Planet Pluto’s moon Charon, new images

This video from the USA says about itself:

1 October 2015

Images from NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft were used to create this flyover video of Pluto‘s largest moon, Charon. The “flight” starts with the informally named Mordor (dark) region near Charon’s north pole. The camera then moves south to a vast chasm, descending from 1,100 miles (1,800 kilometers) to just 40 miles (60 kilometers) above the surface to fly through the canyon system. From there it’s a turn to the south to view the plains and “moat mountain,” informally named Kubrick Mons, a prominent peak surrounded by a topographic depression.

New Horizons Long-Range Reconnaissance Imager (LORRI) photographs showing details at up to 400 meters per pixel were used to create the basemap for this animation. Those images, along with pictures taken from a slightly different vantage point by the spacecraft’s Ralph/ Multispectral Visible Imaging Camera (MVIC), were used to create a preliminary digital terrain (elevation) model. The images and model were combined and super-sampled to create this animation.

Credit: NASA/JHUAPL/SwRI/Stuart Robbins


October 01, 2015 04:29pm ET

Amazing new images show the enormous canyon system on Pluto‘s big moon Charon in unprecedented detail.

The photos were captured by NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft during its historic flyby of Pluto on July 14. Mission team members combined some of the images into a new video that lets viewers fly over Charon’s tortured surface.

Charon’s huge chasm snakes across the moon’s surface for more than 1,000 miles (1,600 kilometers). It’s at least four times longer than Arizona’s Grand Canyon, and twice as deep in places, New Horizons team members said. (Some parts of the Grand Canyon are more than 1 mile, or 1.6 km, deep.) [See more Pluto photos by New Horizons]

Pluto as we know it now: Nasa report unwraps enigma of dwarf planet. Researchers present collection of New Horizons data, revealing water icebergs on ‘a surface unlike any planetary surface we’ve ever seen before’: here.

Liquid water discovery on planet Mars?

This video says about itself:

28 September 2015

This animation simulates a fly-around look at one of the places on Mars where dark streaks advance down slopes during warm seasons, possibly involving liquid water. This site is within Hale Crater. The streaks are roughly the length of a football field.

From NASA in the USA:

Sept. 28, 2015

NASA Confirms Evidence That Liquid Water Flows on Today’s Mars

New findings from NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) provide the strongest evidence yet that liquid water flows intermittently on present-day Mars.

Using an imaging spectrometer on MRO, researchers detected signatures of hydrated minerals on slopes where mysterious streaks are seen on the Red Planet. These darkish streaks appear to ebb and flow over time. They darken and appear to flow down steep slopes during warm seasons, and then fade in cooler seasons. They appear in several locations on Mars when temperatures are above minus 10 degrees Fahrenheit (minus 23 Celsius), and disappear at colder times.

“Our quest on Mars has been to ‘follow the water,’ in our search for life in the universe, and now we have convincing science that validates what we’ve long suspected,” said John Grunsfeld, astronaut and associate administrator of NASA’s Science Mission Directorate in Washington. “This is a significant development, as it appears to confirm that water — albeit briny — is flowing today on the surface of Mars.”

These downhill flows, known as recurring slope lineae (RSL), often have been described as possibly related to liquid water. The new findings of hydrated salts on the slopes point to what that relationship may be to these dark features. The hydrated salts would lower the freezing point of a liquid brine, just as salt on roads here on Earth causes ice and snow to melt more rapidly. Scientists say it’s likely a shallow subsurface flow, with enough water wicking to the surface to explain the darkening.

“We found the hydrated salts only when the seasonal features were widest, which suggests that either the dark streaks themselves or a process that forms them is the source of the hydration. In either case, the detection of hydrated salts on these slopes means that water plays a vital role in the formation of these streaks,” said Lujendra Ojha of the Georgia Institute of Technology (Georgia Tech) in Atlanta, lead author of a report on these findings published Sept. 28 by Nature Geoscience.

