Ponder First ExoMars Images


ESA (European Space Agency) ExoMars Mission left our planet on March 14, 2016. Exo refers to Exobiology, the umbrella principle of a joint ESA and Russian mission to search for methane and other trace atmospheric Mars gases that might be signatures of biological life. Designed with several objectives, ExoMars arrived mid October 2016 as primary craft TGO (Trace Gas Orbiter) and Mars lander Schiaparelli.

Schiaparelli did her best, but not everything goes according to plan. Mission control’s best guess being Schiaparelli thrusters malfunctioned, pounding the lander to full fuel tank Martian oblivion at a violent 300 Km an hour.

 

This comparison of before-and-after images by NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter shows two features likely created during the Oct. 19, 2016 landing attempt of the ExoMars Schiaparelli lander. The small bright feature at bottom is probably Schiaparelli’s parachute, while the dark, fuzzy blob is likely the lander’s crash site.

Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

http://exploration.esa.int/mars/

Unfazed by Schiaparelli’s demise, TGO dutifully marches a four day orbital ellipse of Mars. A carefully prescribed stretched loop ranging in altitude from 300 to 96,000 Km. Beginning March 2017, mission control will order TGO to repeatedly dip into the upper atmosphere, depleting orbital energy and shrinking the ellipse. Objective – a near perfect circular orbit at 400 Km by March, 2018.

Meanwhile CaSSIS (Color and Stereo Surface Imaging System) aboard TGO returned mesmerizing first images of Mars.

A feature called Arsia-Chasmata, on the blanks of a martian volcano Arsia Mons. Width of this image is about 15 miles (25 km).

A feature called Arsia-Chasmata, on the blanks of a martian volcano Arsia Mons. Width of this image is about 15 miles (25 km). Image via ESA/ Roscosmos/ EsoMars/ CaSSIS/ UniBE.

First images from ExoMars mission

Rosetta’s Life Ends September 30, 2016


As I write, mission control at ESA (European Space Agency) dutifully prepare Rosetta for her assisted suicide. In less than 6 hours (twenty minutes either side of 7:20 am ET to be precise), Rosetta enters controlled descent into the pits of Deir el-Medina on comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko.

“The target area is home to several active pits measuring over 100 meters across and 60 meters deep [about 100 yards wide and 60 yards deep], from which a number of the comet’s dust jets originate. Some of the pit walls also exhibit intriguing meter-sized lumpy structures called ‘goosebumps’, which could be the signatures of early cometesimals [i.e, the building blocks of comets] that agglomerated to create the comet in the early phases of solar system formation. Rosetta’s final descent may afford detailed close-up views of these features.” – ESA

NASA television (first link below) is airing Rosetta’s descent live.

http://www.nasa.gov/multimedia/nasatv/index.html#public

Another NASA link below, offers additional live viewing options and links to dedicated mission details –

http://www.jpl.nasa.gov/news/news.php?feature=6630

https://i0.wp.com/www.esa.int/var/esa/storage/images/esa_multimedia/images/2016/09/rosetta_s_planned_impact_site/16124197-1-eng-GB/Rosetta_s_planned_impact_site_node_full_image_2.jpg

Rosetta will crash into the Ma’at region of Comet 67P/Churyumov–Gerasimenko. The yellow ellipse marks an approximate outline of the 700- × 500-meter (700- x 500-yard) target area. Image via ESA.

Artist's concept of Rosetta

Artist’s concept of Rosetta shortly before hitting Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko on Sept. 30, 2016. Image credit: ESA/ATG medialab
› Larger view

Philae Silent


The European Space Agency Rosetta mission will continue until December 2015 – as of now, the point at which project funds run dry. Rosetta became the darling of space endeavors with the “sort of” successful landing of Rosetta’s probe Philae on the surface of comet 67P. “Sort of” because yes, Philae found a historic resting place on 67P – unfortunately not without a few hiccups.

It was easy and understandable to overlook those hiccups in the heat of the moment.  Philae “bounced” on the first attempt (almost a kilometer off the surface), before falling and bouncing again. The landing was successful, if all that mattered was a landing. I walked around with a goofy grin, oblivious to the unfortunate location Philae came to rest. It reminded me of early Apollo missions – headline news, something everyone talked about.

If all had gone according to plan, Philae would have deployed anchors on that first “touchdown”, consequently transmitting data until March 2015. Sobering reality had a different plan – Philae came to rest in a “shadow”, a place with little concern for solar panels.

Philae’s unfortunate bounce meant a meager 57 hours of usefulness before falling completely and utterly silent. Damn batteries.

Philae may be down, but Rosetta isn’t out – Rosetta will travel in tandem with the orbit of 67P, observing what happens as it reaches perihelion (closest orbit to the sun) in August 2015. Important observations will detail the effect of heating the nucleus, followed by cooling as it travels away from the sun until the end of 2015.

