USGS Astrogeology Science Center News News about current and upcoming space missions, USGS gelogic products and historical exhibits en-us <![CDATA[PILOT taking orders 24-7]]> Fri, 23 Jun 2017 00:00:00 -0700 Would you like to download data of Mars, Saturn, the Moon, or some other interesting planetary images for scientific research, academia, or just plainly because you would like to? Do you need help with processing the data as well and you need it fast? If you answered “yes” to any of these questions, PILOT is at your service 24-7. Briefly, PILOT is a core infrastructure for planetary and small bodies information access across multiple NASA Planetary Data System repositories. Input your query and PILOT returns well-directed, credible, and reliable results. Mark Bailen, web developer, the real pilot of PILOT (pun intended) will orient you more in the abstract linked below. You can get started now. Why wait?

Menu of Pilot's planetary services


  “The Planetary Image Locator Tool (PILOT) is a web-based search interface ( that provides access to numerous NASA Planetary Data System (PDS) image catalogs [1]. PILOT was developed and is maintained by the Cartography and Imaging Sciences “Imaging” Node. PILOT complements other node delivery services. For example, it works well with the Planetary Image Atlas (see Functionality has recently been added to PILOT to allow users access to image data catalogs from the Dawn mission, providing access to Dawn Framing Camera images and metadata for the asteroids Vesta and Ceres. In the future, image data for the Pluto encounter from the LORRI (Long Range Reconnaissance Imager) onboard the New Horizons spacecraft will be accessible through PILOT, providing access to these images of Pluto and its moon, Charon.”  Read more. . .


Link to PILOT
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<![CDATA[Naming a baby or planetary feature: which is easier?]]> Fri, 16 Jun 2017 00:00:00 -0700 After debating over what to name the baby, you’d probably be happier to name a planetary surface feature, natural satellite, dwarf planet, or a planetary ring or two. It seems easier than the conundrums of figuring out what to name a child, particularly when it gets frustrating and everyone has an opinion, and you just can’t decide. The truth is the naming process (for surface features, satellites, dwarf planets and rings) share many of the same characteristics and challenges as parents-to-be in the naming of a child: ethos, history, naming after deceased persons, and so on, and I suspect some hot debates can develop behind closed doors, just as in families. However, some things are done in naming planetary features that regular families don’t do. Can you guess what things they are? Rosalyn Hayward is a Database Manager for Gazetteer of Planetary Nomenclature and she tells how the naming job gets done!



“The task of naming planetary surface features, rings, and natural satellites is managed by the International Astronomical Union’s (IAU) Working Group for Planetary System Nomenclature (WGPSN). WGPSN members include Rita Schulz (chair) and 9 other members representing countries around the globe (see author list). In 2013, Blue et al. [1] presented an overview of planetary nomenclature. Given the extensive planetary exploration and research that has taken place since 2013, it is timely to update the community on the status of planetary nomenclature, the purpose and rules, the process for submitting name requests, and the IAU approval process.”

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<![CDATA[Fifteen Lacus Names Approved for Titan]]> Sun, 11 Jun 2017 00:00:00 -0700 The IAU Working Group for Planetary System Nomenclature has approved names for fifteen features on Titan: Mweru Lacus, Taupo Lacus, Prespa Lacus, Van Lacus, Ypoa Lacus, Suwa Lacus, Rukwa Lacus, Ihotry Lacus, Viedma Lacus, Phewa Lacus, Rannoch Lacus, Chilwa Lacus, Muzhwi Lacus, Maracaibo Lacus, and Negra Lacus. For more information, see the Titan north pole map in the Gazetteer of Planetary Nomenclature.

<![CDATA[The Grandest Canyon on Mars]]> Fri, 09 Jun 2017 00:00:00 -0700 There has always been a fascination with canyons, their beauty, size, and history. Many people travel long distances to see and to explore these nature-made wonders. Mars’ magnificent Valles Marineris canyon, for example, would be a place we canyon lovers would pack up and go see --if it wasn’t so far away. Thanks to planetary missions, we have pictures of this canyon that is 2500 miles-long and 5 miles-deep in some places. We have our imagination. We have Corey Fortezzo who maps geological features of this canyon-and describes it such that—when it is all said and done--we might feel we have been near it.  We may have thought we felt texture, and certainly the next time we hear the name Valles Marineris, it will seem oddly familiar.

