lessen the amount of travel over such rough terrain.

BTW, we are having something of an ice storm here. Power is still on for the moment, the wires are getting bigger all the while though and a slug of rain is about to hit again and that will add to the fun. I have no place to go thankfully.