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NASA/Solar System News 2015

December 2014

Broadcast Live NASA TV Streaming Video On Ustream:
Watch NASA Live TV

Recent Measurements of Pluto and Charon Obtained by New Horizons

How Big Is Pluto? New Horizons Settles Decades-Long Debate

A Portrait from the Final Approach to Pluto and Charon




Critical Step on Journey to Mars Thursday, Dec. 5

The un-crewed Orion will orbit 3,600 miles above Earth before
splashing down in the Pacific. Orion is being designed to carry
astronauts on exploration missions into deep space, including a
trip to an asteroid and eventually to Mars.




Once There Set Day:Wednesday,November12 2014 Time:9:00am Time Zone:Eastern U.S.,All Channels
Press; GO. Click on > Play

Rosetta Races Toward Comet Touchdown




In this side-by-side view, an image of comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko obtained on October 30, 2014 by the OSIRIS scientific imaging system on the Rosetta spacecraft is displayed with two different saturation levels.
This image of comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko, from Rosetta's OSIRIS scientific imaging system, shows two saturation levels. In the left image darkness hides the right half; the right image shows some surface structures. Image was taken 10/30/14 from about 18.6 miles (30 kilometers) away.
Image Credit: 
ESA/Rosetta/MPS for OSIRIS Team
Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko
This image of comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko was obtained on October 30, 2014 by the OSIRIS scientific imaging system on the Rosetta spacecraft. The right half is obscured by darkness. The image was taken from a distance of approximately 18.6 miles (30 kilometers).
Image Credit: 
ESA/Rosetta/MPS for OSIRIS Team
Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko
This is a rare glance at the dark side of comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko. Light backscattered from dust particles in the comet’s coma reveals a hint of surface structures. This image was taken by OSIRIS, Rosetta’s scientific imaging system, on Sept. 29, 2014.
Image Credit: 
ESA/Rosetta/MPS for OSIRIS Team


  • Landing scheduled for Nov. 12
  • Landing site gets a name
  • Camera gets sneak peek of the comet's "dark side"

After sailing through space for more than 10 years, the European Space Agency's Rosetta spacecraft is now less than a week shy of landing a robotic probe on a comet.

The mission's Philae (fee-LAY) lander is scheduled to touch down on comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko on Wednesday, Nov. 12 at 7:35 a.m PST/10:35 a.m. EST.  A signal confirming the landing is expected about 8:02 a.m. PST/11:02 a.m. EST. If all goes as planned with this complex engineering feat, it will be the first-ever soft landing of a spacecraft on a comet.

The landing site, formerly known simply as Site J, now has an official name: Agilkia. The name, chosen after an ESA public essay competition, is in keeping with the mission's Egyptian theme. It refers to an island on the Nile where ancient buildings were relocated after the island Philae flooded. One hundred fifty people nominated Agilkia, including the overall winner, Alexandre Brouste from France. He has been invited to watch the landing activities at Rosetta's mission control in Darmstadt, Germany.

After touchdown on Nov. 12, the Philae lander will obtain the first images ever taken from a comet's surface. It will also drill into the surface to study the composition, and witness close up how a comet changes as its exposure to the sun varies. Philae can remain active on the surface for about two-and-a-half days. Its mothership, the Rosetta spacecraft, will remain in orbit around the comet through 2015. The orbiter will continue detailed studies of the comet as it approaches the sun and then moves away.

In addition to their well-deserved reputation as beautiful cosmic objects, comets hold vital clues about our solar system's history. They are considered primitive building blocks of the solar system that are literally frozen in time, and they may have played a part in "seeding" Earth with water and, possibly, the basic ingredients for life.

NASA provided three of the 16 instruments on board the Rosetta orbiter. The NASA instruments are:

  • The Microwave Instrument for Rosetta Orbiter (MIRO) studies the process by which gas and dust leave the surface of the comet nucleus to form the tail and the coma. MIRO is capable of observing water, carbon monoxide, ammonia and methanol.
  • Alice, an ultraviolet spectrometer, analyzes gases in the comet's coma and tail; measures how fast the comet produces water, carbon monoxide and carbon dioxide (clues to the surface composition of the nucleus); and measures argon levels. These measurements help determine the temperature of the solar system when the nucleus formed more than 4.6 billion years ago.
  • Ion and Electron Sensor (IES) is part of a suite of five instruments to analyze the comet's plasma environment and measure charged particles in the sun's outer atmosphere as they interact with gas flowing from the comet during Rosetta's approach to the sun.