HiRISE image of Valles Marineris mapped by USGS (credit: NASA/JPL/UA)

"Valles Marineris (VM) constitutes the largest canyon system in the Solar System and has a complex history. It consists of interconnected and enclosed troughs that extend from the Tharsis volcanic complex to the southern circum-Chryse outflow channels [1]. The central portion of VM (CVM, Fig. 1) includes the deepest of these troughs.

Within the CVM troughs occur the thickest exposed sections of (a) layered wall rocks on Mars, mostly lavas and other early crustal rocks [2-3], and (b) interior layered deposits (ILD), generally thought to be of sedimentary or volcanic origin [4].  The trough floors are extensively covered by landslides, fans, and eolian deposits. In addition, they appear locally dissected by channel networks, denuded by possible flooding process, and include patches of fractured terrain development."

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<![CDATA[Sol 1721: An easier planning day]]> Thu, 08 Jun 2017 00:00:00 -0700

MSL drove 26 meters on Sol 1720, as planned, to a location with blocks of bedrock in the arm workspace.  Because the rover climbed another 3 meters in elevation, contact science has top priority for today's plan, with driving next in priority.  One of our strategic goals is to measure the chemistry of Murray formation rocks using APXS at elevation intervals of no more than 5 meters.  So the GEO science theme group (STG) selected a smooth, typical Murray bedrock target named "Fawn Pond" as the top priority for contact science (APXS and MAHLI observations), and planned ChemCam and Right Mastcam observations of nearby target "Kief Pond."  The GEO plan also includes a 6x2 Right Mastcam mosaic to investigate sedimentary structures at "Arey Cove" and standard post-drive imaging.  The ENV STG requested non-standard RAD activities that required lengthening the post-drive science block.  Despite concerns about power, all of these science activities fit nicely into the plan!  I'm SOWG Chair today for the third day in a row, and it's been the easiest shift so far:  There were no delays in processing the new data needed for planning this morning, and the volume of data expected to be returned in time for planning tomorrow is comfortably larger that it was on Sols 1719 and 1720. 

by Ken Herkenhoff

Dates of planned rover activities described in these reports are subject to change due to a variety of factors related to the Martian environment, communication relays and rover status.

<![CDATA[Names Approved for Three Features on Mars: Hiddekel, Icaria, and Phrixi Rupes]]> Wed, 07 Jun 2017 00:00:00 -0700 Hiddekel Rupes, Icaria Rupes, and Phrixi Rupes. For more information, see Mars maps MC-12, MC-24, and MC-25 in the Gazetteer of Planetary Nomenclature.]]> <![CDATA[Sol 1719: Wait and Hurry Up!]]> Tue, 06 Jun 2017 00:00:00 -0700

Today was an interesting day of planning: because of an issue with the computer system responsible for processing data once it is received on Earth, Curiosity's images and other data from Sol 1718 didn't arrive until well into today's planning. That meant that we had to keep the plan simple and respond rapidly once the data did arrive. It also meant that we had plenty of time to choose our favorite target names from the list!

Once the data started rolling in, we quickly chose a nice piece of bedrock in front of the rover for APXS and MAHLI to analyze and gave it the target name "Aunt Betsey's Brook". We also planned a ChemCam observation of a flaky layered rock called "Wonsqueak Harbor" and a small Mastcam mosaic of a block of layered bedrock called "Little Round Pond". After that, Curiosity will drive about 16 meters and collect post-drive imaging for targeting. After the drive we'll also take a Mastcam image of the ground near the rover (part of the ongoing campaign to systematically look at the terrain we're driving over), Mastcam images of the sun and the distant crater rim to study dust in the atmosphere, and an automatically targeted ChemCam observation. The plan will wrap up with the usual evening MARDI image of the ground under our wheels.

