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Predicting the weather on Titan?

Monday, January 30, 2006

False-colour Images of Titan
False-colour Images of Titan (obtained by the Cassini-Huygens Visual Infrared Mapping Spectrometer)
Credits: NASA/JPL/University of Arizona
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Using recent Cassini, Huygens and Earth-based observations, scientists have been able to create a computer model which explains the formation of several types of ethane and methane clouds on Titan.
Clouds have been observed recently on Titan, Saturn’s largest moon, through the thick haze, using near-infrared spectroscopy and images of the south pole and temperate regions near 40° South. Recent observations from Earth-based telescopes and the NASA/ESA/ASI Cassini spacecraft are now providing an insight into cloud climatology.

More:ESA Science-Predicting the weather on Titan

Discovery of Small, Rocky, Extrasolar World Suggests Such Planets May Be Common

Monday, January 30, 2006

Artists conception
Artist's concept of the newfound rocky planet circling a distant star.

Using a relatively new planet-hunting technique that can spot worlds one-tenth the mass of our own, researchers have discovered a potentially rocky, icy body that may be the smallest planet yet found orbiting a star outside our solar system.

The discovery suggests the technique, gravitational microlensing, may be an exceptional technology for finding distant planets with traits that could support life.

This important research, partly funded by NASA, is providing us the opportunity to search for planets in habitable environments," said Zlatan Tsvetanov, Terrestrial Planet Finder program scientist at NASA Headquarters, Washington. "The results successfully demonstrate the power of gravitational microlensing, currently the only ground-based technique with the sensitivity to detect extrasolar Earth-size planets on Earth-like orbits, and provide an important clue of the ubiquity of small planets."

More: NASA - Discovery of Small, Rocky, Extrasolar World

Disembodied Space Suit

Monday, January 30, 2006

Using a simple police scanner or ham radio, you can listen to a disembodied spacesuit circling Earth.

January 26, 2006: One of the strangest satellites in the history of the space age is about to go into orbit. Launch date: Feb. 3rd. That's when astronauts onboard the International Space Station (ISS) will hurl an empty spacesuit overboard.

SuitSat in Flight Configuaration
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The spacesuit is the satellite -- "SuitSat" for short.

"SuitSat is a Russian brainstorm," explains Frank Bauer of NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center. "Some of our Russian partners in the ISS program, mainly a group led by Sergey Samburov, had an idea: Maybe we can turn old spacesuits into useful satellites." SuitSat is a first test of that idea.

"We've equipped a Russian Orlan spacesuit with three batteries, a radio transmitter, and internal sensors to measure temperature and battery power," says Bauer. "As SuitSat circles Earth, it will transmit its condition to the ground."

Unlike a normal spacewalk, with a human inside the suit, SuitSat's temperature controls will be turned off to conserve power. The suit, arms and legs akimbo, possibly spinning, will be exposed to the fierce rays of the sun with no way to regulate its internal temperature.

"Will the suit overheat? How long will the batteries last? Can we get a clear transmission if the suit tumbles?" wonders Bauer. These are some of the questions SuitSat will answer, laying the groundwork for SuitSats of the future.


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