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Topic: Orbit

NASA’s Cassini spacecraft completes first dive into outer edges of Saturn’s Rings

 

Written by Preston Dyches
NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory

NASA - National Aeronautics and Space AdministrationPasadena, CA – NASA’s Saturn-orbiting Cassini spacecraft has made its first close dive past the outer edges of Saturn’s rings since beginning its penultimate mission phase on November 30th.

Cassini crossed through the plane of Saturn’s rings on December 4th at 5:09am PST (8:09am EST) at a distance of approximately 57,000 miles (91,000 kilometers) above Saturn’s cloud tops. This is the approximate location of a faint, dusty ring produced by the planet’s small moons Janus and Epimetheus, and just 6,800 miles (11,000 kilometers) from the center of Saturn’s F ring.

This graphic shows the closest approaches of Cassini's final two orbital phases. Ring-grazing orbits are shown in gray (at left); Grand Finale orbits are shown in blue. The orange line shows the spacecraft's Sept. 2017 final plunge into Saturn. (NASA/JPL-Caltech)

This graphic shows the closest approaches of Cassini’s final two orbital phases. Ring-grazing orbits are shown in gray (at left); Grand Finale orbits are shown in blue. The orange line shows the spacecraft’s Sept. 2017 final plunge into Saturn. (NASA/JPL-Caltech)

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NASA’s Cassini Spacecraft to begin first phase of it’s end mission

 

Written by Preston Dyches
NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory

NASA - National Aeronautics and Space AdministrationPasadena, CA – A thrilling ride is about to begin for NASA’s Cassini spacecraft. Engineers have been pumping up the spacecraft’s orbit around Saturn this year to increase its tilt with respect to the planet’s equator and rings. And on November 30th, following a gravitational nudge from Saturn’s moon Titan, Cassini will enter the first phase of the mission’s dramatic endgame.

Launched in 1997, Cassini has been touring the Saturn system since arriving there in 2004 for an up-close study of the planet, its rings and moons. During its journey, Cassini has made numerous dramatic discoveries, including a global ocean within Enceladus and liquid methane seas on Titan.

This is an artists concept of the Cassini Spacecraft orbiting Saturn Orbit. (NASA/JPL)

This is an artists concept of the Cassini Spacecraft orbiting Saturn Orbit. (NASA/JPL)

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NASA’s Dawn spacecraft snaps new image of Occator Crater on dwarf planet Ceres

 

Written by Elizabeth Landau
NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory

NASA - National Aeronautics and Space AdministrationPasadena, CA – The brightest area on Ceres stands out amid shadowy, cratered terrain in a dramatic new view from NASA’s Dawn spacecraft, taken as it looked off to the side of the dwarf planet.

Dawn snapped this image on October 16th, from its fifth science orbit, in which the angle of the sun was different from that in previous orbits. Dawn was about 920 miles (1,480 kilometers) above Ceres when this image was taken — an altitude the spacecraft had reached in early October.

Occator Crater, home of Ceres' intriguing brightest areas, is prominently featured in this image from NASA's Dawn spacecraft. (NASA/JPL-Caltech/UCLA/MPS/DLR/IDA)

Occator Crater, home of Ceres’ intriguing brightest areas, is prominently featured in this image from NASA’s Dawn spacecraft. (NASA/JPL-Caltech/UCLA/MPS/DLR/IDA)

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NASA’s Spitzer and Swift Space Telescopes use Microlensing to discover Brown Dwarf

 

Written by Elizabeth Landau
NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory

NASA - National Aeronautics and Space AdministrationPasadena, CA – In a first-of-its-kind collaboration, NASA’s Spitzer and Swift space telescopes joined forces to observe a microlensing event, when a distant star brightens due to the gravitational field of at least one foreground cosmic object. This technique is useful for finding low-mass bodies orbiting stars, such as planets. In this case, the observations revealed a brown dwarf.

Brown dwarfs are thought to be the missing link between planets and stars, with masses up to 80 times that of Jupiter. But their centers are not hot or dense enough to generate energy through nuclear fusion the way stars do.

This illustration depicts a newly discovered brown dwarf, an object that weighs in somewhere between our solar system's most massive planet (Jupiter) and the least-massive known star. (NASA/JPL-Caltech)

This illustration depicts a newly discovered brown dwarf, an object that weighs in somewhere between our solar system’s most massive planet (Jupiter) and the least-massive known star. (NASA/JPL-Caltech)

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NASA’s Cassini mission works to determine the length of a Saturn Day

 

Written by Jay Thompson
Cassini Public Engagement, NASA-JPL

NASA - National Aeronautics and Space AdministrationPasadena, CA – Humans sometimes struggle to adjust to Daylight Saving Time, but just measuring the exact length of a Saturn day is one of the big challenges for scientists on NASA’s Cassini mission. Over more than a decade in Saturn orbit, Cassini’s instruments have wrestled with confusing measurements to determine the planet’s precise rotation rate.

The mission’s final year and unprecedented trajectory will carry Cassini to unexplored regions so near to Saturn that scientists might finally answer the question:

Just how long is a day on Saturn?

