Saturn’s rings are one of the most recognized and revered celestial objects known to the human race. From a distance, they look like a disk of layered crystal or multicolored disks within disks that wrap around Saturn’s hazy umber face. When viewed up close, we see that these rings are actually particles of water ice (from microns to icebergs), as well as silicates, carbon dioxide, and ammonia.
We would also noticed that the rings have some interesting orbital mechanics. In fact, each ring has a different orbit that is the result of its proximity to Saturn (i.e., the closer they are, the faster they orbit). To illustrate what this complex system look like, NASA Fellow Dr. James O’Donoghue created a stunning animation that shows how each of Saturn’s major ring segments (A-Ring to F-Ring) orbit together around the planet.
Continue reading “Animation Shows how Saturn’s Rings Move at Different Speeds”
After more than two years in orbit around asteroid Bennu, NASA’s OSIRIS-REx spacecraft is ready to come home. It’s bringing with it a pristine sample of space rocks that geologists here on Earth are eager to study up close. The sample will arrive in September 2023, but we won’t have to wait nearly that long for new data from OSIRIS-REx. Last week, the probe carried out one final flyby of Bennu, in an effort to photograph the sample collection site. The photographs are being downlinked now, and should be here by midweek.
If you’ve been following the OSIRIS-REx mission, you probably already know why scientists are keen to see these photographs, but if you haven’t, hold on to your hats – it’s a wild story.
Continue reading “OSIRIS-REx Did One Last Close Flyby of Asteroid Bennu. It’s Almost Time to Come Home”
According to new research that appeared in the scientific journal Nature Geoscience, the larger of Mars’ two moons (Phobos) has an orbit that takes it through a stream of charged particles (ions) that flow from the Red Planet’s atmosphere. This process has been taking place for billions of years as the planet slowly lost its atmosphere, effectively establishing a record of Martian climate change on Phobos’ surface.
This research has provided yet another incentive for landing a mission on Phobos, something that has never been done successfully. In essence, this mission could gather sample data that would allow scientists to study this record more closely. In the process, they would be able to learn a great deal more about how Mars went from being a warmer world with liquid water to the extremely arid and cold environment it is today.
Continue reading “What Could We Learn From a Mission to Phobos?”
What a proposed wooden satellite could (and could not) accomplish.
A strange satellite proposal made at the end of 2020 by a Japanese company had many space pundits scratching their heads into 2021.
The proposal came out of Kyoto University in partnership with Sumitomo Forestry in Japan, though most of the information on the project comes from a BBC post quoting Japanese Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) astronaut and Kyoto University professor Takao Doi, who flew aboard the U.S. space shuttle on missions STS-87 and STS-123 to the International Space Station. STS-123 delivered and installed JAXA’s Kib? module in 2008.
Continue reading “Japan to Launch ‘Wooden Satellite’ in 2023”
On December 5th, 2020, the Japanese Aerospace Exploration Agency’s (JAXA) Hayabusa 2 mission sent a sample capsule home containing debris from the near-Earth asteroid (NEA) 162173 Ryugu. This was the culmination of the probe’s first six years in space, which launched in Dec. 2014 and rendezvoused with Ryugu in June 2018. While the probe sets its sights on its new targets, scientists will be busy analyzing the Ryugu sample.
One thing they noticed immediately after opening the shell on Monday (Dec. 21st) was the black sandy dust that lined the capsule’s outer shell. According to a statement issued by JAXA, the black sand is material taken from the surface of Ryugu. Considering what’s inside sample chamber A, it appears that the amount of material obtained by Hayabusa 2 is more substantial than previously thought.
Continue reading “Even the Outside of Hayabusa 2’s Sample Capsule has Asteroid Debris on it”
Japan’s Hayabusa 2 spacecraft is nearly back home, with precious cargo aboard! The sample-return mission departed asteroid Ryugu (162173 Ryugu) a little over a year ago, with soil samples and data that could provide clues to the early days of our Solar System. On December 6, 2020, the sample return container is set to land in the Australian outback.
Continue reading “Hayabusa 2’s Sample is Landing on Earth December 6th”
A remarkable microbe named Deinococcus radiodurans (the name comes from the Greek deinos meaning terrible, kokkos meaning grain or berry, radius meaning radiation, and durare meaning surviving or withstanding) has survived a full year in the harsh environment of outer space aboard (but NOT inside) the International Space Station. This plucky prokaryote is affectionately known by fans as Conan the Bacterium, as seen in this classic 1990s NASA article.
The JAXA (Japanese Aerospace Exploration Agency) ISS module Kib? has an unusual feature for spacecraft, a front porch! This exterior portion of the space station is fitted with robotic equipment to complete various experiments in outer space’s brutal conditions. One of these experiments was to expose cells of D. radiodurans for a year and then test the cells to see if they not only would survive but could reproduce effectively afterward. D. radiodurans proved to be up to the challenge, and what a challenge it was!
Continue reading “Earth’s toughest bacteria can survive unprotected in space for at least a year”
The Mercury-bound BepiColombo spacecraft will observe Venus during tonight’s pass, on the hunt for phosphine and sulfur-dioxide.
The joint Japanese/European Space Agency’s BepiColombo spacecraft makes a scheduled pass near Venus tonight, while the cloud-shrouded planet has been very much in the news.
Continue reading “BepiColombo Mercury Mission to Make First Venus Flyby Tonight”
In an expected move, the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) has announced a mission extension for their Hayabusa2 spacecraft. Hayabusa2 will be sent to rendezvous with another asteroid in a few years time.
It’s target is 1998 KY26, a near-Earth object (NEO) less than a kilometer in diameter. But it’ll take a while and some maneuvering around other objects in the Solar System to reach its goal. JAXA says the spacecraft will arrive at the asteroid in July 2031.
Continue reading “Hayabusa2’s Mission isn’t Over. It has a New Asteroid Target to Visit: 1998 KY26”
Mars only has two moons: Phobos and Deimos. They’re strange, for moons, little more than lumpy, potato-shaped chunks of rock. They’re much too small for self-gravitation to have made them round. And one of them, Deimos, has an unusually tilted orbit.
What does that slight tilt tell us about Deimos? About Mars?
Continue reading “Evidence that Mars Used to Have a Ring”