October 2, 2014

17.04.11: HiRISE on the Hunt.

The inverted streams of the Aeolis Region. (Credit: NASA/JPL/University of Arizona).

Pull out those 3-D glasses, its alien anaglyph time. HiRISE, NASA’s very own high flying Martian orbiter, has been returning some mind blowing pics since entering orbit in 2006. Equipped with a 0.5 meter diameter camera with the resolution usually reserved for a spy satellite, the HiRISE site now boasts an avalanche of 3-D panoramas that provide for an amazing Sunday morning perusal. (Click the image above and watch hours disappear!) [Read more...]

Hailing Phoenix.

The receding ice in the region of the Phoenix Lander as seen from HiRise. (Credit:NASA/JPL/Caltech/Texas A&M University.

The receding ice in the region of the Phoenix Lander as seen from HiRise. (Credit:NASA/JPL/Caltech/Texas A&M University.

This week, engineers at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory will begin listening for a very special phone call; that of the Phoenix Lander on the northern polar region of Mars. Spring is in the air on the northern hemisphere of Mars, and bets are on as to whether the Lander survived the bleak Martian winter. Already, the outlook isn’t stellar; Phoenix has more than likely been encased in CO2 ice for several months; and don’t forget, the Martian year and seasons are roughly twice as long as here on Earth! Add to the fact the Mars is close to aphelion in its relatively eccentric orbit, and the odds don’t look good.  To phone home, Phoenix will need to recharge its spent batteries to a point where its automated broadcasting can kick in; the solar angle is currently about the same as when scientists lost contact last year. If it does start transmitting, Mars Odyssey currently in orbit will be listening. Odyssey passes over the landing site about 10 times a day, and will listen in over the next few months.  The sixth successful landing on the Red Planet and only the third successful soft landing, Phoenix returned some first rate science, and gave us concrete evidence of water ice lurking just below the Martian soil. Now approaching opposition, Mars is rising low in the east just after dusk; more on that next week! For now, Let’s hope that Phoenix lives up to its namesake and rises from the dead!

14.10.09: The Earth-Moon System as viewed by HiRISE.

A Crescent Terra & Luna as seen from Martain orbit! (Credit: NASA/HiRISE/JPL).

A Crescent Terra & Luna as seen from Martian orbit! (Credit: NASA/HiRISE/JPL).

The image above floated through our tweet-o-sphere yesterday, thus prompting today’s news post. HiRISE, NASA’s High Resolution Imaging Science Experiment aboard the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter(MRO) is the spacecraft that you’re probably not following, but should be. In orbit about the Red Planet since early 2006, its been transmitting some pretty mind blowing images, all definitely worth a daily peek! Housing a 0.5 meter reflecting telescope which would be the envy of any backyard astronomer, its the first true “spy satellite” quality orbiter that we’ve fielded about Mars. Able to resolve targets about 0.3 meters across, some of the highlights have included stunning views of the polar caps and dunes, snapshots of the Opportunity and Spirit landing sites, and even catching the Phoenix Lander in descent! In fact, eagle-eyed desktop amateurs may even prove successful it divining the fate of the many (more than half!) errant Mars-bound landers over the years. But as is often the case with space exploration, we travel millions of miles to find…ourselves. Some of the most memorable images are actually those of the Earth, whether its “Earth-rise” aboard Apollo 8 or the “Pale Blue Dot” as viewed from Voyager 1, images such as these and the HiRISE pic above of our tiny home remind us how special our place is. Snapped back in 2007, it shows us that the Earth is not only a pretty, but dynamic place were things are happening. Mars is tiny and cratered, and through a backyard telescope, generally yields little detail. Venus, although dazzling, is perpetually shrouded in sulfurous cloud. Not so with the Earth. Cloud cover changes, the surface shows a variation in sea, land, and seasonal growth, and at night, an experienced telescopic eye might just pick out the lights of cities, evidence of human activity. Views like this always remind me of Arthur C. Clarke’s little known but classic short story Report on Planet Three, where Martian scientists argue that life couldn’t exist on Earth! Clarke wryly points out that life elsewhere may not be remotely Earth-like. I personally can’t wait to spread my telescope tripod legs out under a night under Martian skies; and without a doubt, the slender crescent Earth-Moon duo will be my first astronomical target!

January 2009: News & Notes.

LHC

(What we didn’t get for Xmas… the Largon Hadron Collider. (Credit: CERN/LHC Consortium)

Resuming the LHC: The Large Hadron Collider is set to resume start up tests early in the spring of 2009. This will come after its winter maintenance cycle, as well as investigation into a helium leak believed to have been caused by a faulty electrical connection during the otherwise successful September 10th startup. [Read more...]

August 08 News & Notes.

Odd-Ball Pair: Astronomers have recently found a binary system that shouldn’t exist; a fast millisecond pulsar in orbit around a sun-like star. [Read more...]