A 10 year mission for 57 hours of data might seem like a bust – not even close! The Rosetta mission is testament to everything that defines mankind. The ability to dream, question, and follow through with voyages of discovery no matter how fantastic or unpredictable the outcome might be.

http://earthsky.org/space/philae-lander-completes-its-main-mission-then-falls-silent?utm_source=EarthSky+News&utm_campaign=8444449bbb-EarthSky_News&utm_medium=email&utm_term=0_c643945d79-8444449bbb-393970565

“From now on, no contact would be possible unless sufficient sunlight falls on the solar panels to generate enough power to wake it up …

However, given the low recharge current available from the solar cells, it is considered unlikely that contact with Philae will be established in the coming days.”This animated GIF shows the Philae comet lander's first touchdown point, as seen by the Rosetta mothership's NavCam.  After touching down the first time, the lander bounced nearly a kilometer back to space, before touching down again two more times on its comet.  Image via ESA

This animated GIF shows the Philae comet lander’s first touchdown point, as seen by the Rosetta mothership’s NavCam. After touching down the first time, the lander bounced nearly a kilometer back to space, before touching down again two more times on its comet. Image via ESA

 

Ridiculously Difficult


Difficult tasks are daunting – ridiculously difficult is a proposition best left to imagination. Ridiculous is defined as unreasonably absurd or silly notions deserving ridicule – a preposterous suggestion easily dismissed as ludicrous. Fortunately mankind came with an infinite capacity to imagine ridiculously difficult possibilities.

On November 12, the European Space Agency Rosetta Mission will attempt “ridiculously difficult”- how hard could it be to land a probe on the surface of a miniscule chunk of cosmic debris traveling 40 times faster than speeding bullets?

Difficult was born 10 years ago when the ESA imagined ridiculous and launched Rosetta. A robotic probe with ridiculously difficult expectations – meander through the cosmos for 10 years, alternately slingshotting of planetary gravitational pulls, “sleeping”, waking up to take pictures, and finally slowing itself down to mirror the orbit and speed of comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko. – a infinitesimally minute cosmic speck only a few miles wide.  That in itself was difficult – ridiculous is the morning of Nov. 12 when Rosetta will deploy Philae, a probe expected to land on the surface of  67P at a spot dubbed Agilkia.

Ridiculously difficult might well define humanity. Where or what would we be without the tenacity and vision of absurdly silly dreamers. On November 12, link to the live feed below – witness the possibilities of pursuing ridiculously difficult.

http://www.nasa.gov/multimedia/nasatv/index.html#.VF82zhZflLM

Pictured below – Philae’s primary landing site, mosaic – courtesy ESA

Philae’s primary landing site – mosaic. Image credit: ESA

Venus “Glory”


Continuing my “baby steps” campaign into the cosmos – a  tireless mission, based on irrepressible enthusiasm and wonder. A cause asking readers to “look at the damn sky”. Discussion of God, religion, and creation myth are strictly forbidden – as are theories and scientific speculation. Gazing skyward – allowing yourself to replace ideological lines in the sand with unabashed “wonder” feels terrific – my pondering knees would collapse into giddy wobbles if so much as one person said “holy crap – thanks for the cosmic nudge”.

ESA (European Space Authority) space orbiter Venus Express captured images of rainbows on Venus. Dubbed “Glory” – “glories “appear as circles of coloured light when sunlight reflects off atmospheric droplets – on Earth, same sized water drops – clouds of Venus contain sulphuric acid. Venus has rainbows people!

After our Sun and Moon, Venus is the brightest object in the sky. On dark nights when the Moon doesn’t steal the show – Venus can actually cast shadows. Only 650 Km circumference smaller than Earth and 80% the mass – Venus is considered our “sister” planet. First visited in 1962 by Mariner, Venus may equal Earth in physical mass – atmosphere on the other hand would squash us like bugs –  93% greater than earth and equivalent to diving a kilometer below the ocean surface. It rotates backwards, with one sluggish day 243 “earth days” from dawn till dusk. It has no moons and writhes with volcanic activity.

Look at the sky and ponder rainbows of Venus.

Because the ecliptic - pathway of the planets - hits the horizon at a shallow angle on March mornings in the Northern Hemisphere, Mercury sits buried in the glare of morning twilight.

Because the ecliptic – pathway of the planets – hits the horizon at a shallow angle on March mornings in the Northern Hemisphere, Mercury sits buried in the glare of morning twilight.

The ecliptic intersects the horizon at a steep angle in the Southern Hemisphere, so Mercury will be easier to see from that part of the world.

The ecliptic intersects the horizon at a steep angle in the Southern Hemisphere, so Mercury will be easier to see from that part of the world.

http://earthsky.org/todays-image/space-rainbow-or-glory-seen-in-venus-atmosphere?utm_source=EarthSky%20News&utm_campaign=912c718343-EarthSky_News&utm_medium=email&utm_term=0_c643945d79-912c718343-393970565