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Topic: National Aeronautics and Space Administration

NASA’s Cassini spacecraft examines ice moon with a salty ocean, Saturn’s Enceladus

 

Written by Preston Dyches
NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory

NASA - National Aeronautics and Space AdministrationPasadena, CA – On February 17th, 2005, NASA’s Cassini spacecraft was making the first-ever close pass over Saturn’s moon Enceladus as it worked through its detailed survey of the planet’s icy satellites. Exciting, to be sure, just for the thrill of exploration. But then Cassini’s magnetometer instrument noticed something odd.

Since NASA’s two Voyager spacecraft made their distant flybys of Enceladus about 20 years prior, scientists had anticipated the little moon would be an interesting place to visit with Cassini. Enceladus is bright white — the most reflective object in the solar system, in fact — and it orbits in the middle of a faint ring of dust-sized ice particles known as Saturn’s E ring.

A dramatic plume sprays water ice and vapor from the south polar region of Saturn's moon Enceladus. Cassini's first hint of this plume came during the spacecraft's first close flyby of the icy moon on February 17, 2005. (NASA/JPL/Space Science Institute)

A dramatic plume sprays water ice and vapor from the south polar region of Saturn’s moon Enceladus. Cassini’s first hint of this plume came during the spacecraft’s first close flyby of the icy moon on February 17, 2005. (NASA/JPL/Space Science Institute)

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NASA’s Juno Spacecraft will continue current orbit around Jupiter

 

Written by DC Agle
NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory

NASA - National Aeronautics and Space AdministrationPasadena, CA – NASA’s Juno mission to Jupiter, which has been in orbit around the gas giant since July 4, 2016, will remain in its current 53-day orbit for the remainder of the mission. This will allow Juno to accomplish its science goals, while avoiding the risk of a previously-planned engine firing that would have reduced the spacecraft’s orbital period to 14 days.

“Juno is healthy, its science instruments are fully operational, and the data and images we’ve received are nothing short of amazing,” said Thomas Zurbuchen, associate administrator for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate in Washington. “The decision to forego the burn is the right thing to do — preserving a valuable asset so that Juno can continue its exciting journey of discovery.”

NASA's Juno spacecraft soared directly over Jupiter's south pole when JunoCam acquired this image on February 2, 2017 at 6:06 a.m. PT (9:06 a.m. ET), from an altitude of about 62,800 miles (101,000 kilometers) above the cloud tops. (NASA)

NASA’s Juno spacecraft soared directly over Jupiter’s south pole when JunoCam acquired this image on February 2, 2017 at 6:06 a.m. PT (9:06 a.m. ET), from an altitude of about 62,800 miles (101,000 kilometers) above the cloud tops. (NASA)

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NASA’s Dawn Mission finds Evidence for Organic Material on Dwarf Planet Ceres

 

Written by Elizabeth Landau
NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory

NASA - National Aeronautics and Space AdministrationPasadena, CA – NASA’s Dawn mission has found evidence for organic material on Ceres, a dwarf planet and the largest body in the main asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter.

Scientists using the spacecraft’s visible and infrared mapping spectrometer (VIR) detected the material in and around a northern-hemisphere crater called Ernutet. Organic molecules are interesting to scientists because they are necessary, though not sufficient, components of life on Earth.

This enhanced color composite image, made with data from the framing camera aboard NASA's Dawn spacecraft, shows the area around Ernutet Crater. The bright red portions appear redder with respect to the rest of Ceres. (NASA/JPL-Caltech/UCLA/MPS/DLR/IDA)

This enhanced color composite image, made with data from the framing camera aboard NASA’s Dawn spacecraft, shows the area around Ernutet Crater. The bright red portions appear redder with respect to the rest of Ceres. (NASA/JPL-Caltech/UCLA/MPS/DLR/IDA)

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NASA Laser Communications research may lead to faster data transfer in Space

 

Written by Andrew Good
NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory

NASA - National Aeronautics and Space AdministrationPasadena, CA – Thought your Internet speeds were slow? Try being a space scientist for a day.

The vast distances involved will throttle data rates to a trickle. You’re lucky if a spacecraft can send more than a few megabits per second (Mbps).

But we might be on the cusp of a change. Just as going from dial-up to broadband revolutionized the Internet and made high-resolution photos and streaming video a given, NASA may be ready to undergo a similar “broadband” moment in coming years.

Several upcoming NASA missions will use lasers to increase data transmission from space. (NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center/Amber Jacobson, producer)

Several upcoming NASA missions will use lasers to increase data transmission from space. (NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center/Amber Jacobson, producer)

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NASA studies Mt. Erebus Ice Caves to prepare for exploration of Icy Worlds in our Solar System

 

Written by Andrew Good
NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory

NASA - National Aeronautics and Space AdministrationPasadena, CA – Mt. Erebus is at the end of our world — and offers a portal to another.

It’s our planet’s southernmost active volcano, reaching 12,448 feet (3,794 meters) above Ross Island in Antarctica. Temperatures at the surface are well below freezing most of the year, but that doesn’t stop visits from scientists: Erebus is also one of the few volcanoes in the world with an exposed lava lake. You can peer over the lip of its main crater and stare straight into it.

