Archive for January, 2008
The New Horizons team has made all the MVIC (Multispectral Visible Imaging Camera) images as well as the LORRI (Long Range Reconnaissance Imager) images from the Jupiter encounter available for imagers to kick around. The above image is by Gordan Ugarkovic and is apparently a “colorized” version of a monochrome he created using earth based observations of the planet from around the same time. In addition to the two moons (and a shadow), also visible are both the Great Red Spot as well as the “Red Junior” spot which has in recent months has become a new notable feature of Jupiter.
Cassini takes a pass at Titan on February 22 (already having made a pass this year on January 5th).
Soon after Titan, Cassini performs a truly unexpected maneuver and flies directly through the plumes of Enceladus on March 12th. This is a somewhat risky task for the probe as the particles it will surely encounter may pose some kind of impact threat to the spacecraft. Mission planners expect the risk to be low as they intend to turn the spacecraft around and let the less delicate side of Cassini bear the brunt of the material and photograph the geysers as it moves away from Enceladus. It should make for some of the most exciting planetary science planned for this year.
Cassini has another go at Titan on March 25.
Yup – you guessed it. Cassini at Titan again on May 12th.
The Phoenix lander arrives at Mars on May 25th and (hopefully) makes good on the failure of the Mars Polar Lander. It will be the first time a probe will attempt a landing on the Martian pole and will conduct a series of experiments looking for the existence of water ice.
You can never have too much of a good thing. Cassini at Titan again on May 28th as well as July 31.
Chandrayaan becomes India’s first planetary probe as it leaves for the moon in Early July (was April).
The extended Cassini mission has made Enceladus a prime target of investigation and the new encounters begin on Aug 11th and comes within 54km of the surface.
Rosetta still on its way for an encounter with Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko in 2014, will make a close pass at an asteroid named 2867 Steins on Sept 5th at a distance of only 1700 km. Steins is a small asteroid measuring only a few kilometers in size and the craft will be traveling at a relatively slow speed which should allow for some good resolution images to be acquired during the encounter.
Messenger (having just completed the first encounter in 33 years this past week) has another go at Mercury on Oct 6th and flies past more uncharted territory on its way to eventual orbit insertion in 2011.
Two more close flybys of the Saturnian moon Enceladus on Oct 9 and Oct 31. The first at hair-raising distance of 25km and the second around a more reasonable 200km.
In an effort to recognize the International Lunar Decade (and intended manned Lunar missions within 15 years), the United States returns to the moon with the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter on Nov 3rd. It is expected to begin its scientific goals only 3 days after launch and is expected to look for possible deposits of water ice in permanently shadowed craters near the Lunar poles.
And finally more Titan flybys on Nov 3, Nov 19, Dec 5 and Dec 21.
All this is in addition to the ongoing work of Opportunity and Spirit on the surface of Mars. Mars Express and Mars Reconnaissance in orbit around Mars. Cassini’s non-targeted continuing tour of other icy Saturnian moons. And who knows, maybe we will see more than 2 or 3 reports coming from the ever quiet Venus Express mission currently at Venus.
Sadly, some very exciting missions will be quietly traveling en route to their targets and are not expected to be heard from in 08 like the Dawn Mission to the Asteroid Belt, New Horizons mission to Pluto/Charon, the newly re-targeted Deep Impact mission (now known as Epoxi) as well as Stardust now on its way to a follow-up visit to Tempel 1 the comet that was smacked by Deep Impact in 2005.
This image taken on January 18, 2008 from 988,018 km, reminds one of some of those vintage Voyager images of Saturn (seen at left) from back in the early and mid 1980’s. Just compare at the incredible differences between the quality and color of the Voyager vs. Cassini images. Saturn images during the Voyager era were all consistently yellow and brown, but today’s Cassini images reveal Saturn to be a rich peach color mixed with hints of yellow and brown. We also have the advantage of being witness to the rich blues currently appearing in the northern hemisphere which did not exist in 1981 or 1986.
Closer images are beginning to appear. This image comes from around 20 minutes after the closest approach.
Oh… and the mission site for those of you intrigued enough to follow more data driven material.
Little coming in from Messenger at this point due to some unexpected bandwidth issues at the receiving stations. Apparently there has been some Ulysses (a separate Solar observing mission) anomaly that needed tending to and has taken up the available bandwidth that had been planned for Messenger’s data. The data is reportedly fine and ready for transmission to Earth, just a delay.
For now the mission team has released this view of Mercury from the historic swing by on January 14. Much (if not all) of this image represents areas on the planet never before seen by human eyes. Very moon-like… hoping for something to come from this encounter that will be visually exciting for we the unwashed-masses. That said, scientists and the planetary sort are thrilled to be seeing this local neighbor which has been long overdue for a follow-up mission to the Mariner mission of 33 years ago.
Today’s flyby will come as close as 200km from the surface. That is comparable to some of the close flybys of the Saturnian moons made by Cassini.
See here for Ted’s colorization of this image based upon his Mariner 10 work.
According to Ted Stryk (a regularly featured imager) this image has been under construction for over a year (higher resolution available here). If you are unaware, to date… no color images have seen the light of day from the 1973 Mariner 10 encounter. So it is with unexpected shock that we are granted this fine image from an old encounter the night before we are expected to be dazzled with a plethora of new Messenger images.
Although different missions are handled differently than others, we may not be granted all images as soon as they are received here on Earth. For example, Cassini has its images open almost immediately through the raw files link… while ESA makes us wait (and still does) while they release “official” images and other reports to the press. The Cassini method is far greater an option as freelance imagers will get color composites up and available hours after an encounter while you may wait weeks for the official imaging team to get around to making color composites for public consumption. I fear the latter will be true of Messenger (especially as Mercury is not expected to be an overly colorful place), but most US based planetary missions have been great about sharing the wealth practically in real time… hopefully Messenger follows the trend.
So enjoy this for now — as stated by JRehling at unmannedspaceflight, “The best Mercury image in mankind’s history — for another week.”