The North of Saturn

The north of Saturn from Cassini.  Image: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Space Science Institute

The north of Saturn from Cassini. Image: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Space Science Institute

A great image of Saturn from the Cassini spacecraft. Click the image above to see some of the detail in the atmosphere. Saturn’s atmospheric zones resemble the ones on Jupiter but thanks to lower surface gravity the clouds are more spread out, so are less defined. Saturn’s atmosphere is also colder than Jupiter as you might expect.

Like Jupiter, Saturn radiates more energy into space than it receives from the sun. What you might not expect is when size is taken into account, Saturn radiates more energy into space from its interior than Jupiter – by about 25 percent.

NASA calls this release The Ring King and for good reason:

Saturn reigns supreme, encircled by its retinue of rings. Although all four giant planets have ring systems, Saturn’s is by far the most massive and impressive. Scientists are trying to understand why by studying how the rings have formed and how they have evolved over time. Also seen in this image is Saturn’s famous north polar vortex and hexagon. This view looks toward the sunlit side of the rings from about 37 degrees above the ringplane. The image was taken with the Cassini spacecraft wide-angle camera on May 4, 2014 using a spectral filter which preferentially admits wavelengths of near-infrared light centered at 752 nanometers. The view was acquired at a distance of approximately 2 million miles (3 million kilometers) from Saturn. Image scale is 110 miles (180 kilometers) per pixel. The Cassini-Huygens mission is a cooperative project of NASA, the European Space Agency and the Italian Space Agency. NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, a division of the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena, manages the mission for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate, Washington. 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.

Two Lobes of a Comet

Full-frame NAVCAM image taken on 18 August 2014 from a distance of about 84 km from comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko. Credits: ESA/Rosetta/NAVCAM

Full-frame NAVCAM image taken on 18 August 2014 from a distance of about 84 km from comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko. Credits: ESA/Rosetta/NAVCAM

The view of 67P/G-C or “the duck” as some are calling it. Rosetta was just 84 km away from the comet when this was taken.  Lobes, so much for comets to be nice round dirty snowballs.  Rosetta is redefining how a lot of us think about comets.

I just marvel at how good  this really is. Rosetta is orbiting comet 67/G-c about 412,000,000 km (~256 million miles) away from Earth and 527,000,000 km (~327 million miles) from the Sun and the comet is moving 15.7 km/s (35,120 mph). The numbers I show here are rounded and if you would like to see the actual numbers from ESA go the the very cool Where is Rosetta site and click on the Where is Rosetta today link at the bottom of the page. If you have not been at that site before you can watch the whole journey depicted in an animation – it’s really quite good.

There are a number of instruments on Rosetta and one of them, COSIMA is trying to capture dust particles coming from 67P. At the moment very little dust is coming from the comet so the plates used to catch the dust is being checked weekly during an initial exposure of a month. As the pair near the Sun more and more particles will be emitted.

One of the big questions is: what is this thing made of?  We will find out if things go as planned.  Yes, this IS going to be fun!

Rosetta blog

Bonanza King

A look from Curiosity's NAVCAM, in the center Bonanza King. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

A look from Curiosity’s NAVCAM, in the center Bonanza King. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

The Mars Science Laboratory – Curiosity, recently passed its second anniversary (in Earth years) on Mars. The rover is making its way to Mount Sharp. The base of Mount Sharp is about 3 km from Curiosity’s current location. The mission managers are using “softer” valleys to get there, the idea being to save on the wheel tread of the rover which readers here will know show a bit of wear.

There is an update on the journey in the form of a video from JPL / NASA. In the video they mention interesting sites would be examined on the way. One of those interesting sites is called Bonanza King and thanks to it looking different from the sandstone they have been seeing for a few months. If chosen Bonanza King would be the fourth drilling site.  See the video.

For those into weather, we do get some data on Martian weather: on 14 August 2014 the:

Air temp was
Max -1oC
Min -77oC

Soil temp was
Max 12oC
Min -82oC

and

Mean Pressure 758 Pa

The Max temperatures are actually not too bad. The lows though are downright cold. Interesting the minimum soil temperature is colder than the minimum air temperature.

If I did the conversion correctly for comparison, 1-Earth atmosphere is about 101,325 Pa, little wonder there is no water on Mars.

About the image above of Bonanza King from NASA:

In this image from NASA’s Curiosity Mars rover looking up the ramp at the northeastern end of “Hidden Valley,” a pale outcrop including drilling target “Bonanza King” is at the center of the scene.

Curiosity used its Navigation Camera (Navcam) to capture this northward view during the 709th Martian day, or sol, of the rover’s work on Mars (Aug. 4, 2014). At that time, Curiosity was on the sand-covered floor of Hidden Valley. Due to unexpectedly high wheel slippage in the sand, the rover team subsequently decided to drive Curiosity out of the valley, up this ramp, to a higher location for examining a possible alternative route.

The ramp area holds several clusters of pale rocks resembling paving stones up to about the size of dinner plates. The team chose one, dubbed Bonanza King, as a candidate for the mission’s fourth drilling into a rock to collect a rock-powder sample for onboard analysis. The candidate target is in the patch of bright rocks between parallel wheel tracks in this image. For scale, the distance between the two tracks is about 9 feet (2.7 meters).

