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Tenth planet discovered

Tuesday, August 2, 2005

These time-lapse images of a newfound planet in our solar system, called 2003UB313, were taken on Oct. 21, 2003, using the Samuel Oschin Telescope at the Palomar Observatory near San Diego, Calif. The planet, circled in white, is seen moving across a field of stars. The three images were taken about 90 minutes apart.
Image Credit: NASA/JPL
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Tenth Planet Discovered

A planet larger than Pluto has been discovered in the outlying regions of the solar system.

The planet was discovered using the Samuel Oschin Telescope at Palomar Observatory near San Diego, Calif. The discovery was announced today by planetary scientist Dr. Mike Brown of the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena, Calif., whose research is partly funded by NASA.

The planet is a typical member of the Kuiper belt, but its sheer size in relation to the nine known planets means that it can only be classified as a planet, Brown said. Currently about 97 times further from the sun than the Earth, the planet is the farthest-known object in the solar system, and the third brightest of the Kuiper belt objects.

"It will be visible with a telescope over the next six months and is currently almost directly overhead in the early-morning eastern sky, in the constellation Cetus," said Brown, who made the discovery with colleagues Chad Trujillo, of the Gemini Observatory in Mauna Kea, Hawaii, and David Rabinowitz, of Yale University, New Haven, Conn., on January 8.

A name for the new planet has been proposed by the discoverers to the International Astronomical Union, and they are awaiting the decision of this body before announcing the name.

See the Full JPL News Release - NASA-Funded Scientists Discover Tenth Planet

Cassini Finds New Saturn Moon That Makes Waves

Friday, May 13, 2005

wave patter from the moon
Cassini's confirmation that a small moon orbits within the Keeler gap in Saturn's rings is made all the more exciting by this image, in which the disk of the 7 kilometer-wide body (4-miles) is resolved for the first time. The new body, provisionally named S/2005 S1, was first seen in a time-lapse sequence of images taken on May 1, 2005, as Cassini began its climb to higher elevations in orbit around Saturn.
Credit: NASA/JPL/
Space Science Institute

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In a spectacular kick-off to its first season of prime ring viewing, which began last month, the Cassini spacecraft has confirmed earlier suspicions of an unseen moon hidden in a gap in Saturn's outer A ring. A new image and movie show the new moon and the waves it raises in the surrounding ring material.

The moon, provisionally named S/2005 S1, was first seen in a time- lapse sequence of images taken on May 1, 2005, as Cassini began its climb to higher inclinations in orbit around Saturn. A day later, an even closer view was obtained, which has allowed a measure of the moon's size and brightness.

The images show the tiny object in the center of the Keeler gap and the wavy patterns in the gap edges that are generated by the moon's gravitational influence. The Keeler gap is located about 250 kilometers (155 miles) inside the outer edge of the A ring, which is also the outer edge of the bright main rings. The new object is about 7 kilometers (4 miles) across and reflects about half the light falling on it -- a brightness that is typical of the particles in the nearby rings.

See the Full JPL News Release - Cassini Finds New Saturn Moon That Makes Waves

Links to More Information about the Cassini Mission

JPL - Cassini Mission

NASA - Cassini Mission

USGS Astrogeology - Cassini Mission

Rover Team Tests Mars Moves on Earth

Thursday, May 12, 2005

Rover engineers check how a test rover moves in material chosen to simulate some difficult Mars driving conditions.
Rover engineers check how a test rover moves in material chosen to simulate some difficult Mars driving conditions.
Image Credit: NASA/JPL
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Mars rover engineers are using a testing laboratory to simulate specific Mars surface conditions where NASA's rover Opportunity has spun its wheels in a small dune. Careful testing is preceding any commands for Opportunity to resume moving to get out of the dune and continue exploring.

The rover team at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif., has cooked up recipes combining various sandy and powdery materials for the best simulation on Earth of the dune where Opportunity dug itself in to wheel-hub depth last week. The team has not asked Opportunity to turn its wheels at all since the rover bogged down during a drive on April 26.

