NASA’s Dawn spacecraft is just a few days away from getting snagged by the pull of Ceres, a dwarf planet existing amongst the asteroids. As it’s approaching via the slow but steady thrust of its ion engines Dawn is getting better and better images of Ceres, bringing the world’s features into focus. But on Friday, March 6 (at 7:20 a.m. EST / 12:20 UTC) it will finally feel the gentle tug of Ceres’ gravity and will soon become the first spacecraft to enter orbit around two different targets.
“Dawn is about to make history,” said Robert Mase, project manager for the Dawn mission at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California. “Our team is ready and eager to find out what Ceres has in store for us.”
One of the biggest mysteries that has arisen during Dawn’s approach to Ceres is the true identity of the two bright spots located within a crater on its northern hemisphere. Shining like the eyes of some nocturnal creature, the bright region was first seen in Hubble images captured in December 2003. Now Dawn has gotten close enough to resolve it into two separate spots, one brighter than the other… but not much more is known about its true nature yet. Read the rest of this entry
The surface of Venus is definitely no easy place to which to send a spacecraft. Crushing atmospheric pressures, powerful high-altitude winds amid caustic clouds of sulfuric acid, and temperatures that can soar above 880ºF (475ºC) make the next planet in a no-man’s-land for robotic spacecraft. But those challenges didn’t stop the Soviet space program from successfully putting several craft onto Venus’ surface in the 70s and early 80s, giving us our first views of its kiln-dried landscape.
Venera-3 became the fist spacecraft on the surface of another planet when it impacted Venus on March 1, 1966, but no data was returned. The next year Venera-4 was sent to Venus but was likely crushed by its atmosphere. Venera-7 became the first spacecraft to successfully soft-land on Venus on Dec. 15, 1970, sending back temperature data. Venera-8 landed on July 22, 1970, taking light measurements and confirming suitable levels for imaging. On Oct. 22, 1975, the Venera-9 lander returned the first image data from the surface of Venus before going out of range of the orbiting spacecraft 53 minutes later (and succumbing to harsh surface conditions after that) with Venera-10 landing three days later. Then, on March 1, 1982, Venera-13 landed on Venus, analyzing soil and capturing the first color images from the planet’s surface.
The image above is a section of a larger panorama. See the full image below:
Do you have any of those paper 3D viewers around? You know, with the red and blue lenses? If so, pop ‘em on and check out the image above from NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter Camera (LROC) showing the crater “Hell Q,” located on the Moon’s southern near side near the brightly-rayed Tycho. You might think a crater was just carved into your screen!
The 3.75-km-wide Hell Q is one of a cluster of 19 craters located around the main 32.5-km Hell crater. (And no, it wasn’t named after a realm of the afterworld but rather for Hungarian astronomer Maximillian Hell.)
The image was acquired on April 11, 2014. You can see a larger 3D view of the region around Hell Q below.
It’s like something out of a Hollywood film or a science fiction novel: a dark star sneaks up on Earth from just outside the Solar System, discovered too late to do anything about it (and really, what could we do?) and plows through the cloud of comets that surrounds the Sun like a haze of icy gnats, sending them flying everywhere… including on collision courses with Earth. Mass hysteria ensues.
Except that this isn’t just a story concept – scientists think this is actually something that happened 70,000 years ago! Minus the mass hysteria, of course… our ancestors were just beginning to settle down in the fertile lands of the Middle East after wandering out of Africa and would have had no idea what was happening at the edges of the Solar System (besides maybe a bright star occasionally flaring up in the night sky.)
Former NASA astronaut Ron Garan was recently interviewed for Huffington Post’s LIVE broadcast. Ron talked about his new book The Orbital Perspective (read my review here) along with what it was like to be an astronaut and the way his experiences changed his views of life on Earth. (He also live-narrated some of the work being done at the time of the interview outside the ISS during EVA 30!)
In addition to talking about astronaut stuff, Ron weighed in on the human exploration of Mars, recently brought into the spotlight – for better or worse – with the announcement of 100 finalists by the Dutch MarsOne company, which has aspirations of creating the first human colony on the Red Planet. Ron says that while it will be important for us to venture out into the Solar System, really the next logical step would be to establish a permanent presence on our own Moon first.
“This is our closest neighbor, it’s three days away… There are so many things that could be done on the Moon that would have tremendous benefit.”
– Ron Garan, NASA astronaut
You can watch the entire video here, and share what you think in the poll below – should we go back to the Moon first? Or head right on out to Mars?
Recently featured on Universe Today, this video of Earth from space assembled by video artist Phil Selmes uses actual photos captured from the Space Station, with some fancy editing to create seamless transitions between views. It’s another beautiful presentation of the fragile oasis we call home.
“I don’t see politics, races, borders, countries, religions or differences,” Selmes said in an article on Universe Today. “I saw one planet, one world, one incredibly beautiful miracle in the absolute vastness of the universe.”