Rosetta launched in March 2004 and spent 957 days in "hibernation" as it zoomed through the darkness of space.  It was "brought back to life" in January 2014 to prepare for its August arrival in orbit around comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko. Since August, Rosetta has been capturing sneak peeks of what lies ahead. Images have revealed stunning structures on the areas of the comet that are visible and illuminated. These features include steep ravines, sharp cliffs and numerous boulders.

New images from the spacecraft's scientific imaging system, OSIRIS, give us a first glimpse of the dark, southern side of the comet. This side has faced away from the sun for a while, hiding its shape and surface features. The new images take advantage of slight illumination from light scattered by dust particles in the comet's coma.

Rosetta is a European Space Agency mission with contributions from its member states and NASA. Rosetta's Philae lander is provided by a consortium led by the German Aerospace Center, Cologne; Max Planck Institute for Solar System Research, Gottingen; National Center of Space Studies of France (CNES), Paris; and the Italian Space Agency, Rome. NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, a division of the California Institute of Technology, manages the U.S. participation in the Rosetta mission for NASA's Science Mission Directorate in Washington.

For more information on the U.S. instruments aboard Rosetta, visit:

More information about Rosetta is available at:


DC Agle/Guy Webster
Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif.

Dwayne Brown
NASA Headquarters, Washington

Markus Bauer
European Space Agency, Noordwijk, Netherlands

Written by Jane Platt/JPL 

COMET COULD SPARK AURORAS ON MARS: Comet Siding Spring is about to fly historically close to Mars. The encounter could spark Martian auroras, a meteor shower, and other unpredictable effects. Whatever happens, NASA's fleet of Mars satellites will have a ringside seat. Get the full story and a video from Science@NASA.

PERSEID METEOR SHOWER: The annual Perseid meteor shower peaks tonight, Aug. 12-13, as Earth passes through a stream of debris from Comet Swift-Tuttle. Forecasters expect peak rates of 30 to 40 meteors per hour, less than usual because of the glare from the waning supermoon. Observing tips: To reduce the effects of moonlight, pick an observing site with clear, dry air. Also try watching the sky from the moonshadow of a tall building or other obstacle. Many Perseid fireballs will be visible in spite of the glare. [NASA chat]

Unaffected by moonlight, the Canadian Meteor Orbit Radar (CMOR) is scanning the skies above North America for echoes from disintegrating meteoroids. The latest CMOR sky map shows strong activity from the constellation Perseus (PER):

Click to view a radar map of the entire sky. The Perseids are not alone. In the southern hemisphere, a cluster of lesser radiants is also active. Foremost among them is the Southern Delta Aquarids (SDA) probably caused by debris from Comet 96P/Machholz. Delta Aquarid fireballs will augment the Perseids south of the equator.

Because of the moonlight, radar may be the best way to observe tonight's shower. You can listen to meteor radar echoes in realtime on Space Weather Radio. 

THREE SUPERMOONS IN A ROW: Get ready for moonlight. The next three full moons are perigee "supermoons," as much as 14% closer and 30% brighter than other full moons of the year. The show begins with the full Moon of July 12th. Get the full story and a video from Science@NASA. 

Cracks in Pluto's Moon Could Indicate it Once Had an Underground Ocean
June 13, 2014


artist concept of Pluto and its moons, as viewed from one of the moons
This artist concept shows Pluto and some of its moons, as viewed from the surface of one of the moons. Pluto is the large disk at center. Charon is the smaller disk to the right.
Image Credit: 
NASA, ESA and G. Bacon (STScI)
If the icy surface of Pluto's giant moon Charon is cracked, analysis of the fractures could reveal if its interior was warm, perhaps warm enough to have maintained a subterranean ocean of liquid water, according to a new NASA-funded study.


Pluto is an extremely distant world, orbiting the sun more than 29 times farther than Earth. With a surface temperature estimated to be about 380 degrees below zero Fahrenheit (around minus 229 degrees Celsius), the environment at Pluto is far too cold to allow liquid water on its surface. Pluto's moons are in the same frigid environment.

Pluto's remoteness and small size make it difficult to observe, but in July of 2015, NASA's New Horizons spacecraft will be the first to visit Pluto and Charon, and will provide the most detailed observations to date. 

