USGS Astrogeology Science Center News News about current and upcoming space missions, USGS gelogic products and historical exhibits en-us <![CDATA[Sols 2386-2387: A new drill hole!]]> Mon, 22 Apr 2019 00:00:00 -0700

The drilling planned for last weekend was successful, so the top priority for Sol 2386 is to drop portions of the Kilmarie sample onto a closed SAM inlet cover and take Mastcam images after each dropoff to characterize the size of each portion.  The results of this portioning test will be used to decide how many portions to eventually drop into SAM.  After this testing is completed, Mastcam will measure the amount of dust in the atmosphere above MSL by imaging the Sun through neutral-density filters, and Navcam will search for clouds.  Then the ChemCam RMI will acquire a "stack" of images of the Aberlady drill hole at various focus settings to find the best focus setting for future LIBS elemental chemistry measurements from our new vantage point.  The RMI will also acquire a couple mosaics of the sulfate-rich rocks exposed in the distance southeast of the rover.  Mastcam will measure variations in sky brightness to constrain the size of dust grains suspended in the atmosphere before the rover takes a long nap.  Late that evening, CheMin will vibrate its inlet sieve and dump the Aberlady sample in preparation for analysis of the Kilmarie drill sample.  

On Sol 2387, Mastcam will again measure dust opacity and Navcam will search for dust devils and clouds.  ChemCam will then use its laser to measure the elemental chemistry in the wall of the new Kilmarie drill hole and of a nearby pebble named "Quirang" and a bedrock outcrop named "Caledonian Canal."  The Right Mastcam will image all of the ChemCam targets before DAN turns on its neutron generator to search for hydrogen up to half a meter below the surface. 

It was a quiet day for me and the other MAHLI/MARDI uplink leads, as MAHLI activities are precluded while there is sample in the drill stem.  Still, it was interesting to follow the tactical planning today!


by Ken Herkenhoff]]>
<![CDATA[Names Approved for Mercury: Six Faculae]]> Tue, 16 Apr 2019 00:00:00 -0700 The IAU Working Group for Planetary System Nomenclature has approved names for six faculae on Mercury: Orm Faculae, Pampu Facula, Ular Facula, Sarpa Facula, Havu Facula, and Bitin Facula. For more information, see the Mercury maps H-2 and H-11 in the Gazetteer of Planetary Nomenclature.


<![CDATA[Name Approved for Callisto crater: Vili]]> Thu, 04 Apr 2019 00:00:00 -0700 Vili for a crater on Callisto. For more information, please see the Callisto map in the Gazetteer of Planetary Nomenclature.]]> <![CDATA[Name Approved for Ganymede crater: Laomedon]]> Thu, 04 Apr 2019 00:00:00 -0700 Laomedon for a crater on Ganymede. For more information, please see the Ganymede map in the Gazetteer of Planetary Nomenclature.]]> <![CDATA[Name Approved for Mercury Crater: Bellini]]> Wed, 03 Apr 2019 00:00:00 -0700 Bellini for a crater on Mercury. For more information, see the Mercury map H-14 in the Gazetteer of Planetary Nomenclature.]]> <![CDATA[Name Approved for Mercury Feature: Borobudur Fossae]]> Wed, 03 Apr 2019 00:00:00 -0700 Borobudur Fossae for a feature on Mercury. For more information, see the Mercury maps H-13 and H-14 in the Gazetteer of Planetary Nomenclature.]]> <![CDATA[Names Approved for Nine Features on Ceres]]> Wed, 27 Mar 2019 00:00:00 -0700 Dankdag Labes, Sukkot Labes, Onam Labes, Lohri Tholus, Bagach Tholus, Kekri Tholus, Pasola Facula, Cerealia Tholus, and Makahiki Labyrinthus. For more information, see the Ceres map in the Gazetteer of Planetary Nomenclature.]]> <![CDATA[Press Release: Discusses USGS-NASA Mapping Program]]> Mon, 25 Mar 2019 00:00:00 -0700


