#planetary science
Curiosity beams back a color 360 of Gale crater
This is the first 360-degree panorama in color of the Gale Crater landing site taken by NASA’s Curiosity rover. The images were taken late Aug. 8 PDT (Aug. 9 EDT) by the 34-millimeter Mast Camera.
This panorama mosaic was made of 130 images of 144 by 144 pixels each. Selected full frames from this panorama, which are 1,200 by 1,200 pixels each, are expected to be transmitted to Earth later. The images in this panorama were brightened in the processing. Mars only receives half the sunlight Earth does and this image was taken in the late Martian afternoon.

Curiosity beams back a color 360 of Gale crater

This is the first 360-degree panorama in color of the Gale Crater landing site taken by NASA’s Curiosity rover. The images were taken late Aug. 8 PDT (Aug. 9 EDT) by the 34-millimeter Mast Camera.

This panorama mosaic was made of 130 images of 144 by 144 pixels each. Selected full frames from this panorama, which are 1,200 by 1,200 pixels each, are expected to be transmitted to Earth later. The images in this panorama were brightened in the processing. Mars only receives half the sunlight Earth does and this image was taken in the late Martian afternoon.

jpl.nasa.gov »

The fractured features of Ladon basin

ESA’s Mars Express has observed the southern part of a partially buried approx. 440-km wide crater, informally named Ladon basin. The images, near to where Ladon Valles enters this large impact region reveal a variety of features, most notably the double interconnected impact craters Sigli and Shambe, the basins of which are criss-crossed by extensive fracturing.

This region, imaged on 27 April by the high-resolution stereo camera on Mars Express is of great interest to scientists since it shows significant signs of ancient lakes and rivers. Large-scale overview maps show clear evidence that vast volumes of water once flowed from the southern highlands. This water carved Ladon Valles, eventually flowing into Ladon basin, an ancient large impact region.

The interconnected craters Sigli and Shambe are thought to have formed later when an incoming projectile split into two pieces just before impact. The joined craters were then partly filled with sediments at some later epoch. Scientists have suggested that a fluidised ejecta pattern indicates the presence of subsurface ice which melted during the impact.

Images: (1) High-Resolution Stereo Camera (HRSC) nadir and colour channel data taken during revolution 10602 on 27 April 2012 by ESA’s Mars Express have been combined to form a natural-colour view of the Ladon Valles region. (2, 3) Computer-generated perspective view created using data obtained from the High-Resolution Stereo Camera (HRSC) on ESA’s Mars Express.

esa.int »

JPL Mission History
This graphical timeline shows the launch dates of the more than 100 missions that JPL has either managed or participated in since 1958 — and has planned through 2019. JPL is inviting members of the public to submit their own space and mission-themed visualizations as part of its newly-launched JPL Infographics website. Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech
View full-size image: 2030×900 px

JPL Mission History

This graphical timeline shows the launch dates of the more than 100 missions that JPL has either managed or participated in since 1958 — and has planned through 2019. JPL is inviting members of the public to submit their own space and mission-themed visualizations as part of its newly-launched JPL Infographics website. Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

View full-size image: 2030×900 px

jpl.nasa.gov »

Cassini Spots Daytime Lightning on Saturn
These false-color mosaics from NASA’s Cassini spacecraft capture lightning striking within the huge storm that encircled Saturn’s northern hemisphere for much of 2011.
The larger mosaic on the left of the panel shows the lightning flash, which appears as a blue dot. The smaller mosaic on the right is composed of images taken 30 minutes later, and the lightning is not flashing at that time.
The white arrow in the annotated version of this panel points to the location where the lightning occurred in the clouds. The optical energy of this and other flashes on Saturn is comparable to the strongest of the flashes on Earth. The flash is approximately 200 kilometers in diameter when it exits the tops of the clouds.
From this, scientists deduce that the lightning bolts originate in the clouds deeper down in Saturn’s atmosphere where water droplets freeze. This is analogous to where lightning is created on Earth.

Cassini Spots Daytime Lightning on Saturn

These false-color mosaics from NASA’s Cassini spacecraft capture lightning striking within the huge storm that encircled Saturn’s northern hemisphere for much of 2011.