NASA's Curiosity Mars rover has imaged the planet Mercury passing in front of the sun, visible as a faint darkening that moves across the face of the sun.

This is the first transit of the sun by a planet observed from any planet other than Earth, and also the first imaging of Mercury from Mars. Mercury fills only about one-sixth of one pixel as seen from such great distance, so the darkening does not have a distinct shape, but its position follows Mercury's expected path based on orbital calculations.

The observation by the telephoto camera of Curiosity's two-eyed Mast Camera instrument is available online at:

"This is a nod to the relevance of planetary transits to the history of astronomy on Earth," said Mark Lemmon of Texas A&M University, College Station, a member of the Mastcan science team. "Observations of Venus transits were used to measure the size of the solar system, and Mercury transits were used to measure the size of the sun."

The observations were made on June 3, 2014, from Curiosity's position inside Gale Crater on Mars.  In addition to showing the Mercury transit, the same Mastcam frames show two sunspots approximately the size of Earth.  The sunspots move only at the pace of the sun's rotation, much slower than the movement of Mercury./

Antelope Valley Astronomy Club

 If you're new to astronomy? Experience a star party for the first time, and maybe even look through a telescope at some of the wonders of our Universe. The first step is to find Astronomy activities in your area of the Antelope Valley look here...

Sky & Telescope Magazine 

Whats Going on in The Night Sky This Week

Sky & Telescope Home



UCLA Department of Earth and Space Sciences

UCLA Explore The Planets

The NASA Comet ISON Observing Campaign 

Sun Grazing Comets or Sun Grazers

Amateur Observers' Program Asteroids & Comets

Experience the thrill of participating
in a NASA project!

Don't worry, you won't need to know much about astronomy, comets or asteroids. That's what this site is about!

Getting started...

•If you don't know what an asteroid or comet is or how to find things in the night sky, you'll want to start with the
Beginner's Guide.


"NEW" Canada-France-Hawaii (CFH) Telescope and Live Webcams:

The CFH observatory hosts a world-class, 3.6 meter optical/infrared telescope. The observatory is located atop the summit of Mauna Kea, a 4200 meter, dormant volcano located on the island of Hawaii. "Check out their image gallery and webcams links above"  

NASA/Solar System News 2014 





Updated March 16, 2014
Your 15 Minutes of 'Frame' - from NASA's Cassini
With more than a half-dozen images and GIFs already live on the page, users are invited to visit Cassini's raw image database, dig through the treasure trove and create their own digital masterpiece and suggested caption. The submission process is as simple as filling out a form and uploading the image. Guidelines and further information can be found on the Cassini website. Over the years, the Cassini mission website has been sharing raw, unprocessed versions of images sent to Earth by the spacecraft. On June 30 (July 1 EDT), Cassini will celebrate 10 years exploring Saturn, its rings and moons. To help mark 10 years in orbit, NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif., has created a special gallery on the Saturn website where members of the public can experience "15 minutes of frame" by submitting their own amateur images made up from image data brought back by Cassini.
Neil Armstrong

"One Small Step For [a] Man, One Giant Leap For Mankind." The infamous words of Astronaut Neil Armstrong as he set foot on the Moon.

More on Astronauts
NASA's Operation IceBridge Begins New Arctic Campaign
The mission, known as Operation IceBridge, is to gather data on changes to polar ice and maintain continuity of measurements between NASA's Ice, Cloud and Land Elevation Satellite (ICESat) missions. The original ICESat mission ended in 2009, and its successor, ICESat-2, is scheduled for launch in 2017.
By flying yearly campaigns, IceBridge provides valuable data on rapidly changing areas of polar land and sea ice. Flights run through May 23 from Thule Air Base and Kangerlussuaq, Greenland, with a week-long deployment to Fairbanks, Alaska.
For more about Operation IceBridge and to follow this year's campaign, visit:
For more about PolarTREC and the IceBridge teacher research experience, visit:
For more about the U.S.-Denmark-Greenland Joint Committee, visit:
Hubble Frontier Field Abell 2744
This long-exposure image from NASA's Hubble Space Telescope of massive galaxy cluster Abell 2744 is the deepest ever made of any cluster of galaxies. It shows some of the faintest and youngest galaxies ever detected in space. Abell 2744, located in the constellation Sculptor, appears in the foreground of this image. It contains several hundred galaxies as they looked 3.5 billion years ago. The immense gravity in Abell 2744 acts as a gravitational lens to warp space and brighten and magnify images of nearly 3,000 distant background galaxies. The more distant galaxies appear as they did longer than 12 billion years ago, not long after the big bang.
This image is part of an unprecedented long-distance view of the universe from an ambitious collaborative project among NASA's Hubble, Spitzer and Chandra space telescopes called The Frontier Fields. Over the next several years, select patches of the sky will be photographed for the purpose of better understanding galaxy evolution. This visible-light and near-infrared composite image was taken with Hubble's Wide Field Camera 3.
Image credit: NASA/ESA/STScI
Ten Years Ago, Spirit Rover Lands on Mars