Planetary geologic maps show how rocks and sediments exist in three dimensions and help scientists interpret land surface evolution through time. They also help guide scientific investigations and place scientific results into a common context for comparability. Beginning at the Lunar and Planetary Science Conference in 2017, the USGS Planetary Geologic Map Coordination Group surveyed the planetary science community to better understand how planetary geologic maps are used and how these maps and supportive data should evolve in order to best support NASA's exploration objectives. The rationale, method, and results of this survey are now available in USGS Open File Report 2019-1012, "Planetary Geologic Mapping--Program Status and Future Needs." This report includes a summary of the survey findings and recommendations for the future of the USGS-NASA Planetary Geologic Mapping Program.]]>
<![CDATA[Astrogeology Stepping Out for STEM]]> Wed, 20 Mar 2019 00:00:00 -0700 Members of the Astrogeology Science Center (ASC) stepped out last Monday night to join with other USGS Flagstaff Field Center employees and the greater Flagstaff Community in a fun-filled celebration of all things STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math). The 6th annual Flagstaff Community STEM celebration was held at the Northern Arizona University Skydome. Over 2000 people braved the rainy weather to join in the fun and learn about STEM!

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USGS employee volunteers at STEM night

ASC was happy to show off the “Magic Planet” - a spherical projection system that can be used to help science enthusiasts of all ages to visualize many of the global planetary data sets produced at the ASC and elsewhere. The young, and the young-at-heart were thrilled to watch the Magic Planet change from Earth, to Mercury, to Mars, and beyond. Attendees also enjoyed having the opportunity to “see” themselves through the eye of an infrared camera – learning about how the camera’s detector senses the infrared energy emitted by theirs hands and faces!

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Participants intrigued by the Infrared Camera activity.


Astrogeology employees, along with employees from other USGS Science Centers including Geology, Arizona Water, Southwest Biology, and Western Geography, pleased the crowds with lots of handouts including maps, images, fact sheets, and various kinds of career information. The ASC was among the last STEM Night participants to break down their displays for the evening – having interested community members linger until the very end. The following day, ASC employees began preparations for the upcoming ASC Open House, scheduled for September 29, 2019. On that day, the community will be invited to visit the Astrogeology Science Center for even more STEM and Space-related activities and education! It promises to be a good time for all! 

By Patricia Garcia

<![CDATA[Name Approved For Feature on Mars: Phison Patera]]> Wed, 20 Mar 2019 00:00:00 -0700 Phison Patera for a feature on Mars. For more information, see the Mars maps MC-05 and MC-13 in the Gazetteer of Planetary Nomenclature.]]> <![CDATA[Three Names Approved for Mars: Barth, Thymiamata Serpens, and Meridiani Serpentes]]> Fri, 08 Mar 2019 00:00:00 -0700 Barth, Thymiamata Serpens, and Meridiani Serpentes. For more information, see the Mars maps MC-11 and MC-12. ]]> <![CDATA[My Time With Oppy]]> Thu, 21 Feb 2019 00:00:00 -0700 The piece below was written by Alicia Vaughan, a former USGS Astrogeology researcher who played many roles* on the Mars Exploration Rover mission.

False color view of sand ripples at the bottom of Endurance crater, as seen by Opportunity.

The night Opportunity landed was the MOST exciting night of my life. My children are always offended by that, but it’s true. Lots of people have kids, but few people have the chance to be “in the room where it happened,” at JPL, landing a robot on another planet. Seeing those first images come down was thrilling. They revealed sedimentary layers – bedrock on Mars! Opportunity had rolled into a small crater - what we later called the interplanetary hole-in-one. I got to experience the unabashed joy of scientists and engineers who had spent the better part of a decade of their careers designing, building, testing, and programming to get Opportunity successfully to Meridiani Planum, Mars. And there I was, a recent graduate having an almost out-of-body experience. Is this really happening to me? Do I really get to work with these brilliant people, on this mission?

