Archive for January, 2016
China’s Yutu robot was dispatched from the Chang’e 3 lander that softly touched down on the lunar landscape on December 14, 2013.
For the first time in a format easily accessible to all, downloads and downloads of science-quality images from China’s Chang’e 3 lander and Yutu rover are now available.
Check out her impressive new blog: “Fun with a new data set – Chang’e 3 lander and Yutu rover camera data.” Go to:
NASA’s Curiosity Mars rover is entering Sol 1239, with ground controllers still trying to troubleshoot a problem with the arm-mounted Collection and Handling for In-situ Martian Rock Analysis device – CHIMRA for short.
Soil samples are acquired with CHIMRA’s clam-shell scoop mechanism.
The CHIMRA is a device that sieves and portions the samples from the scoop and the drill which are then distributed to the analytical instruments, the Sample Analysis at Mars (SAM) Instrument Suite and the Chemistry & Mineralogy X-Ray Diffraction/X-Ray Fluorescence Instrument (CheMin). Various chambers and labyrinths within the mechanism are used to sort and sieve the drilled rock or scooped soil material.
Backlog of data
On Friday, Ryan Anderson, a planetary scientist at the USGS Astrogeology Science Center in Flagstaff, Arizona and a member of the Chemistry & Camera (ChemCam) team on the Mars Science Laboratory (MSL), reported:
“Since the anomaly with CHIMRA is still being investigated, there was no science involving the arm in today’s plan. Still, there was plenty to do, and we had to be careful not to collect too much extra data because there is a backlog of data on the rover waiting to be downlinked to Earth.”
Looking ahead to Sol 1239, the plan calls for observations of a target called “Gosser Schroffenstein” in the area called “Mniszechis Vlei.”
That site is where the rover’s “wheel scuff” in the sand exposed a tiny scarp or cliff in the sand, Anderson explains. “This little scarp gives us a good view of the fine-scaled layering in the top few centimeters of the dune,” he adds.
Anderson points out that once the science is done on Sol 1239 there is additional diagnostics on the balky CHIMRA. Later in the day on Sol 1239, Curiosity’s Chemistry & Mineralogy X-Ray Diffraction/X-Ray Fluorescence Instrument (CheMin) is on tap to analyze some of the sand that was collected previously.
Also slated are long-distance Remote Microscopic Imager (RMI) mosaics of Mt. Sharp.
Rover science teams are looking at possible sites for the next use of Curiosity’s drill to collect rock-powder samples of the bedrock in the area.
Landing on Mars in August 2012, Curiosity reached the base of Mount Sharp in 2014 after investigating outcrops closer to its landing site and then trekking to the layered mountain.
On the lower portion of the mountain, the robot is studying how Mars’ ancient environment changed from wet conditions favorable for microbial life to harsher, drier conditions.
Curiosity has been surveying a group of active sand dunes for two months. The rover is studying how the wind moves and sorts sand particles on Mars. The site under study by the robot is part of Bagnold Dune Field, which lines the northwestern flank of Mars’ Mount Sharp.
The outlook of Earth being on the receiving end of a menacing asteroid in the future is real – but very much in the celestial cards of chance.
But when the high-stakes card is dealt, responding to a hostile near-Earth object (NEO) is a global challenge.
In early January, NASA announced the establishment of a Planetary Defense Coordination Office (PDCO) created to coordinate U.S. agencies and intergovernmental efforts to respond to future near-Earth objects that threaten Earth.
Synchronizing NEO efforts
Among its functions, the PDCO has been set up to not only synchronize NEO efforts in the U.S. but also supervise all NASA-funded projects to find and characterize asteroids and comets that pass near Earth’s orbit around the sun.
In an exclusive interview, I talked with the chief of that office, NASA’s Lindley Johnson.
Go to my new Space.com story on how Johnson sees the office shaping up and goals for 2016 at:
NASA’s New Planetary Defense Office Gets to Work Protecting Earth
By Leonard David, Space.com’s Space Insider Columnist
January 29, 2016 07:52am ET
The Curiosity rover on Mars has run into an anomaly using its Collection and Handling for In-Situ Martian Rock Analysis (CHIMRA) device. That hardware is attached to the turret at the end of the robotic arm on the Red Planet machinery.
“The cause of the CHIMRA anomaly is still being investigated,” reports Ken Herkenhoff of the USGS Astrogeology Science Center in Flagstaff, Arizona. The problem has curtailed robotic arm motion, while diagnostic testing on CHIMRA continues.
The CHIMRA behaved in an unexpected way during processing of the third scoop of sand back on Sol 1231. Experts have been evaluating the anomalous behavior of the device and developing a recovery plan.
Only remote science observations from Curiosity are being allowed, Herkenhoff adds.
Curiosity is now in Sol 1237 operations.
There has been a reduction in volume of data from the rover, Herkenhoff notes, because the NASA Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) is undertaking pre-planned maintenance this week and cannot relay data from Curiosity. “Fortunately, it looks like we will be able to get all the critical data via the Mars Odyssey orbiter,” he points out.