The larger mosaic on the left of the panel shows the lightning flash, which appears as a blue dot. The smaller mosaic on the right is composed of images taken 30 minutes later, and the lightning is not flashing at that time.

The white arrow in the annotated version of this panel points to the location where the lightning occurred in the clouds. The optical energy of this and other flashes on Saturn is comparable to the strongest of the flashes on Earth. The flash is approximately 200 kilometers in diameter when it exits the tops of the clouds.

From this, scientists deduce that the lightning bolts originate in the clouds deeper down in Saturn’s atmosphere where water droplets freeze. This is analogous to where lightning is created on Earth.

jpl.nasa.gov »

Titan’s Colorful South Polar Vortex
This true color image captured by NASA’S Cassini spacecraft before a distant flyby of Saturn’s moon Titan on June 27, 2012, shows a south polar vortex, or a mass of swirling gas around the pole in the atmosphere of the moon. 
Since Cassini arrived in the Saturn system in 2004, Titan has had a visible “hood” high above the north pole. It was northern winter at Cassini’s arrival, and much of the high northern latitudes were in darkness. But the hood, an area of denser, high altitude haze compared to the rest of the moon’s atmosphere, was high enough to be still illuminated by sunlight.
The seasons have been changing since Saturn’s August 2009 equinox signaled the beginning of spring in the northern hemisphere and fall in the southern hemisphere for the planet. Now the high southern latitudes are moving into darkness. The formation of the vortex at Titan’s south pole may be related to the coming southern winter and the start of what will be a south polar hood.
Scientists think these new images show open cell convection. In open cells, air sinks in the center of the cell and rises at the edge, forming clouds at cell edges. However, because the scientists can’t see the layer underneath the layer visible in these new images, they don’t know what mechanisms may be at work.

Titan’s Colorful South Polar Vortex

This true color image captured by NASA’S Cassini spacecraft before a distant flyby of Saturn’s moon Titan on June 27, 2012, shows a south polar vortex, or a mass of swirling gas around the pole in the atmosphere of the moon.

Since Cassini arrived in the Saturn system in 2004, Titan has had a visible “hood” high above the north pole. It was northern winter at Cassini’s arrival, and much of the high northern latitudes were in darkness. But the hood, an area of denser, high altitude haze compared to the rest of the moon’s atmosphere, was high enough to be still illuminated by sunlight.

The seasons have been changing since Saturn’s August 2009 equinox signaled the beginning of spring in the northern hemisphere and fall in the southern hemisphere for the planet. Now the high southern latitudes are moving into darkness. The formation of the vortex at Titan’s south pole may be related to the coming southern winter and the start of what will be a south polar hood.

Scientists think these new images show open cell convection. In open cells, air sinks in the center of the cell and rises at the edge, forming clouds at cell edges. However, because the scientists can’t see the layer underneath the layer visible in these new images, they don’t know what mechanisms may be at work.

jpl.nasa.gov »

Cassini Finds Likely Subsurface Ocean on Saturn Moon
Data from NASA’s Cassini spacecraft have revealed Saturn’s moon Titan likely harbors a layer of liquid water under its ice shell. 
Researchers saw a large amount of squeezing and stretching as the moon orbited Saturn. They deduced that if Titan were composed entirely of stiff rock, the gravitational attraction of Saturn would cause bulges, or solid “tides,” on the moon only 1 meter in height. Spacecraft data show Saturn creates solid tides approximately 10 meters in height, which suggests Titan is not made entirely of solid rocky material.
An ocean layer does not have to be huge or deep to create these tides. A liquid layer between the external, deformable shell and a solid mantle would enable Titan to bulge and compress as it orbits Saturn [Video]. Because Titan’s surface is mostly made of water ice, which is abundant in moons of the outer solar system, scientists infer Titan’s ocean is likely mostly liquid water.
The presence of a subsurface layer of liquid water at Titan is not itself an indicator for life. Scientists think life is more likely to arise when liquid water is in contact with rock, and these measurements cannot tell whether the ocean bottom is made up of rock or ice. The results have a bigger implication for the mystery of methane replenishment on Titan.
Image: This artist’s concept shows a possible scenario for the internal structure of Titan, as suggested by data from NASA’s Cassini spacecraft. Scientists have been trying to determine what is under Titan’s organic-rich atmosphere and icy crust.

