Thursday, February 11, 2016

Destination Europa

Just a reminder that tonight at 10PM EST, JPL will be broadcasting a talk regarding the upcoming mission to Europa slated for sometime in the 2020s.

After many years of study, NASA has approved a new start for a spaceflight mission to investigate the mysteries of Jupiter's moon Europa. Future exploration of Europa has been deemed an extremely high priority for planetary science, given the potential for revolutionizing our understanding of habitats for life. The mission would also investigate current activity, such as plumes, and would provide the high-resolution surface characterization necessary to enable future Europa landers.

Barry Goldstein, Europa Mission Project Manager

Dr. Bob Pappalardo, Europa Mission Project Scientist

Live stream will begin at 10PM EST in the frame below.

First Detailed Geologic Map of Pluto Released

Pluto’s informally-named Sputnik Planum region is mapped, with the key 
indicating a wide variety of units or terrains. Credits: NASA/JHUAPL/SwRI
I highly enjoy planetary geology and today NASA and the New Horizons team released a fantastic detailed geologic map of the Sputnik Planum region on Pluto. I could seriously sit and analyze the image for hours.

While the variety is obvious to many, its exciting to see a real breakdown of the incredible variety of terrains on Pluto. It truly rivals Mars and even Earth in many ways.

One interesting aspect worth noting is how well the eastern lobe of 'The Heart' feature, is defined as a glacial boundary. It may even be resting on more SP-like terrain, now hidden under hundreds of feet of ices.

Another curiosity is with the distribution of various pitted types of plains and smooth plains. The deepest pitted area is closest to both the southern tip of Sputnik Planum and the cryovolcano, Wright Mons. I would expect a correlation to exist between one of those, but which one isn't necessarily clear.

I will be excitedly awaiting more of these types of products coming from the New Horizons team in the coming months and years. I fully expect a second mission to Pluto to make an appearance in the next decadal survey and I hope it gets the green light. In fact, if I had my way, we'd be shipping a couple Viking-like orbiter/lander reconnaissance and ground research probes by the late 2020s. But if I had my way, we'd also be sending Mariner Mark II (Cassini-like) missions to Jupiter, Uranus, and Neptune all in the same time frame. Better a billion spent to learn than a billion to kill.


LAMO image 25 has been released to the JPL Photojournal.

LAMO 25 features a smaller unnamed crater within the interior of mid-sized Meanderi crater. Mass wasting is present around the rim of the crater, a common feature across Ceres, in craters of this size and larger. Mass wasting such as this results from unstable soil, giving way to gravitational forces. As with much of the Cerian surface, the imaged region appears mostly saturated with cratering, suggesting it has been static to geologic processes for billions of years. As noted in the Photojournal entry, the imaged region is centered at approximately 39.5 degrees south latitude, 197 degrees east longitude.

LAMO 25 - PIA20315
Imaging Map (2016-02-11)

Advanced LIGO Press Briefing

At 10h00AM EST, the National Science Foundation (wikipedia) will present findings from the Advanced Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory (wikipedia) or Advanced LIGO.

Gravitational waves were predicted by Einstein as a mathematical phenomena. However, their true presence in our universe has continued to be elusive, primarily due to the difficulty in detecting the very long and subtle propagating ripples in space-time which are prone to being overwhelmed by noise from other sources. Being able to detect gravitational waves opens the door to a lot of new possible discoveries in understanding the universe.

At LIGO, two 4-kilometer tunnels come together to form an L. In these two tunnels is a laser that shines down both 4-kilometer pathways, striking a mirror at the end of each tunnel and bounces back to a detector. The detector very accurately measures the time and distortion from the initialization of the laser beam to the return travel into the sensor. The nature of gravitational waves suggests that they will cause a 'ripple' through space-time, which would potentially stretch and compress matter as it propagates through the medium. With this being the nature of gravitational waves, LIGO provides detection through measuring any deviations in the direction of the laser between the two tunnels and the time it took for the laser to return to the sensor, as a gravitational wave would potentially disturb the pathway and travel time of the laser ever-so-slightly.

Last year the observatory was upgraded to Advanced LIGO, installing much more sensitive detectors. Full sensitivity and calibration of these detrectors isn't expected until 2019. However, last week it was announced there would be a press briefing today over a possible detection.

LIGO February 11, 2016 Press Conference

Wednesday, February 10, 2016


LAMO image 24 has been released to the JPL Photojournal.

LAMO 24 primarily features the northern rim of an unnamed crater, north of Ezinu crater and near the Cerian North Pole. The imaged region appears to be saturated with craters, suggesting there has been little recent geologic activity. As noted in the Photojournal entry, the imaged region is centered at approximately 66.5 degrees north latitude, 190.6 degrees east longitude.

LAMO 24 - PIA20314
Imaging Map (2016-02-10)

Drexel: New Horizons & the Exploration of the Pluto System

Short notice on this event but Alan stern will be giving a lecture at Drexel University regarding the New Horizons mission to Pluto. The lecture will be streamed live at 12PM EST.

New Horizons & the Exploration of the Pluto System

Tuesday, February 9, 2016


LAMO image 23 has been released to the JPL Photojournal.

LAMO 23 primary features an unnamed region very near the Cerian South Pole. Present is a very large, approximately 16.4 kilometer long landslide that has resulted from an unstable crater wall. The imaged region appears mostly saturated with cratering, suggesting the area has not been resurfaced in any appreciably recent geologic times.

