Cliffs on the Comet

Rosetta gets to 64 km from the comet. Credits: ESA/Rosetta/NAVCAM.

Rosetta gets to 64 km from the comet. Credits: ESA/Rosetta/NAVCAM.

Here is an image from Rosetta of comet 67P/G-C on 22 August. Rosetta has been in “pyramid” shaped orbits to observe and approach the comet to get the date needed to get even closer in time. Check out the Rosetta blog for a nice description.

The close points of the trianglular or pyramid orbit has gone from 79 km to orbits in the 50 km range. the image above from 54 km. In just a couple of weeks the orbits will be close the 30 km.

I particularly like this image. Aside from the already good and improving detail, it is a nice look down into the central area below the cliffs. What is that material at the base of the cliff? Why is it there? Did it come from the “cliffs” like a landslide?

Get a full-res version at ESA’s Comet Watch.


Supernova Shockwave

Supernova shockwave in Puppis A. Click for larger. Image credit: NASA/ESA/JPL-Caltech/GSFC/IAFE

Supernova shockwave in Puppis A. Click for larger. Image credit: NASA/ESA/JPL-Caltech/GSFC/IAFE


Below is the caption released with the image, you can get a full-res version here:

The destructive results of a mighty supernova explosion reveal themselves in a delicate blend of infrared and X-ray light, as seen in this image from NASA’s Spitzer Space Telescope and Chandra X-Ray Observatory, and the European Space Agency’s XMM-Newton.

The bubbly cloud is an irregular shock wave, generated by a supernova that would have been witnessed on Earth 3,700 years ago. The remnant itself, called Puppis A, is around 7,000 light-years away, and the shock wave is about 10 light-years across.

The pastel hues in this image reveal that the infrared and X-ray structures trace each other closely. Warm dust particles are responsible for most of the infrared light wavelengths, assigned red and green colors in this view. Material heated by the supernova’s shock wave emits X-rays, which are colored blue. Regions where the infrared and X-ray emissions blend together take on brighter, more pastel tones.

The shock wave appears to light up as it slams into surrounding clouds of dust and gas that fill the interstellar space in this region.

From the infrared glow, astronomers have found a total quantity of dust in the region equal to about a quarter of the mass of our sun. Data collected from Spitzer’s infrared spectrograph reveal how the shock wave is breaking apart the fragile dust grains that fill the surrounding space.

Supernova explosions forge the heavy elements that can provide the raw material from which future generations of stars and planets will form. Studying how supernova remnants expand into the galaxy and interact with other material provides critical clues into our own origins.

Infrared data from Spitzer’s multiband imaging photometer (MIPS) at wavelengths of 24 and 70 microns are rendered in green and red. X-ray data from XMM-Newton spanning an energy range of 0.3 to 8 kiloelectron volts are shown in blue.

NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif., manages the Spitzer Space Telescope mission for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate, Washington. Science operations are conducted at the Spitzer Science Center at the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena. Spacecraft operations are based at Lockheed Martin Space Systems Company, Littleton, Colorado. Data are archived at the Infrared Science Archive housed at the Infrared Processing and Analysis Center at Caltech. Caltech manages JPL for NASA.

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


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

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