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Topic: NASA’s Science Mission Directorate

NASA’s Dawn spacecraft takes new pictures of dwarf planet Ceres

 

Written by Elizabeth Landau
NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory

NASA - National Aeronautics and Space AdministrationPasadena, CA – Craters and mysterious bright spots are beginning to pop out in the latest images of Ceres from NASA’s Dawn spacecraft. These images, taken February 12th at a distance of 52,000 miles (83,000 kilometers) from the dwarf planet, pose intriguing questions for the science team to explore as the spacecraft nears its destination.

“As we slowly approach the stage, our eyes transfixed on Ceres and her planetary dance, we find she has beguiled us but left us none the wiser,” said Chris Russell, principal investigator of the Dawn mission, based at UCLA. “We expected to be surprised; we did not expect to be this puzzled.”

These two views of Ceres were acquired by NASA's Dawn spacecraft on Feb. 12, 2015, from a distance of about 52,000 miles (83,000 kilometers) as the dwarf planet rotated. The images have been magnified from their original size. (NASA/JPL-Caltech/UCLA/MPS/DLR/IDA)

These two views of Ceres were acquired by NASA’s Dawn spacecraft on Feb. 12, 2015, from a distance of about 52,000 miles (83,000 kilometers) as the dwarf planet rotated. The images have been magnified from their original size. (NASA/JPL-Caltech/UCLA/MPS/DLR/IDA)

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NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft observes moon Charon orbiting Pluto

 

NASA

NASA - National Aeronautics and Space AdministrationWashington, D.C. – This time-lapse “movie” of Pluto and its largest moon, Charon, was recently shot at record-setting distances with the Long-Range Reconnaissance Imager (LORRI) on NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft. The movie was made over about a week, from January 25th-31st, 2015.

It was taken as part of the mission’s second optical navigation (“OpNav”) campaign to better refine the locations of Pluto and Charon in preparation for the spacecraft’s close encounter with the small planet and its five moons on July 14th, 2015.

This time-lapse “movie” of Pluto and its largest moon, Charon, was recently shot at record-setting distances with the Long-Range Reconnaissance Imager (LORRI) on NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft. (NASA/APL/Southwest Research Institute)

This time-lapse “movie” of Pluto and its largest moon, Charon, was recently shot at record-setting distances with the Long-Range Reconnaissance Imager (LORRI) on NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft. (NASA/APL/Southwest Research Institute)

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NASA’s Voyager 1 Spacecraft took famous images of Earth 25 years ago Valentine’s Day

 

Written by Elizabeth Landau
NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory

NASA - National Aeronautics and Space AdministrationPasadena, CA – Valentine’s Day is special for NASA’s Voyager mission. It was on February 14th, 1990, that the Voyager 1 spacecraft looked back at our solar system and snapped the first-ever pictures of the planets from its perch at that time beyond Neptune.

This “family portrait” captures Neptune, Uranus, Saturn, Jupiter, Earth and Venus from Voyager 1’s unique vantage point. A few key members did not make it in: Mars had little sunlight, Mercury was too close to the sun, and dwarf planet Pluto turned out too dim.

These six narrow-angle color images were made from the first ever "portrait" of the solar system taken by Voyager 1, which was more than 4 billion miles from Earth and about 32 degrees above the ecliptic. (NASA/JPL-Caltech)

These six narrow-angle color images were made from the first ever “portrait” of the solar system taken by Voyager 1, which was more than 4 billion miles from Earth and about 32 degrees above the ecliptic. (NASA/JPL-Caltech)

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NASA’s Cassini spacecraft’s radar pictures of Saturn’s moon Titan made clearer by new Despeckling process

 

Written by Preston Dyches
NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory

NASA - National Aeronautics and Space AdministrationPasadena, CA – During 10 years of discovery, NASA’s Cassini spacecraft has pulled back the smoggy veil that obscures the surface of Titan, Saturn’s largest moon.

