All posts by Tom

Curious Wheels


Curiosity took this image on 16 April 2016, Sol 1313 of the Mars Science Laboratory Mission, at 08:18:49 UTC.

We’ve been keeping an eye on the wheels for a couple of years now due to the wear they show. The MSL mission team is also keeping watch and planning some of the drives with potential for further damage in mind. It looks like their efforts are working because the damage doesn’t look any worse than it was at least from what we see here.

Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS


Samples recovered from recent seasons include rare and scientifically valuable pieces of Mars and Moon, as well as rocks formed very early during the formation and evolution of the solar system that hold clues to the origin of volatiles, planets and the organic compounds essential to life.


Where’s Juno?



In case you were wondering where Juno is on the trip to Jupiter, wonder no more.

81 days to go!

From NASA (25 March 2016):

As of March 25, 2016, Juno is approximately 410 million miles (659 million kilometers) from Earth. The one-way radio signal travel time between Earth and Juno is currently about 37 minutes.

Juno is traveling at a velocity of approximately 53,000 miles per hour (about 23.6 kilometers per second) relative to Earth, 16,000 miles per hour (about 7.1 kilometers per second) relative to the Sun, and 13,000 miles per hour (about 5.7 kilometers per second) relative to Jupiter. Juno has now travelled 1.73 billion miles (2.78 billion kilometers, or 18.56 AU) since launch, and has another 34 million miles to go (55 million kilometers, or 0.37 AU) before entering orbit around Jupiter.

The Juno spacecraft is in excellent health and is operating nominally.

Juno is slated to arrive at the gas giant planet on July 4, 2016, at 8:35 p.m. PDT (Earth Received Time). Track and visualize Juno’s journey through space using NASA’s Eyes on the Solar System 3D interactive.

Juno’s onboard color camera, called JunoCam, invites the public to serve as a virtual imaging team. Vote and comment on where to point JunoCam and which features to image on Jupiter using the new JunoCam web platform at

 Image: NASA


Russian scientist and billionaire entrepreneur Yuri Milner and Cosmologist and theoretical physicist Stephen Hawking announced a space exploration project called Breakthrough Starshot

Video – short version
Video – long version

Ice Spider on Pluto


No, not some science fiction movie, but close, Pluto is very strange.

Credit: NASA / John Hopkins APL / SwRI

From New Horizons:

Sprawling across Pluto’s icy landscape is an unusual geological feature that resembles a giant spider.

“Oh, what a tangled web Pluto’s geology weaves,” said Oliver White, a member of the New Horizons geology team from NASA Ames Research Center, Mountain View, California. “The pattern these fractures form are like nothing else we’ve seen in the outer solar system, and shows once again that anywhere we look on Pluto, we see something different.”

As shown in the enhanced color image below – obtained by NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft on July 14, 2015 – this feature consists of at least six extensional fractures (indicated by white arrows in this annotated version) converging to a point near the center. The longest fractures are aligned roughly north-south, and the longest of all, the informally named Sleipnir Fossa, is more than 360 miles (580 kilometers) long.  The fracture aligned east-west is shorter and reaches less than 60 miles (100 kilometers) long.  To the north and west, the fractures extend across the mottled, rolling plains of the high northern latitudes, and to the south, they intercept and cut through the bladed terrain informally named Tartarus Dorsa.

Curiously, the spider’s “legs” noticeably expose red deposits below Pluto’s surface.

New Horizons scientists think fractures seen elsewhere on Pluto, which tend to be aligned parallel to each other in long belts – rather than intersecting with one another at a nexus, as this feature does – are caused by global-scale extension of Pluto’s water–ice crust.  However, given the curious radiating pattern of the fractures forming the “spider,” it may instead be caused by a focused source of stress in the crust under the point where the fractures converge – for example, due to material welling up from under the surface.  The spider somewhat resembles “radially fractured centers” on Venus called novae ( seen by NASA’s Magellan spacecraft, as well as the Pantheon Fossae formation seen by NASA’s MESSENGER spacecraft on Mercury (

This image was obtained by New Horizons’ Ralph/Multispectral Visible Imaging Camera (MVIC).  The image resolution is approximately 2,230 feet (680 meters) per pixel.  It was obtained at a range of approximately 21,100 miles (33,900 kilometers) from Pluto, about 45 minutes before New Horizons’ closest approach on July 14, 2015.