Archive for June, 2019

Image shows the rim of the crater once again visible above Vera Rubin Ridge. Photo taken by Navcam Left B on Sol 2449 June 27, 2019
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech


NASA’s Curiosity Mars rover is now performing Sol 2451 weekend tasks.

Reports Roger Wiens, a geochemist at Los Alamos National Laboratory in Los Alamos, New Mexico: “Curiosity has been a bit down lately-in elevation. After exploring the top of Vera Rubin Ridge (VRR) last year, the rover descended into a trough south of the ridge, dropping as much as 15 meters in elevation this spring to explore part of the clay-bearing unit.”

Wiens adds that Curiosity is now back to the highest elevation that it achieved before it left the ridge, about -4140 meters relative to the reference level representing zero elevation on Mars.

Curiosity Navcam Right B photo taken on Sol 2450, June 28, 2019.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Climb higher

“Curiosity will continue to climb higher as it explores the rest of the Glen Torridon and then moves on to the sulfate unit and Greenheugh Pediment,” Wiens notes.

The rover team recently planned activities for the rover over the weekend.

Curiosity is wrapping up activities at the base of “Harlaw Rise” and will then drive further up the rise.

Curiosity Mastcam Left photo acquired on Sol 2449, June 27, 2019.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

Weekend plan

On the first sol of the weekend plan the rover is on tap to mostly nap to recharge batteries.

Some Hazcam imaging will be done and Mastcam will take some nighttime images, according to the plan.

On the second sol, ChemCam is slated to shoot three targets near the rover: “Red_Point”, “North_Sea,” and “Roineva.”

Crater rim imaging

Mastcam is slated to take a crater rim extinction image. The arm will be deployed for imaging of gnarly rocks with the Mars Hand Lens Imager (MAHLI) and analysis with the Alpha Particle X-Ray Spectrometer (APXS).

Target names are “Earn” and “Magnus Bay.”

On the plan, Navcam will take zenith and superhorizon movies, and Mastcam will take another crater rim extinction image. Mastcam will image “Harlaw_Rise” and the “Tayside” and “Buckie” targets.

Curiosity MAHLI image produced on Sol 2450, June 28, 2019.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

Drive ahead

After that, Wiens concludes, the plan for the rover is to do some deck monitoring; Navcam will do a 360 degree dust devil survey. The rover will drive 115 feet (35 meters) which should take it up “Harlaw Rise.”

As always, dates of planned rover activities are subject to change due to a variety of factors related to the Martian environment, communication relays and rover status.

Curiosity Navcam Left B image acquired on Sol 2449, June 27, 2019.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech


NASA’s Curiosity Mars rover is now performing Sol 2450 science duties.

“We are continuing our exploration of Glen Torridon (the clay-bearing unit) and the varied lithologies exposed in this area of Gale crater, including more rubbly bedrock that is mixed with sand, and more coherent bedrock exposed both in the ground and capping prominent ridges,” reports Lucy Thompson, a planetary geologist at the University of New Brunswick, Fredericton, New Brunswick, Canada.

Curiosity Navcam Right B photo taken on Sol 2449, June 27, 2019.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Curiosity has continued the drive away from one of these ridges, Teal Ridge, towards another low-lying lip and ridge of exposed bedrock that Mars researchers refer to as “Harlaw.”

Curiosity Front Hazcam Left B image taken on Sol 2449, June 27, 2019.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Perfect position

A recent drive by the robot put the Mars machinery about 30 feet (9 meters) away from Harlaw and in a “perfect position” to get some context Mastcam mosaics of the area that will help scientists interpret the results of our planned closeup investigation of this area, Thompson notes.

Curiosity Mars Hand Lens Imager (MAHLI) photo acquired on Sol 2449, June 27, 2019.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS


Before a planned drive towards Harlaw, “we will examine the rubbly ground immediately in front of the rover,” Thompson adds, using the Alpha Particle X-Ray Spectrometer (APXS), the Mars Hand Lens Imager, Chemistry and Camera (ChemCam) and rover’s Mastcam.