Saturn as seen by NASA's Cassini spacecraft in 2008. Long-term tracking of the spacecraft's position has revealed no unexplained perturbations in Cassini's orbit. (NASA/JPL/Space Science Institute)

Saturn as seen by NASA’s Cassini spacecraft in 2008. Long-term tracking of the spacecraft’s position has revealed no unexplained perturbations in Cassini’s orbit. (NASA/JPL/Space Science Institute)

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NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter finds area where Schiaparelli Lander crashed on Mars

 

Written by Guy Webster
NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory

NASA - National Aeronautics and Space AdministrationPasadena, CA – The most powerful telescope orbiting Mars is providing new details of the scene near the Martian equator where Europe’s Schiaparelli test lander hit the surface last week.

An October 25th observation using the High Resolution Imaging Science Experiment (HiRISE) camera on NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter shows three impact locations within about 0.9 mile (1.5 kilometers) of each other.

The scene shown by HiRISE includes three locations where hardware reached the ground. A dark, roughly circular feature is interpreted as where the lander itself struck.

This Oct. 25, 2016, image from the HiRISE camera on NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter shows the area where the Europe's Schiaparelli test lander struck Mars, with magnified insets of three sites where spacecraft components hit the ground. It adds detail not seen in earlier imaging of the site. (NASA/JPL-Caltech/Univ. of Arizona)

This Oct. 25, 2016, image from the HiRISE camera on NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter shows the area where the Europe’s Schiaparelli test lander struck Mars, with magnified insets of three sites where spacecraft components hit the ground. It adds detail not seen in earlier imaging of the site. (NASA/JPL-Caltech/Univ. of Arizona)

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NASA reports number of known Near-Earth Asteroids now over 15,000

 

Written by DC Agle
NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory

NASA - National Aeronautics and Space AdministrationPasadena, CA – The number of discovered near-Earth asteroids (NEAs) now tops 15,000, with an average of 30 new discoveries added each week. This milestone marks a 50 percent increase in the number of known NEAs since 2013, when discoveries reached 10,000 in August of that year.

Surveys funded by NASA’s Near Earth Object (NEO) Observations Program (NEOs include both asteroids and comets) account for more than 95 percent of discoveries so far.

The 15,000th near-Earth asteroid is designated 2016 TB57.

The 15,000th near-Earth asteroid discovered is designated 2016 TB57. It was discovered on Oct. 13, 2016, by observers at the Mount Lemmon Survey, an element of the NASA-funded Catalina Sky Survey in Tucson, Arizona. (NASA/JPL-Caltech)

The 15,000th near-Earth asteroid discovered is designated 2016 TB57. It was discovered on Oct. 13, 2016, by observers at the Mount Lemmon Survey, an element of the NASA-funded Catalina Sky Survey in Tucson, Arizona. (NASA/JPL-Caltech)

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NASA looks to use New Material to boost power in Spacecraft Nuclear Cells

 

Written by Elizabeth Landau
NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory

NASA - National Aeronautics and Space AdministrationPasadena, CA – No extension cord is long enough to reach another planet, and there’s no spacecraft charging station along the way. That’s why researchers are hard at work on ways to make spacecraft power systems more efficient, resilient and long-lasting.

“NASA needs reliable long-term power systems to advance exploration of the solar system,” said Jean-Pierre Fleurial, supervisor for the thermal energy conversion research and advancement group at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, California. “This is particularly important for the outer planets, where the intensity of sunlight is only a few percent as strong as it is in Earth orbit.”

Samad Firdosy, a materials engineer at JPL, holds a thermoelectric module made of four thermocouples, which are devices that help turn heat into electricity. Thermocouples are used in household heating applications, as well as power systems for spacecraft. (NASA/JPL-Caltech)

Samad Firdosy, a materials engineer at JPL, holds a thermoelectric module made of four thermocouples, which are devices that help turn heat into electricity. Thermocouples are used in household heating applications, as well as power systems for spacecraft. (NASA/JPL-Caltech)

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NASA’s Juno Spacecraft set to make another pass over Jupiter

 

Written by DC Agle
NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory

NASA - National Aeronautics and Space AdministrationPasadena, CA – Mission managers for NASA’s Juno mission to Jupiter have decided to postpone the upcoming burn of its main rocket motor originally scheduled for October 19th. This burn, called the period reduction maneuver (PRM), was to reduce Juno’s orbital period around Jupiter from 53.4 to 14 days.

The decision was made in order to further study the performance of a set of valves that are part of the spacecraft’s fuel pressurization system. The period reduction maneuver was the final scheduled burn of Juno’s main engine.

This artist's rendering shows NASA's Juno spacecraft making one of its close passes over Jupiter. (NASA/JPL-Caltech)

This artist’s rendering shows NASA’s Juno spacecraft making one of its close passes over Jupiter. (NASA/JPL-Caltech)

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NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope observes Superhot Balls of Gas ejected from dying Star

 

Written by Elizabeth Landau
NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory

NASA - National Aeronautics and Space AdministrationPasadena, CA – Great balls of fire! NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope has detected superhot blobs of gas, each twice as massive as the planet Mars, being ejected near a dying star.

The plasma balls are zooming so fast through space it would take only 30 minutes for them to travel from Earth to the moon. This stellar “cannon fire” has continued once every 8.5 years for at least the past 400 years, astronomers estimate.

The fireballs present a puzzle to astronomers, because the ejected material could not have been shot out by the host star, called V Hydrae.

This four-panel graphic illustrates how the binary-star system V Hydrae is launching balls of plasma into space. (NASA, ESA, and A. Feild (STScI))

This four-panel graphic illustrates how the binary-star system V Hydrae is launching balls of plasma into space. (NASA, ESA, and A. Feild (STScI))

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