It’s also a good stand-in for a frozen alien world, the kind NASA wants to send robots to someday.

Aaron Curtis, a postdoctoral scholar at JPL, surveys frost growing in an ice cave under Mt. Erebus, an active volcano in Antarctica. (Dylan Taylor)

Aaron Curtis, a postdoctoral scholar at JPL, surveys frost growing in an ice cave under Mt. Erebus, an active volcano in Antarctica. (Dylan Taylor)

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Three possible landing sites selected for NASA’s 2020 Mars Rover

 

Written by DC Agle
NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory

NASA - National Aeronautics and Space AdministrationPasadena, CA – Participants in a landing site workshop for NASA’s upcoming Mars 2020 mission have recommended three locations on the Red Planet for further evaluation.

The three potential landing sites for NASA’s next Mars rover include Northeast Syrtis (a very ancient portion of Mars’ surface), Jezero crater, (once home to an ancient Martian lake), and Columbia Hills (potentially home to an ancient hot spring, explored by NASA’s Spirit rover).

Three potential landing sites for NASA's next Mars rover. (NASA)

Three potential landing sites for NASA’s next Mars rover. (NASA)

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NASA’s Cassini mission to Saturn inspires people of Earth

 

Written by Preston Dyches
NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory

NASA - National Aeronautics and Space AdministrationPasadena, CA – Although the motivation behind NASA’s Cassini mission to Saturn was scientific, part of the planet’s allure has long been in its undeniable physical beauty.

Since Cassini arrived at Saturn in 2004, dramatic views from the spacecraft’s imaging cameras — and other sensors that observe in infrared, ultraviolet and radio frequencies — have revealed the ringed planet and its moons in unprecedented detail for scientists to study.

Saturn Mosaic by Ian Regan. (NASA/JPL-Caltech/SSI/Ian Regan)

Saturn Mosaic by Ian Regan. (NASA/JPL-Caltech/SSI/Ian Regan)

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NASA’s Goldstone Solar System Radar images Asteroid as it passes by Earth

 

Written by DC Agle
NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory

NASA - National Aeronautics and Space AdministrationPasadena, CA – Radar images of asteroid 2017 BQ6 were obtained on February 6th and 7th with NASA’s 70-meter (230-foot) antenna at the Goldstone Deep Space Communications Complex in California. They reveal an irregular, angular-appearing asteroid about 660 feet (200 meters) in size that rotates about once every three hours. The images have resolutions as fine as 12 feet (3.75 meters) per pixel.

“The radar images show relatively sharp corners, flat regions, concavities, and small bright spots that may be boulders,” said Lance Benner of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, who leads the agency’s asteroid radar research program.

This composite of 25 images of asteroid 2017 BQ6 was generated with radar data collected using NASA's Goldstone Solar System Radar in California's Mojave Desert. (NASA/JPL-Caltech/GSSR)

This composite of 25 images of asteroid 2017 BQ6 was generated with radar data collected using NASA’s Goldstone Solar System Radar in California’s Mojave Desert. (NASA/JPL-Caltech/GSSR)

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NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter data used to evaluate landing sites for 2020 Mars Rover

 

Written by Guy Webster
NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory

NASA - National Aeronautics and Space AdministrationPasadena, CA – At an international workshop this week about where NASA’s next Mars rover should land, most of the information comes from a prolific spacecraft that’s been orbiting Mars since 2006.

Observations by NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) provide the basis for evaluating eight candidate landing sites for the Mars 2020 rover mission. The landing site workshop this week in Monrovia, California, will narrow the Mars 2020 candidate list to four or fewer sites. MRO observations have been used to identify, characterize and certify past landing sites and are also in use to assess possible sites for future human-crew missions.

NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter has been observing Mars since 2006, enabling it to document many types of changes, such as the way winds alter the appearance of this recent impact site. (NASA/JPL-Caltech/Univ. of Arizona)

NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter has been observing Mars since 2006, enabling it to document many types of changes, such as the way winds alter the appearance of this recent impact site. (NASA/JPL-Caltech/Univ. of Arizona)

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NASA reviews concept to land probe on surface of Jupiter’s moon Europa

 

Written by Dwayne Brown / Laurie Cantillo
NASA Headquarters

NASA - National Aeronautics and Space AdministrationWashington, D.C. – A report on the potential science value of a lander on the surface of Jupiter’s icy moon Europa has been delivered to NASA, and the agency is now engaging the broader science community to open a discussion about its findings.

In early 2016, in response to a congressional directive, NASA’s Planetary Science Division began a pre-Phase A study to assess the science value and engineering design of a future Europa lander mission. NASA routinely conducts such studies — known as Science Definition Team (SDT) reports — long before the beginning of any mission to gain an understanding of the challenges, feasibility and science value of the potential mission.

This artist's rending illustrates a conceptual design for a potential future mission to land a robotic probe on the surface of Jupiter's moon Europa. (NASA)

This artist’s rending illustrates a conceptual design for a potential future mission to land a robotic probe on the surface of Jupiter’s moon Europa. (NASA)

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