JPL Wrap-Up Video of the Phoenix Mission

•November 16, 2008 • Leave a Comment

Huygens Probe Lands on Saturn’s Moon, Titan

•November 15, 2008 • Leave a Comment

It has been nearly four years since the joint European Space Agency / NASA mission to Saturn and its moons delivered a probe to Titan. Here is an intriguing video made with actual footage from the probe’s decent onto this distant moon.

Dirty Lander

•November 13, 2008 • Leave a Comment

Dirt on Mars Lander

Over the past few months, NASA’s robotic arm has been making a bit of a mess. This image, taken by the Surface Stereo Imager (SSI) of NASA’s Phoenix Lander, shows Martian soil piled on top of the spacecraft’s deck and some of its instruments. Visible in the upper-left portion of the image are several wet chemistry cells of the lander’s Microscopy, Electrochemistry, and Conductivity Analyzer (MECA). The instrument on the lower right of the image is the Thermal and Evolved-Gas Analyzer. The excess sample delivered to the MECA’s sample stage can be seen on the deck in the lower left portion of the image.

Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/University of Arizona/Max Planck Institute

Stunning Pictures of Saturn Moon Enceladus Fly By

•November 11, 2008 • Leave a Comment

NASA’s Cassini probe recently flew by Saturn’s moon, Enceladus.  Here are some striking images from that encounter and several other passes the probe has made over the past four years.

More Pictures of Martian Soil with Ice

•November 9, 2008 • Leave a Comment

Ice in Martian Soil

The Surface Stereo Imager on NASA’s Phoenix Mars Lander took this false color image on Oct. 21, 2008, during the 145th Martian day, or sol, since landing. The white areas seen in these trenches are part of an ice layer beneath the soil.

The trench on the upper left, called “Upper Cupboard,” is about 60 centimeters (24 inches) long and 3 centimeters (1 inch) deep. The trench in the middle, called “Ice Man,” is about 30 centimeters (12 inches) long and 3 centimeters (1 inch) deep. The trench on the right, called “La Mancha,” is about 31 centimeters (12 inches) and 5 centimeters (2 inches) deep.

Image NASA/JPL-Caltech//University of Arizona/Texas A&M University

Phoenix Struggling with Dust Storm, Cold and Dwindling Sun

•November 7, 2008 • Leave a Comment

NASA’s Phoenix Mars Lander has communicated with controllers daily since Oct. 30 through relays to Mars orbiters. Information received a few days ago indicates Phoenix is running out of power each afternoon or evening but reawakening after its solar arrays catch morning sunlight.

The fraction of each day with sun above the horizon is declining at the Martian arctic landing site. Dust raised by a storm last week continues to block some of the sunshine.

“This is exactly the scenario we expected for the mission’s final phase, though the dust storm brought it a couple weeks sooner than we had hoped,” said Phoenix Project Manager Barry Goldstein of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif. “We will be trying to gain some additional science during however many days we have left. Any day could be our last.”

Mission engineers at JPL and at Lockheed Martin Space Systems, Denver, are attempting this week to upload commands to be stored in the lander’s flash memory for science activities to be conducted when the lander wakes up each day.

“Weather observations are our top priority now,” said Phoenix Principal Investigator Peter Smith. “If there’s enough energy, we will try to get readings from the conductivity probe that has been inserted into the soil, and possibly some images to assess frost buildup.”

NASA Mars Lander Sees Falling Snow

•October 24, 2008 • Leave a Comment

NASA’s Phoenix Mars Lander has detected snow falling from Martian clouds. Spacecraft soil experiments also have provided evidence of past interaction between minerals and liquid water, processes that occur on Earth.

A laser instrument designed to gather knowledge of how the atmosphere and surface interact on Mars has detected snow from clouds about 4 kilometers (2.5 miles) above the spacecraft’s landing site. Data show the snow vaporizing before reaching the ground.

“Nothing like this view has ever been seen on Mars,” said Jim Whiteway, of York University, Toronto, lead scientist for the Canadian-supplied Meteorological Station on Phoenix. “We’ll be looking for signs that the snow may even reach the ground.”

Image courtesy of JPL – a simulation of what an ice age on Mars could look like