In addition to the CHIMRA diagnostic tests on Sol 1237, the rover’s Chemistry & Camera (ChemCam) and Mastcam were to image the alluvial fan northeast of the rover, at the base of the Gale crater wall.
Wheel scuff in stereo
The rover’s Mastcam and Navcam are also to take stereo images of the edge of the area disturbed by Curiosity’s wheel “scuff” named “Mniszechis Vlei.”
Herkenhoff explains that the command to allow the Sample Analysis at Mars (SAM) instrument suite to examine a sample of dune sand was not received, “so we’ll try again overnight between Sols 1237 and 1238.”
The plan calls for Sol 1238 to include day use of ChemCam to observe the sky and continue checking out new software that will allow autonomous ChemCam targeting.
“Mastcam change detection observations of the sand dune are also sprinkled throughout the plan,” says Herkenhoff.
Finally, just after sunset the Remote Micro Imager (RMI) telescope is slated to take images of the sky for instrument calibration. “We have been trying to plan this observation for weeks, and were glad to be able to include it in today’s plan,” Herkenhoff concludes.
NOTE: Dates of planned rover activities are all subject to change due to a variety of factors related to the Martian environment, communication relays and rover status.
The informative New Space journal is offering free access to an “uplifting” set of articles on the space elevator concept.
This free access to readers is available through February 29th.
- Opening up Earth-Moon Enterprise with a Space Elevator
By Peter A. Swan
- The Status of Space Elevator Infrastructures
By John M. Knapman and Peter A. Swan
- A Historical Look at the Concept of Space Elevators
By David I. Raitt
NOTE: Special thanks to New Space Editor-in-Chief Scott Hubbard and Mary Ann Liebert, Inc. publishers for making these new space elevator articles available.
All the hoopla over that “should be there” Planet 9 has spurred speculation about its danger to Planet 3 – Earth.
So far, just mathematical modeling and computer simulations suggest this way out world could have a mass about 10 times that of Earth. Furthermore, this purported planet would make one full orbit around the Sun, a period of time that takes between 10,000 and 20,000 years.
This still to be seen planet orbits about 20 times farther from the Sun on average than does Neptune (which orbits the Sun at an average distance of 2.8 billion miles).
Is it reasonable to consider an unnerving possibility: whether the orbit of this still speculative globe might not arouse waves of objects to tumble inward into our solar system, placing our world in peril?
Inside Outer Space asked that question of Duncan Steel at the Center for Astrobiology, University of Buckingham, and Armagh Observatory in the UK.
Steel and his colleagues recently reported that the discovery of hundreds of giant comets in the outer planetary system over the last two decades means that these objects pose a much greater hazard to life than asteroids.
The giant comets — termed centaurs — move on unstable orbits crossing the paths of the massive outer planets Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus and Neptune. The planetary gravitational fields can occasionally deflect these objects in towards the Earth.
Reassessment of extraterrestrial factors
More to the point, as Steel has written: “The discovery of many substantial objects in the outer solar system demands a reassessment of extraterrestrial factors putatively implicated in mass extinction events.”
Steel has calculated the terrestrial impact probability for all known asteroids and questions whether the old concept of single, random asteroid impacts causing mass extinctions is “deficient” given what is now known of the inventory of small bodies in the solar system.
Waves of objects
The “problem”, as such, Steel told Inside Outer Space, is stirring up trans-Neptunian objects (TNOs). “This Planet 9 would likely fit the bill. That is, we might expect waves of objects to come inwards whenever Planet 9 is near perihelion and thus enters a denser region of TNOs.”
Be clear that most of the objects out there will be far smaller than the TNOs detected to date, Steel adds, “big devils, they have to be, to be detectable.”
“If this Planet 9 exists, then it may show itself in other ways, such as a shower of comets entering the inner solar system whenever Planet 9 nears perihelion,” Steel says. “We might see the 20,000 year periodicity in cometary dust deposits on Earth, for example. A problem would be that we know that Earth’s climate cycle, due to terrestrial orbit variations, follows a similar periodicity.”
Jury still out
On the Planet 9 hypothesis, Steel points out: “The jury is out on this idea, and will be for some time. It’s a useful and interesting suggestion, not altogether unexpected. There are certain to be contrary ideas.”
But if the claims for a Planet 9 are correct, “then more TNOs with similar orbits to those identified should be discovered over the next decade, adding to the statistical weight of evidence,” Steel concludes.
Still running after all those years!
NASA’s Opportunity rover landed on Mars 12 years ago this week. The veteran robot touched down on the Red Planet on Jan. 24, 2004, PST (early Jan. 25, UTC).
Opportunity is alive and well, working through the lowest-solar-energy days of the mission’s seventh Martian winter. It has been using a diamond-toothed rock grinder and other tools in recent weeks to investigate clues about the planet’s environmental history.
Opportunity is now exploring the western rim of a 14-mile-wide (22-kilometer-wide) crater named Endeavour, doing so since 2011. This winter, the rover is inspecting rocks on the southern side of “Marathon Valley – a feature that slices through Endeavor Crater’s rim from west to east.
This is a location where observations by NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter have mapped concentrations of clay minerals that would have formed under wet, non-acidic conditions.
