USGS Astrogeology Science Center News http://astrogeology.usgs.gov/news News about current and upcoming space missions, USGS gelogic products and historical exhibits en-us <![CDATA[Flagstaff Festival of Science - Fall 2017]]> Mon, 02 Oct 2017 00:00:00 -0700 Join us September 22 - October 1, 2017 for the Flagstaff Festival of Science, a FREE 10-day event with field trips, guided hikes, star parties, open houses, hands-on exhibits, presentations and archaeological excavations. Astrogeology Science Center scientists Ken Herkenhoff, Tim Titus, Mike Bland, and Greg Vaughn will give talks on some of the exciting work being done!

We'll also be out at Science in the Park, September 23, 10 a.m. - 2:00 p.m. We look forward to seeing you there!

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<![CDATA[First Names for Pluto]]> Thu, 21 Sep 2017 00:00:00 -0700 Tombaugh Regio, Sputnik Planitia, Tenzing Montes, Hillary Montes, Al-Idrisi Montes, Djanggawul Fossae, Sleipnir Fossa, Virgil Fossae, Adlivun Cavus, Hayabusa Terra, Voyager Terra, Tartarus DorsaBurney, and Elliot. For more information, see the map of Pluto in the Gazetteer of Planetary Nomenclature.]]> <![CDATA[Sol 1822: Onward and upward!]]> Wed, 20 Sep 2017 00:00:00 -0700 Sol 1819 Mastcam VRR

On Sol 1821, Curiosity successfully completed contact science activities at “Pennessewassee” and “Passadumkeag.”  Perhaps in an effort to get to more easily pronounceable rock targets, today’s tactical team planned a nice long drive towards our next waypoint on Vera Rubin Ridge.

The Sol 1822 plan begins with a Navcam movie to look for clouds above the northern rim of the crater.  Then Curiosity will turn her attention towards the bedrock targets in front of her, using both Mastcam and ChemCam to assess the spectral character of yesterday’s DRT target “Passadumkeag” and to assess the composition and sedimentary structures exposed at “Hypocrites Ledge.”  We’ll also use Mastcam to monitor the movement of fines on the rover deck.  Then Curiosity will gear up for a drive of ~40 m, as we work our way towards the next waypoint (located in the top center of the Mastcam image shown above).  Downlink data volume was a challenge today, so the team had to think carefully about the priorities of post-drive imaging to prepare for possible touch-and-go contact science and other remote sensing in tomorrow’s plan.  The afternoon post-drive imaging block also contains some extended Navcam coverage for additional geologic context and targeting, as well as two Navcam observations to search for clouds and monitor the wind direction near the zenith.  With drives like these, we’re really reminded that we have a mountain-climbing robot on Mars!

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.

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<![CDATA[Five Names Approved for Titan: Salusa, Niushe, Harmonthep, Corrin, and Ochumare]]> Fri, 15 Sep 2017 00:00:00 -0700 The IAU Working Group for Planetary System Nomenclature has approved five names on Titan: Salusa Labyrinthus, Niushe Labyrinthus, Harmonthep Labyrinthus, Corrin Labyrinthus, and Ochumare Regio. For more information, see the map of Titan in the Gazetteer of Planetary Nomenclature.

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<![CDATA[Sols 1818-1819: Brushfest]]> Fri, 15 Sep 2017 00:00:00 -0700
We are planning only 2 sols today because there will be a soliday on Sunday to get us back in sync with "Mars time" in Gale Crater.  The focus of science planning this morning was on observations of the current workspace, including an experiment to acquire APXS and MAHLI data on a bedrock target before and after brushing.  MAHLI images of three potential DRT targets were received and used to determine which of these small exposures could be brushed.  One had small pebbles in the DRT ellipse, so could not be brushed, but both of the other targets ("Christmas Cove" and "Mitten Ledge") are brushable.  So the APXS will measure the chemistry of Christmas Cove before it is brushed off, then will be placed on the brushed spot to measure chemical differences.  MAHLI will image both targets before and after brushing, then acquire a full suite of images on a layered block dubbed "Whittum."  Also on Sol 1818, ChemCam will shoot its laser at another layered bedrock block named "Medomak."  Mastcam will also image Medomak, the Sun, and the crater rim to measure dust opacity in the atmosphere.  That night, the APXS will be placed on Mitten Ledge for a long integration.