Ojha first noticed these puzzling features as a University of Arizona undergraduate student in 2010, using images from the MRO’s High Resolution Imaging Science Experiment (HiRISE). HiRISE observations now have documented RSL at dozens of sites on Mars. The new study pairs HiRISE observations with mineral mapping by MRO’s Compact Reconnaissance Imaging Spectrometer for Mars (CRISM).

The spectrometer observations show signatures of hydrated salts at multiple RSL locations, but only when the dark features were relatively wide. When the researchers looked at the same locations and RSL weren’t as extensive, they detected no hydrated salt.

Ojha and his co-authors interpret the spectral signatures as caused by hydrated minerals called perchlorates. The hydrated salts most consistent with the chemical signatures are likely a mixture of magnesium perchlorate, magnesium chlorate and sodium perchlorate. Some perchlorates have been shown to keep liquids from freezing even when conditions are as cold as minus 94 degrees Fahrenheit (minus 70 Celsius). On Earth, naturally produced perchlorates are concentrated in deserts, and some types of perchlorates can be used as rocket propellant.

Perchlorates have previously been seen on Mars. NASA’s Phoenix lander and Curiosity rover both found them in the planet’s soil, and some scientists believe that the Viking missions in the 1970s measured signatures of these salts. However, this study of RSL detected perchlorates, now in hydrated form, in different areas than those explored by the landers. This also is the first time perchlorates have been identified from orbit.

MRO has been examining Mars since 2006 with its six science instruments.

“The ability of MRO to observe for multiple Mars years with a payload able to see the fine detail of these features has enabled findings such as these: first identifying the puzzling seasonal streaks and now making a big step towards explaining what they are,” said Rich Zurek, MRO project scientist at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena, California.

For Ojha, the new findings are more proof that the mysterious lines he first saw darkening Martian slopes five years ago are, indeed, present-day water.

“When most people talk about water on Mars, they’re usually talking about ancient water or frozen water,” he said. “Now we know there’s more to the story. This is the first spectral detection that unambiguously supports our liquid water-formation hypotheses for RSL.”

The discovery is the latest of many breakthroughs by NASA’s Mars missions.

“It took multiple spacecraft over several years to solve this mystery, and now we know there is liquid water on the surface of this cold, desert planet,” said Michael Meyer, lead scientist for NASA’s Mars Exploration Program at the agency’s headquarters in Washington. “It seems that the more we study Mars, the more we learn how life could be supported and where there are resources to support life in the future.”

Water on Mars: What Does It Really Mean? Here.

MARS ONCE HAD EARTH-LIKE CONDITIONS “An Earth-like atmosphere on Mars was once violently stripped away by solar wind, according to new findings from NASA’s ongoing exploration of the red planet. In a press conference on Thursday, the space agency confirmed that solar wind played a major role in the disappearance of the red planet’s atmosphere and water.” Is anyone else now terrified of solar winds? [Jacqueline Howard, HuffPost]

Dwarf planet Pluto, beautiful new photos

This video says about itself:

Seeing Pluto’s ‘Ice-scapes’ In A New Light

17 September 2015

Backlit by sunset over Pluto, NASA‘s New Horizons probe captured rugged ~11,000ft (3,350m) mountains and wide glaciers of nitrogen ice. To quote Principal Investigator Alan Stern: “Pluto is surprisingly Earth-like…and no one predicted it.”

See also here.

From daily The Independent in Britain, with photos there:

New Pluto photos reveal ‘majestic’ icy mountains, glaciers and sweeping plains

Nasa’s New Horizons mission has captured the most detailed-ever images of the dwarf planet

Lizzie Dearden

Spectacular new photos of Pluto have revealed “majestic” icy mountains, sweeping plains and a low-lying haze over the distant dwarf planet.

Nasa scientists said the latest images captured by the New Horizons spacecraft showed it to be “surprisingly Earth-like”, with evidence of a process similar to the water cycle.

A view caught of Pluto at sunset on 14 July showed the rugged terrain in sharp relief, with mountains believed to be up to 11,000ft high, flanked by huge plains and glaciers.

They have been named Norgay Montes and Hillary Montes, after mountaineers Sir Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay, who were the first climbers to reach the summit of Mount Everest.