Links to More Information

JPL - Rover Team Tests Mars Moves on Earth

USGS Astro - Mars Exploration Rover Project

Super Science Extravaganza

Tuesday, April 26, 2005

Super Science Extravaganza!!

Thursday, May 5, from 6-8 p.m. at Flagstaff Middle School

The NAU/NASA Technology Enhanced Learning Center program at Flagstaff Middle School is sponsoring a community outreach activity. All age groups are encouraged to attend and participate in the Super Science Extravaganza! This wonderful even will take place on Thursday, May 5 from 6 - 8 p.m. at Flagstaff Middle School. They will demonstrate the wonder and excitement of science, mathematics, and technology with a connection to Flagstaff and the surrounding communities. The evening with begin with a special guest for NASA Dryden Research Center, followed by opportunities to browse different exhibits and visit with a variety of professionals.

The Flagstaff Field Center will be represented by Sue Beard, Trent Hare, and Deborah Soltesz. Sue and Deborah will host a booth that will highlight the wonders of science on the Earth and in space. Trent will demonstrate the wonders of Mars with a hands-on demo. He will also let us know what the mars rovers, Spirt and Opportunity, are up to.

METEORS: Fire in the Sky

Tuesday, April 19, 2005

The History Channel will air "METEORS: Fire in the Sky" on Sunday, April 24th at 8:00pm Eastern/Pacific, 7:00pm Central time.

This program will delve into what meteors are, how they have shaped the past, and what may happen in the feature. The program includes discussions with Carolyn Shoemaker, David Levy, and other NASA scientists.

More Information: The History Channel

Durable Mars Rovers Sent Into Third Overtime Period

Friday, April 15, 2005

mosaic image from opportunity
Opportunity navigation camera mosaic from sol 399 Beside 'Vostok Crater' 3/15/05 NASA's Mars Exploration Rover Opportunity used its navigation camera to take the images combined into this 360-degree view of the rover's surroundings on the 399th martian day, or sol, of its surface mission (March 8, 2005). Opportunity drove 35 meters (115 feet) that sol and reached the edge of "Vostok Crater" before taking the images. Sand has buried much of the crater. This location is catalogued as Opportunity's site 50. The view is presented in a cylindrical projection with geometric seam correction. Image Credit: NASA/JPL

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NASA has approved up to 18 more months of operations for Spirit and Opportunity, the twin Mars rovers that have already surprised engineers and scientists by continuing active exploration for more than 14 months.

"The rovers have proven their value with major discoveries about ancient watery environments on Mars that might have harbored life," said Dr. Ghassem Asrar, deputy associate administrator for NASA's Science Mission Directorate. "We are extending their mission through September 2006 to take advantage of having such capable resources still healthy and in an excellent position to continue their adventures."

More: JPL - Durable Mars Rover Sent Into Third Overtime Period

Link: USGS Astro - Mars Exploration Rover Project

Spotlight on the stars

Friday, April 8, 2005

Its Astronomy Get Excited!

To celebrate International astronomy week, the Prescott Public Library is presenting "Spotlight on the Stars." Beginning Sunday April 17 and continuing through Saturday April 23, there will be presentations and activites centered around astronomy and the planetary community. Activities during the week will include workshops, lectures, exhibits, and a gathering of researchers from across Arizona.

For more information:

Call the Prescott Library at (928) 777-1500 of go to

flyer Click on the image to view event flyer


What will happen each day?

Click on the image to the right

U.S. Geological Survey Involvment:


Thursday April 21, 3:30 - 5:00 PM

After school program at the libary:

USGS Mars Rover Workshop

Web guru Deborah Soltesz sets up a really fun, interactive Mars rover game. All school children welcome - sign up early with youth librarian.

Location: Library third floor meeting room.

saturn Thursday April 21, 6:30 -8:30 PM:

Third Thursday Series with Prescott Public Library:

1. "Exploring a New World: Huygens at Titan"

The Huygens probe successfully accomplished the first descent and landing on Saturn's moon Titan on January 14, 2005. Cassini Huygens mission scientist Brent Archinal will present an overview and some of the initial results from that mission, including particularly a summary of the imaging results.