LAMO 23 - PIA20313
Imaging Map (2016-02-09)


Fiscal Year 2017 NASA Agency Fact Sheet
Budget Estimates
More Documents

The short story on the NASA 2017 budget, is a fair bit more money for Earth sciences, astrophysics, heliophysics, space technology and aeronautics. And a fair bit less money for planetary sciences, SLS and Orion. I must say this seems strange and disappointing as the items receiving the dramatic cuts tend to bring the most public support to NASA. This isn't to suggest that I feel other areas should have been cut. NASA receives too little money as an organization overall already and it stings to see items receive further reduced funding.

The Planetary Society has a decent writeup regarding the FY2017 budget for NASA here.

State of NASA Address today

Just a reminder that today at 1h30PM EST, the Sate of NASA address will be delivered by NASA administrator Charles Bolden. Live coverage can be followed on NASA TV.

The primary topics will be the boost to the NASA budget and how that will be utilized across the NASA research and development centers, followed by the Fiscal Year 2017 budget request. FY2017 may take space exploration a step back in funding. In a followup post, more details will be available.

Updated 11h45AM CST

Monday, February 8, 2016


LAMO image 22 has been released to the JPL Photojournal.

LAMO 22 primarily features the western rim of Occator crater, an area apparently very rugged but mostly absent of small craters.

Numerous canyon-like features appear to follow a mostly parallel path diagonally left to right, pointed approximately to the northwest.  They are present in the lower left corner and just within the western rim of Occator crater. A relationship between these features is likely but not yet obvious. Though, they are likely a result of the refreezing of the region after the recent impact that formed Occator crater.

Absent are the brightest spots in this imaged region, formerly known as 'Spot 5'. However, several small bright spots are present on a rim feature, right of the center within the region.

In the color map, Occator appears primarily blue with a peculiar red raying pattern, present north of the crater. The blueness indicates a likely recent impact and possibly the presence of ammoniated compounds.

As noted on the Photojournal entry, the imaged region is center at approximately 19.4 degrees north latitude, 238.8 degrees east longitude.

LAMO 22 - PIA20312

Imaging Map (2016-02-08)

Sunday, February 7, 2016

Dawn Animations

Sunday evening, I spent some time collecting many of the Dawn animations I've made over the past year. The gallery is not at all complete and I will continue to update it as possible.

Ahuna Mons in High Altitude Mapping Orbit

P_DEP_SOONEST Partial Mosaic

Below is a quick partial mosaic from an obviously much larger composite of P_DEP_SOONEST, from the latest LORRI release this past Friday. The bright internal reflections from the Sun entering the outer lens of LORRI from a low phase angle can be noticed in each frame as a elliptical error. More time could be spent with these images to generate more proper dark frames to get rid of the inconsistencies but I felt like this version was enjoyable enough for a partial mosaic.

Worth noting is a fair it of detail along the limb of Pluto. I'm a little unclear of proper orientation but I believe the upper most limb is approximately 90-degrees to the west of Tombaugh Regio which would make the far right limb approximately the far southern tip of Tombaugh Regio.

P_DEP_SOONEST (partial)

Weekly Read & Watch List - Week of Feb 7, 2016

Week of February 7, 2016

This feature is a curated list of articles, white papers, concepts, events, videos, and data releases. Some listed items may not be current but are nonetheless quite interesting.

Articles & Sites of Interest

Concepts & White Papers




Spacecraft Updates
  • Feb 08: Cassini, Orbital Trim Maneuver #441 (OTM-441)
  • Feb 13: Cassini, Orbital Trim Maneuver #442 (OTM-442) 

Friday, February 5, 2016

New Horizons 2015-02-05 release

The New Horizons team released another set of images today. They are split into the separate observations. A thumbnail representative of the type of images is at the top of each observation as well. Thanks goes to Herobrine, of UMSF for always collecting this information into a list for each release.

C_LORRI_TIMERES_1 - Tight-deadband 2-sigma LORRI mosaic of Charon
2015-07-14 - 05:49:50.806
lor_0299158909_0x636_sci_1.jpg - 2015-07-14 - 05:49:50.806, T:'CHARON', R:312598.452520, E:0.1
lor_0299158910_0x636_sci_1.jpg - 2015-07-14 - 05:49:51.806, T:'CHARON', R:312584.678835, E:0.1
lor_0299158957_0x636_sci_1.jpg - 2015-07-14 - 05:50:38.806, T:'CHARON', R:311937.320095, E:0.1
lor_0299158958_0x636_sci_1.jpg - 2015-07-14 - 05:50:39.806, T:'CHARON', R:311923.546599, E:0.1
lor_0299159005_0x636_sci_1.jpg - 2015-07-14 - 05:51:26.806, T:'CHARON', R:311276.196803, E:0.1
lor_0299159006_0x636_sci_1.jpg - 2015-07-14 - 05:51:27.806, T:'CHARON', R:311262.423498, E:0.1
lor_0299159053_0x636_sci_1.jpg - 2015-07-14 - 05:52:14.806, T:'CHARON', R:310615.082728, E:0.1
lor_0299159054_0x636_sci_1.jpg - 2015-07-14 - 05:52:15.806, T:'CHARON', R:310601.309616, E:0.1