Read more:
Scientists admit they were completely wrong
New Horizons team reveal pictures of ‘glacier-like’ ice
Nasa spacecraft ‘phones home’ after successful fly-past

“This image really makes you feel you are there, at Pluto, surveying the landscape for yourself,” said New Horizons Principal Investigator Dr Alan Stern, of the Southwest Research Institute in Colorado.

“But this image is also a scientific bonanza, revealing new details about Pluto’s atmosphere, mountains, glaciers and plains.”

The dramatic backlighting and high resolution captured by the Ralph/Multispectral Visual Imaging Camera, which photographed the dwarf planet from 11,000 miles away, also reveals new details of hazes throughout Pluto’s “tenuous but extended” nitrogen atmosphere.

More than a dozen wispy layers can be seen stretching from near the ground to at least 60 miles above the surface.

Will Grundy, lead of the New Horizons composition team from the Lowell Observatory in Arizona, said that combined with other recent images, the picture provides evidence of a hydrological cycle on Pluto – but involving soft and “exotic” ices, including nitrogen, rather than water.

“In addition to being visually stunning, these low-lying hazes hint at the weather changing from day to day on Pluto, just like it does here on Earth,” Mr Grundy said.

Bright areas seen east of the vast icy plain, informally known as Sputnik Planum, appear to be blanketed with ice, which Nasa believes may have evaporated from the surface and been redeposited.

A panorama also showed glaciers flowing back into the plain from the icy region, similar to the flows seen on the edges of Earth’s polar ice caps in Greenland and Antarctica.

“We did not expect to find hints of a nitrogen-based glacial cycle on Pluto operating in the frigid conditions of the outer solar system,” said Alan Howard, a member of the mission’s Geology, Geophysics and Imaging team from the University of Virginia.

“Driven by dim sunlight, this would be directly comparable to the hydrological cycle that feeds ice caps on Earth, where water is evaporated from the oceans, falls as snow, and returns to the seas through glacial flow.”

Dr Stern said the apparent cycle made Pluto “surprisingly Earth-like”, adding: “No one predicted it.”

The New Horizons mission, which launched in 2006, is the first to get a close look at Pluto and its moons, three billion miles away.

It is next scheduled to visit the Kuiper Belt region, which is believed to contain comets, asteroids and other icy bodies.

Another awesome sunset on Pluto.

Ocean discovery on Saturn’s moon Enceladus

This video from the USA says about itself:

NASA: Saturn‘s Moon Enceladus Has Global Ocean

16 September 2015

New research suggests the ocean underneath Saturn‘s moon Enceladus is global in nature.

Saturn‘s moon Enceladus likely contains a global ocean. Scientists working off of images obtained from the Cassini mission have observed a noticeable wobble in Enceladus that they say only makes sense if its inner core is not directly connected to its outer shell. Using over seven years’ worth of images, researchers were able to accurately determine the magnitude of the wobble and arrive at their conclusion.

Enceladus is home to what scientists call “tiger stripes”—large cracks in the moon’s south pole where ice particles, salts, water vapor and organic molecules are expelled in a thin mist. The geologic spraying activity has been observed for some time and was previously thought to be fed by a simple lens-like reservoir—something much smaller than a global ocean. But data culled from the Cassini mission‘s numerous flybys of the icy moon has supported the idea that the reservoir might be much larger. According to NASA, the latest findings independently confirm the global ocean hypothesis.

By Sebastian Murdock in the USA:

Global Ocean Discovered On Saturn’s Moon Enceladus

Pack your swimsuit! But not really.

09/16/2015 11:50 AM EDT

A sprawling global ocean has been discovered on Saturn’s moon Enceladus.

Scientists made the discovery after sifting through seven years worth of images taken by NASA’s Cassini mission. Although scientists were previously aware of a body of water under the moon’s icy crust, NASA announced Tuesday that the body of water expands across the entire moon.

By mapping the position of craters across hundreds of images, the researchers were able to measure a small wobble in the moon as it orbits Saturn. The wobble indicated the presence of a vast body of water between Enceladus’s icy crust and its rocky core, Gizmodo reported.

