Monthly Archives: February 2010

This Week in Space

NASA Administrator Charlie Bolden defends the new 2011 budget and future plans before skeptical senators while private-sector rocket development continues both here and overseas, Discovery prepares for the next shuttle mission, Enceladus shows off its plumes, dinosaur galaxies collide, alien stars and much more news and discoveries in the latest episode of This Week in Space. Enjoy!

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Groovy Rock

Textured rocks piled around Concepción crater

Another image from Opportunity showing some of the heavily-textured rocks ringing Concepción crater in fascinating detail, color-calibrated by Stuart Atkinson for an approximation of Martian natural lighting. You can clearly see here the layered structure of the rocks, their angular shapes, the interesting “crust” that coats their sides as well as the small stone “berries” that cover their surfaces and hang from the edges.

I’m not sure how big these rocks are, but I’d wager a guess that the ones framed above are about 12″ across.

Check out this and more photos from Opportunity on The Road to Endeavour.

Image: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Stuart Atkinson

Windows? Seven.

He does do windows: finishing up the cupola module on the ISS

NASA’s stunning Image of the Day shows STS-130 mission astronaut Nicholas Patrick finishing up the newly-installed cupola window viewport on the ISS. Since the cupola’s successful installation last week the Space Station crew has been enjoying unprecedented views of Earth through the seven large window panes.

Like visiting the Grand Canyon or looking out the window of an airplane, sights like this are something I’ll never get tired of, and I hope I never do.

Image: NASA

Shadow Caster

Pan casts its shadow onto Saturn's rings

It’s been a while since I posted any moon shadow images but they’re always cool to look at, since they add another dimension to a scene that can sometimes be hard to put into context. This image, taken by Cassini on January 10 and released today, shows the 12-mile-wide shepherd moon Pan cruising along within the Encke Gap, a 200-mile-wide space in Saturn’s bright A ring. Pan’s shadow falls upon the particles along the outer edge of the gap.

The little moon clips along at a good pace, too, completing an orbit of the giant planet every 13.8 hours!

As time passes and Saturn gets further from its spring equinox, which occurred back on August 11, the shadows of the moons nearest the rings will get shorter and eventually no longer strike the rings themselves. This visual phenomenon was a real treat for all Cassini enthusiasts but once the shadows dip below the ringplane we won’t be seeing much more of them for a while…the Cassini mission may have been extended for another seven years but that’s still not enough time for the spacecraft to witness another equinox, since it takes Saturn over 29 years to complete a full trip around the Sun!

For more info on Saturn’s ring system and the Cassini mission click here.

Image: NASA/JPL/Space Science Institute

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Head for the Hills!

Groovy rocks around Concepción crater

The chunky Chocolate Hills resting on the edge of Concepción crater

…or, in Opportunity’s case, away from the Hills. The “Chocolate Hills“, that is…a pair of rocks on the rim of the rover’s latest exploration target, Concepción crater. Opportunity has spent a couple of weeks investigating them and other rocks in another fascinating side trip on its journey across the Meridian Plains. It is now moving away from the blocky pair of rocks and around  the eastern edge of the crater.

Like Chocolate Hills, many of the rocks strewn around the edge of this shallow crater bear many interesting features…long grooved sides, sharp geometric edges, crusty coatings and tiny spherical stone “berries”. These are believed to be formed as a result of the area having been underwater at some point…yet another clue to Mars’ wetter past life.

The image above is a detail from a wonderful panorama (shown below) of the location assembled by Stuart Atkinson, of Cumbrian Sky fame, and posted recently on The Road to Endeavour, his site dedicated to Opportunity’s (aka “Oppy”) trek across the sand-blown dunes.

Panorama of Concepción crater rocks

Stuart uses raw image data from the rover to composite and color-calibrate the images to bring us along for the ride and experience Mars through Opportunity’s eyes. Check out his site for more great images and updates from the only mobile explorer currently operating on Mars. (Sorry Spirit, we still love ya!) Great work, Stu!

Image: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Stuart Atkinson

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