close flyby

Incoming! We’ve Got Science from Jupiter!

Our Juno spacecraft has just released some exciting new science from its first close flyby of Jupiter! 

In case you don’t know, the Juno spacecraft entered orbit around the gas giant on July 4, 2016…about a year ago. Since then, it has been collecting data and images from this unique vantage point.

Juno is in a polar orbit around Jupiter, which means that the majority of each orbit is spent well away from the gas giant. But once every 53 days its trajectory approaches Jupiter from above its north pole, where it begins a close two-hour transit flying north to south with its eight science instruments collecting data and its JunoCam camera snapping pictures.

Space Fact: The download of six megabytes of data collected during the two-hour transit can take one-and-a-half days!

Juno and her cloud-piercing science instruments are helping us get a better understanding of the processes happening on Jupiter. These new results portray the planet as a complex, gigantic, turbulent world that we still need to study and unravel its mysteries.

So what did this first science flyby tell us? Let’s break it down…

1. Tumultuous Cyclones

Juno’s imager, JunoCam, has showed us that both of Jupiter’s poles are covered in tumultuous cyclones and anticyclone storms, densely clustered and rubbing together. Some of these storms as large as Earth!

These storms are still puzzling. We’re still not exactly sure how they formed or how they interact with each other. Future close flybys will help us better understand these mysterious cyclones. 

Seen above, waves of clouds (at 37.8 degrees latitude) dominate this three-dimensional Jovian cloudscape. JunoCam obtained this enhanced-color picture on May 19, 2017, at 5:50 UTC from an altitude of 5,500 miles (8,900 kilometers). Details as small as 4 miles (6 kilometers) across can be identified in this image.

An even closer view of the same image shows small bright high clouds that are about 16 miles (25 kilometers) across and in some areas appear to form “squall lines” (a narrow band of high winds and storms associated with a cold front). On Jupiter, clouds this high are almost certainly comprised of water and/or ammonia ice.

2. Jupiter’s Atmosphere

Juno’s Microwave Radiometer is an instrument that samples the thermal microwave radiation from Jupiter’s atmosphere from the tops of the ammonia clouds to deep within its atmosphere.

Data from this instrument suggest that the ammonia is quite variable and continues to increase as far down as we can see with MWR, which is a few hundred kilometers. In the cut-out image below, orange signifies high ammonia abundance and blue signifies low ammonia abundance. Jupiter appears to have a band around its equator high in ammonia abundance, with a column shown in orange.

Why does this ammonia matter? Well, ammonia is a good tracer of other relatively rare gases and fluids in the atmosphere…like water. Understanding the relative abundances of these materials helps us have a better idea of how and when Jupiter formed in the early solar system.

This instrument has also given us more information about Jupiter’s iconic belts and zones. Data suggest that the belt near Jupiter’s equator penetrates all the way down, while the belts and zones at other latitudes seem to evolve to other structures.

3. Stronger-Than-Expected Magnetic Field

Prior to Juno, it was known that Jupiter had the most intense magnetic field in the solar system…but measurements from Juno’s magnetometer investigation (MAG) indicate that the gas giant’s magnetic field is even stronger than models expected, and more irregular in shape.

At 7.766 Gauss, it is about 10 times stronger than the strongest magnetic field found on Earth! What is Gauss? Magnetic field strengths are measured in units called Gauss or Teslas. A magnetic field with a strength of 10,000 Gauss also has a strength of 1 Tesla.  

Juno is giving us a unique view of the magnetic field close to Jupiter that we’ve never had before. For example, data from the spacecraft (displayed in the graphic above) suggests that the planet’s magnetic field is “lumpy”, meaning its stronger in some places and weaker in others. This uneven distribution suggests that the field might be generated by dynamo action (where the motion of electrically conducting fluid creates a self-sustaining magnetic field) closer to the surface, above the layer of metallic hydrogen. Juno’s orbital track is illustrated with the black curve. 

