Space Is A Busy Place

Credit: NASA

A little over a year ago we watched with baited breath as the Mars Science Laboratory performed its amazing landing on the red planet. Since then we’ve followed the Curiosity rover as it has traveled Gale Crater. It is easy to forget that there is a lot of really great science going on focused on other parts of the solar system.

Credit: NASA

Credit: NASA

Just the other day the Lunar Atmosphere and Dust Environment Explorer (LADEE) fired it engines slowing the spacecraft enough to be captured by the Moon’s gravity and bringing the craft into orbit on October 6th. LADEE will eventually fly in a low 50 kilometer (31 mi) orbit collecting detailed information about the ultra thin lunar atmosphere, lunar dust and conditions near the surface.
Yes, you did read that right the Moon does have an atmosphere… it is just really really thin.

Credit:NASA/JPL

Credit:NASA/JPL

Today, October 9th, the Juno spacecraft will be passing by Earth to perform a critical gravity assist maneuver on its way to rendezvous with Jupiter in 2016. That’s right the wonders of orbital mechanics mean that in order to send the ship to Jupiter it actually has to come back to Earth. Juno’s will be at its closest to the Earth at 3:21 EDT, passing over South Africa at an altitude of about 500 kilometers (350 mi). This maneuver will accelerate Juno’s velocity by 16,330 mph.

And as for Curiosity, yeah she’s still trucking along towards Mt Sharp.

You can find out more about this and other interesting space science at Universe Today or your science blog of choice.

Look! Up In The Sky!

It’s a comet!

Starting today March 10th, Comet Pan-STARRS makes its closest approach to the sun, inside the orbit of Mercury.

Over the next several days as it moves away from the Sun it should become more visible. March 12th and 13th the comet will pass not far from the crescent Moon, providing an excelent opportunity for sunset viewing. As the week progresses it should be easily visible to the naked eye.

So if you’ve got clear skies grab the kids for this rare astronomical event

Curious about Curiosity? Mars rover landing tonight!

Curiosity Shadow

Image: NASA/JPL-Caltech

After years of planning & construction, a voyage of millions of miles since it’s launch in November 2011, the Mars Science Laboratory (MSL) otherwise know as the Curiosity rover will be attempting to land in Gale Crater on Mars tonight (tomorrow morning 05:31 UTC)

You can find out tons of great information about this car sized rover and its unusual landing method at numerous locations across the net. From NASA’s 7 Minutes of Terror: Curiosity Rover’s Risky Mars Landing video, to Emily Lakdawalla’s excellent post over at Nerdist and her videos about the rover itself.

There are several live feeds tonight as we all wait to see if the rover lands successfully.

You can also follow the action on twitter #MSL

– Laith

UPDATE 1:15am CT 8/6: When I posted this initially it was 9:30pm CT and we had three hours to wait and see if the landing was a success. I am pleased to update that at around 12:17am Curiosity landed successfully on Mars and confirmation was received shortly after the half hour. Within minutes the first photos from the low-resolution obstacle cameras at the wheels were arriving back at earth. We live in an amazing time.

Curiosity 1st Photo

First Photo (via @MarsCuriosity)

 

Curiosity Shadow

Rover Shadow (@MarsCuriosity)

Update 2 (By Susie): Here’s a great article by Emily Lakdawalla of The Planetary Society about the landing over at Nerdist! And here’s where to watch the mission briefings from NASA – http://www.ustream.tv/NASAJPL