In the end, despite the delay in planning, we managed to put together the plan and turn it in early! We joked that we can't keep being so efficient every day or else we'll give the impression that we don't need our full planning time anymore!

by Ryan Anderson

-Ryan is a planetary scientist at the USGS Astrogeology Science Center and a member of the ChemCam team on MSL.

Dates of planned rover activities described in these reports are subject to change due to a variety of factors related to the Martian environment, communication relays and rover status.]]>
<![CDATA[Check out PBS trailer of The Farthest]]> Mon, 05 Jun 2017 00:00:00 -0700 Check out this awesome PBS trailer of “The Farthest’.  You won’t want to miss it on August 23, 2017, when it's released. 'The Farthest' is a production of Crossing-The-Lines Films that chronicles the past and future of the Voyager mission. Larry Soderblom, Astrogeology’s Scientist Emeritus and long-time friend and mentor, is in the PBS movie. Mark your calendars, make sure you have popcorn in the cupboard, and meanwhile enjoy “The farthest” trailer; it’s on me.

<![CDATA[New Press Release: Wet environment once existed on early Mars]]> Fri, 02 Jun 2017 00:00:00 -0700 “Among the many studies reporting water on Mars, this mapping effort stands out for its careful and detailed examination of a particularly interesting part of Mars,” said Laszlo Kestay, USGS Astrogeology Science Center Director. “The result is compelling evidence of how abundant groundwater was in this location, providing one of the essential ingredients for life.”

New USGS Maps of Mars Reveal Ancient Oases

<![CDATA[Sol 1714: Let’s try that again]]> Thu, 01 Jun 2017 00:00:00 -0700 Sol 1712 Mastcam Prays Brook

Unfortunately the Sol 1713 activities were not uplinked due to an issue at the DSN station, so today’s plan is focused on recovering the activities that were planned yesterday.  The good news is that we’ll be in the same location for the start of the weekend plan, so we’ll be able to add some additional contact science targets at this interesting site.

I was the SOWG Chair today, and it was a pretty straightforward planning day since it was mostly a repeat of yesterday!  The plan kicks off with Mastcam mosaics of “The Whitecap,” “Trap Rock,” and “Pond Island” to document some nearby sedimentary structures.  Then ChemCam will target “Heron Island” and “McNeil Point” to investigate variations in chemistry within the darker gray rocks in this area.  We’ll also acquire a ChemCam RMI to assess the grain size and stratification at “Sols Cliff.”  Then Navcam will carry out a dust devil survey to monitor atmospheric activity.  Slightly later in the afternoon, we’ll acquire a Mastcam mosaic to document the contact science target “Prays Brook” and surrounding rocks, and we’ll take a multispectral observation on “Heron Island.”  The meat of the plan lies in the contact science: APXS and MAHLI observations on “Berry Cove” and “Heron Island” to assess the darker gray rocks both with and without nodules, as well as a dog’s eye MAHLI mosaic along “Prays Brook” to characterize the contact between the dark gray rocks and the underlying typical Murray formation.  It’s a juicy plan so I hope it all goes smoothly this time, and we’re looking forward to more contact science tomorrow before we hit the road to Vera Rubin Ridge.

For more information about Curiosity’s investigation of the Murray formation and the ancient lake environments that it records, check out this recent press release:

By Lauren Edgar

--Lauren is a Research Geologist at the USGS Astrogeology Science Center and a member of the MSL science team.

Dates of planned rover activities described in these reports are subject to change due to a variety of factors related to the Martian environment, communication relays and rover status.

<![CDATA[TKO on Control Network Challenges]]> Wed, 31 May 2017 00:00:00 -0700 The saying, “work smarter not harder,” is exactly what ISIS programmers have in mind for users when challenging the capabilities and limits of tools and technologies while writing the next best app.  Computer Scientist, Kris Becker, developed a feature-finding program called findfeatures with bells and whistles that builds a smarter network that cartographers can appreciate.   Such networks build a foundation for controlled mosaics that requires precision and accuracy. Do you know that working with thousands of images at a time can slow production and consume a multitude of work hours if a foundation (control network) is weak? The new approach used in findfeatures encompasses a reduction of both human and computer resources, and we are excited because an even better findfeatures is forthcoming!


 example control point genration and distribution




The goals of this new approach are to 1) significantly improve the image tie point measurement accuracy, 2) increase control point density, 3) reduce both human and computer resources required for producing and processing large control point networks, 4) efficiently identify and add new images to existing networks, and 5) create interpolated DEMs directly from bundle-adjusted control networks. Creating a DEM and a geometrically controlled basemap share common objectives, but creating a DEM from interpolation has one additional unique requirement: very high control point density.

