PLANETARY MISSION UPDATES
|Mars Exploration Rover Spirit: Preparing For Third Martian Winter
Spirit captured this westward view atop the plateau "Home Plate" in November 2007. Spurred by the changing seasons, the rover then traveled to the northern edge of the plateau in preparation for its third Martian winter. Spirit reached its new winter haven in December. There's more dust on its solar panels than during previous winters. The dust, combined with colder, shorter days, will affect its ability to produce electricity. By carefully positioning Spirit on a north-facing slope and tilting its solar panels to the Sun, scientists hope the rover will be able to generate enough power to survive.
Image courtesy of NASA/Jet Propulsion Laboratory-Caltech/Cornell University
The Cassini spacecraft captured this image of Saturn's moon Epimetheus in December 2007. The moon is only 116 kilometers (72 miles) in diameter and has a very irregular shape. Heavy cratering indicates that its surface may be several billion years old.
Image courtesy of NASA/Jet Propulsion Laboratory/Space Science Institute
The Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter's high-resolution imager HiRISE captured this image of "cryptic terrain" on February 16, 2007. Located near the red planet's south pole, the landscape received the unusual name because of its mysterious surface features.
Recent observations made by the orbiter's spectrometer reveal that the dark, fan-shaped deposits are composed of carbon-dioxide frost. The carved surface beneath the fans is a coating of carbon dioxide ice.
The fan-shaped deposits appear only in the spring, which suggests that thawing along the underside of the ice produces pockets of carbon-dioxide gas. The gas carves channels under the ice until it reaches a weak spot and bursts free. Carrying dust, the gas jets cool quickly and fall back to the surface as frost.
Image courtesy of NASA/Jet Propulsion Laboratory/University of Arizona
|MESSENGER: Mission to Mercury
MESSENGER, the MErcury Surface, Space ENvironment, GEochemistry and Ranging Mission, launched in August 2004. Entering orbit around Mercury in 2011, the spacecraft will study the planet and its environment for one Earth year.
On January 14, 2008, MESSENGER performed its first flyby of Mercury. Passing within 200 kilometers (124 miles) of the planet, it studied the magnetic field and atmosphere. It also imaged the surface, including about half of the hemisphere never viewed by Mariner 10, the only other spacecraft to visit this tiny world. The color image was created using data captured during the flyby.
Mercury is the least explored terrestrial planet in our solar system. MESSENGER will help us better understand this mysterious planet and the forces that have shaped it, and perhaps provide insight into the evolution of the inner planets.
Image courtesy of NASA/Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Lab/Carnegie Institution of Washington
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