About the Mars Comet

A teleconference discussing some of the science findings from the C/2013 A1 Siding Spring (aka: the Mars Comet) fly by of the planet Mars.

A bit technical here and there but very well explained and totally worth seeing.

BTW, it takes a few minutes to get going.

The participants were:

  • Jim Green, director, Planetary Science Division, NASA Headquarters, Washington
  • Nick Schneider, instrument lead for MAVEN’s Imaging Ultraviolet Spectrograph, University of Colorado, Boulder
  • Mehdi Benna, instrument scientist for MAVEN’s Neutral Gas and Ion Mass Spectrometer, NASA Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, Maryland
  • Don Gurnett, co-investigator on the Mars Advanced Radar for Subsurface and Ionosphere Sounding instrument on Mars Express, University of Iowa, Iowa City
  • Alan Delamere, co-investigator for MRO’s HiRISE instrument, Delamere Support Services, Boulder, Colorado


Rosetta’s Comet


Wow, what a great view of a comet you can get from just 30 km (18.6 miles).

Click the image above for a larger version and enjoy the detail.

Caption via NASA:

This image of comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko was obtained on October 30, 2014 by the OSIRIS scientific imaging system on the Rosetta spacecraft. The right half is obscured by darkness. The image was taken from a distance of approximately 18.6 miles (30 kilometers).
Image Credit: ESA/Rosetta/MPS for OSIRIS Team

Dione – A Global View


NASA has produced global mosaics of Saturn’s moon Dione from Cassini spacecraft images. The image here is a trailing hemisphere which is darker than the leading hemisphere possibly because to “alteration by magnetospheric particles and radiation striking those surfaces”. It is also thought the leading hemisphere “is coated with icy dust from Saturn’s E-ring, formed from tiny particles ejected from Enceladus’ south pole. These satellites are all being painted by material erupted by neighboring Enceladus”.

The image is best enjoyed by looking at the high resolution verions at NASA’s Photojournal site you can see down to 250 meters per pixel – amazing!

Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Space Science Institute/Lunar and Planetary Institute


Four-image mosaic of Comet 67P/C-G on 30 October. Credits: ESA/Rosetta/NAVCAM – CC BY-SA IGO 3.0

Four-image mosaic of Comet 67P/C-G on 30 October. Credits: ESA/Rosetta/NAVCAM – CC BY-SA IGO 3.0

Landing “Site J” on Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko has a new name and that name is Agilkia.

From ESA

Agilkia is an island on the Nile River in the south of Egypt. A complex of Ancient Egyptian buildings, including the famous Temple of Isis, was moved to Agilkia from the island of Philae when the latter was flooded during the building of the Aswan dams in the 20th century.

Pretty good name I think and so do others, the name was proposed by 150 of the participants of public competition held by ESA and the German, French and Italian space agencies.

The image shows Agilkia in one of those four-part mosiacs ESA has been releasing. Very nice resolution panels so do check it out.  This is one of the last looks as Rosetta left the 10 km orbit to get ready to deploy Philae on 12 November.

A Dark Saturn

Saturn and Titan. Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Space Science Institute

Saturn and Titan. Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Space Science Institute

A look at a dark Saturn and Titan in this Cassini image. This view is looking pretty much towards the Sun providing a look at the atmosphere of Titan and a very nice crescent on both.

These observations can tell us something of the compositions and physical states of the atmospheres. You will notice the crescent goes almost all the way around Titan, this is due to small haze particles in the upper atmosphere refracting the sunlight.

For a sense of scale the view is from 1.7 million km or 1.1 million miles from Saturn and yet we don’t see the entire planet.

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.

via NASA’s Photojournal PIA18291

Orbital Aftermath

Damage to the Wallops Flight Facility. Image Credit: NASA/Terry Zaperach

Damage to the Wallops Flight Facility. Image Credit: NASA/Terry Zaperach

Here is a look at the area around the launch pad at the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport at NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility after the failed Orbital Antares flight. As dramatic as the scene is it appears visually at least to be less damage than I would have expected. I wonder how much damage the heat caused, can’t really tell.