Creation of the image control point network requires the most effort in the process of producing high quality controlled map products. For large datasets, the challenges are significant. Established techniques in ISIS3 are adequate when the dataset is small to modest, however as the dataset increases in size, productivity and quality are quickly diminished. Therefore, a reliable and efficient process must be applied to ensure a complete and high quality network.


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ISIS Program

<![CDATA[Humans May Adapt Ancestor's Way of Dwelling]]> Tue, 23 May 2017 00:00:00 -0700 When scientists land the US mothership on Mars in the future, where should they go for relief from the elements, atmosphere and radiation? When I last looked at data acquired from Mars Missions, without pareidolia tri-focal lenses on, no billion-year-old hotel exists for use. Space Scientist, Glen Cushion, made a great discovery for likely human habitation on Mars, even though the accommodation, at first, may not receive a five-star rating. 


“Caves are important to the future of Mars exploration because they are believed to provide shelter from a range of harsh surface conditions, maintaining near-pristine surfaces and relatively stable microclimates. Mars’s thin atmosphere and negligible magnetic field do not effectively absorb, deflect, or moderate numerous hazards, including micrometeoroid impacts, dust storms, extreme temperature variations, and high fluxes of UV, alpha particles, and cosmic rays (e.g., Mazur et al., 1978; De Angeles et al., 2002; Boston et al., 2004; Cushing et al., 2007). Because organic materials cannot continuously withstand such hazards, caves may be among the few human-accessible locations that preserve evidence of whether microbial life ever existed on Mars. Caves may also become valuable resources for human explorers, who would otherwise have to transport their own shelters or construct them in place (e.g., Horz, 1985; Coombs and Hawke, 1992; Boston et al., 2003). Additionally, exploring and characterizing Mars’s volcanic caves should enable us to constrain theories about lava-flow thermodynamics and hydrodynamics under Mars’s gravity and atmospheric conditions. Volcanic and other types of caves may also protect mineral formations that either do not form or become buried or altered under surface conditions (Hill and Forti, 1997).”

Continue reading . . . 

<![CDATA[Third Planetary Data Workshop agenda and abstracts available]]> Mon, 22 May 2017 00:00:00 -0700 Agenda and abstracts are available for the 3rd Planetary Data Workshop and The Planetary Geologic Mappers Annual Meeting, June 12–15, 2017. Flagstaff, Arizona. There is still plenty of time to register.

PDFs: agenda // abstracts

Third Planetary Data Workshop banner

<![CDATA[ArcGIS Online adds support for planetary layers]]> Thu, 18 May 2017 00:00:00 -0700 <![CDATA[Can we tell what riches asteroids hold for humans in space?]]> Wed, 17 May 2017 00:00:00 -0700 Until now, asteroid and near-Earth object mining seemed far-fetched but is now transitioning from the realm of science fiction to reality. Three USGS Space Scientists discuss their vision for 2050 including the rationale for Solar System resource assessment and methodology, and essential planetary studies.

Artist rendition of asteroid mining

Photo Credit: NASA/AMA INC.

Here is an excerpt from the recent abstract by Laszlo Keszthelyi and colleagues:

“Several major challenges must be overcome before there are human bootprints on Mars.  The most problematic obstacle may be the price tag, a large fraction of which comes from hauling material out of Earth’s gravity well.  Obtaining key resources (e.g., water and metals) in the space between Earth and Mars could dramatically reduce the costs of a trip to Mars.  A sustained human presence on Mars is only practical if local resources can be utilized. The obvious way to obtain such resources is to mine near-Earth objects (NEOs) and the shallow subsurface of Mars (and perhaps the Moon).  Enabling such mining will almost certainly be a key component of the US space program in 2050.” 

Full abstract 

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