Martian Lakebed?

Sedimentary signs of a Martian Lake bed viewed by the Mars Science Rover, Curiosity. Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

Sedimentary signs of a Martian Lake bed viewed by the Mars Science Rover, Curiosity. Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

NOW I am a believer. Ok, so I was before, but this is so cool!

The only problem now is just a zillion more new and old questions, for example: How much, when, where did it go, how long was it there where did it go etc.

And the big one of course: was there life associated with the water and all the rest.

Here is the caption from NASA for the image:

This evenly layered rock photographed by the Mast Camera (Mastcam) on NASA’s Curiosity Mars Rover shows a pattern typical of a lake-floor sedimentary deposit not far from where flowing water entered a lake.
The scene combines multiple frames taken with Mastcam’s right-eye camera on Aug. 7, 2014, during the 712th Martian day, or sol, of Curiosity’s work on Mars. It shows an outcrop at the edge of “Hidden Valley,” seen from the valley floor. This view spans about 5 feet (1.5 meters) across in the foreground. The color has been approximately white-balanced to resemble how the scene would appear under daytime lighting conditions on Earth. Figure A is a version with a superimposed scale bar of 50 centimeters (about 20 inches).
This is an example of a thick-laminated, evenly-stratified rock type that forms stratigraphically beneath cross-bedded sandstones regarded as ancient river deposits. These rocks are interpreted to record sedimentation in a lake, as part of or in front of a delta, where plumes of river sediment settled out of the water column and onto the lake floor.

Rosetta Update

Four image NAVCAM mosaic from images taken on 2 December 2014. Credits: ESA/Rosetta/NAVCAM – CC BY-SA IGO 3.0

Four image NAVCAM mosaic from images taken on 2 December 2014. Credits: ESA/Rosetta/NAVCAM – CC BY-SA IGO 3.0

I’ve not posted a Rosetta update in a little while. The spacecraft is still at 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko

This image is part of a four-frame mosaic and shows both lobes of the comet. Of particular interest is the 1 km wide depression on the left. It is thought this is the area where the little Philae lander ended up. High resolution imaging is being used to search for the lander – see “Homing in on Philae’s final landing site“.

See the frame with the depression described above.

From Rosetta blog:

This orientation also provides a good view onto the plateau that was previously considered as candidate landing site A – close to the ‘join’ between the two right-hand side images frames. The dark circular region is a large pit. The cliff walls that drop down onto this plateau seem to show slightly brighter sections, perhaps reflecting compositional differences, or fresher material that has yet to be degraded by exposure to the space environment.

Ceres Here We Come

The dwarf planet Ceres from 1.2 million km / 740,000 miles Image: Dawn Spacecraft/NASA/JPL-Caltech/UCLA/MPS/DLR/IDA

The dwarf planet Ceres from 1.2 million km / 740,000 miles Image: Dawn Spacecraft/NASA/JPL-Caltech/UCLA/MPS/DLR/IDA

Yet another space mission soon to bring new discovery is Dawn.

Dawn launched in 2007 and provided stunning views and scientific data on the protoplanet Vesta. Dawn spent 14 months orbiting Vesta before leaving for the dwarf planet Ceres.

Vesta and Ceres are two of the larger bodies in the asteroid belt that lies between Mars and Jupiter and Ceres is the larger of the two. There are thousands of asteroids in the belt, however when we see the asteroid belt in the movies we always see the spaceships having to weave their way through a maze of rocks. It isn’t even close to being accurate the distribution is such that on average the distance between asteroids is about twice the Earth to Moon distance.

There was speculation the asteroid belt was created by pieces of planet that either never formed or broke apart. We know this isn’t the case, more than likely the belt is “left-over” bits. It is estimated that if all the asteroids were put together to make one body, that body would only be around 1500 km in diameter.

There is much knowledge to be gained by the Ceres visit. Dawn will be making the approach phase to Ceres on 26 December when the speed and trajectory will be tweaked so the spacecraft will be captured by Ceres’ gravitational field in March 2015.

What are the largest asteroids? Here are the top 11. Yes I made a top 11 so I could include 3 Juno.

The number before the name is the discovery sequence and has nothing to do with size. You can get the particulars at our Asteroids page.