“If the surface and core were rigidly connected, the core would provide so much dead weight the wobble would be far smaller than we observe it to be,” Dr. Matthew Tiscareno, a Cassini scientist and co-author of a paper describing the discovery, said in a written statement. “This proves that there must be a global layer of liquid separating the surface from the core.”

The Cassini spacecraft can “‘see’ in wavelengths the human eye can’t and can ‘feel’ things about the magnetic fields and tiny dust particles that no human hand could detect,” according to NASA. The spacecraft was named after famed astronomer Jean-Dominique Cassini, who discovered four of Saturn’s whopping 62 moons.

On Oct. 28, Cassini will make it’s “deepest-ever dive” through the moon’s harsh, icy atmosphere when it passes just 30 miles above the surface.

Supermoon lunar eclipse, September 27th, 2015

This video from the USA says about itself:

NASA | Supermoon Lunar Eclipse

31 August 2015

On September 27th, 2015 there will be a very rare event in the night sky – a supermoon lunar eclipse. Watch this animated feature to learn more.

Ed Mazza in the USA about this:

09/03/2015 04:10 AM EDT

It’s a supermoon and a lunar eclipse at the same time, and it’ll be visible in much of the world on the night of Sept. 27 in North and South America and the morning of Sept. 28 in Europe, Africa and parts of Central Asia (sorry, Asia-Pacific — most of you will miss out on this one).

First Danish cosmonaut in space

This video says about itself:

Historic 500th Soyuz rocket sets off from Baikonur

1 September 2015

The 500th Soyuz rocket has successfully lifted off from the Gagarin’s Start launchpad marking a historic milestone for Baikonur Cosmodrome. The spacecraft will deliver three new crew members to the International Space Station.

Russian and Kazakh cosmonauts (Sergey Volkov and Aidyn Aimbetov respectively), along with the first ever Danish astronaut (Andreas Mogensen) have entered history on board Soyuz TMA-18M. The 500th manned rocket launched from the same pad that Yuri Gagarin’s original Soyuz blasted off from on April 12, 1961.

From daily The Morning Star in Britain today:

Soyuz slowly blasts off to space station

KAZAKHSTAN: A Russian, a Dane and a Kazakh blasted off from Baikonur Cosmodrome to the International Space Station (ISS) yesterday.

Andreas Mogensen became the first Dane in space, while Kazakh Aidyn Aimbetov got his chance to go into space when British singer Sarah Brightman pulled out.

The Soyuz spacecraft will take an unusually long two-day flightpath to the ISS due to safety concerns after the station had to adjust its orbit to avoid orbital debris.

After Pluto, spacecraft continues to dwarf planet 2014 MU69

This video says about itself:

Fly with the New Horizons spacecraft as it cruises by dozens of newly-discovered Kuiper Belt Objects (KBOs) near its trajectory. These objects were found by our survey team (gray points) as well as by members of the public through Ice Hunters (purple points) during a search – still under way – to find a KBO for New Horizons to approach close enough to take detailed images and measurements of its surface.


New Horizons Locks Onto Next Target: Let’s Explore the Kuiper Belt!

Mika McKinnon

8/28/15 1:10pm

We don’t have the funding but we have the target: the New Horizons spacecraft will adjust its course to make a flyby of Kuiper Belt Object MU69 in January 2019. This will be the most distant world ever explored.

The New Horizons spacecraft completed its primary mission by making a flyby of the dwarf planet Pluto and taking extensive photographs and measurements about the little system and its collection of moons. It collected so much data, we’ll be downlinking the data into the Fall of 2016! But like every NASA mission, the space agency likes to squeeze as much science as possible out of every gram of robot and drop of propellent.

