NASA’s MAVEN Spacecraft Arrives At Mars This Weekend

NASA’s latest Mars mission will arrive at the Red Planet this Sunday after traveling 442 million miles during its 10-month journey. The spacecraft will study Mars from orbit in the hopes of answering the question: If Mars once had an atmosphere capable of sustaining liquid water at its surface, what happened to it?

The Mars Atmosphere and Volatile Evolution spacecraft, or MAVEN for short, is NASA’s latest mission to study the Red Planet. It’s the first spacecraft sent specifically to study upper atmosphere of Mars. It’s job is to examine the composition, structure and escape of gases in the upper atmosphere of Mars, and to study how it interacts with the solar wind.

“So far, so good with the performance of the spacecraft and payloads on the cruise to Mars,” according to MAVEN project manager David Mitchell, of NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland. “The team, the flight system, and all ground assets are ready for Mars orbit insertion.”

The spacecraft is expected to begin orbital insertion at approximately 9:50 p.m. EDT Sunday, when it will fire its engines for 33 minutes to maneuver the spacecraft into a 35-hour elliptical orbit around Mars. The spacecraft will later be moved into a 4.5-hour science orbit.

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Talk Like a Pirate (Nebula) Day

Shiver me timbers, behold the Skull and Crossbones Nebula! Also know as NGC 2467, Skull and Crossbones is an emission nebula located some 13,000 – 17,000 light-years away from Earth in the southern constellation of Puppis It is an extremely active stellar nursery, where new stars are born continuously from large clouds of dust and gas. The image displays a striking array of features that illustrate multiple phases of star birth. Huge clouds of gas and dust are sprinkled with bright blue, hot young stars.

The bright star at the center of the largest pink region on the bottom of the image is HD 64315, a massive young star that is helping shaping the structure of the whole nebular region. Toward the center, deep dark lanes of dust hide parts of the nebula that are forming new stars.

(Image credit: ESO)

The Black Dragon Nebula (IC 4678) occupies space between us and a dense spiral arm of our galaxy. The nebula, a huge complex of gas and dust, creates a distinct silhoutte as dust in the foreground blots out light from background stars. IC 4678 lies about 5,000 light years from Earth in the constellation of Sagittarius, near the well-known Trifid and Lagoon Nebulas.

(Credit: Credit: Canada-France-Hawaii Telescope/Coelum)

Rosetta Selfie

Using the CIVA camera on Rosetta’s Philae lander, the spacecraft have snapped a ‘selfie’ at comet 67P/Churyumov–Gerasimenko. The image was taken on 7 September from a distance of about 50 km from the comet, and captures the side of the Rosetta spacecraft and one of Rosetta’s 14 m-long solar wings, with 67P/C-G in the background.


Explore the COSMOS

Appropriately named the COSMOS field (short for Cosmic Evolution Survey), this patch of sky is populated by millions of galaxies. Even the smallest dots in this image are galaxies, some up to 12 billion light-years away. In fact, the brightest objects in the field are more than ten thousand times fainter than what you can see with the naked eye.

The picture is a combination of infrared data from Spitzer (red) and visible-light data (blue and green) from Japan’s Subaru telescope atop Mauna Kea in Hawaii and is part of the SPLASH (Spitzer large area survey with Hyper-Suprime-Cam) project. 

Learn more about Spitzer’s SPLASH Project

Eight million light years away lies galaxy NGC 2403. Spanning nearly 50,000 light years in diameter, the galaxy displays its incredible spiral arms with hot young stars in blue and glowing star-formation regions in red.

(Credit: Canada-France-Hawaii Telescope/Coelum)

A book is made from a tree. It is an assemblage of flat, flexible parts (still called “leaves”) imprinted with dark pigmented squiggles. One glance at it and you hear the voice of another person, perhaps someone dead for thousands of years. Across the millennia, the author is speaking, clearly and silently, inside your head, directly to you. Writing is perhaps the greatest of human inventions, binding together people, citizens of distant epochs, who never knew one another. Books break the shackles of time ― proof that humans can work magic.


Dot Against the Dark

Mimas is positioned against the shadow of Saturn’s rings, bright on dark. As it nears summer in Saturn’s northern hemisphere, the rings cast ever larger shadows on the planet. The view was acquired at a distance of approximately 1.1 million miles (1.8 million kilometers) from Saturn and approximately 1 million miles (1.6 million kilometers) from Mimas.

Yer a Wizard, Nebula

Located only 8,000 light years away, the Wizard nebula, surrounds developing open star cluster NGC 7380. Visually, the interplay of stars, gas, and dust has created a shape that appears to some like a medieval sorcerer which spans about 100 light years. Astronomers expect that the nebula may only last a few million years, although some of the stars being formed may outlive our Sun.

(Image Credit: J-P Metsavainio)

New Horizons Zooms Past Neptune on 25th Anniversary of Voyager 2

25 years ago today Voyager 2 made the only close approach to Neptune, coming within 3,000 miles of the blue gas giant. At the time of the flyby, the spacecraft captured this incredible image of the planet’s southern hemisphere. Two dark spots are visible: an Earth-sized Great Dark Spot located on the far left, and Dark Spot 2 located near bottom. A bright cloud dubbed “Scooter” accompanies the Great Dark Spot. Recent computer simulations indicate that scooters are methane clouds that might commonly be found near dark spots.

In what one NASA official dubbed as a “cosmic coincidence”, the New Horizons spacecraft passed through Neptune’s orbit today on its way to its intended destination of Pluto. Launched in 2006, New Horizons is the fastest spacecraft ever launched and will be the first probe to reach Pluto. Little is known about the dwarf planet. It’s so dim and far away that the best photos by NASA’s powerful Hubble Space Telescope show Pluto as a blur of pixels. It is scheduled to arrive at Pluto on July 14, 2015 and many incredible discoveries await.