Venus Express

After eight years in orbit, ESA’s Venus Express has completed routine science observations and is preparing for a daring plunge into the planet’s hostile atmosphere.

Venus Express was launched on 9 November 2005, and arrived at Venus on 11 April 2006.

It has been orbiting Venus in an elliptical 24-hour loop that takes it from a distant 66 000 km over the south pole — affording incredible global views — to an altitude of around 250 km above the surface at the north pole, close to the top of the planet’s atmosphere.

With a suite of seven instruments, the spacecraft has provided a comprehensive study of the ionosphere, atmosphere and surface of Venus.

This video includes interviews in English with Håkan Svedhem, ESA mission scientist and Patrick Martin, ESA Venus Express mission manager

Launch Day Tomorrow

If you live along the US east coast you may get a look at the Antares rocket as shown in the map. Image: NASA / Orbital Sciences

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Mission/Orbiter:Orbital Sciences Orbital-2 Cargo resupply / Cygnus spacecraft

Mission Highlights: This mission will deliver more than 1,360 kg (3000 lbs) of assorted supplies, hardware and tools. A group of nanosatellites are part of the scientific payloads. The nanosats will capture imagery of Earth, will aid in development of a way to return small samples from the ISS and student-designed experiments.

Current Status: Go

Launch Date UPDATED:  Sunday 13 July 2014 16:52 UTC (12:52 EDT)

Launch Facility:Wallops Flight Facility (Virginia)

Rosetta gets Closer

rosettatarget

Here’s an animated version of images released by ESA, hopefully you get some sense of 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko’s rotation.

Image Credits: ESA/Rosetta/MPS for OSIRIS Team MPS/UPD/LAM/IAA/ SSO/INTA/UPM/ DASP/IDA

From ESA:

Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko, taken by the narrow angle camera of Rosetta’s scientific imaging system, OSIRIS, on 4 July 2014, at a distance of 37 000 km. The three images are separated by 4 hours, and are shown in order from left to right. The comet has a rotation period of about 12.4 hours. It covers an area of about 30 pixels, and although individual features are not yet resolved, the image is beginning to reveal the comet’s irregular shape.

Europa in Color

A color image of Europa. Click for larger. Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/SETI Institute

A color image of Europa. Click for larger. Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/SETI Institute

NASA gives us this newly released image of Europa created from images taken by the Galileo spacecraft in 1997 and 1998.

Click the image to get a good look at the amazing terrain!

The following caption from JPL/NASA:

This colorized image of Europa is a product of clear-filter grayscale data from one orbit of NASA’s Galileo spacecraft, combined with lower-resolution color data taken on a different orbit. The blue-white terrains indicate relatively pure water ice, whereas the reddish areas contain water ice mixed with hydrated salts, potentially magnesium sulfate or sulfuric acid. The reddish material is associated with the broad band in the center of the image, as well as some of the narrower bands, ridges, and disrupted chaos-type features. It is possible that these surface features may have communicated with a global subsurface ocean layer during or after their formation.

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Rover Treks Out of Landing Ellipse

Curiosity leaves the landing area. Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Univ. of Arizona

Curiosity leaves the landing area. Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Univ. of Arizona

A landing ellipse is the projected landing area of a spacecraft. Quite a bit goes into how accurately a spacecraft can land, various things can change the landing spot like: flight angle on the way down, how much drag the atmosphere imparts and velocity and mass of the craft etc. Scientists can run simulations changing these parameters and come up with a landing ellipse out of the plotted points.

The ellipse for Curiostiy is shown in the image as a blue line and you can see the rover has crossed the line. The image from the MRO even shows the tracks – you might need to click the image to see them.

The press release mentions the World Cup, happy to say both teams I picked are still in it, so far.

Here’s the story from NASA:

Curiosity Mars Rover Reaching Edge of Its Landing Ellipse

NASA’s Curiosity Mars rover is stepping on the boundary line. Being called offside is a good thing in this case, but don’t tell the World Cup referees!

The blue line added to this June 27, 2014, image from the High Resolution Imaging Science Experiment (HiRISE) camera on NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter is the edge of the ellipse that was charted as safe terrain for the rover’s August 2012 landing. Curiosity is visible right on the ellipse line in the lower center of the image. This 3-sigma landing ellipse is about 4 miles long and 12 miles wide (7 kilometers by 20 kilometers). Curiosity reached the edge of it for the first time with a drive of about 269 feet (82 meters) earlier that day.
OK, I don’t hear any cheering yet. You must be wondering, “What the heck is a 3-sigma landing ellipse?” It is a statistical prediction made prior to landing to determine how far from a targeted center point the rover might land, given uncertainties such as the atmospheric conditions on landing day. The “3-sigma” part means three standard deviations, so the rover was very, very likely (to about the 99.9-percent level) to land somewhere inside this ellipse. Such 3-sigma ellipses get a lot of scrutiny during landing-site selection because we don’t want anything dangerous for a landing — such as boulders of cliffs — inside the ellipse.
The Mars Science Laboratory mission did not try to land Curiosity right at the base of Mount Sharp, where the most interesting terrains lay, as seen from orbit. To do so would have put unsafe slopes within the landing ellipse. Instead, the rover spent almost exactly one Martian year (687 Earth days) roving and exploring before arriving at the edge of the ellipse.
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Saturn Weather

cassiniNPV

Here is the latest from the Cassini spacecraft. click the image above for a larger version to see a surprising amount of detail in the planet’s atmosphere.