On Sol 1819, Navcam will search for dust devils before ChemCam acquires passive spectra of Christmas Cove and Mitten Ledge.  Mastcam will then acquire multispectral observations of Christmas Cove and more distant "Jaquish Ledge" before the rover drives away.  After the drive, in addition to the standard imaging, DAN will execute two active integrations.  Because the Martian winter is approaching, we are planning more heating, which reduces the power available for other activities.  Therefore, it was difficult to fit all of the above into the plan today, making for a challenging day for me as SOWG Chair.  We had to shorten or delete some scientific observations, which was painful, but I'm happy with all of the science we were able to plan today!

 

by Ken Herkenhoff

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<![CDATA[Bittersweet Departure of Cassini Tomorrow]]> Thu, 14 Sep 2017 00:00:00 -0700 USGS Scientist Emeritus Randy Kirk reminisces about the Cassini spacecraft’s journey and discusses the end of the twenty-year mission in a KNAU interview.

 

Artist Rendition of Cassini diving between Saturn and its innermost ring as part of the Grand Finale. Image Credit: NASA]]>
<![CDATA[NASA’s Verdict: Say Your Goodbyes to Cassini]]> Mon, 11 Sep 2017 00:00:00 -0700 On September 15, 2017, the Cassini spacecraft will be put to death. Scientists preplanned the spacecraft to crash into Saturn and Cassini will disintegrate in a burst of searing flame. Sadly, this will end its phenomenal journey of the exploration of the Saturn system. The demise of Cassini will eliminate the possibility of contaminating potential life forms that may exist on Saturn’s moons, such as Titan and Enceladus.

The Cassini Huygens Mission, a joint endeavor of NASA, ESA, and the Italian space agency launched on October 15, 1997, and entered orbit around Saturn on June 30, 2004. Its mission encompassed a detailed, up-close study of Saturn and its extensive rings and moons.

Has Cassini delivered? The results speak for themselves. For starters, Cassini delivered the European Space Agency's Huygens probe that landed successfully on Saturn's moon, Titan, in January 2005. A plethora of images of Saturn and its rings and moons have enabled thousands of scientific studies. Some topics of scientific assessment, research, theories and hypotheses have been substantiated. A few notable discoveries include hydrothermal activity and erupting geysers and a global subsurface ocean on Enceladus. Titan is a world with rain, rivers, lakes and seas made of hydrocarbons. Cassini even discovered new moons. These are merely a taste of what the Cassini mission has accomplished, excluding information that was planned to be garnered from the Grand Finale orbits.

 

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Artist rendition shows Cassini as the spacecraft makes one of its final five dives through Saturn's upper atmosphere in August and Spetember 2017. Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

 

Cassini’s Grand Finale, a series of 22 orbits, began on April 22, 2017 with Cassini’s first plunge through the space between Saturn and its rings. Each orbit took approximately six and a half days to complete, and with each revolution, Cassini snapped photos of the surface of Saturn at unprecedented scale. During Cassini’s last five orbits, the spacecraft sampled Saturn’s upper atmosphere, closer than ever before! We are on the final orbit #22, which indicates it is time to say our good-byes. “Cassini will dip so deeply into the atmosphere that the spacecraft will burn up like a meteor,” says NASA.

