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Possible Ancient Salt Deposits within Unnamed Crater in Terra Cimmeria (PSP_005680_1525:2007-10-24) October 30, 2007

Posted by John Tintle (MtO deadbait) in Planets, Space Fotos.
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Possible Ancient Salt Deposits within Unnamed Crater in Terra Cimmeria


NASA/JPL/University of Arizona


The ancient cratered highlands of the southern hemisphere of Mars has an intriguing and complex history as it has been riddled with impact craters and modified by volcanic processes and by the wind.

Additionally, it is one of the most heavily dissected terrains on Mars exhibiting the densest population of valley networks: old dried up channels and valleys that may have been formed by surface runoff, the seepage of ground water, or both.

Recently, the Thermal Emission Imaging System (THEMIS) aboard Mars Odyssey (MO), in conjunction with spectral data from the Thermal Emission Spectrometer (TES) aboard the Mars Global Surveyor (MGS) have revealed the presence of a unique surface deposit that may be rich in chloride salts formed from the presence of liquid water. Three separate missions (MGS, MO and MRO) have come to reveal the composition and nature of these unique deposits, which, although they occur as relatively small deposits (less than 25 square kilometers) are widely distributed in Noachian (most ancient) terrains with fewer occurrences in the Hesperian (middle geologic time) terrains.

This HiRISE infrared color sub-image (approximately 900 meters wide) shown here is part of one such deposit in an ancient partially buried unnamed crater in Terra Cimmeria, that shows this deposit in a light-toned almost fleshy color. The deposit appears to be relatively thin and occurs in low-lying areas. It is also heavily pockmarked and discontinuous, possibly from removal of the material by erosion. Both of these aspects suggest that the deposit is indeed very old.

The presence of such salts is intriguing, and strongly suggests that conditions were favorable for water near or at the surface in the geologic past. Polygonal cracks can be observed in this image and other images of these deposits elsewhere on Mars (PSP_003160_1410) and are similar to desiccation cracks (formed from the rapid evaporation and drying of a wet surface) and indicate that these may were more likely deposited at the surface. However, the volume and duration the water required for these deposits is still being investigated.



The Great Carina Nebula October 30, 2007

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See Explanation.  Clicking on the picture will download  the highest resolution version available.

Credit & Copyright:

 Robert Gendler and Stephane Guisard


A jewel of the southern sky, the Great Carina Nebula, aka NGC 3372, spans over 300 light-years, one of our galaxy’s largest star forming regions. Like the smaller, more northerly Orion Nebula, the Carina Nebula is easily visible to the naked eye, though at a distance of 7,500 light-years it is some 5 times farther away. This stunning telescopic view reveals remarkable details of the region’s glowing filaments of interstellar gas and dark cosmic dust clouds. The Carina Nebula is home to young, extremely massive stars, including the still enigmatic variable Eta Carinae, a star with well over 100 times the mass of the Sun. Eta Carinae is the bright star left of the central dark notch in this field and just below the dusty Keyhole Nebula (NGC 3324).

China launches its first lunar probe October 30, 2007

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Xinhua, China Daily

Description from Chinadaily:

China launched its first lunar probe on Wednesday, first step into its three-stage moon mission, marking a new milestone in the country’s space exploration history.

The Chang’e I blasted off at about 6:05 pm on a Long March 3A carrier rocket from the No. 3 launching tower in the Xichang Satellite Launch Center in Southwest China’s Sichuan Province.

Chinese space experts, technicians and other work staff, joined by experts from Japan, Germany and other countries as well as millions of domestic audience from across the country, were watching the launching process.

The circumlunar satellite, named after a legendary Chinese fairy who is said to have flown to the moon, is expected to enter the Earth-moon transfer orbit on October 31 and arrive in the moon’s orbit on November 5.

The satellite will relay the first pictures of the moon in late November and will then continue scientific exploration for a year.

As the launch began Wednesday evening, the attention of the whole country has turned to the small town in Southwest China.

The local television station has reported that at least 1,000 journalists have flocked to the town.

“Journalists can be seen everywhere, carrying video cameras or long lens. You can’t miss them,” said a local TV reporter.

Local hotels, taxi drivers and travel agencies are all benefiting from the big event, regarded as the third milestone in China’s space achievements after manned flights in 2003 and 2005.

Description from the Lunar and Planetary Institute:

As promised, China launched its much awaited lunar satellite, Chang’e 1, on Wednesday, October 24, at approximately 5:05 a.m. CST from the Xichang Satellite Launch Center in southwest China’s Sichuan Province.

China’s milestone lunar orbiter project only cost 1 to 1.4 billion yuan (about 133 to 187 million U.S. dollars). Chang’e 1 is the most sophisticated satellite China has built and maneuvered to date. The satellite weighs about 2300 kg in total. The fuel carried by the orbiter accounts for nearly half its total weight.

Chang’e 1, named after a legendary Chinese goddess of the Moon, is expected to enter Earth-Moon transfer orbit on October 31 and is expected to enter the Moon’s orbit on November 5. The satellite will relay the first picture of the Moon in late November and will then continue scientific explorations of the Moon for a year. It will carry out a series of projects, including acquiring three-dimensional images and analyzing the distribution of elements on the Moon’s surface.

According to Chinese officials, China will share the achievements of the lunar exploration with the world, but will not be involved in a Moon race with other countries.

For more information, visit:

China’s First Lunar Probe Blasts Off

China View:  China’s First Lunar Probe Chang’e-1 Blasts Off

China Daily:  China’s Moon Exploration Program

Video of the Chang’e 1 Launch

The Infrared Helix (Expanded View) October 21, 2007

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NASA/JPL-Caltech/ J. Hora (Harvard-Smithsonian CfA)


The Helix Nebula, which is composed of gaseous shells and disks puffed out by a dying sunlike star, exhibits complex structure on the smallest visible scales. In this new image from NASA’s Spitzer Space Telescope, infrared light at wavelengths of 3.2, 4.5, and 8.0 microns has been colored blue, green, and red (respectively). The “cometary knots” show blue-green heads due to excitation of their molecular material from shocks or ultraviolet radiation. The tails of the cometary knots appear redder due to being shielded from the central star’s ultraviolet radiation and wind by the heads of the knots.

M33 X-7:Heaviest Stellar Black Hole Discovered in Nearby Galaxy October 21, 2007

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M33 X-7

Illustration: NASA/CXC/M.Weiss; X-ray: NASA/CXC/CfA/P.Plucinsky et al.; Optical: NASA/STScI/SDSU/J.Orosz et al.


The main component of this graphic is an artist’s representation of M33 X-7, a binary system in the nearby galaxy M33. In this system, a star about 70 times more massive than the Sun (large blue object) is revolving around a black hole. This black hole is almost 16 times the Sun’s mass, a record for black holes created from the collapse of a giant star. Other black holes at the centers of galaxies are much more massive, but this object is the record-setter for a so-called “stellar mass” black hole.

In the illustration, an orange disk surrounds the black hole. This depicts material, fed by a wind from the blue companion star, which has been swept into orbit around the black hole. Rather than flowing unimpeded and uniformly into space, wind from the star is pulled towards the black hole by its powerful gravity. The wind that does make it past the black hole is disrupted, causing turbulence and ripples beyond the disk. The companion star itself is also distorted by the gravity from the black hole. The star is stretched slightly in the direction of the black hole, causing it to become less dense in this region and to appear darker.

The inset shows a composite of data from NASA’s Chandra X-ray Observatory (blue) and the Hubble Space Telescope. The bright objects in the inset image are young, massive stars around M33 X-7, and the bright, blue Chandra source is M33 X-7 itself. X-rays from Chandra reveals how long the black hole is eclipsed by the companion star, which indicates the size of the companion. Observations by the Gemini telescope on Mauna Kea, Hawaii track the orbital motion of the companion around the black hole, giving information about the mass of the two members of the binary. Other observed properties of the binary were also used to help constrain the mass estimates of both the black hole and its companion.

Dawn Mission Status: Spacecraft Tests Ion Engine October 9, 2007

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NASA’s Dawn spacecraft successfully completed the first test of its ion propulsion system over the weekend. The system is vital to the success of Dawn’s 8-year, 1.6 billion-kilometer (3-billion-mile) journey to asteroid Vesta and dwarf planet Ceres.

“Dawn is our baby and over the weekend it took some of its first steps,” said Dawn project manager Keyur Patel of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif. “We have two months more checkout and characterization remaining before Dawn is considered mission operational, but this is a great start.”

Members of the Dawn mission control team have been sending up commands and checking out spacecraft systems ever since its successful launch on Sept. 27. The first test firing of one of Dawn’s three ion engines was the culmination of several days of careful preparation.On Saturday, Oct. 6 at 6:07 p.m. Pacific Daylight Time (9:07 p.m. Eastern Daylight Time), the ion propulsion system began thrusting. Over the next 27 hours, spacecraft controllers and navigators at JPL monitored the engine’s performance as it was put through its paces.

“We evaluated the engine’s capabilities at five different throttle levels,” said Jon Brophy, the Dawn project’s ion propulsion manager at JPL. “From flight idle through full throttle, the engine performed flawlessly.”

Dawn’s ion engines are extremely frugal powerhouses. The 27 hours of thrusting from the ion engine resulted in the consumption of less than .28 kilograms (10 ounces) of the spacecraft’s xenon fuel supply — less than the contents of a can of soda. Dawn’s fuel tank carries 425 kilograms (937 pounds) of xenon propellant. Over their lifetime, Dawn’s three ion propulsion engines will fire cumulatively for about 50,000 hours (over five years) — a record for spacecraft.

Dawn will begin its exploration of asteroid Vesta in 2011 and the dwarf planet Ceres in 2015. These two icons of the asteroid belt have been witness to so much of our solar system’s history. By utilizing the same set of instruments at two separate destinations, scientists can more accurately formulate comparisons and contrasts. Dawn’s science instrument suite will measure shape, surface topography, tectonic history, elemental and mineral composition, and will seek out water-bearing minerals. In addition, the Dawn spacecraft itself and how it orbits both Vesta and Ceres will be used to measure the celestial bodies’ masses and gravity fields.

The Dawn mission to asteroid Vesta and dwarf planet Ceres is managed by JPL for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate, Washington, D.C. The University of California, Los Angeles is responsible for overall Dawn mission science. Other scientific partners include: Los Alamos National Laboratory, New Mexico; Max Planck Institute for Solar System Research, Katlenburg, Germany; DLR Institute for Planetary Research, Berlin, Germany; Italian National Institute for Astrophysics, Rome; and the Italian Space Agency. Orbital Sciences Corporation of Dulles, Virginia, designed and built the Dawn spacecraft.

Related Links:

NASA Dawn Portal

Dawn Mission Home

Dawn Mission Updates

Dawn Journal

Dawn’s Early Light

Star System ‘Just Right’ for Building an Earth October 9, 2007

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NASA/JPL-Caltech/ C. Lisse (Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory)


An Earth-like planet is likely forming 424 light-years away in a star system called HD 113766, say astronomers using NASA’s Spitzer Space Telescope.

Scientists have discovered a huge belt of warm dust – enough to build a Mars-size planet or larger – swirling around a distant star that is just slightly more massive than our sun. The dust belt, which they suspect is clumping together into planets, is located in the middle of the system’s terrestrial habitable zone. This is the region around a star where liquid water could exist on any rocky planets that might form. Earth is located in the middle of our sun’s terrestrial habitable zone.

At approximately 10 million years old, the star is also at just the right age for forming rocky planets.

“The timing for this system to be building an Earth is very good,” says Dr. Carey Lisse, of the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory, Laurel, Md. “If the system was too young, its planet-forming disk would be full of gas, and it would be making gas-giant planets like Jupiter instead. If the system was too old, then dust aggregation or clumping would have already occurred and all the system’s rocky planets would have already formed.”

According to Lisse, the conditions for forming an Earth-like planet are more than just being in the right place at the right time and around the right star – it’s also about the right mix of dusty materials.

Using Spitzer’s infrared spectrometer instrument, he determined that the material in HD 113766 is more processed than the snowball-like stuff that makes up infant solar systems and comets, which are considered cosmic “refrigerators” because they contain pristine ingredients from the early solar system. However, it is also not as processed as the stuff found in mature planets and the largest asteroids. This means the dust belt must be in a transitional phase, when rocky planets are just beginning to form.

How do scientists know the material is more processed than that of comets? From missions like NASA’s Deep Impact – in which an 820-pound impactor spacecraft collided with comet Tempel 1 – scientists know that early star systems contain a lot of fragile organic material. That material includes polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (carbon-based molecules found on charred barbeque grills and automobile exhaust on Earth), water ice, and carbonates (chalk). Lisse says that HD 113766 does not contain any water ice, carbonates or fragile organic materials.

From meteorite studies on Earth, scientists also have a good idea of what makes up asteroids – the more processed rocky leftovers of planet formation. These studies tell us that metals began separating from rocks in Earth’s early days, when the planet’s body was completely molten. During this time, almost all the heavy metals fell to Earth’s center in a process called “differentiation.” Lisse says that, unlike planets and asteroids, the metals in HD 113766 have not totally separated from the rocky material, suggesting that rocky planets have not yet formed.

“The material mix in this belt is most reminiscent of the stuff found in lava flows on Earth. I thought of Mauna Kea material when I first saw the dust composition in this system – it contains raw rock and is abundant in iron sulfides, which are similar to fool’s gold,” says Lisse, referring to a well-known Hawaiian volcano.

“It is fantastic to think we are able to detect the process of terrestrial planet formation. Stay tuned — I expect lots more fireworks as the planet in HD113766 grows,” he adds.