Curiosity Navcam Left B image taken on Sol 2449, June 27, 2019.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Rubbly bedrock

“We will get a short morning APXS integration, closeup MAHLI images and ChemCam on a target “Tolsta,” ChemCam only on a target ‘Yell Sound’ and accompanying Mastcam imaging of the workspace to continue monitoring the composition and texture of the rubbly bedrock as we traverse the Glen Torridon region,” Thompson reports.

Curiosity Navcam Right B photo taken on Sol 2449, June 27, 2019.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Environmental observations by Curiosity included standard background Rover Environmental Monitoring Station (REMS) activities to monitor the daily martian weather, the Radiation Assessment Detector (RAD) to monitor the radiation environment and Dynamic Albedo of Neutrons (DAN) passive to study the abundance and distribution of subsurface hydrogen- and water-bearing materials.

Curiosity ChemCam Remote Micro-Imager photo taken on Sol 2449, June 27, 2019.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/LANL

Optical depth

A Navcam dust devil survey and suprahorizon movie are also planned. The suprahorizon movie will look for clouds and the optical depth of the atmosphere.

As well as monitoring activities, as the APXS strategic planner for this week, Thompson helped select the Tolsta target and prepared a weekly instrument update for the science team.

Curiosity Navcam Right B photo acquired on Sol 2449, June 27, 2019.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Yutu-2 (horizontal arrow) was about 130 meters west of the Chang’e 4 lander (vertical arrow) on June 3, 2019.
Credit: NASA/GSFC/Arizona State University


NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO) has snapped new imagery of China’s Yutu-2 rover that is still on the move!

The orbiter’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter Camera (LROC) shows the wheeled rover about 426 feet (130 meters) west of the Chang’e-4 lander.

Once a month, LRO passes over the Chang’e 4 landing site, allowing LROC to capture a new image. LROC has now imaged the site five times (since the landing) on January 3 and observed Yutu-2 to have traveled a total of 610 feet (186 meters) – the distance measured using the rover tracks.


Slower progress

“Progress over the past two months has been slower than in previous months,” reports Mark Robinson, the LROC principal investigator at Arizona State University. “Perhaps the rover has found some interesting geology and is lingering to collect a comprehensive set of measurements!”

LROC will keep imaging the site as the Sun angles and look angles vary, to better understand the reflectance of this region, Robinson said, “and to watch Yutu-2 keep on roving and exploring!”

For full details on LROC’s recent imagery of China’s lander/rover mission on the Moon’s farside, go to:

Space Dogs: The Story of the Celebrated Canine Cosmonauts by Martin Parr/Text by Richard Hollingham; Laurence King Publishing, New York, 2019; softcover: 128 pages, $16.99

This enchanting book details the Soviet Union’s space dogs, those uncanny canine explorers that blazed the trail for human space travelers. Laika, Belka, Strelka, and other dogs became superstars!

Space Dogs features the collectibles of Martin Parr. Over the past twenty years, Parr has been adding to his assortment of USSR space dog memorabilia, produced during the space race in the 1950s between the USSR and the USA. Mostly perusing the Internet, he has unearthed a variety of exceptional items for his collected works.

“I hope that some of the magic of the space dogs phenomenon will rub off on the reader,” Parr explains in the book’s foreword. From my read…mission success!

Credit: Martin Parr Collection

The “pupniks” were hugely celebrated. With a combination of national pride and propaganda, they began appearing on stamps, postcards, letter holders, wrist watches, porcelain figurines, cigarette cases, clocks and other memorabilia.

Produced to coincide with the 50th anniversary of man landing on the Moon, this book details the story of the space dogs, illustrated with Parr’s collection of vintage space-dog ephemera.

Credit: Martin Parr Collection

The nicely written text is provided by Richard Hollingham, a space journalist and correspondent for BBC future and presenter of the Space Boffins Podcast.