I did, for nearly 8 years. I started out monitoring the downlink data for one instrument – making sure the instrument was performing correctly, processing the data, helping with interpretation and making plans for the next observations. I lived on Mars time – using blackout curtains to try and block out Earth’s daylight cycles. Since a Martian day is slightly longer than an Earth day, I had to report for my shift a little bit later each day, just marching around the clock starting at 2:00 am one day 7:00 am a few days later. Once, I actually pulled up to Starbucks at 1:00 in the morning and was so disappointed when they weren’t open. My dog really struggled with Mars time. He did not understand why I was making him go outside in the middle of the night in the pouring rain to potty, and then I would come home and sleep all day while he barked at the world outside.

I went on to do many different jobs on the rovers – both Spirit and Opportunity. I wrote commands for different instruments, building part of the “upload” package each day. I made mistakes. Once I made a conversion error that pointed an instrument in a dangerous direction. I had to work back through my mistakes to determine exactly what I had commanded and explain to a senior engineer what I had done, and then I worried for weeks that they might ask me to step down, or that I would never be taken seriously again. But I kept working, and they let me continue to grow.

I modeled the power usage of uplink plans to make sure it would all work, and then worked with the team to readjust if we needed to. I merged all the commands – from engineering housekeeping tasks like when to relay data and when to sleep, to all instrument commands, and put them into one giant sequence for review before uplink. I worked on the science team, then with the science team as an engineer. I learned so much about teamwork, competing goals and perspectives, and how to disagree politely, or get the team to a consensus. I was inspired every day by my colleagues, some of the most brilliant people I’ve ever met. I would think, “Wow, I
want to be like that when I grow up.” But I was growing up. I got married and had my first child during my time on this mission. I could call myself a leader on the MER team.

I loved sharing Mars with students. During my time on the mission, I took every opportunity to work with students – everything from summer camps to science fairs to classroom talks in both Pasadena and Flagstaff. I loved it so much, I thought that maybe I should move on and be a teacher. So I did. I love working with students and I have never looked back.

I helped take Opportunity all the way to Endeavour Crater before I moved on. I worked thousands of sols on Mars. It was a highlight of my life. She made us all so proud, and she felt like family. It was truly special. A job well done indeed.




*Here is a list of Alicia's many roles on the MER mission:

PDL - Payload Downlink Lead

PUL - Payload Uplink Lead

KOP - Keeper of the Plan

TAPSIE - Tactical Activity Planner Sequence Integration Engineer

TUL - Tactical Uplink Lead

SE - Systems Engineer

<![CDATA[Name Approved for Neptunian Satellite: Hippocamp]]> Wed, 20 Feb 2019 00:00:00 -0700 Planets page in the Gazetteer of Planetary Nomenclature.]]> <![CDATA[Chang'e-4 Landing Site Name Approved: Statio Tianhe]]> Fri, 15 Feb 2019 00:00:00 -0700 Statio Tianhe for the landing site where the Chinese spacecraft Chang'e-4 touched town on January 3, 2019, the first-ever landing on the far side of the Moon. Four other names for features near the landing site have also been approved: Zhinyu, Hegu, and Tianjin craters, as well as Mons Tai. See the IAU Press Release for more information.]]> <![CDATA[Lunar Legacy February Lecture Tonight]]> Wed, 13 Feb 2019 00:00:00 -0700 Apollo astronauts on the moon with the lunar rover in the background.

Dr. Ivo Lucchitta, and Dr. Baerbel Lucchitta Scientist Emeritus at Astrogeology Science Center,  will be giving a talk entitled From the Mountain to the Moon on Wednesday February 13th about their personal experiences as USGS scientists helping with the Apollo missions, from training the astronauts to mapping the landing sites. Even if you think you know all there is to know about Apollo, you're bound to learn something new from these two! The lecture will begin at  6:00 pm, at Coconino Community College, Lone Tree Campus (in the main atrium).