Cassini’s radar instrument has mapped almost half of the giant moon’s surface; revealed vast, desert-like expanses of sand dunes; and plumbed the depths of expansive hydrocarbon seas. What could make that scientific bounty even more amazing? Well, what if the radar images could look even better?

Thanks to a recently developed technique for handling noise in Cassini’s radar images, these views now have a whole new look.

Presented here are side-by-side comparisons of a traditional Cassini Synthetic Aperture Radar (SAR) view and one made using a new technique for handling electronic noise that results in clearer views of Titan's surface. (NASA/JPL-Caltech/ASI)

Presented here are side-by-side comparisons of a traditional Cassini Synthetic Aperture Radar (SAR) view and one made using a new technique for handling electronic noise that results in clearer views of Titan’s surface. (NASA/JPL-Caltech/ASI)

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NASA researchers may have discovered why Comets have a hard outer crust

 

Written by Whitney Clavin
NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory

NASA - National Aeronautics and Space AdministrationPasadena, CA – Astronomers tinkering with ice and organics in the lab may have discovered why comets are encased in a hard, outer crust.

Using an icebox-like instrument nicknamed Himalaya, the researchers show that fluffy ice on the surface of a comet would crystalize and harden as the comet heads toward the sun and warms up. As the water-ice crystals form, becoming denser and more ordered, other molecules containing carbon would be expelled to the comet’s surface. The result is a crunchy comet crust sprinkled with organic dust.

Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko is seen here in an image captured by the Rosetta spacecraft. The mission's Philae lander hit the surface with a big bounce, demonstrating the comet's surface is hard. (ESA/Rosetta/NAVCAM)

Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko is seen here in an image captured by the Rosetta spacecraft. The mission’s Philae lander hit the surface with a big bounce, demonstrating the comet’s surface is hard. (ESA/Rosetta/NAVCAM)

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NASA’s Mars Rover Opportunity’s distance traveled on Mars nears that of a Marathon Race

 

Written by Guy Webster
NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory

NASA - National Aeronautics and Space AdministrationPasadena, CA – NASA’s Mars Exploration Rover Opportunity is nearing a location on Mars at which its driving distance will surpass the length of a marathon race.

A drive on February 8th, 2015, put the rover within 220 yards (200 meters) of this marathon accomplishment. An Olympic marathon is 26.219 miles (42.195 kilometers).

Opportunity is headed for a portion of the western rim of Endeavour Crater where observations by NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter have detected multiple types of clay minerals. These minerals are indicative of an ancient wet environment where water was more neutral rather than harshly acidic.

In February 2015, NASA's Mars Exploration Rover Opportunity is approaching a cumulative driving distance on Mars equal to the length of a marathon race. This map shows the rover's position relative to where it could surpass that distance. (NASA/JPL-Caltech/Univ. of Arizona)

In February 2015, NASA’s Mars Exploration Rover Opportunity is approaching a cumulative driving distance on Mars equal to the length of a marathon race. This map shows the rover’s position relative to where it could surpass that distance. (NASA/JPL-Caltech/Univ. of Arizona)

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NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter has made 40,000 trips around Mars since 2006

 

Written by Guy Webster
NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory

NASA - National Aeronautics and Space AdministrationPasadena, CA – NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter passed a mission milestone of 40,000 orbits on February 7th, 2015, in its ninth year of returning information about the atmosphere, surface and subsurface of Mars, from equatorial to polar latitudes.

The mission’s potent science instruments and extended lifespan have revealed that Mars is a world more dynamic and diverse than was previously realized. Now in its fourth mission extension after a two-year prime mission, the orbiter is investigating seasonal and longer-term changes, including some warm-season flows that are the strongest evidence so far for liquid water on Mars today.