A map showing Hidden Valley is at http://photojournal.jpl.nasa.gov/catalog/PIA18408

NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, a division of the California Institute of Technology, Pasadena, manages the Mars Science Laboratory Project for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate, Washington. JPL designed and built the project’s Curiosity rover and the rover’s Navcam.

Pluto the Movie

Pluto and Charon from New Horizons. Credit: NASA/Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory/Southwest Research Institute

The New Horizons spacecraft captured this “movie” consisting of 12 images showing Pluto and the moon Charon. Those 12 images, taken between 19 and 24 July so almost one full orbit of Pluto and Charon, from 429 million to 422 million km / 267 million to 262 million miles using the Long Range Reconnaissance Imager (LORRI).  This set of images was taken with the New Horizons spacecraft 10 times closer to Pluto than we are here on Earth.

Notice the wobble? Pluto and Charon are binary, really a binary planet system and they orbit each other around the center of mass (called the barycenter) which is between the two. The LORRI is set to the barycenter.

Charon is orbiting about 18,000 km / 11,200 miles from Pluto.

New Horizons will cross the Neptune orbit in just over a week and will fly by the Pluto system in less than a year with approach operations to begin in just a few months.

Visit the New Horizons site for the original images.

NASA Update

Rosetta has been eclipsing most of the news lately, as it should. NASA is also staying busy as always and the first data is coming in from the Orbiting Carbon Observatory-2.

Part of the update is about the Cygnus spacecraft leaving the ISS laden with trash. The Cygnus is about to re-enter the atmosphere and will burn up. This should occur at 13:11 UTC / 0911 EDT, today (Sunday). The atmospheric interface will occur between New Zealand and South America and is timed so the ISS crew can observe the fiery demise of the spacecraft.

Rosetta Maps Comet

Where the Philae lander this coming November is a very important decision. ESA naturally wants to land in the spot where they are going to get to learn the most possible.

This is a great video for getting a feel for the mission and what it means:

For additional languages and video source – click here

Cliffs on a Comet

Rosetta gets a look at the central region of comet 67P/G-C. Credits: ESA/Rosetta/MPS for OSIRIS Team MPS/UPD/LAM/IAA/SSO/INTA/UPM/DASP/IDA

Rosetta gets a look at the central region of comet 67P/G-C. Credits: ESA/Rosetta/MPS for OSIRIS Team MPS/UPD/LAM/IAA/SSO/INTA/UPM/DASP/IDA

And then some. Wow what a shot! The Rosetta spacecraft used the orange filter on the narrow-angle OSIRIS camera from 103 km / 64 miles away.

This particular image is part of an anaglyph and that is just stunning. This non-3D version is pretty good for those without the 3D glasses. If you do have a pair of glasses or can do what I did and use blue and red plastic wrap (blue on the right eye and red on the left), just WOW! I kept moving the screen to try and get a look over the edge.

You know, there’s a dozen good looking spots to put a lander. No pressure ESA :mrgreen:

See ESA’s 3D image here.

Martian Boulder Track

A boulder track on Mars. Click for a larger version. Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Univ. of Arizona

A boulder track on Mars. Click for a larger version. Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Univ. of Arizona

Check it out — a boulder track on Mars. No speculation on what dislodged the boulder. Perhaps a close meteor strike making one of the larger craters shook it loose or it could even be ejecta from an impact like some of the ones we see on our moon. If you follow the track to the origin there almost looks like a small pit at the beginning.

We are seeing this track thanks to the HiRISE image on board the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter.

A path resembling a dotted line from the upper left to middle right of this image is the track left by an irregularly shaped, oblong boulder as it tumbled down a slope on Mars before coming to rest in an upright attitude at the downhill end of the track. The High Resolution Imaging Science Experiment (HiRISE) camera on NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter recorded this view on July 14, 2014.

The boulder’s trail down the slope is about one-third of a mile (about 500 meters) long. The trail has an odd repeating pattern, suggesting the boulder could not roll straight due to its shape.
Calculated from the length of the shadow cast by the rock and the known angle of sunlight during this afternoon exposure, the height of the boulder is about 20 feet (6 meters). Its width as seen from overhead is only about 11.5 feet (3.5 meters), so it indeed has an irregular shape. It came to rest with its long axis pointed up.

The Top of the Comet

Rosetta NAVCAM view of 67P/G-C on 11 Aug. Credit: ESA/Rosetta/NAVCAM

Rosetta NAVCAM view of 67P/G-C on 11 Aug. Credit: ESA/Rosetta/NAVCAM

What a great look at 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko by Rosetta. The view is from 102 km / 63 miles away on 11 Aug 2014.

If it (what I call the top) would just rotate a wee bit more we could get a look inside that crater on the end. Is there a central peak or any signs of melting in there? That would be composition dependent, good clues.

See a Hi Res version here.

A Bright Crater

A bright crater on Mercury.  Image: Credit: NASA/Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory/Carnegie Institution of Washington

A bright crater on Mercury. Image: Credit: NASA/Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory/Carnegie Institution of Washington

The MESSENGER spacecraft shows us a relatively young crater on the planet Mercury. We can infer it is “young” by evidenced by the bright white rays which
are made from soils exposed by the impact.

The crater in the center of the white imapact zone and the one beside it are rather small. The larger crater to the right, it’s soil matches the surrounding terrain, is about 16 km / 10 miles across.

The image was taken by MESSENGER’s Wide Angle Camera and is part of a program to aquire high resolution images in 11-colors.

The MESSENGER website.