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<![CDATA[The Science of Dunes: Where to Get Involved!]]> Fri, 08 Sep 2017 00:00:00 -0700 During this past May, many of the world’s leading dune authorities met in St. George, Utah to attend the Fifth International Planetary Dunes Workshop. If you weren’t there--then you missed out on some fun. Scientists and students meet at this biannual workshop to engage in intensive discussion, to collaborate, and to explore observations of dunes and dune formation---not just the dunes on Earth, but Mars, Venus, and Titan also. Furthermore, these workshops always include absorbing field-trips! If you want to know more about dunes, want to get involved, collaborate and explore, mark your calendars for the 6th International Dunes Workshop – tentatively planned for May 2019. Watch this page for more information and a link to the abstracts, not yet available for the 2017 meeting. Meanwhile, below is a preview from Dr. Tim Titus’ abstract. Dr. Titus is a scientist at the USGS Astrogeology Science Center, as well as a co-convener of these enriching workshops.

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Coral pink sand dunes. Image Credit: Pixabay

Excerpt: Dune-like structures appear in the depths of Earth’s oceans, across its landscapes, and in the extremities of the Solar System and beyond. These structures rise up within the thick dense atmosphere of Venus and have also been found on a comet, with perhaps the most ephemeral atmosphere imaginable. Understanding how similar bedforms originate under such a wide range of environmental conditions is key to our comprehension of surface dynamics throughout the Solar System.

The 2017 International Planetary Dune Workshop at Dixie State University, the fifth in a series focusing on planetary dunes, brought together 65 terrestrial, marine, and planetary researchers, including students, from diverse backgrounds. The goal of fostering collaborative interdisciplinary research was accomplished through small-group interactions, both in formal meetings and through associated field trips. The 2017 workshop was unique due to the involvement of members of the terrestrial subaqueous research community; this involvement was key to the workshop’s success.

 

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<![CDATA[Thirteen Craters Approved for Ceres]]> Mon, 28 Aug 2017 00:00:00 -0700 Jumis, Sedana, Peko, Halki, Telepinu, Kaneki, Kokopelli, Emesh, Xevioso, Nunghui, Thrud, Jacheongbi, and Ratumaibulu. For more information, see the map of Ceres in the Gazetteer of Planetary Nomenclature.]]> <![CDATA[The Autobiography of Oppenheimer Crater]]> Fri, 25 Aug 2017 00:00:00 -0700 Oppenheimer crater, at 35.2°S, 166.3°W on the far side of the Moon, shows features such as cracks and low, dark-haloed volcanoes that suggest it must have lived an interesting young life to a ripe-old crater age. During its youth, I imagine it would rumble, swell, crack, hiss, blow smoke, and eject dangerous material into the atmosphere as fervently as any rebellious teen-ager. Now, at the ancient age of ~4.0 billion years, only geologic clues are left about its violent past. These clues have helped Scientist Lisa Gaddis and others unveil some interesting details about this crater’s past you won’t want to miss out on, in the following excerpt and abstract.

Image Credit: NASA

Excerpt: “Recent remote sensing studies have identified complex volcanism in the floor-fractured crater (FFC) Oppenheimer U, located in the northwest floor of Oppenheimer crater (35.2°S, 166.3°W, 208 km dia., Figure 1) within the “South Pole - Aitken basin” (SPA) region of the lunar far side [1, 2, 3]. Up to 15 sites of pyroclastic volcanism have been identified in the floor of Oppenheimer crater [4]. Studies of Moon Mineralogy Mapper data (M3, 0.4-3 μm, 86 bands, [5]) indicated that the pyroclastic deposits are comprised of mixtures of clinopyroxene and iron-rich glass [2], with the Oppenheimer U deposit showing variable composition within the FFC and having the most iron-rich volcanic glass thus far identified on the Moon. Here we examine the floor of Oppenheimer U in more detail and show evidence for possible multiple eruptive vents.” Find out more!

