What’s the spot on World Ceres?

Ceres bright spots

Can you guess what’s creating those unusual bright spots on Ceres? On March 6, NASA’s Dawn spacecraft began orbiting Ceres, the largest body in the main asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter. Even before the spacecraft arrived at the dwarf planet, images revealed mysterious bright spots that captivated scientists and observers alike. Until Dawn gets a closer look over the next few months, it’s anyone’s guess what those spots could be. So, go ahead!

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NASA’s Hubble Finds Pluto’s Moons Tumbling in Absolute Chaos

This new NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope image presents the Arches Cluster, the densest known star cluster in the Milky Way. It is located about 25 000 light-years from Earth in the constellation of Sagittarius (The Archer), close to the heart of our galaxy, the Milky Way. It is, like its neighbour the Quintuplet Cluster, a fairly young astronomical object at between two and four million years old. The Arches cluster is so dense that in a region with a radius equal to the distance between the Sun and its nearest star there would be over 100 000 stars! At least 150 stars within the cluster are among the brightest ever discovered in the the Milky Way. These stars are so bright and massive, that they will burn their fuel within a short time, on a cosmological scale, just a few million years, and die in spectacular supernova explosions. Due to the short lifetime of the stars in the cluster, the gas between the stars contains an unusually high amount of heavier elements, which were produced by earlier generations of stars. Despite its brightness the Arches Cluster cannot be seen with the naked eye. The visible light from the cluster is completely obscured by gigantic clouds of dust in this region. To make the cluster visible astronomers have to use detectors which can collect light from the X-ray, infrared, and radio bands, as these wavelengths can pass through the dust clouds. This observation shows the Arches Cluster in the infrared and demonstrates the leap in Hubble’s performance since its 1999 image of same object.

If you lived on one of Pluto’s moons, you might have a hard time determining when, or from which direction, the sun will rise each day. Comprehensive analysis of data from NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope shows that two of Pluto’s moons, Nix and Hydra, wobble unpredictably.

“Hubble has provided a new view of Pluto and its moons revealing a cosmic dance with a chaotic rhythm,” said John Grunsfeld, associate administrator of NASA’s Science Mission Directorate in Washington. “When the New Horizons spacecraft flies through the Pluto system in July we’ll get a chance to see what these moons look like up close and personal.”

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NASA Begins Testing Mars Lander in Preparation for Next Mission to Red Planet

NASA's InSight Mars lander spacecraft in a Lockheed Martin clean room near Denver. As part of a series of deployment tests, the spacecraft was commanded to deploy its solar arrays in the clean room to test and verify the exact process that it will use on the surface of Mars.

Testing is underway on NASA’s next mission on the journey to Mars, a stationary lander scheduled to launch in March 2016.

The lander is called InSight, an abbreviation for Interior Exploration using Seismic Investigations, Geodesy and Heat Transport. It is about the size of a car and will be the first mission devoted to understanding the interior structure of the Red Planet. Examining the planet’s deep interior could reveal clues about how all rocky planets, including Earth, formed and evolved.

The current testing will help ensure InSight can operate in and survive deep space travel and the harsh conditions of the Martian surface. The spacecraft will lift off from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California, and land on Mars about six months later.

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International Space Station Partners Adjust Spacecraft Schedule

Soyuz launch

NASA and its international partners agreed Tuesday to set a new schedule for spacecraft traffic to and from the International Space Station.

The partner agencies agreed to adjust the schedule after hearing the Russian Federal Space Agency’s (Roscosmos) preliminary findings on the recent loss of the Progress 59 cargo craft. The exact dates have not yet been established, but will be announced in the coming weeks. Roscosmos expects to provide an update about the Progress 59 investigation on Friday, May 22.

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NASA Research Reveals Europa’s Mystery Dark Material Could Be Sea Salt

Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech

NASA laboratory experiments suggest the dark material coating some geological features of Jupiter’s moon Europa is likely sea salt from a subsurface ocean, discolored by exposure to radiation. The presence of sea salt on Europa’s surface suggests the ocean is interacting with its rocky seafloor — an important consideration in determining whether the icy moon could support life.

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NASA Completes MESSENGER Mission with Expected Impact on Mercury’s Surface

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A NASA planetary exploration mission came to a planned, but nonetheless dramatic, end Thursday when it slammed into Mercury’s surface at about 8,750 mph and created a new crater on the planet’s surface.

Mission controllers at the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory (APL) in Laurel, Maryland, have confirmed NASA’s MErcury Surface, Space ENvironment, GEochemistry, and Ranging (MESSENGER) spacecraft impacted the surface of Mercury, as anticipated, at 3:26 p.m. EDT.

Mission control confirmed end of operations just a few minutes later, at 3:40 p.m., when no signal was detected by NASA’s Deep Space Network (DSN) station in Goldstone, California, at the time the spacecraft would have emerged from behind the planet...

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Russian Resupply Ship Experiencing Difficulties; International Space Station, Crew are Fine

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The six crew members of the International Space Station (ISS) are safe and continuing regular operations with sufficient supplies as Russian flight controllers plan for another attempt to communicate with a cargo resupply spacecraft bound for the station. The next attempt to link with the spacecraft comes at 8:50 p.m. EDT Tuesday.

The ISS Progress 59 cargo spacecraft launched successfully from the Baikonur Cosmodrome at 3:09 a.m. (1:09 p.m. in Kazakhstan) Tuesday on a Soyuz rocket bound for the space station. Right after it separated from the Soyuz booster’s third stage, an unspecified problem prevented Russian flight controllers from determining whether navigational antennas had deployed and whether fuel system manifolds had pressurized as planned.

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Spacecraft Data Suggest Saturn Moon’s Ocean May Harbor Hydrothermal Activity

Image Credit: NASA/JPL

NASA’s Cassini spacecraft has provided scientists the first clear evidence that Saturn’s moon Enceladus exhibits signs of present-day hydrothermal activity which may resemble that seen in the deep oceans on Earth. The implications of such activity on a world other than our planet open up unprecedented scientific possibilities.

“These findings add to the possibility that Enceladus, which contains a subsurface ocean and displays remarkable geologic activity, could contain environments suitable for living organisms,” said John Grunsfeld astronaut and associate administrator of NASA’s Science Mission Directorate in Washington...

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New Crew Launches to Space Station to Continue Scientific Research

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NASA astronaut Butch Wilmore and Russian cosmonauts Alexander Samokutyaev and Elena Serova joined their Expedition 41 crewmates when the hatches between the Soyuz TMA-14M spacecraft and the International Space Station officially opened at 1:06 a.m. EDT. Expedition 41 Commander Max Suraev of the Russian Federal Space Agency and Flight Engineers Reid Wiseman of NASA and Alexander Gerst of the European Space Agency, who arrived at the station in May, welcomed the new crew members aboard their orbital home.

 

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Fourth Dragon for Commercial Resupply Services Arrives at Station

Dragon Approach

The Dragon commercial cargo craft has completed a two day trip to the International Space Station after launching early Sunday morning. NASA astronaut Reid Wiseman and European Space Agency astronaut Alexander Gerst were at the controls of the robotics workstation in the Cupola when the Canadarm2 grappled Dragon at 6:52 a.m. EDT Tuesday. Dragon will spend the next four weeks attached to the Harmony node as the Expedition 41 trio unloads 4,885 pounds of (2,216 kg) crew supplies, hardware, experiments, computer gear and spacewalk equipment. This is the fourth SpaceX mission for NASA’s Commercial Resupply Services contract, designated SpaceX CRS-4, with eight more missions slated to deliver a minimum of 20 metric tons to the station.

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