Here’s the caption from JPL:

The Cassini spacecraft captures three magnificent sights at once: Saturn’s north polar vortex and hexagon along with its expansive rings.

The hexagon, which is wider than two Earths, owes its appearance to the jet stream that forms its perimeter. The jet stream forms a six-lobed, stationary wave which wraps around the north polar regions at a latitude of roughly 77 degrees North.

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 April 2, 2014 using a spectral filter which preferentially admits wavelengths of near-infrared light centered at 752 nanometers.

The view was obtained at a distance of approximately 1.4 million miles (2.2 million kilometers) from Saturn and at a Sun-Saturn-spacecraft, or phase, angle of 43 degrees. Image scale is 81 miles (131 kilometers) per pixel.

Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Space Science Institute

Tsunami Hits Voyager

An artists concept Voyager 1 spacecraft entering the space between stars. Interstellar space is dominated by plasma, ionized gas (shown here as brownish haze), that was thrown off by giant stars millions of years ago. Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

An artists concept Voyager 1 spacecraft entering the space between stars. Interstellar space is dominated by plasma, ionized gas (shown here as brownish haze), that was thrown off by giant stars millions of years ago. Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

The Voyager 1 spacecraft now has felt another “tsunami wave”, a pressure wave generated by a coronal mass ejection from the sun. The “tsunami wave” takes about a year to reach Voyager and they can tell because of the way the thin plasma around the spacecraft acts.

The weird thing is this plasma is denser than what Voyager was flying through previously.  All of this points to more evidence the Voyagers have entered the area of interstellar space outside our solar bubble.  Yeah that’s way out – Go Voyagers!

More dense? Confused? I was too, read the explanation from the NASA JPL site below:

NASA’s Voyager 1 spacecraft has experienced a new “tsunami wave” from the sun as it sails through interstellar space. Such waves are what led scientists to the conclusion, in the fall of 2013, that Voyager had indeed left our sun’s bubble, entering a new frontier.

“Normally, interstellar space is like a quiet lake,” said Ed Stone of the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena, California, the mission’s project scientist since 1972. “But when our sun has a burst, it sends a shock wave outward that reaches Voyager about a year later. The wave causes the plasma surrounding the spacecraft to sing.”

Data from this newest tsunami wave generated by our sun confirm that Voyager is in interstellar space — a region between the stars filled with a thin soup of charged particles, also known as plasma. The mission has not left the solar system — it has yet to reach a final halo of comets surrounding our sun — but it broke through the wind-blown bubble, or heliosphere, encasing our sun. Voyager is the farthest human-made probe from Earth, and the first to enter the vast sea between stars.
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Winnipesaukee

A carapace on Mars and the spectra observed from a laser exam. Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/LANL/CNES/IRAP/LPGNantes/CNRS/IAS/MSSS

A carapace on Mars and the spectra observed from a laser exam. Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/LANL/CNES/IRAP/LPGNantes/CNRS/IAS/MSSS

This image from the rover Curiosity is a high-resolution black-and-white from the ChemCam remote micro-imager and a color image provided by the Mastcam. The image show a rock “shell” (not drilled) with laser targets shown as colored circles and below is the chemical composition produced from the laser (spectrographic) examination. The feature is called “Winnipesaukee”.

The laser did the examination from three meters away which is pretty amazing. How was the structure formed? The answer to that question is difficult to answer, but there are some theories.

Check out the results from the spectrographic  exam and the theories how such a feature could occur.

Mount Pinatubo

The Sentinel-1A radar satellite was launched last April and is still in the commissioning phase. This look at part of the Philippine island of Luzon with Mount Pinatubo is pretty nice, looks like the satellite is working quite well.

Earth from Space is presented by Kelsea Brennan-Wessels from the ESA Web-TV virtual studios.

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NEOWISE Spies Comet Pan-STARRS

The caption from JPL (link has larger still-images):

NASA’s NEOWISE mission captured this series of pictures of comet C/2012 K1 — also known as comet Pan-STARRS — as it swept across our skies on May 20, 2014. The comet is relatively close to us — it was only about 143 million miles (230 million kilometers) from Earth when this picture was taken. It is seen passing a much more distant spiral galaxy, called NGC 3726, which is about 55 million light-years from Earth, or 2 trillion times farther away than the comet.

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