2. "Mars Exploration Rover Mission Status"

The two Mars Exploration rovers have exceeded expectations, and have been exploring the surface of Mars for over 400 days. Mars Exploration Rover mission scientist Jeff Johnson will present the latest updates from the Martian surface.

Link: USGS Astro - Mars Exploration Rover Project

Link: USGS - Cassini Mission  


Winds on Mars and Diagnostic Tests Planned for Instrument on Mars Rover

Thursday, March 17, 2005

Dust devils from the rovers point of view
Dust Devils Seen by Spirit

At the Gusev site recently, skies have been very dusty, and on its 421st sol (March 10, 2005) NASA's Mars Exploration Rover Spirit spied two dust devils in action. This pair of images is from the rover's rear hazard-avoidance camera. Views of the Gusev landing region from orbit show many dark streaks across the landscape -- tracks where dust devils have removed surface dust to show relatively darker soil below -- but this is the first time Spirit has photographed an active dust devil. One sol before this image was taken, power output from Spirit's solar panels went up by about 50 percent when the amount of dust on the panels decreased. Was this a coincidence, or did a helpful dust devil pass over Spirit and lift off some of the dust?

Image Credit: NASA/JPL

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Spirit's work capabilities grew with a sudden jump in output from solar panels on March 9, which caused the daily power supply to double. In a possibly related development three days earlier, some dust appeared to have blown onto lenses of Spirit's front hazard-avoidance camera, enough for slight mottling in images from both the left and right eyes of the stereo camera, but not enough to affect the usefulness of the camera. Mottling in left-eye images cleared markedly the same day the power increased. Team members speculated that Spirit's power boost, like similar ones on Opportunity in October, resulted from wind removing some accumulated dust from solar panels. Spirit captured pictures of dust-lofting whirlwinds on March 10, adding evidence for windy local conditions. Images the next day showed solar panels cleaned of most of their dust buildup.

NASA has suspended use of one of the mineral-identifying tools on the Opportunity Mars rover while experts troubleshoot a problem with getting data from the instrument, the robot's miniature thermal emission spectrometer.

"As always, our first priority is to protect the instrument, so we have turned it off while we plan diagnostic tests," said Jim Erickson of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif., project manager for the Mars Exploration Rover Project. "Opportunity's other instruments are healthy and providing excellent science, and Spirit's entire instrument suite is working well and being kept busy by the science team."

More: JPL Diagnostic Tests Planned for Instrument on Mars Rover

Link: USGS Astro - Mars Exploration Rover Project


Cassini Continues Making New Saturn Discoveries

Thursday, February 24, 2005

The Greatest Saturn Portrait ...Yet

NASA/JPL/Space Science Inst.

NASA's Cassini spacecraft continues making new and exciting discoveries. New findings include wandering and rubble-pile moons; new and clumpy Saturn rings; splintering storms and a dynamic magnetosphere. Weak, linear density waves caused in Saturn's rings by the small moons Atlas and Pan have yielded more reliable calculations of their masses. The masses imply the moons are very porous, perhaps constructed like rubble piles. They are similar to the moons that shepherd Saturn's F ring, Prometheus and Pandora. Another discovery was a tiny moon, about 5 kilometers (3 miles) across, recently named Polydeuces. Polydeuces is a companion, or "Trojan" moon of Dione. Trojan moons are found near gravitationally stable points ahead or behind a larger moon. Saturn is the only planet known to have moons with companion Trojan moons.

More: JPL - NASA's Cassini Spacecraft Continues Making New Saturn Discoveries

Link: USGS - Cassini Mission

ESA's Lunar SMART-1 Mission Extended

Tuesday, February 15, 2005

SMART-1 artwork
SMART-1 artist's impression


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The European Space Agency's SMART-1 mission, in orbit around the Earth's Moon, was extended by one year, pushing back the mission end date from August 2005 to August 2006. The extension by one year of the mission will provide opportunities to extend the global coverage, compared to the original six-month mission, and to map both southern and northern hemispheres at high resolution. The new orbit will also be more stable and require less fuel for maintenance. The extension also gives the possibility to perform detailed studies of areas of interest by performing stereo measurements for deriving topography, multi-angle observations for studying the surface 'regolith' texture, and mapping potential landing sites for future missions.