4. Sounds of Jupiter

Juno also observed plasma wave signals from Jupiter’s ionosphere. This movie shows results from Juno’s radio wave detector that were recorded while it passed close to Jupiter. Waves in the plasma (the charged gas) in the upper atmosphere of Jupiter have different frequencies that depend on the types of ions present, and their densities. 

Mapping out these ions in the jovian system helps us understand how the upper atmosphere works including the aurora. Beyond the visual representation of the data, the data have been made into sounds where the frequencies
and playback speed have been shifted to be audible to human ears.

5. Jovian “Southern Lights”

The complexity and richness of Jupiter’s “southern lights” (also known as auroras) are on display in this animation of false-color maps from our Juno spacecraft. Auroras result when energetic electrons from the magnetosphere crash into the molecular hydrogen in the Jovian upper atmosphere. The data for this animation were obtained by Juno’s Ultraviolet Spectrograph. 

During Juno’s next flyby on July 11, the spacecraft will fly directly over one of the most iconic features in the entire solar system – one that every school kid knows – Jupiter’s Great Red Spot! If anybody is going to get to the bottom of what is going on below those mammoth swirling crimson cloud tops, it’s Juno.

Stay updated on all things Juno and Jupiter by following along on social media:
Twitter | Facebook | YouTube | Tumblr

Learn more about the Juno spacecraft and its mission at Jupiter HERE.

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Cassini prepares for final orbital “Grand Finale” at Saturn.

Erik Wernquist, the same filmmaker who created 2014’s “Wanderers” and a stunning New Horizons promotional film in 2015, has created a new video highlighting NASA’s Cassini mission’s final days at Saturn.

The Cassini spacecraft will begin its final series of orbits to cap a 13-year groundbreaking science mission known as the Grand Finale. For the first time ever in Cassini’s time at Saturn, the spacecraft will fly in between the planet’s rings and atmosphere. No spacecraft has ever before flown in this region of any of the solar system’s ringed planets.

After 23 orbits, Cassini will dive into Saturn’s upper atmosphere September 15 where it will be destroyed. In 2008, mission managers explored a range of End of Mission scenarios that would protect Saturn’s moon’s from Earthly contaminants before ultimately deciding on atmospheric reentry.

Cassini began her End of Mission manoeuvres on November 26, 2016, when it began the first of 20 ring-grazing orbits. A close flyby of Titan April 22 will alter the spacecraft’s trajectory to begin the first of 23 orbits in the Grand Finale, which will begin April 26.

Cassini launched from Earth on October 15, 1997, and entered Saturn orbit June 30, 2004. Six months later, on January 14, 2005, the European-built Huygens probe attached to the spacecraft landed on Titan, becoming the first probe to land in the outer solar system. 

Originally scheduled for a four-year mission ending in 2008, Cassini received two mission extensions in 2008 and 2010, with the latter ending in 2017. With the spacecraft’s fuel reserves low, the Cassini team decided to end the mission.

P/C: JPL/Erik Wernquist

3

NASA’s Juno Spacecraft Completes Flyby over Jupiter’s Great Red Spot

NASA’s Juno mission completed a close flyby of Jupiter and its Great Red Spot on July 10, during its sixth science orbit.

All of Juno’s science instruments and the spacecraft’s JunoCam were operating during the flyby, collecting data that are now being returned to Earth. Juno’s next close flyby of Jupiter will occur on Sept. 1.

Raw images from the spacecraft’s latest flyby will be posted in coming days.

“For generations people from all over the world and all walks of life have marveled over the Great Red Spot,” said Scott Bolton, principal investigator of Juno from the Southwest Research Institute in San Antonio. “Now we are finally going to see what this storm looks like up close and personal.”

The Great Red Spot is a 10,000-mile-wide (16,000-kilometer-wide) storm that has been monitored since 1830 and has possibly existed for more than 350 years. In modern times, the Great Red Spot has appeared to be shrinking.

Juno reached perijove (the point at which an orbit comes closest to Jupiter’s center) on July 10 at 6:55 p.m. PDT (9:55 p.m. EDT). At the time of perijove, Juno was about 2,200 miles (3,500 kilometers) above the planet’s cloud tops. Eleven minutes and 33 seconds later, Juno had covered another 24,713 miles (39,771 kilometers), and was passing directly above the coiling crimson cloud tops of the Great Red Spot.

The spacecraft passed about 5,600 miles (9,000 kilometers) above the clouds of this iconic feature.

On July 4 at 7:30 p.m. PDT (10:30 p.m. EDT), Juno logged exactly one year in Jupiter orbit, marking 71 million miles (114.5 million kilometers) of travel around the giant planet.

Juno launched on Aug. 5, 2011, from Cape Canaveral, Florida. During its mission of exploration, Juno soars low over the planet’s cloud tops – as close as about 2,100 miles (3,400 kilometers). During these flybys, Juno is probing beneath the obscuring cloud cover of Jupiter and studying its auroras to learn more about the planet’s origins, structure, atmosphere and magnetosphere.

Early science results from NASA’s Juno mission portray the largest planet in our solar system as a turbulent world, with an intriguingly complex interior structure, energetic polar aurora, and huge polar cyclones.

JPL manages the Juno mission for the principal investigator, Scott Bolton, of Southwest Research Institute. The Juno mission is part of the New Frontiers Program managed by NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama, for the Science Mission Directorate.

Lockheed Martin Space Systems, Denver, built the spacecraft. JPL is a division of Caltech in Pasadena

Solar System: Things to Know This Week

Get the latest on women making history at NASA, our Juno mission, the Curiosity rover and move!

1. Women at NASA Making History, Creating the Future

Throughout Women’s History Month, we’ve been presenting profiles of the women who are leading the way in deep space exploration.

+ Meet some of them

2. Juno and the Giant

Our Juno spacecraft made its fifth close flyby over giant Jupiter’s mysterious cloud tops.

+ See the latest from the King of Planets

3. When the Road Gets Rough, the Tough Keep Rolling

A routine check of the aluminum wheels on our Curiosity Mars rover has found two small breaks on the rover’s left middle wheel tread–the latest sign of wear and tear as the rover continues its journey, now approaching the 10-mile (16 kilometer) mark. But there’s no sign the robotic geologist won’t keep roving right through its ongoing mission.

+ Get the full report

4. What Do Mars and Dinosaurs Have in Common?

Our research reveals that volcanic activity at the giant Martian volcano Arsia Mons ceased about 50 million years ago, around the time of Earth’s Cretaceous-Paleogene extinction, when large numbers of plant and animal species (including dinosaurs) went extinct. However, there’s no reason to think the two events were more than a cosmic coincidence.

+ Learn how scientists pieced together the past

5. A Comet in Commotion

Images returned from the European Space Agency’s Rosetta mission indicate that during its most recent trip through the inner solar system, the surface of comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko was a very active place – full of growing fractures, collapsing cliffs and massive rolling boulders.

+ See the many faces of Comet #67P

6. Next Generation Space Robot is Ingenious, Versatile–and Cute

The next rovers to explore another planet might bring along a scout. The Pop-Up Flat Folding Explorer Robot (PUFFER) in development at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory was inspired by origami. Its lightweight design is capable of flattening itself, tucking in its wheels and crawling into places rovers can’t fit.

+ Meet PUFFER

7. Shadowy Dawn

According to data from our Dawn mission to Ceres, shadowed craters on the dwarf planet may be linked to the history of how the small world has been tilted over time by the gravity of planets like Jupiter.

+ Find out how understanding “cycles of obliquity” might solve solar system mysteries

8. On Orbit and Online

We’re developing a  long-term technology demonstration project of what could become the high-speed internet of the sky. The Laser Communications Relay Demonstration (LCRD) will help engineers understand the best ways to operate laser communications systems, which could enable much higher data rates for connections between spacecraft and Earth, such as scientific data downlink and astronaut communications.

+ See how it will work

9. A Big Role for Small Sats in Deep Space Exploration

We selected 10 studies to develop mission concepts using CubeSats and other kinds of very small satellites to investigate Venus, Earth’s moon, asteroids, Mars and the outer planets. “These small but mighty satellites have the potential to enable transformational science,” said Jim Green, director of NASA’s Planetary Science Division.

+ Get the small details

10. Rings Around the Red Planet?

It’s possible that one of our closest neighbors had rings at one point – and may have them again someday. At least, that’s the theory put forth by NASA-funded scientists at Purdue University.

+ See more details about the once and future rings of Mars

Discover more lists of 10 things to know about our solar system HERE.

Make sure to follow us on Tumblr for your regular dose of space: http://nasa.tumblr.com

2

ya lit meme (4/8) otps
— richard campbell gansey iii and blue sargent

do you think…” he began, “you could tell me what is happening at your house right now?
what? like, what mom’s doing?
a large insect buzzed by his ear, coming in like a passenger jet. it kept going, though the flyby was close enough to tickle his skin. “or persephone. or calla. or anyone. just describe it to me.
oh,” she said. her voice changed a little. he heard a chair scraping on her side of the phone. “well, okay.
and she did. sometimes she spoke with her mouth full, and sometimes she had to pause to answer someone else, but she took her time with the story and gave each of the women in the house full measure. gansey blinked, slower. the take-out dinner smell had gone away and all that remained was the heavy, pleasant smell of growing things. that, and blue’s voice on the other end of the phone.
like that?” she asked finally.
yes,” said gansey. “thanks.”

5

Countdown to Cassini’s Grand Finale


After nearly 13 years in orbit around Saturn, the international Cassini–Huygens mission is about to begin its final chapter: the spacecraft will perform a series of daring dives between the planet and its rings, leading to a dramatic final plunge into Saturn’s atmosphere on 15 September.

On 22 April, Cassini successfully executed its 127th and final close flyby of Saturn’s largest moon, Titan.

The manoeuvre put the spacecraft onto its ’grand finale’ trajectory: a series of 22 orbits, each lasting about a week, drawing closer to Saturn and passing between the planet’s innermost rings and its outer atmosphere. The first crossing of the ring plane will occur on 26 April.

With the repeated dives in this yet unvisited region, the mission will conclude its journey of exploration by collecting unprecedented data to address fundamental questions about the origin of Saturn and its ring system.

Launched in 1997, the Cassini-Huygens spacecraft embarked on a seven-year voyage across the Solar System, eventually reaching Saturn in July 2004. Several months later, the Cassini orbiter released ESA’s Huygens probe, which landed on Titan on 14 January 2005 – the first landing in the outer Solar System.

The mission has greatly contributed to our understanding of the Saturnian environment, including the giant planet’s system of rings and moons.
Combining the data collected in situ by Huygens and the observations performed by Cassini during flybys of Titan, the mission revealed the atmospheric processes of this moon and their seasonal evolution, as well as the surface morphology and interior structure, which may include a liquid water ocean.

Enshrouded by a thick nitrogen-dominated atmosphere and partly covered by lakes and rivers, Titan has a weather and hydrological cycle that bears some interesting similarities to Earth. However, there are important differences: the key component there is not water, like on our planet, but methane, and the temperature is very low, around –180°C at the surface.

Over its 13-year mission, Cassini will have covered about half of Saturn’s orbit, in which the planet takes 29 years to circle the Sun. This means that the spacecraft has monitored two seasons on Titan, an object that can teach us much on the past and the future of Earth.

Another of Cassini’s breakthroughs was the detection of a towering plume of water vapour and organic material spraying into space from warm fractures near the south pole of Saturn’s icy moon, Enceladus. These salt-rich jets indicate that an underground sea of liquid water is lurking only a few kilometres below the moon’s icy surface, as confirmed by gravity and rotation measurements.

A recent analysis of data collected during flybys of Enceladus with the Cassini Ion Neutral Mass Spectrometer also revealed hydrogen gas in the plume, suggesting that rock might be reacting with warm water on the seafloor of the moon’s subsurface ocean. This hydrothermal activity could provide a chemical energy source for life, enabling non-photosynthetic biological processes similar to the ones found near the hydrothermal vents on the Earth’s ocean floor and pointing to the potential habitability of Enceladus’ underground ocean.

Following over a decade of ground-breaking discoveries, Cassini is now approaching its end. With little fuel left to correct the spacecraft trajectory, it has been decided to end the mission by plunging it into Saturn’s atmosphere on 15 September 2017. In the process, Cassini will burn up, satisfying planetary protection requirements to avoid possible contamination of any moons of Saturn that could have conditions suitable for life.

The grand finale is not only a spectacular way to complete this extraordinary mission, but will also return a bounty of unique scientific data that was not possible to collect during the previous phases of the mission.

Cassini has never ventured into the area between Saturn and its rings before, so the new set of orbits is almost like a whole new mission.
These close orbits will be inclined 63 degrees with respect to Saturn’s equator and will provide the highest resolution observations ever achieved of the inner rings and the planet’s clouds. The orbits will also give the chance to examine in situ the material in the rings and plasma environment of Saturn.

With its radio science investigation, Cassini will measure Saturn’s gravitational field as close as 3000 km from Saturn’s upper cloud layers, greatly improving the current models of the planet’s internal structure and winds in its atmosphere. Scientists expect the new data will also allow them to disentangle the gravity of the planet from the tiny pull exerted on the spacecraft by the rings, estimating the total mass of the rings to unprecedented accuracy. ESA ground stations in Argentina and Australia will help receive Cassini’s radio science data, providing a series of 22 tracking passes during the grand finale.

The grand finale orbits will also probe the planet’s magnetic field at similarly close distances. Previous observations have shown that the magnetic field is weaker than expected, with the magnetic axis surprisingly well aligned with the planet’s rotation. New data to be collected by the Cassini magnetometer will provide insights to understand why this is so and where the sources of magnetic field are located, or whether something in Saturn’s atmosphere has been obscuring the true magnetic field from Cassini until now.

While crossing the ring plane, Cassini’s Cosmic Dust Analyzer will directly sample the composition of dust particles from different parts of the ring system, whereas the Ion Neutral Mass Spectrometer will sniff the upper atmosphere layers of Saturn to analyse molecules escaping from the atmosphere as well as water-based molecules that originate from the rings.
“At last, we have now reached the final and most audacious phase of this pioneering mission, pushing the spacecraft once again into unexplored territory,” says Nicolas Altobelli, ESA Cassini project scientist.
“We are looking forward to the flow of exciting new data that Cassini will send back in the coming months.”

Solar System: Things to Know This Week

Follow our Juno craft during a close flyby of Jupiter, learn about Cassini’s final mission during a Facebook live event (in case you missed it) and more!

1. Jupiter, Up Close

Our Juno mission completed a close flyby of Jupiter on Thursday, February 2, its latest science orbit of the mission. All of Juno’s science instruments and the spacecraft’s JunoCam were operating during the flyby to collect data that is now being returned to Earth. 

Want to know more? Using NASA’s Eyes on the Solar System and simulated data from the Juno flight team you can ride onboard the Juno spacecraft in real-time at any moment during the entire mission.

2. In Case You Missed It–Cassini Facebook Live

Cassini Project Scientist Linda Spilker and mission planner Molly Bittner take questions about the mission’s “Ring-Grazing” orbits during Facebook Live. Watch it now: www.facebook.com/NASA/videos/10154861046561772/

3. Cassini Scientist for a Day Essay Contest 

The deadline is Friday, February 24 for U.S. student in grades 5 to 12. For international students, visit the page for more info! 

More: solarsystem.nasa.gov/educ/Scientist-For-a-Day/2016-17/videos/intro

4. Cassini Spies Dione

Dione’s lit hemisphere faces away from Cassini’s camera, yet the moon’s darkened surface are dimly illuminated in this image, due to the phenomenon of Saturnshine. Although direct sunlight provides the best illumination for imaging, light reflected off of Saturn can do the job as well. In this image, Dione (698 miles or 1,123 kilometers across) is above Saturn’s day side, and the moon’s night side is faintly illuminated by sunlight reflected off the planet’s disk.

Discover the full list of 10 things to know about our solar system this week HERE.

Follow us on Tumblr for your regular dose of space: http://nasa.tumblr.com

Solar System: Things to Know This Week

Celebrate with us as our Opportunity rover turns 13, view art from our fans and more!

1. All Grown Up

After exceeding her 90-day mission and design parameters many times over, our plucky little rover Opportunity turns 13 years old on the Red Planet. She’s officially a teenager!

2. People’s Space

The public contributes so much wonderful art that we decided to make a place to share it. Enjoy!

3. Ready for a Close Up

Our Juno spacecraft recently got a closer look at Jupiter’s Little Red Spot. The craft’s JunoCam imager snapped this shot of Jupiter’s northern latitudes on December 2016, as the spacecraft performed a close flyby of the gas giant. The spacecraft was at an altitude of 10,300 miles above Jupiter’s cloud tops.

4. A New Test for Life on Other Planets 

A simple chemistry method could vastly enhance how scientists search for signs of life on other planets. The test uses a liquid-based technique known as capillary electrophoresis to separate a mixture of organic molecules into its components. It was designed specifically to analyze for amino acids, the structural building blocks of all life on Earth.

5. Blurring the Line Between Asteroid and Comet  

Our NEOWISE mission recently discovered some celestial objects traveling through our neighborhood, including one on the blurry line between asteroid and comet. An object called 2016 WF9 was detected by the NEOWISE project in November 2016 and it’s in an orbit that takes it on a scenic tour of our solar system. A different object, discovered by NEOWISE a month earlier, is more clearly a comet, releasing dust as it nears the sun.

Discover the full list of 10 things to know about our solar system this week HERE.

Make sure to follow us on Tumblr for your regular dose of space: http://nasa.tumblr.com

Cassini view of Enceladus, February 15, 2016

This image was taken during Cassini’s final close flyby of Enceladus. It captures Enceladus’ heavily fractured southern hemisphere from a distance of about 83,000 kilometers. Running left to right near the terminator is Cashmere Sulcus, and extending north towards the limb is Labtayt Sulcus. Mosul Sulcus is near the limb on the left. The south pole itself is in winter night.

Credit: NASA / JPL / SSI / Justin Cowart

5

Enceladus

Cassini’s closest flyby just went through the water geysers of Saturn’s moon Enceladus.

Earth just received Cassini’s photographs and they’re a doozy:

You can see the first two are full body pictures of the moon, it’s in a crescent phase because of the angles of Enceladus relative to the moon and Sun and all of that relative to the robot.

The third image was taken as Cassini flew right over the moon’s surface, you can see extraordinary details on the ground of this alien world. It passed a mere 30 miles away from the surface.

Fourth, looking back at you can see a shadowed Enceladus hanging above Saturn’s rings.

This was Cassini’s last extremely close flyby of this ice world. From this mission we now know that an ocean of (likely) salty water sits below the surface of this moon. Perhaps it’s time to start thinking of a sequel mission, maybe a fishing expedition? 

(Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/SSI)

Ring Scan 

Scroll down and you can cruise along the icy rings of Saturn. This high resolution scan is a mosaic of images presented in natural color. The images were recorded in May 2007 over about 2.5 hours as the Cassini spacecraft passed above the unlit side of the rings. To help track your progress, major rings and gaps are labeled along with the distance from the center of the gas giant in kilometers.

The alphabetical designation of Saturn’s rings is historically based on their order of discovery; rings A and B are the bright rings separated by the Cassini division. In order of increasing distance from Saturn, the seven main rings run D,C,B,A,F,G,E. (Faint, outer rings G and E are not imaged here.) Four days from now, on November 29, Cassini will make a close flyby of Saturn’s moon Titan and use the large moon’s gravity to nudge the spacecraft into a series of 20 daring, elliptical, ring-grazing orbits. Diving through the ring plane just 11,000 kilometers outside the F ring (image bottom) Cassini’s first ring-graze will be on December 4.

What’s more majestic than Saturn’s rings? LITERALLY NOTHING!!

Zoom in on this awesome high resolution scan of Saturn’s rings. It’s a mosaic of images presented in natural color. The images were recorded in May 2007 over about 2.5 hours as the Cassini spacecraft passed above the unlit side of the rings.

The alphabetical designation of Saturn’s rings is historically based on their order of discovery; rings A and B are the bright rings separated by the Cassini division. In order of increasing distance from Saturn, the seven main rings run D,C,B,A,F,G,E. (Faint, outer rings G and E are not seen in this image.)

FOUR days from now, on November 29, Cassini will make a close flyby of Saturn’s moon Titan and use the large moon’s gravity to nudge the spacecraft into a series of 20 daring, elliptical, ring-grazing orbits. Diving through the ring plane just 11,000 kilometers outside the F ring (far right) Cassini’s first ring-graze will be on December 4.

Image Credit: Cassini Imaging Team, SSI, JPL, ESA, NASA

Solar System: Things to Know This Week

From the people who work for us, to ESA’s ExoMars, to phases of the moon, learn more about the solar system. 

1. NASA Is More Than Astronauts

Our employees engage in a very wide range of work, and they come from a variety of backgrounds. To meet some of them and learn how they came to work for us, follow the #NASAProud tag on social media.

+ Learn about job opportunities and why NASA employees love working there
+ Get to know the people who explore the solar system

2. ExoMars Is Cleared for Landing 

A joint project between the European Space Agency and Russia’s Roscosmos space agency, ExoMars 2016 will enter orbit around the Red Planet on Oct. 19. The mission includes the Trace Gas Orbiter (TGO) and the Schiaparelli entry, descent and landing demonstrator. TGO will make a detailed inventory of Mars’ atmospheric gases, looking especially for rare gases like methane to help determine whether that methane stems from a geological or biological source. The orbiter also carries a pair of transmitters provided by NASA. The Schiaparelli lander separated from TGO on Oct. 16, entering the atmosphere for a six-minute descent to a region in Meridiani Planum, not far from NASA’s Opportunity rover. Schiaparelli will test landing technologies in preparation for future missions, including a heatshield, parachute, propulsion system and a crushable structure.

+ Go along for the ride

3. This Just in From Jupiter

Mission managers for our Juno mission to Jupiter have decided to postpone the burn of its main rocket motor originally scheduled for Oct. 19. Engineers want to carefully examine telemetry from a pair of sticky helium valves before the maneuver, which will reduce the time it takes Juno to orbit Jupiter from about 53 days to 14 days. The next opportunity for the burn would be during its close flyby of Jupiter on Dec. 11. Meanwhile, the spacecraft is still gathering data about Jupiter, and Juno will still swing close by the giant planet on Oct. 19.

+ Read more

4. It’s Just a Phase 

The moon was full on Oct. 16. This month’s full moon is sometimes called the Harvest Moon or Hunter’s Moon.

+ See a video showing all of this year’s lunar
+ Learn what causes the moon’s phases

5. Free to Ride

Did you know that NASA offers several other fascinating (and free) online experiences, all based on actual data from real missions. Here are a few to explore:

+ Mars Trek
+ Vesta Trek
+ Lunaserv Global Explorer
+ Deep Space Network (DSN) Now
+ Spacecraft 3D app

Discover the full list of 10 things to know about our solar system this week HERE.

