Space Exploration

Saturn’s Barbs More great science from Cassini

The Cassini robot, still in orbit around Saturn, continues to pick out very cool features of the ringed planet. Recently, it discovered perturbations of the F ring, caused by half-mile size chunks of ice; large enough to disturb the orbits of the tiny ice crystals that make up the ring. Some of these features are transitory, and some appear relatively permanent. At any rate, they’re quite beautiful. There’s a great article with videos on the Cassini homepage at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory web-site, and a composite of several images below. NASA/JPL

Space Exploration

Mars Science Laboratory

With its rover, Curiosity, MSL is enroute to Mars, due to land this coming summer on August 5. This lander is the most sophisticated robot ever designed to move around on Mars. The size of a small SUV and equipped with a host of science instruments and cameras, it promises to return a wealth of data about the red planet, and the prospects it may have had for microbial life in the past, or perhaps even now. So where is the Mars Science Laboratory now? The image below is from a NASA site that keeps track of how far the mission has traveled. It’s arcing its way toward Mars now, but still has quite a distance to cover. Mars Science Laboratory location as of this post The landing zone was chosen as a prime location for discovering clues of a wetter martian past. The picture below shows the expected touchdown…

Space Exploration

Endeavor crater, Mars

NASA’s rover, Opportunity, has reached a new destination after 3 years of trekking 13 miles across the Martian landscape. One of the first images that was returned shows a bleak panorama rolling off into the distance in front of an ochre-colored sky. The scene almost reminds me of the parched cast the Arizona sky takes on when we have our periodic dust storms during the summer monsoon. Then I have to remind myself that Mars is far drier and colder than it ever gets on Earth. It’s hard to imagine an entire world without rain, rivers, or oceans, but except for the frozen carbon dioxide poles, Mars doesn’t have much of anything except dirt covering its surface. NASA / JPL-Caltech / Cornell / ASU In the coming months, NASA is preparing to send another rover, the Mars Science Laboratory, to a location that scientists think may have been wetter than…