Blog Archives

It’s the Beginning of the End for Cassini (But the Pictures Will Be Awesome)

A view of Saturn's north pole captured by Cassini's wide-angle camera on Dec. 3, 2016. (NASA/JPL-Caltech/SSI)

A view of Saturn’s north pole captured by Cassini’s wide-angle camera on Dec. 3, 2016. (NASA/JPL-Caltech/SSI)

After more than twelve years in orbit around Saturn, NASA’s Cassini spacecraft is now in its final year of operation…and newly-positioned in an orbit that will send it soaring high over the planet’s north pole as well as close by the outer edge of its glorious shining rings.

Over the course of 20 week-long “ring-grazing orbits” — the first of which was completed on Dec. 4 — Cassini will obtain close-up images and data on the composition and structure of Saturn’s rings and nearby shepherd moons.

It’s the mission’s penultimate phase, heralding the end of Cassini in September 2017.

“This is it, the beginning of the end of our historic exploration of Saturn,” said Cassini imaging team leader Carolyn Porco. “Let these images — and those to come — remind you that we’ve lived a bold and daring adventure around the solar system’s most magnificent planet.”

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NASA Readies OSIRIS-REx to Visit an Asteroid

Artist's concept of OSIRIS-REx (NASA/Goddard)

Artist’s concept of OSIRIS-REx (NASA/Goddard)

NASA is about to embark on its first mission to sample an asteroid—and I’ll have a front-row seat to the launch!

On Thursday, Sept. 8, at 7:05 p.m. (23:05 UTC) the launch window opens for the launch of OSIRIS-REx, NASA’s mission to visit the near-Earth asteroid Bennu, orbit and map it, collect a sample and return it to Earth. The 8-foot-wide, 20-foot-long spacecraft will launch aboard a ULA Atlas V rocket from Cape Canaveral AFS and as a member of the latest NASA Social event I and 99 other attendees will be at the Cape to see it off on its 7-year journey. Be sure to follow me on Twitter and Instagram to see pictures and videos from the two-day event on Sept. 7–8, and follow the #NASASocial hashtag on Twitter too!

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Juno Sends Back Its First Pictures of Jupiter’s North Pole; “Like Nothing We Have Seen Before”

Jupiter's north pole imaged by NASA's Juno spacecraft on Aug. 27, 2016 ( NASA/JPL-Caltech/SwRI/MSSS)

Jupiter’s north pole imaged by Juno on Aug. 27, 2016 (NASA/JPL-Caltech/SwRI/MSSS)

Thanks to NASA’s Juno spacecraft we now have our best views yet of the north pole of our Solar System’s largest planet and they’re “hardly recognizable as Jupiter” according to the mission’s lead scientist!

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Watch Saturn’s Moons Race Inside the Rings

Saturn's moons Prometheus and Atlas are captured by Cassini in these images from Aug. 23, 2016

Saturn’s moons Prometheus and Atlas are captured by Cassini in these images from Aug. 23, 2016

Round and round they go… the animation above, made from 14 raw images taken by NASA’s Cassini spacecraft on August 23, 2016, shows the moons Prometheus and Atlas orbiting Saturn within the Roche Division gap between its A (top right) and F (center) rings. The gravitational tug of Prometheus (92 miles / 148 km long) is strong enough to pull on the fine, smoke-like icy particles of the F ring, creating streamer and “clump” features that follow it along.

The much smaller Atlas (23 miles / 37 km wide) follows a path around Saturn just past the outer edge of the A ring. It was once thought to be a “shepherd moon” of the A ring, but it’s now known that the pull of the more distant Janus and Epimetheus are responsible for that.

Atlas does have its very own ring, though—a very faint (i.e., not visible above) band of material that runs along its orbit named R/2004 S 1, discovered by the Cassini mission in July 2004.

Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/SSI. Animation by Jason Major.

NASA Releases Mars Rover Game for Curiosity’s 4th Anniversary

NASA's new Mars Rover game lets you test your driving skills on the Red Planet.

NASA’s new Mars Rover game lets you test your driving skills on the Red Planet

Friday, August 5 marks the 4th anniversary of Curiosity’s landing on Mars and to celebrate NASA has released a video game that lets you rack up high scores while trying to drive a rover on Mars (warning: it’s trickier than it looks!)

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Watch a Moonwalker Prove Galileo Right: Dave Scott’s Famous Hammer-Feather Drop

On August 2, 1971, at the end of the last EVA of the Apollo 15 mission, Commander David Scott took a few minutes to conduct a classic science experiment in front of the TV camera that had been set up just outside the LM Falcon at the Hadley Rille landing site. Scott, a former Air Force pilot, recreated a famous demonstration often attributed to Galileo (which may or may not have actually been performed by the astronomer in Pisa in 1586) that shows how objects of different masses react the same way to gravity when dropped – that is, they fall at the same rate.

By performing the “acceleration test” in the vacuum environment of space (but where there is still an observable downward pull of gravity) the Earthly factor of air resistance is negated – especially on such a low-mass and low-density object as a falcon feather – thereby creating a more “pristine” setting for the centuries-old experiment than could ever be achieved here.

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