Cassini Finds Likely Subsurface Ocean on Saturn Moon

Data from NASA’s Cassini spacecraft have revealed Saturn’s moon Titan likely harbors a layer of liquid water under its ice shell.

Researchers saw a large amount of squeezing and stretching as the moon orbited Saturn. They deduced that if Titan were composed entirely of stiff rock, the gravitational attraction of Saturn would cause bulges, or solid “tides,” on the moon only 1 meter in height. Spacecraft data show Saturn creates solid tides approximately 10 meters in height, which suggests Titan is not made entirely of solid rocky material.

An ocean layer does not have to be huge or deep to create these tides. A liquid layer between the external, deformable shell and a solid mantle would enable Titan to bulge and compress as it orbits Saturn [Video]. Because Titan’s surface is mostly made of water ice, which is abundant in moons of the outer solar system, scientists infer Titan’s ocean is likely mostly liquid water.

The presence of a subsurface layer of liquid water at Titan is not itself an indicator for life. Scientists think life is more likely to arise when liquid water is in contact with rock, and these measurements cannot tell whether the ocean bottom is made up of rock or ice. The results have a bigger implication for the mystery of methane replenishment on Titan.

Image: This artist’s concept shows a possible scenario for the internal structure of Titan, as suggested by data from NASA’s Cassini spacecraft. Scientists have been trying to determine what is under Titan’s organic-rich atmosphere and icy crust.

jpl.nasa.gov »

Strong Jet in False Colors
A particularly strong jet stream churns through Saturn’s northern hemisphere in this false-color view from NASA’s Cassini spacecraft. Clouds associated with the jet stream can be seen in the upper right about a third of the way down from the top of this image.
The jet stream clouds appear like a thin, bright orange line here. Moving west and closer to the center of the image, the feature drops south. Farther to the west of this discontinuity, or drop, a blurrier form of the jet stream clouds continues to move along the latitude circle.
The winds of Saturn’s jet streams are zonal, meaning they move eastward or westward at particular latitudes. This jet stream is located at about 42 degrees north latitude, and has been visible on Saturn since the days of NASA’s Voyager spacecraft. In the Voyager days, this jet stream had an undulating appearance, leading scientists to dub it the ribbon wave. The planet’s atmosphere is always changing, and the jet stream now looks nothing like a ribbon.
The images were taken with the Cassini spacecraft wide-angle camera on Jan. 13, 2008 using a combination of spectral filters sensitive to wavelengths of near-infrared light. The view was acquired at a distance of approximately 1.3 million kilometers from Saturn.

Strong Jet in False Colors

A particularly strong jet stream churns through Saturn’s northern hemisphere in this false-color view from NASA’s Cassini spacecraft. Clouds associated with the jet stream can be seen in the upper right about a third of the way down from the top of this image.

The jet stream clouds appear like a thin, bright orange line here. Moving west and closer to the center of the image, the feature drops south. Farther to the west of this discontinuity, or drop, a blurrier form of the jet stream clouds continues to move along the latitude circle.

The winds of Saturn’s jet streams are zonal, meaning they move eastward or westward at particular latitudes. This jet stream is located at about 42 degrees north latitude, and has been visible on Saturn since the days of NASA’s Voyager spacecraft. In the Voyager days, this jet stream had an undulating appearance, leading scientists to dub it the ribbon wave. The planet’s atmosphere is always changing, and the jet stream now looks nothing like a ribbon.