 

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<![CDATA[Two Names Approved for Titan: Giedi Planitia and Tsiipiya Terra]]> Thu, 24 Aug 2017 00:00:00 -0700 Giedi Planitia and Tsiipiya Terra. For more information, see the map of Titan in the Gazetteer of Planetary Nomenclature.]]> <![CDATA[Name Approved for Crater on Venus]]> Wed, 23 Aug 2017 00:00:00 -0700 Annabelle for a crater on Venus. For more information, see Venus map V-41, in the Gazetteer of Planetary Nomenclature.]]> <![CDATA[Sol 1795: Skirting around Vera Rubin Ridge]]> Wed, 23 Aug 2017 00:00:00 -0700 Sol 1794 Navcam

Curiosity is now tantalizingly close to climbing up Vera Rubin Ridge.  For the past several weeks we have been skirting around the ridge, documenting sedimentary structures and bedrock composition along the way as we work toward our intended ascent route.  Today’s plan provided another opportunity for touch-and-go contact science, followed by a ~31 m drive.  I’ll be on duty later this week to help with planning the Vera Rubin Ridge campaign and acting as SOWG chair, so it was helpful to dial in to planning to prepare for my upcoming shifts.

The plan starts with MAHLI and APXS observations of the target “Agamenticus” to characterize a typical block of bedrock.  ChemCam and Mastcam will also document the target, and then we’ll acquire a long distance ChemCam RMI mosaic of a contact between bright and dark rocks in part of the ridge.  We’ll also take a Mastcam super-resolution mosaic to test its ability to bring out more detail.  Mastcam will also acquire images of “Medrick Rock” and “Bibb Rock” to assess stratification and color variations.  Then Curiosity will drive, and acquire post-drive imaging.  The real challenge today was the limited downlink available, so the team had to think carefully about the priorities of post-drive imaging in order to prepare for tomorrow’s plan. In the afternoon Curiosity will also acquire a ChemCam AEGIS target, a Mastcam tau, and a Navcam zenith movie.  I’m looking forward to my upcoming shifts and the last imaging stop before we start making our way up the ridge!

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.

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<![CDATA[Upcoming Full Solar Eclipse in the U.S.]]> Fri, 18 Aug 2017 00:00:00 -0700 Monday, August 21, 2017, is drawing near when you can see the Moon completely cover the blazing sun, casting a shadow on Earth’s surface in a Total Solar Eclipse! This rare and spectacular view can be seen across the entire continent, although most people in the U.S., if not in the path of totality, will only see a partial view. During this amazing phenomenon, you will see the sky grow dark, the stars come out, the sun’s corona, and a 360-degree sunset.  We hope that you have a great experience, but please be careful not to look directly in the sun without special viewing glasses.  If you miss the full eclipse this time around, you will have another chance, in the U.S., in 2024. Have fun and find out more information about a Total Eclipse here.

Total Solar Eclipse Image

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<![CDATA[Sol 1786: ChemCam anomaly]]> Mon, 14 Aug 2017 00:00:00 -0700

MSL drove over 32 meters last weekend, to a sandy area with a few bedrock blocks, but ChemCam suffered an anomaly and was marked sick after the acquisition of the first RMI mosaic of Vera Rubin Ridge.  The instrument is in a safe state and turned off, but no other ChemCam observations were successful last weekend.  The instrument team will need at least one sol to recover, so no ChemCam activities are planned today.  The team concluded that it is not essential to acquire RMI data from the previous or current position, and agreed that we should stick with the touch-and-go that was strategically planned.  So GEO selected "Emery Cove" as the target for a short APXS integration and 3 MAHLI images.  After the arm is stowed, the Right Mastcam will take a picture of a rock named "Hupper" that appears to show cross-bedding and acquire two mosaics of "Shooting Rock" to test techniques for improving the image resolution while the RMI is unavailable.  The two mosaics will be identical except for a small pointing offset between them, which should allow them to be combined into a "super-resolution" mosaic.  Navcam will search for dust devils before the drive, which is planned to be about 28 meters long.  In addition to the usual post-drive imaging, Navcam will take a couple half-frames of the top of Vera Rubin Ridge to enable accurate targeting in tomorrow's plan.  Mastcam will measure the amount of dust in the atmosphere, and MARDI will take the standard twilight image before the rover recharges overnight.  Once we decided how to react to the ChemCam anomaly this morning, planning went very smoothly, making for an easy day for me as SOWG Chair. 

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.

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