March 14th, 2007

Sy Liebergot

Space Updates

The Mars Exploration Rovers have just entered their fourth year of service on the planet. That's a dozen times longer than the targetted 90-day mission! Those are some amazing little machines.

The Cassini spacecraft, orbiting Saturn since July 2004, has detected seas on Titan. Titan, the largest moon of Saturn, was the target of the Huygens Probe carried by Cassini. The probe photographed what appeared to be lakes and channels; Cassini has backed this up and now detected bodies of water (called "seas" though there isn't a concrete definition for that term) as large as Lake Superior.

The Rosetta spacecraft swung by Mars last month to get a gravity assist on its way out to rendezvous with the comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko (which desperately needs a nickname). Rosetta will pass by Earth two more times, make observation passes of two different asteroids, then go into a cruise phase towards the outer solar system. It'll finally encounter Comet Chur-Ge (much better!) in May-June 2014. Mark your calendars now!

The New Horizons spacecraft has just completed its pass through the Jovian system, picking up speed on its way out to ex-planet Pluto. During the flyby, it had a look at Jupiter and also managed to catch some amazing photos of volcanic ejecta plumes on Io. New Horizons will make its observation pass of the Pluto-Charon system in July 2014. That's going to be a fun year, evidently.

Meanwhile, closer to home, Space Shuttle Atlantis is in the VAB for repairs after an unexpected hailstorm damaged the external tank's insulating foam shell. It did get fairly dinged up by the hail, so I'm not surprised that they chose to carefully patch it up rather than risk yet more problems due to the foam. No official revised launch date has been set, though the NASA article suggests "late April".
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