The images were taken with the Cassini spacecraft wide-angle camera on Jan. 13, 2008 using a combination of spectral filters sensitive to wavelengths of near-infrared light. The view was acquired at a distance of approximately 1.3 million kilometers from Saturn.

jpl.nasa.gov »

Mickey Mouse Spotted on Mercury!
This scene is to the northwest of the recently named crater Magritte, in Mercury’s south. The image is not map projected; the larger crater actually sits to the north of the two smaller ones. The shadowing helps define the striking “Mickey Mouse” resemblance, created by the accumulation of craters over Mercury’s long geologic history.
This image was acquired as part of MDIS’s high-incidence-angle base map, a major mapping activity in MESSENGER’s extended mission. High incidence angles, achieved when the Sun is near the horizon, result in long shadows that accentuate the small-scale topography of geologic features.

Mickey Mouse Spotted on Mercury!

This scene is to the northwest of the recently named crater Magritte, in Mercury’s south. The image is not map projected; the larger crater actually sits to the north of the two smaller ones. The shadowing helps define the striking “Mickey Mouse” resemblance, created by the accumulation of craters over Mercury’s long geologic history.

This image was acquired as part of MDIS’s high-incidence-angle base map, a major mapping activity in MESSENGER’s extended mission. High incidence angles, achieved when the Sun is near the horizon, result in long shadows that accentuate the small-scale topography of geologic features.

Flickr / gsfc »

Venus Express and the transit of Venus

While astronomers around the world looked to the skies last week to witness Venus move across the face of the Sun, ESA’s Venus Express took measurements of the transiting planet from its unique viewpoint.

Venus Express is currently the only spacecraft orbiting Venus, but of course could not tell that the 5–6 June transit was occurring from its location. Instead, it watched the Sun setting through the planet’s thick atmosphere towards the end of the transit as seen from Earth, a technique used to reveal the concentration of different gas molecules at different altitudes.

The movie tracks cloud motions in the planet’s thick atmosphere on 1 June, initially looking at the southern hemisphere. As the spacecraft moves closer, cloud structures are seen around the planet’s equator, before moving to high latitudes by the end of the sequence.

Flickr / europeanspaceagency »

Mars crater shows evidence for climate evolution

On 19 June 2011, ESA’s Mars Express pointed its high-resolution stereo camera at the Arabia Terra region of Mars, imaging two craters. Danielson crater is seen to the right (north) in the first image, it is the larger crater, roughly 60 km across. Kalocsa crater lies in the centre of the first image and is smaller, about 33 km in diameter.

Danielson crater is filled with layered sediments, which in this instance have been heavily eroded over time. Within the crater are peculiarly layered buttes, known as yardangs. It is believed that sediments were cemented by water before being eroded by the wind. A 30 km-long field of darker dunes can be seen bisecting the yardangs and is thought to have formed at a later epoch.

The crater floor of Danielson shows evidence for a series of alternating sedimentary layers with roughly uniform thickness and separation. Some scientists believe that this indicates periodic fluctuations in the climate of Mars, triggered by regular changes in the planet’s axis of rotation. The different layers would have been laid down during different epochs.

By marked contrast, Kalocsa crater shows a completely different topography. Here, no layered sediments are seen. This is thought to be due to the higher altitude of its floor, with the crater not tapping in to the suspected underlying ancient water reservoir. Another hypothesis is that this crater is younger than its neighbour, created when water was not present anymore.

Images: (1) High-Resolution Stereo Camera (HRSC) nadir and colour channel data taken on 19 June 2011 by ESA’s Mars Express. (2) Computer-generated perspective view created using data obtained from the High- Resolution Stereo Camera (HRSC) on ESA’s Mars Express.

esa.int »

Enceladus Plume is a New Kind of Plasma Laboratory
Recent findings from NASA’s Cassini mission reveal that Saturn’s geyser moon Enceladus provides a special laboratory for watching unusual behavior of plasma. In these recent findings, some Cassini scientists think they have observed “dusty plasma,” a condition theorized but not previously observed on site, near Enceladus. Data from Cassini’s fields and particles instruments also show that the usual “heavy” and “light” species of charged particles in normal plasma are actually reversed near the plume spraying from the moon’s south polar region.