“With healthy power levels, we are looking forward to completing the work in Marathon Valley this year and continuing onward with Opportunity,” said Mars Exploration Rover Project Manager, John Callas of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, California.
The seminal Viking orbiter and lander Mars missions of the 1970s were a landmark enterprise, giving the U.S. a big plus in the Red Planet exploration column. That epic NASA saga of exploration took place 40 years ago this year.
Now, for the first time, over 300 artifacts from the Viking Mars Missions Education & Preservation Project (VMMEPP) are available to people around the world.
The artifact availability comes via a partnership between VMMEPP and the Google Cultural Institute. The Google Cultural Institute and its partners are putting the world’s cultural treasures at the fingertips of Internet users and are building tools that allow the cultural sector to share more of its diverse heritage online.
This new virtual exhibition enables users to see a complete set of the Viking Mission Bulletins that guided the public and press through mission preparation, launch and discoveries; a previously unpublished detailed specification for the Viking Meteorology Instrument; a unique White House document required for mission launch; and a 1967 Martin Marietta (now Lockheed Martin) Viking Sterilization Reference Booklet, representing early standards and procedures that would later become the industry standard that continues today.
Educate future generations
The Viking preservation work is being spearheaded by Rachel Tillman, Executive Director and Founder of VMMEPP.
“For our organization, this launch is significant, as it supports both of our key objectives with one singular event – to preserve the history of Viking and to inspire and educate future generations,” Tillman said in a press statement.
“Our resources are already being utilized by students from elementary through graduate school, aerospace professionals, and writers who will continue the cultural influence that Viking began,” Tillman added.
All in the Viking family
Tillman said that “it is personally important to us to honor the men and women of Viking, many of whom were never recognized for their roles. Viking brought conflicting interests and individuals together into a cohesive team and ‘family’ that changed the face and direction of space exploration.”
For more information on the Viking Mars Missions Education & Preservation Project (VMMEPP), go to:
The initial Viking Mars Mission Education and Preservation Project Collection can be viewed at:
The European Space Agency’s Rosetta orbiter cruising along with Comet 67P/Churyumov–Gerasimenko continues to churn out staggering up-close images of the celestial wanderer.
One of those images shows the comet area known as Imhotep.
This smooth dusty terrain covers about 0.8 square kilometers etched with curvilinear features stretching hundreds of meters and which have been found to change in appearance over time.
Many large boulders are scattered within the smooth terrain, including the boulder Cheops. Smaller but more numerous boulders are associated with exposed cliff faces and are most likely the product of erosion.
Water ice revealed
As noted in a European Space Agency (ESA) statement, in some debris falls, detailed analysis has revealed the presence of water ice on the comet.
Particularly eye-catching is the new image is distinctive layered and fractured material. Similar patterns are also seen in exposed cliff-like faces where Imhotep transitions into the Khepry region.
Lastly, a number of small round features are visible. They have a well-defined rim with a smooth interior and appear slightly raised from the surrounding material.
“One explanation for their appearance is that they are ancient sites of active regions covered by dust and are now being revealed by varying erosion of the overlying layers,” the ESA press statement explains.
To take your own cruise around the comet, make use of this viewer tool to aid navigation around the comet’s regions.
Book Review: The Complete Space Buff’s Bucket List, by Loretta Hall; Rio Grande Books; 2016; Cost: $15.95.
Maybe it’s my old age setting in. But a new book just showed up in my mail box that is so timely.
Loretta Hall has authored The Complete Space Buff’s Bucket List – 100 Space Things to Do Before You Die.
What a romp! And as she notes herself – it’s all “tourific.”
Hall is a New Mexico-based freelance writer and nonfiction author. The book is the fourth in the Rio Grande Books “Bucket List” series – so why not space!
Hall took on the challenge and has written an absolutely delightful volume for confirmed space aficionados and others that are on the cusp of being space adventurers.
Range of intellectual and physical activities
“I have discovered many new things to do and see,” Hall writes in the opening pages of the book. Adds David Livingston, host of The Space Show: It’s an “excellent list of exciting and worthwhile things to do in your lifetime, either alone or with your family and friends.”
Points out former shuttle astronaut, Mike Mullane: “I now have a new resource to map my way back into space.”
Most items on this Bucket List include URLs for websites associated with listed items.
“I wanted to give you an idea of the order of magnitude for planning and comparison,” Hall writes. “Together, the 100 items on this list encompass a broad range of intellectual and physical activities that involve all five senses.”
This is an easy read with 100 bucket list suggestions, including stops at a planetarium, a visit to a meteor crater, indoor skydiving, and a way to experience human factors training for commercial spaceflight.
Before heavenly ascension
The countdown for fun starts at #100 in the book. Subsequent pages lead to Hall’s number one slot. I won’t tell you what that is, but you’ll likely agree.
Hall also recently wrote Space Pioneers: In their Own Words, also published by Rio Grande Books.
This is a welcomed, creative, and pleasurable book for all ages – or those of us trying to quickly assemble our personal bucket list of to-do items before heavenly ascension. No worries. The book incorporates a blank list in the back of the book to write down your favorites too!
For your copy, go to: