Asteroid Toutatis Tumbles Past Earth

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.


Curiosity Descent Captured by Mars Reconnaisance Orbiter

Curiosity Parachute
MRO HiRISE Image of Curiosity beneath the Parachute
Image Credit: NASA / JPL / University of Arizona / HiRISE

The Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter captured this image of Curiosity descending beneath its parachute. Alfred McEwen writes about the image taken by the HiRISE camera:

NASA’s Curiosity rover and its parachute were spotted by NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter as Curiosity descended to the surface on Aug. 5 PDT (Aug. 6 EDT). The High-Resolution Imaging Science Experiment (HiRISE) camera captured this image of Curiosity while the orbiter was listening to transmissions from Curiosity.

Curiosity and its parachute are in the center of the white box; and a separate image is a smaller cutout of MSL stretched to avoid saturation. The rover is landing on the etched plains just north of the sand dunes that fringe “Mt. Sharp.”

The parachute appears fully inflated and performing perfectly. Details in the parachute such as the band gap at the edges and the central hole are clearly visible. The cords connecting the parachute to the backshell cannot be seen, although they were seen in the image of Phoenix descending, perhaps due to the difference in lighting angles.

(The MSL suspension lines are made of material called Technora which has a tan color, while the Phoenix suspension lines were Kevlar which is yellow and this may help explain why they aren’t visible in the image.)

The bright spot on the backshell containing MSL might be a specular reflection off of a shiny area. MSL was released from the backshell sometime after this image was acquired.

This view is one product from an observation made by HiRISE targeted to the expected location of MSL about 1 minute prior to landing. It was captured in HiRISE CCD RED1, near the eastern edge of the swath width (there is a RED0 at the very edge). This means that MSL was a bit further east or downrange than predicted.

Curiosity – Celebration and News Briefing

Curiosity Wheels
Curiosity – News Briefing
Image Credit: NASA TV

Dr. John Holdren addressed the press corps about the technical prowess of all the partners that made the landing of Curiosity possible.

Congratulations to Jet Propulsion Laboratory.

Curiosity Wheels
Curiosity – News Briefing
Image Credit: NASA TV

Curiosity – Wheels On Mars

Curiosity Wheels
Curiosity – Wheels on Mars
Image Credit: NASA / JPL

On the ground.

Curiosity Wheels
Curiosity – Shadow and Wheels on Mars
Image Credit: NASA / JPL

Once JPL receives images from Curiosity, they are now located here.

Party At JPL
Party At JPL
Image Credit: NASA / JPL

Curiosity – Mission Support Center at JPL – EDL

Curiosity Mission Support
Curiosity – JPL Mission Support Center
Image Credit: NASA / JPL

Two hours to EDL. NASA TV.

With 80 minutes to go, polling of systems is underway to see if there are any final instructions for Curiosity. There are no requests, and the uplink transmitter on the Deep Space Network (DSN) is being shut down. Curiosity is on its own.

Follow along with “Eyes on the Solar System“.

With 60 minutes to go, the Mars orbiters are green for communications.

With 45 minutes to go, Curiosity is now on one-way communication and waiting for the EDL anchor event.

There are 76 pyrotechnic devices and 500,000 lines of computer code that have to operate perfectly. Seven minutes of terror on You Tube.

30 minutes and the peanuts are being munched. 22 minutes until EDL events start. All systems report green.

With 24 minutes to go, Mars Odyssey reports that it is in position and able to communicate with Curiosity and the Earth DSN. Cruise stage separation in 5 minutes.

15 minutes. The attitude jets report they are functioning properly and are ready for entry.

Heartbeat tones from Curiosity are all good.

EDL has begun. The final seven minutes.

Curiosity reports by tone that it has started guided entry.

Mars Odyssey reports receiving and transmitting data from Curiosity.

Entry mass balance object is being ejected.

Parachute deployed.

Radar sees the ground.

6 kilometers altitude.

Powered flight.

Sky crane started.

On the ground.

Once JPL receives images from Curiosity, they will be located here.

Valentine’s Day 2011

Valentine from Space
Image Credit: NASA / JPL

Tempel 1
Comet 9P Tempel 1
Image Credit: NASA / JPL

The Stardust spacecraft is set to rendezvous with comet Tempel 1. It’s Valentine’s Day, 14 February 2011.

Previously, we discussed the StardustNExT mission.

We will follow the encounter with pictures and text as they arrive. Rendezvous with comet Tempel 1 will occur at approximately 9:37 PM Phoenix time (0437 UTC Tuesday morning).

Live coverage of the Tempel 1 encounter will begin at 9:30 PM Phoenix time on NASA Television and the agency’s website.

The closest approach will be approximately 200 kilometers. In 2004, Stardust flew through the tail of comet Wild 2 and sent a capsule of material back to Earth.

The mission team expects to begin receiving images on the ground starting at around 1:00 AM Phoenix time (0800 UTC) on 15 February. A news conference previously planned for 11:00 AM Phoenix time will be held later in the day, to allow scientists more time to analyze the data and images. A new time will be announced later in the morning.

Tempel 1 from Stardust
Comet Tempel from Stardust NExT taken 18-19 January 2011
Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

The latest report is that the StardustNExT spacecraft has taken a hit, but the thrusters responded and reoriented the craft

The most recent report is that the closest approach was 181 kilometers. 10 percent after 12 years in space orbiting the solar system many times.

The spacecraft is now back in cruise mode. The images have been collected and we are now several hours form beginning to receive the 72 high resolution images.

The JPL Deep Space Network (DSN) is scheduled to download the data. The current receiver is the 70 meter dish in Australia and the download rate will be about 16K bits per second.

Tempel 1
Image of Tempel 1 42 hours before encounter.
Image Credit: NASA / JPL

In about an hour, the DSN in Madrid will acquire the Stardust spacecraft and begin downloading the 72 images. It is now 10:30 PM Phoenix time.

We now have carrier only configuration of Stardust being received in Madrid. Time is 10:57 PM Phoenix time (0557 UTC 15 February).

In about 10 minutes, Stardust will begin downloading the images from the fly-by.

At the present time, we expect the images to begin downloading about 1:00 AM. The first images should be available about 1:45 AM.

Tempel 1
Tempel 1 was 2,200 kilometers from StardustNExT and Closest Encounter. Most Recently Released Image.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Cornell

StardustNExT images are being posted at

The following images are from closest approach.

Tempel 1 image 35
Tempel 1 Image 35
Image Credit: NASA / JPL

Tempel 1 image 35
Tempel 1 Image 35
Image Credit: NASA / JPL

Tempel 1 image 35
Tempel 1 Image 40
Image Credit: NASA / JPL