Sol 150 – Curiosity uses Brush Tool

Curiosity Brush
Curiosity Brush Use Cleans Rock Surface on Mars
Image Credit: NASA / JPL-Caltech / MSSS

On Sol 150, the Mars Science Laboratory (Curiosity) used its Dust Removal Tool (DRT) to clean the surface of the rock target called “Ekwir_1.”

The image was captured by Curiosity’s Mars Hand Lens Imager (MAHLI).

The DRT is a motorized wire-bristle brush on the turret at the end of the rover’s arm.

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Curiosity – Sol 130

By the middle of December, Curiosity had reached the Glenelg region of Gale Crater and descended into the Yellowknife Bay depression. Curiosity is now exploring for the first target rock for it’s hammering drill.

After leaving Bradbury Landing, Curiosity spent extensive time at Rocknest (Sols 55-100), and followed this with investigations around Point Lake (Sols 102-124).

Curiosity Map
Map of Curiosity’s Travels During the first 130 Sols
Image Credit: NASA / JPL-Caltech / University of Arizona

NASA’s GRAIL Lunar Impact Site Named for Astronaut Sally Ride

PASADENA, Calif. — NASA has named the site where twin agency spacecraft impacted the moon Monday in honor of the late astronaut, Sally K. Ride , who was America’s first woman in space and a member of the probes’ mission team.

Last Friday, Ebb and Flow, the two spacecraft comprising NASA’s Gravity Recovery and Interior Laboratory (GRAIL) mission, were commanded to descend into a lower orbit that would result in an impact Monday on a mountain near the moon’s north pole. The formation-flying duo hit the lunar surface as planned at 2:28:51 p.m. PST (5:28:51 p.m. EST) and 2:29:21 p.m. PST (5:29:21 p.m. EST) at a speed of 3,760 mph (1.7 kilometers per second). The location of the Sally K. Ride Impact Site is on the southern face of an approximately 1.5 mile- (2.5 -kilometer) tall mountain near a crater named Goldschmidt.

“Sally was all about getting the job done, whether it be in exploring space, inspiring the next generation, or helping make the GRAIL mission the resounding success it is today,” said GRAIL principal investigator Maria Zuber of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge. “As we complete our lunar mission, we are proud we can honor Sally Ride’s contributions by naming this corner of the moon after her.”

The impact marked a successful end to the GRAIL mission, which was NASA’s first planetary mission to carry cameras fully dedicated to education and public outreach. Ride, who died in July after a 17-month battle with pancreatic cancer, led GRAIL’s MoonKAM (Moon Knowledge Acquired by Middle School Students) Program through her company, Sally Ride Science, in San Diego.

Along with its primary science instrument, each spacecraft carried a MoonKAM camera that took more than 115,000 total images of the lunar surface. Imaging targets were proposed by middle school students from across the country and the resulting images returned for them to study. The names of the spacecraft were selected by Ride and the mission team from student submissions in a nationwide contest.

“Sally Ride worked tirelessly throughout her life to remind all of us, especially girls, to keep questioning and learning,” said Sen. Barbara Mikulski of Maryland. “Today her passion for making students part of NASA’s science is honored by naming the impact site for her.”

Fifty minutes prior to impact, the spacecraft fired their engines until the propellant was depleted. The maneuver was designed to determine precisely the amount of fuel remaining in the tanks. This will help NASA engineers validate computer models to improve predictions of fuel needs for future missions.

“Ebb fired its engines for 4 minutes, 3 seconds and Flow fired its for 5 minutes, 7 seconds,” said GRAIL project manager David Lehman of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena, Calif. “It was one final important set of data from a mission that was filled with great science and engineering data.”

The mission team deduced that much of the material aboard each spacecraft was broken up in the energy released during the impacts. Most of what remained probably is buried in shallow craters. The craters’ size may be determined when NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter returns images of the area in several weeks.

Launched in September 2011, Ebb and Flow had been orbiting the moon since Jan. 1, 2012. The probes intentionally were sent into the lunar surface because they did not have sufficient altitude or fuel to continue science operations. Their successful prime and extended science missions generated the highest resolution gravity field map of any celestial body. The map will provide a better understanding of how Earth and other rocky planets in the solar system formed and
evolved.

“We will miss our lunar twins, but the scientists tell me it will take years to analyze all the great data they got, and that is why we came to the moon in the first place,” Lehman said. “So long, Ebb and Flow, and we thank you.”

JPL manages the GRAIL mission for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate in Washington. GRAIL is part of the Discovery Program managed at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Ala. Lockheed Martin Space Systems in Denver built the spacecraft.

For more information about GRAIL, visit:

http://www.nasa.gov/grail

Asteroid Toutatis Tumbles Past Earth

Toutatis
Radar Image of Asteroid Toutatis on 12 December 2012
Image Credit: NASA / JPL-Caltech

The asteroid Toutatis passed 18 lunar distances (6.9 million kilometers) away from the Earth on 12 and 13 December 2012. NASA has released a movie based on a series of radar images taken by the Deep Space Network antenna at Goldstone, California.

Toutatis is an elongated asteroid with a maximum length of about 4.8 kilometers. It tumbles slowly, once every 5.4 days, and precesses like a badly thrown football around the long axis every 7.4 days.

Currently, its orbit will bring it back to the Earth’s neighborhood in 2069 and it will pass by at a distance of about 3 million kilometers.

Tracking Toutatis is the job of Near-Earth Object Observations Program. The program discovers and tracks asteroids and comets and plots their orbits to determine if any could be potentially hazardous to our planet.

River and Delta Found on Titan

River on Titan
River and Delta on Saturn’s Moon Titan (click to enlarge)
Image Credit: NASA / JPL-Caltech / ASI

NASA and JPL released this image of a 400 kilometer long river system on Titan. The image was taken on 26 September 2012 by the Cassini spacecraft (in orbit around Saturn) during its 87th flyby of Titan.

The image is oriented with North to the right. The river system flows into the Ligeia Mare, one of three oceans in the northern hemisphere of Titan.

The river is black in appearance, which denotes a smooth surface. Therefore, scientists think that the river is filled with liquid Methane and Ethane along its entire distance.

Grail Gravity Maps of the Moon

Gravity Maps
Grail Gravity Maps of the Lunar Highlands
Image Credit: NASA / JPL-Caltech / MIT / GSFC

NASA released this graphic of the front (left) and back (right) of the Moon, based on gravity data from NASA’s GRAIL mission and topography data from NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter.

The graphic shows regions of high and low densities of the lunar highlands. Red is high and blue is low. White shows mare basalt regions and solid circles are prominent impact basins.

On the back side of the Moon, the South Pole-Aitken basin, has a higher than average density that reflects its atypical iron-rich surface composition.

Below is a highly detail gravity map of the front (visible) side of the Moon. You can watch the movie.

Visible Side
Grail Gravity Map of the Visible Side of the Moon
Image Credit: NASA / JPL-Caltech / MIT / GSFC

Curiosity – Panorama at Point Lake

Point Lake
Portion of a Panorama View toward Point Lake from Rocknest
Image Credit: NASA / JPL-Caltech / Malin Space Science Systems

Taken from Rocknest, the image above includes the site named Point Lake and is the center of the scene in the panorama below. After taking the many images stitched together for the panorama, Curiosity drove 83 feet (25.3 meters) to Point Lake on 18 November 2012.

From Point Lake, Curiosity’s MastCam is taking another series for a panorama in order to identify candidates for the first effort to drill into a Martian rock.

Panorama
Panorama View toward Point Lake from Rocknest (Click to Enlarge)
Image Credit: NASA / JPL-Caltech / Malin Space Science Systems