The extended mission has not yet been funded, but to be fuel-efficient the team needs to pick a target and adjust New Horizons’ trajectory now. 2014 MU69, nicknamed PT1 for “Potential Target 1,” is a tiny, dim world (magnitude 26.8) of an estimated 30 to 45 kilometers (19 to 28 miles) diameter, which is roughly the size of Pluto’s mid-sized moons Hydra and Nix and ten times larger than most comets. By mass it’s 1,000 times larger than Rosetta’s Comet 67P/Churyumov–Gerasimenko and 1/10,000th the mass of Pluto. MU69 is easier to get to than the other lead contender, 2014 PN70, which means the team will have more flexibility to tweak the trajectory when closer to the object. But most importantly, it’s a totally different type of Kuiper Belt Object than Pluto is, giving us our first up-close look at a different type of object. New Horizons Principal Investigator Alan Stern gushes over the selection:

“2014 MU69 is a great choice because it is just the kind of ancient KBO, formed where it orbits now, that the Decadal Survey desired us to fly by. Moreover, this KBO costs less fuel to reach [than other candidate targets], leaving more fuel for the flyby, for ancillary science, and greater fuel reserves to protect against the unforeseen.

New Horizons was originally designed to fly beyond the Pluto system and explore additional Kuiper Belt objects. The spacecraft carries extra hydrazine fuel for a KBO flyby; its communications system is designed to work from far beyond Pluto; its power system is designed to operate for many more years; and its scientific instruments were designed to operate in light levels much lower than it will experience during the 2014 MU69 flyby.”

Because we think that Kuiper Belt Objects haven’t been heated or changed much in the 4.6 billion year history of our Solar System, we’re optimistic that this little world will be a timecapsule into what the outer edges looked light while planets were busy colliding and accreting in the inner solar system. New Horizons science team member John Spencer explains:

“There’s so much that we can learn from close-up spacecraft observations that we’ll never learn from Earth, as the Pluto flyby demonstrated so spectacularly. The detailed images and other data that New Horizons could obtain from a KBO flyby will revolutionize our understanding of the Kuiper Belt and KBOs.”

The New Horizons spacecraft will be making a series of burns in late October and early November to set it on a trajectory to encounter MU69. The closest approach is anticipated for January 1, 2019, although that may shift with later corrections.The closest approach of the flyby will when the object is nearly 6.5 billion kilometers (43.4 AU) from the Sun; we’re expecting that New Horizons will skim by the world even closer than it did to Pluto this summer. We’ve only discovered the world on June 26, 2014 as part of an intensive search for candidates for a New Horizons flyby: it’s so new to us that we aren’t even sure how long a year is for MU69! (We think it takes 293 Earth-years for it to make a single trip, but with a healthy margin of ±24 Earth-years error.)

Along the way, New Horizons will be making opportunistic observations of any other Kuiper Belt Objects we can. Stern anticipates we might be able to see up to fifty other Kuiper Belt Objects. The observations will be simple — basic population characteristics, searching for binary objects, estimated sizes, and if we’re very lucky a few occultations of stars.

The extended mission to actually keep New Horizons operating with a human support team and time to send back data on the Deep Space Network isn’t actually approved yet. The science team will be writing and submitting a research proposal in 2016 for external review. John Grunsfeld, astronaut and chief of the NASA Science Mission Directorate, cautions:

“Even as the New Horizon’s spacecraft speeds away from Pluto out into the Kuiper Belt, and the data from the exciting encounter with this new world is being streamed back to Earth, we are looking outward to the next destination for this intrepid explorer. While discussions whether to approve this extended mission will take place in the larger context of the planetary science portfolio, we expect it to be much less expensive than the prime mission while still providing new and exciting science.”

Many space exploration missions do get extended missions — the Mars Opportunity rover’s primary mission ended after 90 days, and Cassini’s primary mission finished after four years back in 2008. However, if you want to help NASA get the political power of clear and loud public support, here’s how you can write to your Congressional representatives about approving the New Horizons extended mission.

After the flyby, the team hopes to keep New Horizons operating as it continues beyond the Kuiper Belt, following in the spirit of Voyager 1 and Voyager 2 as it discovers what lays beyond the edges of our Solar System.

The New Horizons spacecraft is in excellent condition with all systems behaving normally. Data downlinks resume on September 5, 2015, with new image releases anticipated every Friday into next year.