THE LATEST IN PLANETARY MISSIONS
|Cassini - Xanadu Region on Titan
One of the brightest regions on Saturn's moon Titan, Xanadu covers an area of about 4,000 by 2,000 kilometers (2,500 by 1,250 miles). The Cassini spacecraft acquired this radar image of Xanadu (top) on April 30, 2006. Light-colored areas indicate rough terrain, while darker areas are smoother.
Xanadu has surface features similar to those on Earth: tall mountain chains crisscrossing the interior and circular basins formed by asteroid impact or volcanic activity.
The close-up (bottom) reveals a network of narrow river channels. Liquid in the form of rain and runoff may have helped shape Xanadu's surface. Considering Titan's very cold surface temperature, scientists think the fluid is liquid methane rather than water.
Images courtesy of NASA/Jet Propulsion Laboratory
|Stardust – Looking At Samples From A Comet
Stardust is the first spacecraft to collect material from a comet and return it to Earth. In January 2004, Stardust collected particles from comet Wild-2 using an extremely light, silicon-based solid called aerogel. The samples were returned to Earth on January 15, 2006 and are currently being examined by scientists around the world.
Scientists discovered the presence of very high temperature minerals among the particles collected from comet Wild-2. This suggests that these minerals, possibly ejected by the Sun, actually traveled from the innermost part of the solar system to the cold, outer reaches of space where comets originate.
The image is a closeup of a comet particle. About 2 micrometers (2/25,000 inch) in size, it is composed of a mineral called forsterite, also known in gem form as peridot. The cloudy substance clinging to the crystals is aerogel.
Courtesy of NASA/JPL-Caltech/University of Washington
|Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter
The Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) arrived at the red planet on March 10, 2006. For one Martian year (nearly two Earth years) its high-resolution imager HiRISE will study the layering and structure of the Martian surface.
The shallow subsurface sounding radar SHARAD will map geologic deposits beneath the surface and search for buried water ice. Two scientists from the Museum's Center for Earth and Planetary Studies are involved with the mission. Dr. John Grant is a HiRISE co-investigator, and Dr. Bruce Campbell is on the SHARAD science team.
On March 24, 2006, HiRISE captured its first color image of Mars (above). The image covers an area 49.92 kilometers (31.02 miles) wide and 23.66 kilometers (14.70 miles) long.
Image courtesy of NASA/Jet Propulsion Laboratory-Caltech/University of Arizona
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