Mars Update

The planet-wide dust storm (image on right) has cleared. Here’s an update on humanity’s active missions to the Red Planet.

About to make headlines in next 30 days


Update, November 8, 2018:

Active spacecraft on or around Mars

Per Wikipedia:

  1. Mars Odyssey (NASA); also keeps Earth in touch with the Curiosity and Opportunity rovers
  2. Mars Express (ESA)
  3. Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (NASA)
  4. Curiosity rover (NASA); currently has a glitch. Update:

  5. Mangalyaan; Mars Orbiter Mission (ISRO)
  6. MAVEN

In need of a Matt Daimon-style rescue mission

Opportunity rover (NASA).

Remember how H. G. Wells began his novel The War of the Worlds?

No one would have believed in the last years of the nineteenth century that this world was being watched keenly and closely by intelligences greater than man’s and yet as mortal as his own; that as men busied themselves about their various concerns they were scrutinised and studied, perhaps almost as narrowly as a man with a microscope might scrutinise the transient creatures that swarm and multiply in a drop of water.

Well, no one in the 19th or early 20th century would have believed that soon we would know what the view of Earth from Mars actually looks like!

Somehow, that doesn’t make me feel transient at all. But my mind is boggled!

Featured image: NASA


New Horizons Opens A Path to Pluto (and Beyond)

Apparently the updates menu goes by the original post date, and this 2014 post is still buried. It shouldn’t be, since New Horizons is now closing in on its next target wa-a-a-a-a-a-y out there on the edge of the our little corner of the Universe. Also, people should check out that 2006 launch video again: that was powerful!

Update, October 5, 2018:

Here is more information on the upcoming Ultima Thule encounter.

Somehow I missed updating this post for the Pluto flyby in 2015. Here is a video that NASA put up about a year ago to show us all what New Horizons saw up close:

Beautiful, but weird! I’m not a musician, but that silent video makes me want to write some music!

Original post:
Let’s watch the 2006 launch of the fastest spacecraft ever to leave our planet.

Put on your hard hat and watch your speaker volume as an Atlas V rocket, Centaur rocket, and five solid rocket boosters light up.

Yeah. That baby took only 9 hours to reach the Moon.

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Hayabusa2 and Asteroid Ryugu

November 3, 2018: It is going to a challenge to maneuver the spacecraft close enough to poke the surface for a sample.

October 30, 2018, 8:54 p.m., Pacific: Look at the footage they got during the most recent touchdown rehearsal! Heh. If Ryugu were sentient, it would think there was a mosquito buzzing around it . . . but this mosquito is going to swat Ryugu in 2019!

October 25, 2018, 1:32 p.m., Pacific: Another spectacular image, this from today’s rehearsel for the 2019 touchdown. The shiny thing is a target marker, but look at that spacecraft shadow! Wow, they were close! JAXA reports a new approach record of 12 meters (40 feet).

October 14, 2018, 4:15 p.m., Pacific: This is the rehearsal–they report that the LIDAR problem was fixed, so they’re doing the rehearsal again. There will be another rehearsal later this month.

However, they have moved up the actual touchdown to next year–see this report for details.

Although the first touchdown schedule is changed, we have enough time margins in our schedule, and our aim is a more reliable and safe operation through a comprehensive study of all the sources of information obtained so far during the Hayabusa2 project.

Real-time images from the October 3rd MASCOT deployment in English here.

October 3, 2018:

And here is the press conference (the first few minutes are silent reaction shots in the control room–those initial grins are wonderful!–and then the conference, which is narrated by an English-language translator):

October 2, 2018, 8:55 p.m., Pacific: Per most recent tweet, they’ve got communication with the lander, and . . .

October 2, 2018, 8:49 p.m., Pacific:

I’m not sure, but there may be another delay of hours now, as there was with the MINERVA rovers, before we know MASCOT has landed and is operating. . .

October 2, 2018, 6:25 p.m., Pacific: MASCOT deployment update: It’s October 3 in Japan, and Hayabusa2 is descending toward Ryugu again, just as it did recently to deploy the MINERVA rovers. Check these Twitter feeds for updates and links as things progress today:

Indeed, good luck, MASCOT!

October 1, 2018: JAXA released this update today:

Hayabusa2 status (the week of 2018.09.24) ★

This week, the MINERVA-II1 rovers that landed on the asteroid last week sent images from the asteroid surface. No regolith was seen in these images, only a shocking scenery of large and small boulders. On the other hand, the scenes of sunlight on the asteroid and the rover hopping were both very beautiful and dynamic. Next week is the deployment of the MASCOT lander. The decent operation is always a nervous time and we want to deliver the lander steadily and carefully. (Regolith: fine grain sediments).

