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New Horizons Launch

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

New Horizons Launch
Liftoff of the Atlas V carrying NASA's New Horizons spacecraft to a distant date with Pluto!
Image credit: NASA/KSC

After launch aboard a Lockheed-Martin Atlas V rocket, the New Horizons spacecraft set out on a journey to the edge of the solar system. Liftoff occurred Jan. 19, 2006 at 2:00:00 p.m. EST from Launch Complex 41 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida. New Horizons is headed for a distant rendezvous with the mysterious planet Pluto almost a decade from now.

As the first spacecraft to visit Pluto and its moon Charon, New Horizons looks to unlock one of the solar system's last, great planetary secrets. The New Horizons spacecraft will cross the entire span of the solar system and conduct flyby studies of Pluto and Charon in 2015. The seven science instruments on the piano-sized probe will shed light on the bodies' surface properties, geology, interior makeup and atmospheres.

More: NASA -New Horizons Heads for Pluto

Stardust Canister Opened: 'A Huge Success'

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

Stardust Canister Opened
Credit: David

Fresh from its fall to Earth last weekend, the Stardust sample return capsule has been opened in a cleanroom at the NASA Johnson Space Center (JSC) in Houston, Texas.

“It exceeds all expectations,” said Donald Brownlee, Stardust’s lead scientist from the University of Washington, Seattle. “It’s a huge success,” he explained in a University of Washington statement released today.

“We can see lots of impacts. There are big ones, there are small ones. The big ones you can see from 10 feet away,” Brownlee observed.

A preliminary estimation is that there might be more than a million microscopic specks of dust embedded in Stardust’s aerogel-laden collector. Furthermore, it appears—from the size of the carrot-shaped impact tracks in the aerogel—that there are about 10 particles of 100 microns in size.

More: - Stardust Canister Opened

Cassini Fly-by of Saturn's Moon Dione

Thursday, October 13, 2005

black and white photo of Dione
Dione eclipsing Saturn's moon Rhea Image credit: NASA/JPL/Space Science Institute
The Cassini spacecraft successfully completed its only flyby of Saturn's moon Dione on Oct. 11. In the process, Cassini captured Dione eclipsing Saturn's moon Rhea. In the picture above, the distance between Dione and Rhea was roughly 330,000 kilometers (205,000 miles). Cassini will swoop by Rhea on Nov. 26. Raw images of Dione's cratered surface are now available.

More: NASA - It Takes Two to Tango

Link: NASA - Cassini-Huygens Mission to Saturn and Titan

MRO is on Its Way to Mars!

Friday, August 12, 2005

NASA's first Atlas V rocket lifts off this morning carrying Mar Reconnaissance Orbiter
Image Credit: USGS Astrogeology/Deborah Lee Soltesz
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Members of the science and mission teams and their families watched the launch from a site at Kennedy Space Center (KSC) this morning as Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) successfully lifted off from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida at 7:43:00 a.m EDT. The spacecraft launched from Space Launch Complex 41 aboard NASA's first Atlas V rocket. The MRO is healthy and performing as designed, presently communicating with ground stations and unfurling its solar arrays.

More: SoundSeeing (MP3 Audio, 12 MB) - Experience the excitement before, during, and after the launch. The audio experience takes place at the outdoor launch viewing area at KSC where mission members and their families watched the launch. The recording began several minutes before liftoff, and the chatter of the crowd, various announcers, and the roar of the rocket itself are heard.

More: NASA Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter - view launch video, view image galleries, and learn more about the mission

Link: MRO HiRISE Instrument - Meet the High Resolution Imaging Science Experiment (HiRISE) team of scientists and technical specialists from the University of Arizona, USGS Astrogeology Research Program, and other universities and organizations; learn more about the fantastic camera which will collect the most detailed images of Mars yet; and find out how you can participate in the mission!

Deep Impact Success

Tuesday, July 5, 2005

The image depicts the first moments after Deep Impact's probe interfaced with comet Tempel 1. More...

This image was taken by Deep Impact's high-resolution camera. Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/UMD
After 172 days and 431 million kilometers (268 million miles) of deep space stalking, Deep Impact successfully reached out and touched comet Tempel 1. The collision between the coffee table-sized impactor and city-sized comet occurred at 1:52 a.m. EDT.

"What a way to kick off America's Independence Day," said Deep Impact Project Manager Rick Grammier of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif. "The challenges of this mission and teamwork that went into making it a success, should make all of us very proud."

