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Thursday, July 1, 2004


Cassini Arrives

The image is taken from the dark side, and shows only the diffuse sunlight scattered through the rings.
The image is taken from the dark side, and shows only the diffuse sunlight scattered through the rings.
Credit: NASA/JPL
After its 7-year trek, Cassini is finally in orbit around Saturn. After a burn to put itself into temporary orbit, the spacecraft was in the final planned orbit, saving a little time and fuel. "It feels awfully good to be in orbit around the Lord of the Rings" said Charles Elachi, director of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in California. the craft flew between a gap in the rings. "We'd done lot of work to make sure the path was clear, but until you come out the other side you don't know," he said. Because of the $3 million Cassini project, "there is going to be a huge leap in our understanding of the Saturnian system" says Elachi. The first "call home" was received at 21:30 PDT.

The picture at left is raw data from Cassini. It still shows electronic interference (scan lines) and glitches where cosmic rays affect the photo. Also, the sun is out of site, behind Saturn. We have already learned that some of the rings' bands are only a half a kilometer, not the kilometer that Voyager told us. Cassini Scientist hope to learn what the rings are made of and why they are there.

(More info New Scientist, New Scientist)


- posted by Jim @ 12:37 EST

(permanent link)

Sunday, July 4, 2004


Japan Planning Successor to Nozomi With Russia

The Japanese Flag.
The Japanese Flag.
Credit: Unknown
Although the recent NASA and ESA missions to Mars have changed the way we view its past and present environment and the possibility for life, they have left many holes in our knowledge. One of these holes is the amount of atmosphere Mars once contained, which could have implications for the evolution of life and the ability to terraform it. Even the morality of terraforming may be affected by Mars' past state.

Japan launched Nozomi in 1998 in the hopes of resolving the issue of past atmospheric size and composition, as well as many others. The failure of that mission reminded the spacefaring community of the incredible dangers and challenges involved in getting to Mars, but it did not stop Japan from pursuing its quest for contributing to the world's knowledge of our neighbor.

Japan hopes to contribute to a mission from another nation that tried and failed to reach Mars. Russia is planning on launching their first probe in a decade, after the Mars 96 mission failed on launch. As the ESA attempted to do with the last Russian mission, the Japanese Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) hopes to hitch a ride on the Russian craft to put their own satellite into orbit of Mars. If successful, we will be one step closer to unlocking the secrets of Mars' past.

(More info: Daily Yomiuri)


- posted by Brian @ 15:27 EST

(permanent link)

Wednesday, July 7, 2004


Mars GPS Planned

Mars.
Mars.
Credit: NASA/JPL
How do you tell a rover millions of miles away to go look at a rock?

Unfortunately, even if you figure out the right sequence of commands, the best you can do is send the commands, and hope. And then you figure out where the rover is. Maybe there was a rock in the way that threw the rover off track, or maybe the wheels slipped a little bit. Maybe it fell down a crater.

Modern rovers have complicated devices for figuring out where they are. Inertial guidance systems are combined with advanced imaging software that uses landmarks are employed by Spirit and Opportunity. When the orbiters are in the right position, they can even try using Doppler shift. But even with all that, simply finding out where they are after moving takes an inordinate amount of time that could be better spent on discovering clues to Mars' geology and past.

That's all going to change.

As the number of orbiters around Mars grows, they are increasingly being used as communications relays and positioning satellites. The 2009 Mars Telecommunications Orbiter will combine the existing and future Mars satellites into a GPS system that will grow over time. While original plans called for a Marsnet of tiny satellites to serve this role, NASA has determined that they can create a GPS system equivalent to the degraded Earth GPS from before the military allowed commercial access -- that is, 10 to 100 meters resolution.

Not only will the new network be a vital asset to future robotic missions, it will also be able to do science of its own, by probing the ionosphere through its radio emissions. Perhaps more importantly for the future, it may also serve as a vital tool in the future human exploration and colonization of the planet.

(More info: Yahoo! News)


- posted by Brian @ 23:21 EST

(permanent link)

Thursday, July 8, 2004


MER's to spend more time on Mars?

An artist's rendition of an MER.
An artist's rendition of an MER.
Credit: NASA/JPL
The MER science team has made a request to NASA to extend the life of the MER rovers. Their initial 90-day mission has already lasted to 250. If the extension is approved, the rovers will be put into a "deep sleep" to stand out the winter. Next Spring the Rovers will be ready to continue major science research. "We're not going to do a lot but stay alive and occasionally do some remote-sensing of the sky and surface. We'll become a long-term weather station," said Dr Arvidson. This "deep sleep" was already tested on Opportunity, when its heater was malfunctioning. Dr Ray Arvidson, deputy principal investigator for the rover science payload, said that July would be the last month of having a JPL base. After that, teleconferencing and distributed computing will be used to run the mission. With luck, the Rovers celebrate their first anniversary of their landing on Mars.

(More info: BBC.co.uk)


- posted by Jim @ 14:38 EST

(permanent link)


Water and Air May Really Be Gone

The Sun.
The Sun.
Credit: NASA
When the solar storm hit Earth last year, not many talked about how it would affect Mars.

Measurements from the 2001 Mars Odyssey spacecraft revealed that when the solar storm hit Mars, huge amounts of atmosphere was blown off the planet. The blast, which took out Odyssey's radiation-measuring instrument, shows the severe consequences of lacking the magnetic fields that protect Earth.

There has been a running debate for decades about where the water and atmosphere on Mars went. While it is still a distinct possibility that most of the air remains trapped in deposits on the surface, and we know that there is still a good deal of water buried underground and in the poles, this new evidence bolsters the theory that the volatiles may simply be gone. If so, it could have far-reaching implications for terraforming, as most practical schemes utilize materials from Mars itself due to the fantastic cost of transporting from other worlds.

For the final answers, we may have to wait for Nozomi's successor to find out what really makes up the current atmosphere.

(More info: Yahoo! News)


- posted by Brian @ 18:14 EST

(permanent link)

Thursday, July 15, 2004


Ammonia in Atmosphere

An ammonia molecule.
An ammonia molecule.
Credit: WhyFlies.org
Europe's Mars Express has found the spectral traces of Ammonia in the Martian Atmosphere. Ammonia has a very short life span in the Martian atmosphere (a few hours max). This means that there is either volcanism or life. Since volcanism is normally very pronounced, the evidence hints at life. The scientists have ruled out that this is ammonia from the Beagle II because of the distribution. This information comes from only analyzing a fraction of the orbiters Planetary Fourier Spectrometer.

(More info: BBC.co.uk)


- posted by Jim @ 14:31 EST

(permanent link)

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