I am happy to see NASA is standing behind Orbital with William Gerstenmaier, Associate Administrator of NASA’s Human Exploration and Operations Directorate saying in a press release:

“Orbital has demonstrated extraordinary capabilities in its first two missions to the station earlier this year, and we know they can replicate that success. Launching rockets is an incredibly difficult undertaking, and we learn from each success and each setback. Today’s launch attempt will not deter us from our work to expand our already successful capability to launch cargo from American shores to the International Space Station.”

Below is a press release after the Wallops Incident Response Team had a look at the area:

The Wallops Incident Response Team completed today an initial assessment of Wallops Island, Virginia, following the catastrophic failure of Orbital Science Corp.’s Antares rocket shortly after liftoff at 6:22 p.m. EDT Tuesday, Oct. 28, from Pad 0A of the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport at NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia.
“I want to praise the launch team, range safety, all of our emergency responders and those who provided mutual aid and support on a highly-professional response that ensured the safety of our most important resource — our people,” said Bill Wrobel, Wallops director. “In the coming days and weeks ahead, we’ll continue to assess the damage on the island and begin the process of moving forward to restore our space launch capabilities. There’s no doubt in my mind that we will rebound stronger than ever.”
The initial assessment is a cursory look; it will take many more weeks to further understand and analyze the full extent of the effects of the event. A number of support buildings in the immediate area have broken windows and imploded doors. A sounding rocket launcher adjacent to the pad, and buildings nearest the pad, suffered the most severe damage.
At Pad 0A the initial assessment showed damage to the transporter erector launcher and lightning suppression rods, as well as debris around the pad.
The Wallops team also met with a group of state and local officials, including the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality, the Virginia Department of Emergency Management, the Virginia Marine Police, and the U.S. Coast Guard.
The Wallops environmental team also is conducting assessments at the site. Preliminary observations are that the environmental effects of the launch failure were largely contained within the southern third of Wallops Island, in the area immediately adjacent to the pad. Immediately after the incident, the Wallops’ industrial hygienist collected air samples at the Wallops mainland area, the Highway 175 causeway, and on Chincoteague Island. No hazardous substances were detected at the sampled locations.
Additional air, soil and water samples will be collected from the incident area as well as at control sites for comparative analysis.
The Coast Guard and Virginia Marine Resources Commission reported today they have not observed any obvious signs of water pollution, such as oil sheens. Furthermore, initial assessments have not revealed any obvious impacts to fish or wildlife resources. The Incident Response Team continues to monitor and assess.
Following the initial assessment, the response team will open the area of Wallops Island, north of the island flagpole opposite of the launch pad location, to allow the U.S. Navy to return back to work.


Wow! No early word on what happened. I don’t think it will take a long time to figure this out. I could be wrong of course.

As bad as this seems and no one got hurt so it could have been much worse, Orbital Sciences is going to learn a great deal from this incident and will wind up a stronger company because of it.

I’ve not seen enough Antares launches to know what is normal but there seemed to be venting in places where it might not supposed to be. Have a look frame by frame in the video and see what you think.

From Orbital Sciences:

Orbital Sciences Corporation confirms that today’s Antares rocket launch from NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility was not successful. Shortly after lift-off from the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport Pad 0A at 6:22 p.m. (EDT), the vehicle suffered a catastrophic failure. According to NASA’s emergency operations officials, there were no casualties and property damage was limited to the south end of Wallops Island. Orbital has formed an anomaly investigation board, which will work in close coordination with all appropriate government agencies, to determine the cause of today’s mishap.

“It is far too early to know the details of what happened,” said Mr. Frank Culbertson, Orbital’s Executive Vice President and General Manager of its Advanced Programs Group.“As we begin to gather information, our primary concern lies with the ongoing safety and security of those involved in our response and recovery operations. We will conduct a thorough investigation immediately to determine the cause of this failure and what steps can be taken to avoid a repeat of this incident. As soon as we understand the cause we will begin the necessary work to return to flight to support our customers and the nation’s space program.”

Orbital will provide more information as it becomes available and is verified.

Video source