While all the photos are captivating, the reader will gain special insight into the Soviet Union’s pioneering spaceflight exploits, including the true fate of Laika onboard the country’s second orbiting satellite. You’ll find numerous other factoids in this well-illustrated and readable volume.











For more information on this book, go to:


Chang’e-4 farside mission – lander and Yutu-2 rover

China’s Chang’e-4 lander and the Yutu-2 have resumed work for the seventh lunar day on the farside of the Moon after “sleeping” during the extreme cold night.

Both are in normal working condition, according to the Lunar Exploration and Space Program Center of the China National Space Administration (CNSA).

China’s Xinhua news agency reports that the lander woke up at 9:45 a.m. Thursday, and the rover, Yutu-2 (Jade Rabbit-2), awoke at 1:26 p.m. Wednesday.

Scientific studies

The Yutu-2 rover has traveled more than 696 feet (212 meters) across the lunar landscape to conduct scientific studies.

Making tracks. China’s Yutu-2 robot.

The scientific tasks of the Chang’e-4 mission include low-frequency radio astronomical observation, surveying the terrain and landforms, detecting the mineral composition and shallow lunar surface structure and measuring neutron radiation and neutral atoms.

Von Kármán crater as viewed by the NASA Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter Camera(LROC).
Credit: NASA/GSFC/Arizona State University

China’s Chang’e-4 farside lander/rover was launched on Dec. 8, 2018, making the first-ever soft landing within Von Kármán crater.

Curiosity Front Hazcam Left B image acquired on Sol 2448, June 26, 2019.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

NASA’s Curiosity Mars rover is now performing Sol 2449 science duties.

Reports Scott Guzewich, an atmospheric scientist at NASA/GSFC in Greenbelt, Maryland: A recent plan wrapped up time for the rover to study the Teal Ridge outcrop, then the robot is to drive toward the next waypoint in the clay-bearing unit of Gale Crater.

Lien list

There were several science tasks on our lien list to complete first, including Chemistry and Camera (ChemCam) laser-induced breakdown spectroscopy (LIBS) targets on the “rubbly” material in front of the outcrop.

Curiosity Mars Hand Lens Imager (MAHLI) photo produced on Sol 2448, June 26, 2019.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

Mars researchers identified a target named “Glencoe”), one on a dark vein structure within the outcrop (termed “Glenbuchat,” – incredible layered structure in Teal Ridge)

Also produced was a Mastcam multispectral image (where Mastcam uses its different filters to get a better understanding of a rock’s chemistry) of the “Beauly” target that received a thorough cleaning with the dust removal tool last week, Guzewich points out.

Curiosity Navcam Left B photo taken on Sol 2448, June 26, 2019.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Curiosity Navcam Left B photo taken on Sol 2448, June 26, 2019.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Next waypoint

“After the drive, we’ll be about halfway to our next waypoint and we’ll stop to conduct some post-drive science including imaging of the surrounding area and some late afternoon [environmental] ENV activities including a Mastcam sky survey (to help understand the properties of the airborne dust) and a Navcam zenith movie to search for clouds,” Guzewich adds.

“The ‘Aphelion Cloud Belt’ season is nearly upon us,” Guzewich concludes, “and we expect the skies to be getting much cloudier in the sols and weeks ahead.”

Curiosity Mastcam Left photo taken on Sol 2447, June 25, 2019.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

















New road map

Meanwhile a new Curiosity Traverse Map Through Sol 2447 has been issued.

The map shows the route driven by NASA’s Mars rover Curiosity through the 2447 Martian day, or sol, of the rover’s mission on Mars (June 25, 2019).

Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Univ. of Arizona

Numbering of the dots along the line indicate the sol number of each drive. North is up. The scale bar is 1 kilometer (~0.62 mile).

From Sol 2439 to Sol 2447, Curiosity had driven a straight line distance of about 30.55 feet (9.31 meters), bringing the rover’s total odometry for the mission to 12.94 miles (20.83 kilometers).