"This mission is truly a smashing success," said Andy Dantzler, director of NASA's Solar System Division. "Tomorrow and in the days ahead we will know a lot more about the origins of our solar system."

More: NASA/JPL - Deep Impact Kicks Off Fourth of July with Deep Space Fireworks

Link: NASA/JPL - Deep Impact Mission Web Site

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

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

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


THEMIS Wraps Up Images as Art Month

Thursday, March 3, 2005

Images as Art 49

THEMIS Images as Art #49

You can almost hear the sound of birds flying across the moon in this image.


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Jan. 31 through March 4 of 2005, the Mars Odyssey THEMIS team has been showcasing images for their aesthetic value, rather than their science content. Portions of these images resemble things in everyday life, from animals to letters of the alphabet. This is the second annual THEMIS Art Month.

More: Mars Odyssey 2005 THEMIS Images As Art, view each week's images -
Link: USGS Astrogeology Mars Ice - exploring the ices of Mars using Mars Global Surveyor TES and Mars Odyssey THEMIS instruments

Mars Rovers Break Driving Records, Examine Salty Soil

Thursday, March 3, 2005

Naturaliste Crater

'Naturaliste' Crater Opportunity Sol 387

NASA's Mars Exploration Rover Opportunity used its navigation camera to take the images combined into this view of the rover's surroundings on Opportunity's 387th martian day, or sol (Feb. 24, 2005). Opportunity had driven about 73 meters (240 feet) and reached the eastern edge of a small crater dubbed "Naturaliste," seen in the right foreground. This view is the right-eye member of a stereo pair presented in a cylindrical-perspective projection with geometric and brightness seam correction.

Image Credit: NASA/JPL

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On three consecutive days, NASA's Mars Exploration Rover Opportunity accomplished unprecedented feats of martian motion, covering more total ground in that period than either Opportunity or its twin, Spirit, did in their first 70 days on Mars.

Spirit, meanwhile, has uncovered soil that is more than half salt, adding to the evidence for Mars' wet past. The golf-cart-size robots successfully completed their three-month primary missions in April 2004 and are continuing extended mission operations.

More: JPL - Mars Rovers Break Driving Records, Examine Salty Soil

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

Features on Saturn's Moon Phoebe Get Names

Thursday, February 24, 2005

Phobeian Explorers
Phoebian Explorers 1


The International Astronomical Union (IAU) has provisionally assigned names to craters on Saturn's moon Phoebe. These newly identified craters are named for the Argonauts, explorers of Greek mythology who sought the golden fleece. Argo was the name of their ship. Like many of the other moons of Saturn, Phoebe takes its name from the Titans of Greek mythology.

USGS Astrogeology maintains the official list of planetary feature names for the IAU, called the Gazetteer of Planetary Nomenclature. Additionally, we are active on several IAU working and task groups.

More: USGS Astro - Phoebe's Craters on the Official Gazeteer of Planetary Nomenclature view the complete list of craters and the origin of each name

Image: NASA/JPL - Phoebian Explorers 1 (PIA06117)

Image: NASA/JPL - Phoebian Explorers 2 (PIA06118)

Link: Wikipedia - Jason and the Argonauts

Spirit and Opportunity Continue Explorations

Tuesday, February 15, 2005

rover concept art
Mars Rover artwork

After more than a year on Mars, rovers Spirit and Opportunity are still actively exploring. Spirit's solar panels are collecting a fine layer of dust, which has reduced energy levels. Despite the dust, Spirit has recently visited "Cumberland Ridge" and has been moving towards "Larry's Lookout." Opportunity is in good health, and has completed its investigation of a trench and soil materials under clear skies. Both rovers are scheduled for software updates.

More: JPL - Spirit Status Report

More: JPL - Opportunity Status Report

Link: USGS Astro - Mars Exploration Rover Project

Huygens Lands on Saturn's Moon Titan

Tuesday, January 18, 2005

sample mosaic of titan
Huygens view from an altitude of 10km
Huygens rests frozen at -180 degrees Celsius on Titan's landscape, a symbolic finale to the engineering and flight phase of this historic mission. "The ride was bumpier than we thought it would be," said Martin Tomasko, Principal Investigator for the Descent Imager/Spectral Radiometer (DISR), the instrument that provided Huygens' stunning images among other data. When the probe landed, it was not with a thud, or a splash, but a 'splat'. It landed in Titanian 'mud'.

More: JPL - Huygens Landed with a Splat

Link: USGS - Cassini Mission