This mosaic image taken on Jan. 4, 2004, by the navigation camera on the Mars Exploration Rover Spirit, shows a 360 degree panoramic view of the rover on the surface of Mars. Spirit operated for more than six years after landing in January 2004 for what was planned as a three-month mission.

Spirit drove 4.8 miles (7.73 kilometers), more than 12 times the goal set for the mission. The drives crossed a plain to reach a distant range of hills that appeared as mere bumps on the horizon from the landing site; climbed slopes up to 30 degrees as Spirit became the first robot to summit a hill on another planet; and covered more than half a mile (nearly a kilometer) after Spirit's right-front wheel became immobile in 2006. The rover returned more than 124,000 images. It ground the surfaces off 15 rock targets and scoured 92 targets with a brush to prepare the targets for inspection with spectrometers and a microscopic imager. 

A Minotaur V rocket carrying NASA's Lunar Atmosphere and Dust Environment Explorer (LADEE) lifts off from at NASA's Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia on Friday, Sept. 6, 2013.  LADEE is a robotic mission designed to orbit the moon.
NASA's Asteroid Sample Return Mission Moves into Development

NASA's first mission to sample an asteroid is moving ahead into development and testing in preparation for its launch in 2016.

The Origins-Spectral Interpretation Resource Identification Security Regolith Explorer (OSIRIS-REx) passed a confirmation review Wednesday called Key Decision Point (KDP)-C. NASA officials reviewed a series of detailed project assessments and authorized the spacecraft's continuation into the development phase.

NASA’s Interface Region Imaging Spectrograph (IRIS) satellite arrived at Vandenberg Air Force Base in California on Tuesday, April 16, to begin its final preparations for launch currently scheduled no earlier than May 28. IRIS will improve our understanding of how heat and energy move through the deepest levels of the sun’s atmosphere, thereby increasing our ability to forecast space weather. Following final checkouts, the IRIS spacecraft will be placed inside an Orbital Sciences Pegasus rocket. Deployment of the Pegasus from the L-1011 carrier aircraft is targeted for 7:27 p.m. PDT at an altitude of 39,000 feet at a location over the Pacific Ocean about 100 miles northwest of Vandenberg AFB off the central coast of California south of Big Sur. Go to:


NASA Voyager Status Update on Voyager 1 Location           03.20.13

The Voyager team is aware of reports today that NASA's Voyager 1 has left the solar system," said Edward Stone, Voyager project scientist based at the California Institute of Technology, Pasadena, Calif. "It is the consensus of the Voyager science team that Voyager 1 has not yet left the solar system or reached interstellar space. In December 2012, the Voyager science team reported that Voyager 1 is within a new region called 'the magnetic highway' where energetic particles changed dramatically. A change in the direction of the magnetic field is the last critical indicator of reaching interstellar space and that change of direction has not yet been observed." 

To learn more about the current status of the Voyager mission: 

The Voyager spacecraft were built and continue to be operated by NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, in Pasadena, Calif. Caltech manages JPL for NASA. The Voyager missions are a part of NASA's Heliophysics System Observatory, sponsored by the Heliophysics Division of the Science Mission Directorate at NASA Headquarters in Washington. 

Jia-Rui C. Cook 818-354-0850
Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif. 

How Did Life Arise? Fuel Cells May Have Answers

How Did Life Arise? Fuel Cells May Have Answers
A new JPL-led study demonstrates a unique way to study the origins of life: fuel cells.

› Read full story    NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory | 4800 Oak Grove Dr | Pasadena, CA 91109   








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