Tag Archives: space probe

Juno Is Arriving at Jupiter

Just a quick note that NASA’s spacecraft Juno is arriving at Jupiter at the moment. I’m watching NASA JPL’s live video stream, which you can also watch here.

Or if you like, watch it below:


Science Sunday – To Mars In a Few Days

NASA 360 released a video about a week ago talking about new propulsion technology that could propel a robotic space probe to Mars in only a few days. To send a larger manned spacecraft to Mars, it would take about a month. That’s a lot better than the few months it already takes to send a space probe there.

How is it done? Lasers. This video introduces the concept, but you have to go elsewhere to watch the full talk.

Here’s the full talk in Seattle last year. There are several videos that cover different aspects of this topic.

What do you think of this topic? Would you like to see this technology happen? Let me know in the comments below.

The Far Side of Pluto

If you’ve been following New Horizons and its journey past Pluto, then you’ve already seen this image. On July 11th, New Horizons took a picture of Pluto’s “far side,” or the side that will be opposite New Horizons as it passes Pluto. It’s the side we won’t get clear images of. That side is always facing Charon. This is the best image we will ever get (until another probe is sent to Pluto) of Pluto’s Charon-facing side.

nh-pluto-7-11-15The dark spots at the lower part of Pluto are what’s puzzling scientists. We won’t get a clear picture of what they are, unfortunately. They’re evenly spaced, and much darker than the rest of the dwarf planet. The other side of Pluto, the side we’ll get to see clearly, also has a dark patch, called “the whale,” but it’s much larger. It’s quite likely it’s the same geological feature as these smaller spots. If they’re totally smooth, the angle at which they’re oriented toward the sun would explain why they’re so dark. However, it could also be a material that is dark or less reflective. We should be able to see with “the whale” in a couple days.

Other features we see are some impact craters, which was expected. The side we’ll see should have more impact craters, which is very useful in determining the composition of the interior of Pluto. Also, there are some features that look like channels. What could those be? Fractures on the surface? Linear geysers like on Enceladus? Could Pluto be geologically active? With its close relationship with Charon, there should be some tidal flexing, but not so much, because they always keep the same faces towards each other.

New Horizons is currently in the flyby phase of its mission, and will be closest to Pluto in about 36 hours. We should see some amazing pictures of Pluto, Charon, and one of its smaller moons, Nix, in the coming days. The other moons will be low resolution, because New Horizons doesn’t come near them.

Over the following weeks and months, high resolution images will slowly arrive back on Earth, as New Horizons doesn’t exactly have a broadband connection. We should see surprising new images often, which makes this short flyby very rewarding. It won’t be everything all at once, followed by a feeling of “is that it?” We’ll keep getting new images, so that’s great.

My biggest question is how similar will Pluto look to Neptune’s moon Triton? They’re both Kuiper Belt objects, and are similar in size. This should be interesting.

What do you think the features on Pluto are?

Excellent New Horizons Update

After the glitch on New Horizons on July 4th, we have some good news today. NASA has identified the problem and is correcting it. New Horizons will be back to normal on July 7th, and will resume science operations.

The problem was a rather unusual one. There was a problem with the timing in an operation that would only be done once during the flyby. The problem has been fixed, and will not affect anything now.

I can’t wait to see the closeup pictures of Pluto. There are so many artistic renditions of the surface, some showing colours such as orange, yellow, and black. The colour of Pluto is a kind of orange-beige colour from what we can tell so far, and there’s a lot of variation in brightness.  That makes it quite exciting knowing that it won’t be a boring world. It looks absolutely fascinating already.

I still can’t believe it. Next week, we’ll have a clear view of Pluto and Charon. Can you believe it?

New Horizons Glitch – Will We See Pluto?

While the US was celebrating the Fourth of July, New Horizons was getting itself drunk. Well, there was a glitch. With just ten days to go until the encounter with Pluto, New Horizons shut down its main computer and the backup started up, putting the probe in safe mode.

Safe mode isn’t unusual for space probes, but the timing isn’t very good. Well, it’s not so bad, because not many pictures were expected to be taken over the next couple days. However, New Horizons is 4.5 hours away, and any commands will require 9 hours (4.5 hours confirmation). If they can diagnose it quickly, then it should be working properly in the next couple days. If not, it could take a few days to correct.  I really hope it’ll be corrected soon.  I want my Pluto pictures!

The Planetary Society has a very good write-up on this.

Wow! Surface Features of Pluto Now Visible

New Horizons is getting closer to Pluto. Close enough so that we can see some surface features. Just take a look.

OpNav3_barycen_v7_lowresFrom these images, NASA’s put together an animated GIF of Pluto and Charon, and this view is only going to get better. It appears there may be a polar cap on Pluto.

Just over two months to go until some amazing pictures of Pluto and its moons.

Who’s excited now?

The Skies of Mars Are Getting Busy

Mars Express, Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, and Mars Odyssey are being joined by a pair of probes this week.  There will be five active orbiters around Mars.  That’s certainly a new record.

MAVEN concept art, NASA.
MAVEN concept art, NASA.

Already arrived is NASA’s MAVEN, short for Mars Atmosphere and Volatile Evolution. It arrived at Mars on September 22nd, and has assumed orbit.  It will study the atmosphere and try to determine where the water had gone.  What’s interesting is that it’ll study how quickly the atmosphere is being stripped away by solar winds, so they may be able to extrapolate the thickness of the atmosphere billions of years ago, as well as see how much water there was.

Mars Orbiter Mission artist concept, by Nesnad for Wikipedia.
Mars Orbiter Mission artist concept, by Nesnad for Wikipedia.

The second probe arriving at Mars is the Indian Space Research Organisation’s Mars Orbiter Mission (MOM), or Mangalyaan. It arrives at Mars today! This mission is exciting not because of what it will do, as much of it is pretty simple compared to what NASA and ESA orbiters have done, but it is the first time India has sent a probe to another planet.  Seeing other countries with successful interplanetary missions is very encouraging.  Apart from testing the technology, which is the primary mission, it also has scientific secondary objectives, including studying the mineralogy, morphology, and atmosphere.  This should be interesting.

Pretty busy at Mars now, isn’t it?  Which mission are you interested in?