Apparently some asteroids do have regolith.

Meanwhile, MASCOT tweeted yesterday:

Check out the MASCOT Twitter feed for more of those wonderful messages people have sent before the descent begins, day after tomorrow.

September 27, 2018: First movie ever taken on an asteroid:

Check out the Twitter feed for more breath-taking images and updates; the rovers are hopping!

September 22, 2018: YES!!!!!!!

Hopping rovers . . . now why didn’t Star Trek ever dream of that?


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Guest Videos: Juno and Jupiter

Meanwhile, at Jupiter . . .

Another bumped post. This is turning into a Blog Carnival of Space, but it’s worth it in sheer awesomeness. It’s too bad ongoing space exploration just doesn’t get a lot of coverage in the news. (PS: Work on the domestic cat ebook is going slowly but progressing steadily.)

September 5, 2018: Juno has found that Jupiter’s magnetic field is unique (also the Lego figures and, more importantly, the spacecraft’s electronics are holding, thus far, during the dives close to the giant planet.

Update, July 10, 2018: This week, NASA released a summary of the Juno Mission’s accomplishments over the last two years.

Original post:

We have three Lego figures orbiting the planet Jupiter now.


Why are the instruments in a titanium vault?

Well, for one thing, Jupiter “roars” at you, even before you get there: Continue reading

Guest Reblog: The Face of Mars Rover “Opportunity”

Everybody knows about the Curiosity rover’s “selfie.” But that wasn’t the first Mars rover.

Amazingly, some of the older ones continued exploring the Red Planet long after their mission time was expected to expire. And recently, five thousand Martian days (“sols”) after arriving, one of them took a selfie.

Lookin’ great, Opportunity!

Featured image is by NASA. (I cropped it a little bit.)

They made up this montage in 2010, when Opportunity was a newcomer and 12 miles of Martian travel was considered a huge success. Exploration has gone much farther, in various parts of Mars, since then.

Below is a reblog I really like from Jason Major’s excellent Lights In The Dark blog on space exploration.

It’s finally happened—after over 14 years on Mars (14!!!) NASA’s Opportunity rover has turned its arm-mounted camera around to take a look at itself, giving us the very first true “selfie” of the Mars Exploration Rover mission! Hello Opportunity!

via After 5,000 Sols We See the Face of Opportunity — Lights in the Dark

Guest Video: Oumuamua: The First Interstellar Visitor

November 5, 2018:

This link, per Jason Major, is to a draft PDF download of the paper that spurred this discussion. Of course we all want the answer to every cosmic question to be (friendly) aliens, but that low mass-to-area “solar sail” hypothesis is certainly believable, given Oumuamua’s unusual shape.

Original post (and first update)

Oumuamua has been tumbling through interstellar space for a LONG time.

Also, per the reference at that link, it’s apparently red!

Update, July 1, 2018: Huh, that’s weird.

Featured image by Free-Photos, Pixabay. Public domain.

The Sun



Never we know but in sleet and in snow,

The place where the great fires are,

That the midst of the earth is a raging mirth

And the heart of the earth a star.

— G. K. Chesterton, “A Child of the Snows”

Well, it is pretty hot in the Earth’s core, but there is a real star in our skies every day.

Mankind’s names for it vary across the inhabited lands of Earth.

In Mandarin, it’s called Tàiyáng, and in Japanese Taiyō. In Arabic, they call this star Al-Shams, while in Swahili it is Jua.

In the West, ancient Romans called it Sol. The Germanic tribes who fought them called it a name that has come down to us in English as the Sun.

We take the Sun – a G-type main-sequence star – for granted.

What if it disappeared?

Yeah, bad news for you and me.

That video explores a little bit of the Sun-Earth connection, but what exactly is the Sun? What’s going to happen to it, and us, in the future?
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Missions For Mercury

Mankind has sent a total of 35 missions to Mars and 40 to Venus, but only two spacecraft have ever visited the planet Mercury.


Because you’re heading Sunward into a star’s enormous gravity well and must use rockets if you want to slow down and check out this little planet.

It ain't like shootin' womp rats, kid.  Image: Ed Hiker

It ain’t like shootin’ womp rats, kid. Image: Ed Hiker

Visiting Mercury actually takes more fuel than you would need to exit the Solar System!

It’s so difficult that of course we tried to do it…and succeeded.
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