All posts by Tom

A Day on Charon


The “gouge-like” feature appearing in the 12 to 5 o’clock positions is pretty impressive, I wonder how it was formed.

Charon – like Pluto – rotates once every 6.4 Earth days. The photos were taken by the Long Range Reconnaissance Imager (LORRI) and the Ralph/Multispectral Visible Imaging Camera from July 7-13, as New Horizons closed in over a range of 6.4 million miles (10.2 million kilometers). The more distant images contribute to the view at the 9 o’clock position, with few of the signature surface features visible, such as the cratered uplands, canyons, or rolling plains of the informally named Vulcan Planum. The side New Horizons saw in most detail, during closest approach on July 14, 2015, is at the 12 o’clock position.

These images and others like them reveal many details about Charon, including how similar looking the encounter hemisphere is to the so-called “far side” hemisphere seen only at low resolution – which is the opposite of the situation at Pluto. Dimples in the bottom (south) edge of Charon’s disk are artifacts of the way the New Horizons images were combined to create these composites.


A Day on Pluto


From New Horizons:

Pluto’s day is 6.4 Earth days long. The images were taken by the Long Range Reconnaissance Imager (LORRI) and the Ralph/Multispectral Visible Imaging Camera as the distance between New Horizons and Pluto decreased from 5 million miles (8 million kilometers) on July 7 to 400,000 miles (about 645,000 kilometers) on July 13. The more distant images contribute to the view at the 3 o’clock position, with the top of the heart-shaped, informally named Tombaugh Regio slipping out of view, giving way to the side of Pluto that was facing away from New Horizons during closest approach on July 14.  The side New Horizons saw in most detail – what the mission team calls the “encounter hemisphere” – is at the 6 o’clock position.

These images and others like them reveal many details about Pluto, including the differences between the encounter hemisphere and the so-called “far side” hemisphere seen only at lower resolution. Dimples in the bottom (south) edge of Pluto’s disk are artifacts of the way the images were combined to create these composites.


ANGEL Balloon Flight

It turns out you can guide a high altitude balloon back to a predetermined location with a controlled descent. At least that’s what NASA Glenn’s Rocket University team did on 04 November when they brought a balloon down from an altitude of 36.5 km / 22.7 miles over the New Mexico desert.

The ANGEL experiment demonstrated how the Airborne Systems, Inc. Guided Precision Aerial Delivery System (GPADS) can benefit planetary science balloon missions through a risk-reduction flight test for high altitude balloon operations allowing for faster and cheaper recovery. Additionally, the impact forces experienced on landing are reduced with GPADS versus conventional parachutes. ANGEL shows a greater range of space science able to be performed with more sensitive equipment, as payload survivability is increased due to the system’s unique ability to perform a flared, into-the-wind landing.

Good job! Hopefully this will lead to more frequent balloon science missions.

Apollo 12


Yesterday NASA featured this image as their Image of the Day.  The lunar module of Apollo 12 on 19 November 1969.


The Apollo 12 Lunar Module (LM), in a lunar landing configuration, is photographed in lunar orbit from the Command and Service Modules (CSM) on Nov. 19, 1969. The coordinates of the center of the lunar surface shown in picture are 4.5 degrees west longitude and 7 degrees south latitude. The largest crater in the foreground is Ptolemaeus; and the second largest is Herschel. Aboard the LM were astronauts Charles Conrad Jr., commander; and Alan L. Bean, lunar module pilot. Astronaut Richard R. Gordon Jr., command module pilot, remained with the CSM in lunar orbit while Conrad and Bean descended in the LM to explore the surface of the moon.

Image Credit: NASA

Bagnold Dunes



A look at Bagnold dunes on Mars.  The dunes are in the dark area of terrain in about the center of the image.  This is a color adjusted image, meaning that it is a good approximation of what we’d see in Earth lighting.

Is the dark material the same as what is what looks almost like a pond in the lower part of the image?  I wonder how they can drive by that without looking at a sample.   Then again if I was deciding what to look at we’d probably would not have traveled much more that a hundred meters from the landing site because I’d have to look at everything.

Curiosity will visit examples of the Bagnold Dunes on the rover’s route to higher layers of Mount Sharp. The informal name for the dune field is a tribute to British military engineer Ralph Bagnold (1896-1990), a pioneer in the study of how winds move sand particles of dunes on Earth. The dune field is evident as a dark band in orbital images of the area inside Gale Crater where Curiosity has been active since landing in 2012, such as a traverse map at PIA20162.

Dunes are larger than wind-blown ripples of sand or dust that Curiosity and other rovers have visited previously.

Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

Lorri Artifact

This image is one of many the LORRI camera on the New Horizons spacecraft took a series of images like this one.


The New Horizons team explains:
These high phase angle images show many artifacts associated with scattered sunlight; the Sun was less then 15 degrees from the center of the LORRI frame for these observations.

It’s one of those pictures that if you look at it long enough it gets kind of spooky.

Credit: NASA/Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory/Southwest Research Institute

Curious Travels


Here is a map of Curiosity trek on its first 1,165 sols.  How time does fly by hardly seems like the rover has been on Mars since 2012.

The press release:

This map shows the route driven by NASA’s Curiosity Mars rover from the location where it landed in August 2012 to its location in mid-November 2015, approaching examples of dunes in the “Bagnold Dunes” dune field.

The traverse line covers drives completed through the 1,165rd Martian day, or sol, of Curiosity’s work on Mars (Nov. 15, 2015).

The base image for this map is from the High Resolution Imaging Science Experiment (HiRISE) camera on NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter. North is up. The dark ground south of the rover’s route is the Bagnold Dunes of dark, wind-blown material at the foot of Mount Sharp.

The scale bar at lower right represents two kilometers (1.2 miles). For broader-context images of the area, see PIA17355,PIA16064 and PIA16058.

NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, a division of the California Institute of Technology, Pasadena, manages the Mars Science Laboratory Project and Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter Project for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate, Washington. For more information about the Mars Science Laboratory mission and the mission’s Curiosity rover, visit and

Image Credit:NASA/JPL-Caltech/Univ. of Arizona