Make sure to follow us on Tumblr for your regular dose of space: http://nasa.tumblr.com

NASA just released Juno’s first stunning close-ups of Jupiter’s giant storm
Image: NASA / JPL / SwRI / MSSS / Gerald EichstädtNASA’s Juno spacecraft has sent back the first photos from its close flyby over Jupiter’s famous Great Red Spot. The mysterious, extraterrestrial cyclone — which is twice as wide as Earth — has captivated scientists since the 1800s. Now, people can see the closest ever view of the massive storm for themselves.Juno has been orbiting Jupiter for a little over a year on a mission to study the planet’s interior, atmosphere, and magnetosphere. Its elliptical orbit around the planet takes the probe close to the surface for a few hours every 53 days. … Read more
Solar System: Things to Know This Week

Learn about the science of photonics to create space communications, get updates on Juno, mining data from Voyager for new discoveries and more.

1. Carried on a Beam of Light

One of our major priorities  is to make space communications more efficient. While our communications systems have matured over the decades, they still use the same radio-frequency system developed in the earliest days of the agency. After more than 50 years, we’re investing in new ways to increase data rates while also finding more efficient communications systems. Photonics–generating, detecting and manipulating particles of light–may provide the solution.


+ See how it works

2. It’s No Joke: Two New Moons for the Seventh Planet

Voyager 2 spacecraft flew by Uranus 30 years ago, but researchers are still making discoveries using the data it gathered. A new study led by University of Idaho researchers suggests there could be two tiny, previously undiscovered moonlets orbiting near two of the planet’s rings.

+ Find out how they were discovered

3. Vortex of Mystery

As southern winter solstice approaches in the Saturn system, our Cassini spacecraft has revealed dramatic seasonal changes in the atmospheric temperature and composition of Saturn’s largest moon, Titan. Winter is taking a grip on Titan’s southern hemisphere, and a strong, whirling vortex has intensified in the upper atmosphere over the south pole.

+See more

4. The Spiders of Mars

Ten thousand volunteers viewing images of Martian south polar regions have helped identify targets for closer inspection, yielding new insights about seasonal slabs of frozen carbon dioxide and erosional features known as “spiders.” From the comfort of home, the volunteers have been exploring the surface of Mars by reviewing images from the Context Camera on our Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter and identifying certain types of seasonal terrains near Mars’ south pole.

+ Learn more and see how you can join in

5. Better Safe Than Sorry

On Oct. 18, when Juno’s onboard computer entered safe mode, early indications were a software performance monitor induced a reboot of the spacecraft’s onboard computer, turning off instruments and a few non-critical spacecraft components, and it confirmed the spacecraft was pointed toward the sun to ensure the solar arrays received power. On Oct. 24, the spacecraft   left safe mode and has successfully completed a minor burn of its thruster engines in preparation for its next close flyby of Jupiter. The team is still investigating the cause of the reboot and assessing two main engine check valves. The burn, which lasted just over 31 minutes, changed Juno’s orbital velocity by about 5.8 mph (2.6 meters per second) and consumed about 8 pounds (3.6 kilograms) of propellant. Juno will perform its next science flyby of Jupiter on Dec. 11, with time of closest approach to the gas giant occurring at 12:03 p.m. EDT. The complete suite of Juno’s science instruments, as well as the JunoCam imager, will be collecting data during the upcoming flyby.

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NASA’s Hubble Spots Possible Water Plumes Erupting on Jupiter's Moon Europa

Astronomers using NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope have imaged what may be water vapor plumes erupting off the surface of Jupiter’s moon Europa. This finding bolsters other Hubble observations suggesting the icy moon erupts with high altitude water vapor plumes.

The observation increases the possibility that missions to Europa may be able to sample Europa’s ocean without having to drill through miles of ice.

“Europa’s ocean is considered to be one of the most promising places that could potentially harbor life in the solar system,” said Geoff Yoder, acting associate administrator for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate in Washington. “These plumes, if they do indeed exist, may provide another way to sample Europa’s subsurface.”

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