1 Ceres
2 Pallas
4 Vesta
10 Hygiea
704 Interamnia
52 Europa
511 Davida
87 Sylvia
65 Cybele
15 Eunomia
3 Juno

New Horizons Wakes Up

A replay of “Waking Up On Pluto’s Doorstep: New Horizons Comes Out of Hibernation” by The Planetary Society.

The Planetary Society show was held while waiting for the signal from New Horizons saying it had awakened and is powering up onboard systems. In the meantime (before and after) there is a great discussion of the Deep Space Network and tweeted questions including one I had myself: What about unknown objects the spacecraft may encounter? Pluto has five moons (distance ordered): Charon, Styx, Nix, Kerberos, and Hydra, there could be many objects we can not detect.

A brief discussion about what happens after the Pluto encounter is over, hint: it’s not over for New Horizons.


New Horizons

New Horizons powers systems up and comes out of hibernation for the home stretch of its journey. Wake up is scheduled for 15:00 EST / 20:00 UTC today (06 Dec 2014). If power up is successful New Horizons will transmit a radio signal back to Earth. It will take 4.5 hours for the radio signal to reach us.


Orion in Orbit


Won’t be long and the flight will be over.  We should get to see the video of re-entry, I want to see those big parachutes.

Follow the mission LIVE at the NASA TV link in banner above.

So far all is going very well so from a systems point of view mission managers must be quite pleased.

YES live video from the ORION

Broadcast live streaming video on Ustream

Splash Down!

WOW!  What excellent video!  I’ll leave the link up for a time and will post a copy of the video when a linkable one comes out.


Video source

Good Luck Orion

NASA TV played this video Trial by Fire earlier this morning and shows an overview of today’s flight. We’ll see how to goes a little later.


Launch is still a go. Weather isn’t a problem so far. There was one wind gust peak near the top end of the launch criteria and has not recurred. The odds due to weather is 70 percent.

Live video for the launch is down the page in the previous post.

Update: New liftoff time is 07:05 EST / 12:05 UT on Friday 05 December 2014



Tomorrow’s First Step to Mars

Mission/Orbiter:  Exploration Flight Test-1 / Orion (United Launch Alliance (ULA) and Lockheed Martin)

Launch Vehicle:  ULA’s Delta IV Heavy rocket 

Note: This is the first flight of spacecraft that will take astronauts to Mars.

Current Status: Go

Launch Date: Thursday, 04 December 2014 07:05 EDT / 12:05 UTC

Mission Duration: 4.5 hours

Odds of Launch: 60 percent

Hoping to put up a look at Complex 37 at KSC when it comes available. — Webcam Image courtesy: NASA/Kennedy Space Center

NOAA’s Forecast:

Wednesday Night A 20 percent chance of showers. Partly cloudy, with a low around 66. Northeast wind around 10 mph.

Thursday A 20 percent chance of showers. Partly sunny, with a high near 77. Northeast wind 10 to 15 mph, with gusts as high as 20 mph.

Keeping an eye on the weather!  This flight is short in duration and long on expectations.

You can catch the launch and return at NASA-TV link above and hope to have Live video on this page when the time comes.

Image Credits: NASA / NOAA


Enceladus seen against Saturn. Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Space Science Institute

Enceladus seen against Saturn. Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Space Science Institute

A nice image of the moon Enceladus seen with the back drop of the planet Saturn. This is the same sort of alignment Cassini was in to get the image of Tethys and Mimas posted here a last week (see Ring Shadows).

Enceladus is 504 km / 313 miles across and Cassini was 948,000 km / 589,000 miles away (about twice the Earth – Moon distance) so we can see how massive Saturn is.  Learn more about Enceladus here,

Aside from Enceladus, the image shows wonderful detail in Saturn’s atmosphere. In particular the two dark round spots (center and upper right) and the interesting cloud feature about half way between Enceladus and the larger round spot. The cloud features look like they are rising vertically from the planet but probably are not. The round spots are disturbances in the atmosphere, much like Jupiter’s Great Red Spot only smaller.

Click the image to get a larger version and it scales pretty well so if you download it you can make it larger yet. You can get a full-res version and more details at the “Mighty Little Dot“.