This view of Martian surface features shaped by effects of winds was captured by the HiRISE camera on NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter on Jan. 4, 2015. The spacecraft has been orbiting Mars since March 2006. On Feb. 7, 2015, it completed its 40,000th orbit around Mars. (NASA/JPL-Caltech/Univ. of Arizona)

This view of Martian surface features shaped by effects of winds was captured by the HiRISE camera on NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter on Jan. 4, 2015. The spacecraft has been orbiting Mars since March 2006. On Feb. 7, 2015, it completed its 40,000th orbit around Mars. (NASA/JPL-Caltech/Univ. of Arizona)

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NASA’s Mars Curiosity rover examines powder sample taken at Mount Sharp

 

Written by Guy Webster
NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory

NASA - National Aeronautics and Space AdministrationPasadena, CA – The second bite of a Martian mountain taken by NASA’s Curiosity Mars rover hints at long-ago effects of water that was more acidic than any evidenced in the rover’s first taste of Mount Sharp, a layered rock record of ancient Martian environments.

The rover used a new, low-percussion-level drilling technique to collect sample powder last week from a rock target called “Mojave 2.”

Curiosity reached the base of Mount Sharp five months ago after two years of examining other sites inside Gale Crater and driving toward the mountain at the crater’s center. The first sample of the mountain’s base layer came from a target called “Confidence Hills,” drilled in September.

Gray cuttings from Curiosity's drilling into a target called "Mohave 2" are visible surrounding the sample-collection hole in this Jan. 31, 2015, image from the rover's MAHLI camera. This site in the "Pahrump Hills" outcrop provided the mission's second drilled sample of Mars' Mount Sharp. (NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS)

Gray cuttings from Curiosity’s drilling into a target called “Mohave 2″ are visible surrounding the sample-collection hole in this Jan. 31, 2015, image from the rover’s MAHLI camera. This site in the “Pahrump Hills” outcrop provided the mission’s second drilled sample of Mars’ Mount Sharp. (NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS)

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NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft takes new photos of Pluto and it’s moon Charon

 

Written by Dwayne Brown
NASA Headquarters

NASA - National Aeronautics and Space AdministrationWashington, D.C. – NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft returned its first new images of Pluto on Wednesday, as the probe closes in on the dwarf planet. Although still just a dot along with its largest moon, Charon, the images come on the 109th birthday of Clyde Tombaugh, who discovered the distant icy world in 1930.

“My dad would be thrilled with New Horizons,” said Clyde Tombaugh’s daughter Annette Tombaugh, of Las Cruces, New Mexico. “To actually see the planet that he had discovered, and find out more about it — to get to see the moons of Pluto– he would have been astounded. I’m sure it would have meant so much to him if he were still alive today.”

The image of Pluto and its moon Charon, taken by NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft, was magnified four times to make the objects more visible. Over the next several months, the apparent sizes of Pluto and Charon, as well as the separation between them, will continue to expand in the images. (NASA/JHU APL/SwRI)

The image of Pluto and its moon Charon, taken by NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft, was magnified four times to make the objects more visible. Over the next several months, the apparent sizes of Pluto and Charon, as well as the separation between them, will continue to expand in the images. (NASA/JHU APL/SwRI)

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NASA’s Soil Moisture Active Passive (SMAP) observatory could help develop better Weather Forecasts

 

Written by Carol Rasmussen
NASA Earth Science News Team

NASA - National Aeronautics and Space AdministrationWashington, D.C. – If you were trying to forecast tomorrow’s weather, you would probably look up at the sky rather than down at the ground. But if you live in the U.S. Midwest or someplace with a similar climate, one key to a better weather forecast may lie beneath your feet.

Precipitation and temperature are part of every weather forecast. Precipitation comes from clouds, clouds are formed of airborne water vapor, and vapor comes from evaporating soil moisture — so soil moisture governs precipitation.

NASA's SMAP's soil moisture measurements will help with forecasts of precipitation and temperature. (UCAR)

NASA’s SMAP’s soil moisture measurements will help with forecasts of precipitation and temperature. (UCAR)

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