The base image from the map is from the High Resolution Imaging Science Experiment Camera (HiRISE) in NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter.

Credit: MUFON


In July the Mutual UFO Network (MUFON) celebrates 50 years of investigating and promoting research on the unidentified flying object phenomenon.

The all-volunteer, non-profit, scientific-based organization has endeavored since 1969 to hunt down answers about baffling vehicles of unknown origin.

The Pentagon’s Advanced Aerospace Threat Identification Program (AATIP) was created to research and investigate Unidentified Aerial Phenomena (UAP) including numerous videos of reported encounters, three of which were released to the public in 2017.
Credit: U.S. Department of Defense/To The Stars Academy of Arts & Science

After five decades, has there been any scientific pay dirt in studying UFOs? Are we inching closer to the truth that is perhaps out there?

Weirdness in the sky, then jumping to alien visitation from afar is a big leap. So too are interdimensional beings, wormhole hooligans, or time travelers. But who knows?













Go to my new story at:

UFOs Remain Elusive Despite Decades of Study



NASA is investing in a new research program – the Exploring Ocean Worlds (ExOW) project. The five-year effort is geared to understand the potential for life in the outer solar system and establishes a new Network for Ocean Worlds.

Credit: NASA

The focus of the effort would address a central question in astrobiology research today: On which ocean worlds, and using which measurements, do we have the highest probability of finding life beyond Earth within the next human generation?

Jupiter’s Europa could be site for water…and life?
Credit: NASA/JPL/Ted Stryk

Accelerating research

The project will form a cornerstone for NASA’s new Network for Ocean Worlds (NOW). NOW is an initiative aimed at accelerating research on planetary bodies with liquid water oceans that may harbor life or conditions that could support it by coordinating scientific studies nationwide that help advance understanding of ocean worlds.

The network will be co-led by Christopher German, a senior scientist at Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, together with Alison Murray at the Desert Research Institute and Alyssa Rhoden at the Southwest Research Institute.

NOW is the latest of four research coordination networks to be established by NASA that will enable research covering different aspects of the search for life beyond Earth.

Ganymede, a moon of Jupiter.
Credit: NASA



Best bet

“If we hope to find evidence of life beyond Earth, within the next human generation, then our best bet is to look toward the growing list of ice-covered ocean worlds right here in our own solar system,” said German in a press statement.

“And looking further ahead,” German added, “if we want to understand the range of possible conditions that could support life anywhere beyond Earth, then we will simultaneously need to both continue exploring our own ocean for examples of extremes under which life can exist and continue developing exploration technologies that will be useful on any ocean world, including Earth.”

Chemical evidence consistent with serpentinization and water-rock interactions on
Enceladus and known hydrothermal activity make Enceladus a key target for astrobiology exploration.
Sampling the moon’s plumes would help to establish if life exists there now.
Credit: NASA/JPLCaltech/
Southwest Research Institute

Liquid water oceans

Ocean worlds beyond Earth have been a key research focus for NASA’s Planetary Science Division ever since the confirmation of ice-covered liquid water oceans on Jupiter’s moons Europa and Ganymede and, subsequently, Saturn’s moons Enceladus and Titan.

Titan as imaged by Cassini spacecraft.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Space Science Institute

Ultimately, the ExOW team intends to construct a comprehensive theoretical model, informed and tested by experimental efforts, that connects a broad range of physical and chemical processes within an ocean system. The model will help determine the potential of that system to harbor life and to reveal evidence of that life to future NASA missions.

This artist’s rendering shows NASA’s Europa mission spacecraft, which is being developed for a launch sometime in the 2020s.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/M. Carroll

“Our approach is designed to provide a predictive framework applicable to all ocean worlds of this type, but will have clear, immediate and direct relevance to two high priority astrobiology targets: Europa and Enceladus,” said German. The project is designed to be completed just in time for the launch of Europa Clipper, NASA’s next major mission to an ocean world, which is currently scheduled for launch in the early 2020s.