Enceladus Plume is a New Kind of Plasma Laboratory

Recent findings from NASA’s Cassini mission reveal that Saturn’s geyser moon Enceladus provides a special laboratory for watching unusual behavior of plasma. In these recent findings, some Cassini scientists think they have observed “dusty plasma,” a condition theorized but not previously observed on site, near Enceladus. Data from Cassini’s fields and particles instruments also show that the usual “heavy” and “light” species of charged particles in normal plasma are actually reversed near the plume spraying from the moon’s south polar region.

jpl.nasa.gov »

Unveiling Venus

It can be called the morning or evening star, depending on where you are or what time it is, but it is anything but a star. In fact, it is one of our nearest planetary neighbors. Venus and Mars may be Earth’s close cousins, but they are oh-so different. Only now are we starting to peer through Venus’ clouds to reveal the burning planet’s secrets.

A Trough within Ladon Basin
This image shows an approximately 2-kilometer wide trough within Ladon Basin. This trough, and others around the perimeter of the basin, were probably produced during the gradual sinking of the materials here.
The basin formed during an epoch in Martian history called the Noachian period, and may have harbored a lake based upon the fluvial valleys that flow into it. If a lake once existed here then the trough is a window that could expose any sediments deposited within the lake, making this an exciting image to explore.

A Trough within Ladon Basin

This image shows an approximately 2-kilometer wide trough within Ladon Basin. This trough, and others around the perimeter of the basin, were probably produced during the gradual sinking of the materials here.

The basin formed during an epoch in Martian history called the Noachian period, and may have harbored a lake based upon the fluvial valleys that flow into it. If a lake once existed here then the trough is a window that could expose any sediments deposited within the lake, making this an exciting image to explore.

uahirise.org »

8 Years Around Saturn

This video was created using the images taken by Cassini probe of the Saturnian system since 2004.

blogs.discovermagazine.com »

Opportunity’s Selfie
NASA’s Mars Rover Opportunity catches its own late-afternoon shadow in this dramatically lit view eastward across Endeavour Crater on Mars. The rover used the panoramic camera (Pancam) between about 4:30 and 5:00 p.m. local Mars time to record images taken through different filters and combined into this mosaic view.
Opportunity was spending low-solar-energy weeks of the Martian winter at the Greeley Haven outcrop on the Cape York segment of Endeavour’s western rim. In order to give the mosaic a rectangular aspect, some small parts of the edges of the mosaic and sky were filled in with parts of an image acquired earlier as part of a 360-degree panorama from the same location.
Opportunity has been studying the western rim of Endeavour Crater since arriving there in August 2011. This crater spans 22 km in diameter, or about the same area as the city of Seattle. This is more than 20 times wider than Victoria Crater, the largest impact crater that Opportunity had previously examined. The interior basin of Endeavour is in the upper half of this view.
The mosaic combines about a dozen images taken through Pancam filters centered on wavelengths of 753 nanometers (near infrared), 535 nanometers (green) and 432 nanometers (violet). The view is presented in false color to make some differences between materials easier to see, such as the dark sandy ripples and dunes on the crater’s distant floor.

Opportunity’s Selfie

NASA’s Mars Rover Opportunity catches its own late-afternoon shadow in this dramatically lit view eastward across Endeavour Crater on Mars. The rover used the panoramic camera (Pancam) between about 4:30 and 5:00 p.m. local Mars time to record images taken through different filters and combined into this mosaic view.

Opportunity was spending low-solar-energy weeks of the Martian winter at the Greeley Haven outcrop on the Cape York segment of Endeavour’s western rim. In order to give the mosaic a rectangular aspect, some small parts of the edges of the mosaic and sky were filled in with parts of an image acquired earlier as part of a 360-degree panorama from the same location.

Opportunity has been studying the western rim of Endeavour Crater since arriving there in August 2011. This crater spans 22 km in diameter, or about the same area as the city of Seattle. This is more than 20 times wider than Victoria Crater, the largest impact crater that Opportunity had previously examined. The interior basin of Endeavour is in the upper half of this view.

The mosaic combines about a dozen images taken through Pancam filters centered on wavelengths of 753 nanometers (near infrared), 535 nanometers (green) and 432 nanometers (violet). The view is presented in false color to make some differences between materials easier to see, such as the dark sandy ripples and dunes on the crater’s distant floor.

nasa.gov »

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