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Strange Bright Spots Beckon as Dawn Closes in on Ceres

Rotational animation of Ceres made from Dawn images . Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/UCLA/MPS/DLR/IDA.

Rotational animation of Ceres made from Dawn images . Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/UCLA/MPS/DLR/IDA.

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

Latest Images of Ceres Show Its Bright Spot Is Actually Twins!

Image of Ceres captured by Dawn on Feb. 19, 2015.

Image of Ceres captured by Dawn on Feb. 19, 2015.

Here’s your weekly Ceres update! The dwarf planet’s features are coming into better and better focus for the approaching Dawn spacecraft, which will be captured by Ceres’ gravity on March 6. The image above is yet another “best-ever” of Ceres (as will be each one we see now), captured on Feb. 19, 2015, from a distance of about 29,000 miles (46,000 km).

This was one of a trio of images from Dawn released today. The others can be seen below, including one that shows the intriguing bright spot that has been observed for over a decade.

Read the rest of this entry

Hello, Ceres! Dwarf Planet’s Features Come Into Focus

Image of Ceres captured by NASA's Dawn spacecraft during approach on Feb. 12, 2015. Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech/UCLA/MPS/DLR/IDA.

Image of Ceres captured by NASA’s Dawn spacecraft during approach on Feb. 12, 2015. Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech/UCLA/MPS/DLR/IDA.

Won’t you look at that! Here’s a view of Ceres captured by NASA’s Dawn spacecraft on Feb. 12, 2015, from a distance of about 52,000 miles (83,000 km). No longer just a grey sphere with some vague bright spots, actual features can now be resolved – craters, mountains, and scarps that quite literally no one has ever seen before! Fantastic!

Two images were captured by Dawn’s framing camera as Ceres rotated within view over the course of its 9-hour day. See both below:

Read the rest of this entry

These 100 People Are One Step Closer to Living – and Dying – on Mars

You may be looking at the faces of future Martians.

The video above, released Feb. 15, shows the results of the latest round of selections for the MarsOne mission: to establish living conditions on Mars and, eventually, send 24 individuals who will become the first permanent human residents on another planet.

(Note: being selected for MarsOne does not include a return ticket.)

Read the rest of this entry

Despeckled Radar Images Give a Clearer View of Titan’s Shores

Before despeckling (top) and after (bottom) images of portions of the shoreline around Ligeia Mare, Titan's second-largest hydrocarbon sea.  Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech/ASI

Before despeckling (top) and after (bottom) images of portions of the shoreline around Ligeia Mare, Titan’s second-largest hydrocarbon sea. Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech/ASI

At 1,600 miles (2,576 km) across Titan is by far Saturn’s largest moon – in fact it’s the second-largest satellite in the solar system. It’s also the only world besides Earth where liquids have been found in large amounts on the surface, in the form of lakes and streams of frigid methane and ethane. This makes Titan an intriguing subject of study for planetary scientists, but unfortunately it’s not all that easy to get a good look at its surface because of its thick orange clouds and dense atmosphere.

Now, researchers have developed a “despeckling” method to smooth out Cassini’s typically grainy radar maps, giving scientists a whole new way to look at Titan’s alien — yet surprisingly Earth-like — surface.

Read the rest of my article on Discovery News here. 

The Force is Strong With This ISS Crew!

The Expedition 45 team poster has astronauts and cosmonauts trading flight suits for Jedi robes.

The Expedition 45 team poster has astronauts and cosmonauts trading flight suits for Jedi robes.

The Expedition 45 crew has gone full Jedi for their team poster! (The mission patch is kinda shaped like a Star Destroyer…)

Entitled “International Space Station Expedition XLV: The Science Continues,” the poster features Scott Kelly and Mikhail Kornienko (first and second on the right), NASA astronaut Kjell Lindgren (left, front), Russian cosmonauts Sergei Volkov and Oleg Kononenko (top right and top left) and Kimiya Yui with the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency.

On March 27 Kelly and Kornienko will launch to the ISS (along with Exp. 44 commander Gennady Padalka) to begin the first year-long residence aboard the Station.

Just remember guys: fly casual! (And watch out with those lightsabers up there.)

Read more on collectSPACE here.

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