Lisse has written a paper (Click here to read Lisse’s paper, Circumstellar Dust Created by Terrestrial Planet Formation in HD 113766) on his research that will be published in an upcoming issue of Astrophysical Journal; he will also present his findings next week at the American Astronomical Society Division for Planetary Sciences meeting in Orlando, Fla. Lisse’s research was funded through a Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory Stuart S. Janney Fellowship and a Spitzer Space Telescope guest observer grant.

NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif., manages the Spitzer Space Telescope mission for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate, Washington. Science operations are conducted at the Spitzer Science Center at the California Institute of Technology, also in Pasadena. Caltech manages JPL for NASA.

The University of Maryland is responsible for overall Deep Impact mission science, and project management is handled by JPL.

Related Podcast:

Get it here

Related Links:

Spitzer Space Telescope’s Article

JHUAPL’s Article

New Horizon’s view of Io October 9, 2007

Posted by John Tintle (MtO deadbait) in Planets, Space Fotos.
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NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft has provided new data on the Jupiter system, stunning scientists with never-before-seen perspectives of the giant planet’s atmosphere, rings, moons and magnetosphere.

These new views include the closest look yet at the Earth-sized “Little Red Spot” storm churning materials through Jupiter’s cloud tops; detailed images of small satellites herding dust and boulders through Jupiter’s faint rings; and of volcanic eruptions and circular grooves on the planet’s largest moons.

New Horizons came to within 1.4 million miles of Jupiter on Feb. 28, using the planet’s gravity to trim three years from its travel time to Pluto. For several weeks before and after this closest approach, the piano-sized robotic probe trained its seven cameras and sensors on Jupiter and its four largest moons, storing data from nearly 700 observations on its digital recorders and gradually sending that information back to Earth. About 70 percent of the expected 34 gigabits of data has come back so far, radioed to NASA’s largest antennas over more than 600 million miles. This activity confirmed the successful testing of the instruments and operating software the spacecraft will use at Pluto.

Related Links:

New Horizons Main Page

NASA’s Main Page

Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory

Stellar Jewel Box October 9, 2007

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Giant Nebula NGC 3603


 NASA, ESA, and the Hubble Heritage (STScI/AURA)-ESA/Hubble Collaboration


Thousands of sparkling young stars are nestled within the giant nebula NGC 3603, one of the most massive young star clusters in the Milky Way Galaxy.

NGC 3603, a prominent star-forming region in the Carina spiral arm of the Milky Way about 20,000 light-years away, image reveals stages in the life cycle of stars.

Powerful ultraviolet radiation and fast winds from the bluest and hottest stars have blown a big bubble around the cluster. Moving into the surrounding nebula, this torrent of radiation sculpted the tall, dark stalks of dense gas, which are embedded in the walls of the nebula. These gaseous monoliths are a few light-years tall and point to the central cluster. The stalks may be incubators for new stars.

On a smaller scale, a cluster of dark clouds called “Bok” globules resides at the top, right corner. These clouds are composed of dense dust and gas and are about 10 to 50 times more massive than the sun. Resembling an insect’s cocoon, a Bok globule may be undergoing a gravitational collapse on its way to forming new stars.

The nebula was first discovered by Sir John Herschel in 1834.


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Oliver Pettenpaul

Description by LPOD.org:

Oliver likes limb views and so do I. This oblique perspective of Pythagoras is unusual, for the 130 km wide crater is 27° in longitude from the mean limb and not usually seen so much on edge. We can see the central peak in profile – its a relatively steep-sided triangular mountain – fitting for Pythagoras! The brightness of one peak is probably due to it being at the right angle to effectively reflect sunlight, but perhaps is also partially because it contains anorthosite, the aluminum-rich, whitish rock of the lunar highlands. The floor of the crater looks quite flat, like the foreground Mare Frigoris. The little crater near the bottom of the opposite rim is on the northwest side of the crater, so we are looking approximately north of west. The shadow-casting scarp along the rim crest on the left side of the crater appears quite steep. I didn’t realize how flat the rim is below the scarp, and how it almost rolls over toward the floor. Near the middle of the image is Robinson – a crater with such a smooth rim that looks like it was turned on a lathe. And near the foreground is Horrebrow and its A, locked in an incestuous embrace. Oliver’s image illustrates that there is no bad time to look at the Moon, for even a very bad libration leads to a new view of old friends.

Chuck Wood

Technical Details:

Oct 5, 2007 05:18UT. Celestron C9.25″ + Meade #140 2x Barlow + Astronomik R filter + ImagingSource DMK21AF04.AS camera @ 15 fp. 700 frames stacked with 10x MAP processing.

Related Links:

Oliver’s website

Lunar Photo of the Day


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