For more information, go to:

Curiosity Front Hazcam Right B photo taken on Sol 2446, June 24, 2019.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech


NASA’s Curiosity Mars rover is busily performing Sol 2447 science tasks.

“Curiosity is still perched on top of Teal Ridge to investigate a fascinating outcrop that caps the ridge,” reports Kristen Bennett, a planetary geologist at the USGS in Flagstaff, Arizona.

Scientists have been characterizing the ridge-capping material, but also devoting time to use the Sample Analysis at Mars (SAM) Instrument Suite to look for methane.

Ridge-capping material is visible in the foreground, and the background shows where Curiosity is going to drive to next. Image taken by Curiosity’s Navcam Left B camera on Sol 2439, June 17, 2019.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech



Dog’s eye mosaic

A recently scripted three-sol plan includes a Mars Hand Lens Imager (MAHLI) dog’s eye mosaic of the target “Stack of Glencoul.”

CuriosityChemCam Remote Micro-Imager photo acquired on Sol 2446, June 24, 2019.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/LANL

“Typically the arm is positioned such that the MAHLI instrument is looking down on a target. In a dog’s eye observation, the rover arm is positioned so that it looks at the target from the side. The team decided we should do a dog’s eye mosaic at this location so we can look directly at the laminations within these rocks,” Bennett explains.



The robot’s Alpha Particle X-Ray Spectrometer (APXS) will also target Stack of Glencoul in the weekend plan so Mars researchers will be able to pair compositional information with these images. MAHLI will also take images of the “Yesnaby Stacks” target to document a different part of the outcrop that exhibits laminations.

Also included in the plan are a Navcam dust devil movie, Mastcam images of the “Sandyhills” target to monitor changes due to wind, a Chemistry and Camera (ChemCam) observation of Yesnaby Stacks, and an addition to the “Beauly” Mastcam mosaic to complete our Mastcam coverage of this outcrop, Bennett adds.

Curiosity Mars Hand Lens Imager (MAHLI) image produced on Sol 2444, June 22, 2019.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

Play it again SAM

“The SAM instrument is also featured prominently in this weekend’s plan. The team is using SAM to periodically search for methane in the atmosphere,” Bennett concludes, “so SAM will ‘sniff’ the air during the night on the second sol and then spend part of the weekend analyzing this sample of the martian atmosphere.”

Curiosity Rear Hazcam Right B image acquired on Sol 2446, June 24, 2019.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

The DoubleTree by Hilton chocolate chip Cookie will become the first-ever food baked in orbit.
Credit: DoubleTree by Hilton

A chocolate chip cookie is slated to become the first food baked in space inside a prototype oven designed to make long-duration space travel more hospitable.

DoubleTree by Hilton is partnering with Zero G Kitchen and NanoRacks to bring its signature warm welcome to the International Space Station (ISS) as a scientific experiment.

Credit: Zero G Kitchen/DoubleTree by Hilton

Oven fresh

Zero G Kitchen creates appliances for microgravity use in long-duration space flights. NanoRacks is a provider of commercial access to space. Hilton will be the first hospitality company to participate in research aboard the ISS.

Ian and Jordana Fichtenbaum, the husband and wife team at Zero G Kitchen responsible for the space oven concept, said the DoubleTree Cookie was their first thought when they began imagining the creation of an oven to make space travel more comfortable.

Chocolate chip cookie day

To celebrate the launch of the first food item to be baked fresh in space, hotel guests and cookie lovers alike can stop by any DoubleTree by Hilton in the world on August 4 for National Chocolate Chip Cookie Day to enjoy a complimentary DoubleTree Cookie.  


To accompany these efforts, DoubleTree by Hilton and Scholastic will launch a student contest this fall asking U.S. middle school students to submit their own innovative proposal for making life in space more hospitable. Prizes will include a cash award, iPad and, for teachers, a complimentary stay at any DoubleTree by Hilton location.

Full contest details and submission guidelines are available at:

Also, go to this delectable video at: