I just found this on Gordan Ugarkovic’s Flickr page. I just sped up the frame rate.
I just found this on Gordan Ugarkovic’s Flickr page. I just sped up the frame rate.
The Dawn Spacecraft has been orbiting at Vesta for some time now. Surely some great science, but visually we are looking at an object that reminds us very much of the Martian moon Phobos. And like so many of the smaller rocky bodies of the inner solar system — up close, most images could easily pass for Apollo images of our own moon.
However, there are some things we haven’t seen very much of on rocky surfaces like Vesta. Dark and light ejecta material reminds us more of what we see at Iapetus and Hyperion (both Saturnian moons) — which are largely moons of ice.
The grooves which nearly reach all the way around Vesta are very similar to the grooves found on Phobos (a rocky Martian moon). Many scientists believe those lines came from the cataclysmic event that formed Stickney Crater which nearly shattered the small moon, but instead left behind rippled scars as gravity pulled it all back together. Similarly, an enormous crater at the Vesta’s south seems to correspond to these multiple ridges.
In contrast to nearly every other phase of the mission to and from Itokawa, the re-entry and landing on Earth went without a hitch. The capsule was retrieved and returned to Tokyo, where hopefully it will contain the first ever asteroid samples that did not go through the extreme heat of passing through the Earth atmosphere.
If you Google “Hayabusa” you will likely find a few articles about a mission plagued by problems and will leave you with the impression that the engineers at JAXA are a bunch of bumbling goons. What you will find less of is the fact that a sample-return mission is just about the most difficult types of missions any organization can attempt. As a matter of fact, only 4 sample-return missions (other than Apollo) have ever been successfully executed in history. Two Lunar missions by the Soviets with Luna 20 and 24 and much later, two American lead missions Genesis and Stardust which collected space dust and cometary particles. It is worth noting also that only two of those missions actually included landing on the surface of another body, grabbing some samples and then returning home. So for JAXA to even attempt such a bold mission without having even 1% the robotic mission experience of the USA and the Russians is all by itself an accomplishment.
So what were the failures? Well, there is a long list of issues including: a Solar Flare that destroyed solar cells aboard the craft, two reaction wheels that control movement failed, two attempts to fire pellets at the surface failed (to kick up the samples into the collection cannister) and finally a whole litany of communication errors, fuel leaks and telemetry issues which put the mission in serious doubt of ever returning to Earth. To make a long story short — the probe did touch-down on the surface of asteroid Itokowa. The first such mission ever intentionally designed to do so (NASA did have an impromptu touch down on 433 Eros in 2000, but that was more a controlled crash). Despite the pellet failures, mission specialists think that the very act of touching down was likely to kick up enough dust to collect some materials in the collection canister. After much wrangling with a seriously debilitated spacecraft they managed to get Hayabusa on make-shift trajectory back to Earth, very much later than planned… but home just the same.
With fingers crossed, the sample package is to parachute down in South Australia on or around June 13th at which point it will be shuttled back to Japan and hopefully they will find something contained within. Even if it is just a few particles, it will still be the only samples of asteroid particles un-altered by the extreme heat of a natural Earth entry (aka: a meteor) and only the 3rd time in history a probe landed on another world and returned a piece of it back to Earth for study. Not bad for the new kids in space.
Pictured at top is a frame from the trailer “Hayabusa Back to Earth” in anticipation of the potentially successful sample-return mission. It appears to be a 3-D render based on actual images returned from the mission. The second is an actual image with the shadow of the spacecraft as it maneuvered to a close encounter with its target. The third image illustrates what touch-down may have been like for Hayabusa. You can see the large amount of theoretical dust kicked up by the thrusters which may be JAXA’s best hope for actually having captured particles in the sample-return canister.
What NASA thinks we might be looking at here is an asteroid that was recently shattered by another asteroid, giving it a comet-like appearance. It stays within the asteroid belt, so it cannot be a comet as those objects are known to be dusty ice-balls that stay in highly elliptical orbits around the Sun.
Not at all meant as a “gotcha” at all… but I just love when I take the time to clean these up and people start using these my clean-ups over the ones officially released. Daily Galaxy posted my Comet Halley clean up and I knew I recognized it as my handy work. They most likely got it off Google image search.
This is so nice, but I am furious that I didn’t get to design this. This is Information design at it’s best naturally by National Geographic. You can see 50 years of robotic planetary exploration at a glance. It even includes failed missions represented by darker desaturated lines. As far as I can tell the cream colored lines are US and the red ones are Soviet. Interesting to see how many of those lines go dark around Mars.
Now where does one purchase such a thing? Perhaps this month’s issue of NG? Here is the link to it on their site complete with zoom viewer and them some kind samaritan posted a hires version to flickr.
Barely 15 years after Comet Shoemaker-Levy slammed into Jupiter, another large object hit Jupiter this month when nobody was looking. This image was taken 4 days after the event and displays an Earth-sized scar in the upper atmosphere of the planet. The object that did the slamming is estimated to have been about the size of several football fields. This should be a fairly rare event, although twice in 15 years is literally a blip on a celestial time scale.
Currently there is a comet paying us a visit and can be seen with the naked eye. It can currently be found near Saturn in the night sky, but for those of you who lack the proper equipment and warm coats why not check out spaceweather.com’s Comet Lulin page of amatuer astrophotography.
The image above is by Rich Richins taken on Feb 21, 2009. According to Rich, “Comet Lulin is nearing its peak brightness, and is showing two beautiful tails. The colors are striking. Even through the eyepiece, the tail extends easily over a degree”.
The Planetary Blog today posted an animation of Comet Halley captured by Vega 1 in 1986. The low quality of the Vega images reminded me of how low quality all the mission images to Halley were for their historic encounters. There was one image I found of Halley taken by Giotto that seemed to me to be the best I had ever seen in terms of detail and captured much of the coma that envelopes the nucleus as well. Here is that original image which was found at www.astro.lu.se.
The odd thing about it is the rarity of its use anywhere and the site that provided it gives no other detail about it other than “Nucleus of Comet Halley. Giotto fly-by 1986”. So out of curiosity, I decided to do a google image search for “Comet Halley” and turns out that the wallpaper image created by wanderingspace that features this image comes up first!
In the interest of full disclosure, I thought I would post the original to show how it was beautified. Most of the work was really cleaning up the noise and removing artifacts. Much of that noise was in the form of posterization and happens in the coma. So that noise was largely blurred out since the coma would pretty much just be a large blur of white at any rate, but the rate of gradation was still maintained for some level of legitimacy. Color was added to the image last, but that is entirely artistic. That and the upper left corner of the coma which was extended to fill the frame are the only fictional parts of the image.
All in all… it seems to me that when you remove the artifacts, you pretty much have the final image which was used for the wallpaper image. Less manipulation and more “clean-up” which is what I try to do with all images here when needed.
Asteroid Steins seen from a distance of around 800 km by Rosetta. This tiny asteroid is only around 5 km at it’s largest dimension with a crater on the top right that is approximately 1.5-km in size. That is a large impact for such a tiny body, but we have seen small bodies survive such large impacts before (Phobos, moon of Mars for instance). It seems like a pretty typical asteroid thus far and joins the growing family of such bodies visited by we humans. As a matter of fact, if I didn’t know where this came from — I would have assumed it was just another tiny moonlet imaged by Cassini in orbit around Saturn.
See the flyby animation on the official ESA Rosetta site. For those keeping score… the next major encounter in our Solar System is in just about a month with another Messenger visit to Mercury.
Steins, a rare E-type asteroid, is going to have company tomorrow as Rosetta swings by on its long voyage to Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko scheduled to occur in 2014. See a quick computer simulation of tomorrow’s encounter here.
The encounter is to take place on Sept 5 with data and images to be communicated back to Earth that evening. Processing of that information is to take place on the 6th along with a press conference. Chances are, images and other information will not become public until that conference is underway as ESA still likes to roll things out the old fashioned way.