More: ESA - SMART-1 Mission Extended

Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter Preps for Summer Launch

Friday, January 7, 2005

The next major step in Mars Exploration is taking shape with preparation of NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter for launch in just seven months. The orbiter is undergoing environmental tests in facilities at Lockheed Martin Space Systems in Denver, Colo., where its Atlas V launch vehicle is also being prepared. Developments are on schedule for a launch window that begins on Aug. 10. USGS Astrogeology is involved in the High Resolution Imaging Science Experiment (HiRISE).

More: JPL - Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter Status

Link: ASU - High Resolution Imaging Science Experiment

Mercury-Bound MESSENGER Launches from Cape Canaveral

Tuesday, August 3, 2004

Messenger launch
Messenger Launch The MESSENGER spacecraft successfully launches from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station.

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NASA's MESSENGER -- set to become the first spacecraft to orbit the planet Mercury -- launched today at 2:15:56 a.m. EDT aboard a Boeing Delta II rocket from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Fla. The approximately 1.2-ton (1,100-kilogram) spacecraft, designed and built by the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory (APL) in Laurel, Md., was placed into a solar orbit 57 minutes after launch. Once in orbit, MESSENGER automatically deployed its two solar panels and began sending data on its status. Once the mission operations team at APL acquired the spacecraft’s radio signals through tracking stations in Hawaii and California, Project Manager David G. Grant confirmed the craft was operating normally and ready for early system check-outs.

More: NASA - Mercury-Bound MESSENGER Launches from Cape Canaveral

Link: NASA - Mercury, Get Ready for a Close-Up

Titan's Purple Haze Points to a Fuzzy Past

Saturday, July 24, 2004

titan haze
Titan's Purple Haze Images like this one reveal some of the key steps in the formation and evolution of Titan's haze.

NASA/JPL/Space Science Institute

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Encircled in purple stratospheric haze, Saturn's largest moon, Titan, appears as a softly glowing sphere in this colorized image taken on July 3, 2004, one day after Cassini's first flyby of that moon.

More: NASA - Titan's Purple Haze Points to a Fuzzy Past

Link: NASA - Cassini Image Gallery

About Face: Rover Engineers Change the Rules for Driving

Friday, July 16, 2004

When Joe Melko started design work four years ago on the six-wheeled rovers that are now on Mars, he didn’t plan on steering one of them like a six-person river raft. five 1/2 months after landing the robots on Mars, that’s what he and a team of engineers are doing. Now that the right front wheel on the Spirit rover is showing signs of wear, Melko and a team of assistants have been testing a surrogate rover at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory to see how it performs on five wheels. No matter that the rover has gone six times the distance it was designed to drive on Mars. Scientists still have a lot of rock outcrops they’d like to investigate. And this team will keep that rover going as long as humanly possible.

More: Mars Exploration Rovers - About Face: Rover Engineers Change the Rules for Driving

Link: NASA - Spirit event archive

Mars Express Pictures

Tuesday, June 29, 2004

mars express image
Melas Chasma Steep cliffs drop into the rugged terrain of Melas Chasma in this stunning view from the Mars Express spacecraft orbiting the Red Planet.

Mars Express, DLR, ESA

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Mars Express, the first European Space Agency probe to head for another planet entered orbit around Mars, from where it performs detailed studies of the planet's surface, its subsurface structures and its atmosphere. shown here is a picture the Mars Express took of the Melas Chasma.

More: G. Neukum (FU Berlin) et al., Mars Express, DLR, ESA - Mars Express Image

Link: JPL - Mars Express en route for the Red Planet

Link: ESA - Mars Express Home