Space science roundup

It’s a great time to be a space science geek. Today NASA launched JUNO, it’s satellite mission to Jupiter that will further our understanding of the largest planet in the solar system. It’s scheduled to arrive at Jupiter in the summer of 2016 and will help us understand the formation of the solar system. In 2015, New Horizons will be snapping the first up close pictures of Pluto and possibly other members of the Kuiper belt.

Yesterday, JPL announced (again) further evidence for water on Mars with this gorgeous picture.

Gullies with dark streaks indicate the possible existence of water. (Image from JPL/NASA)

Let’s not forget the MESSENGER mission to Mercury either. I feel that of all NASA’s robotic missions, this one gets the least amount of attention, yet it churns some really nice pictures that display Mercury’s violent past.

Young portions of Mercury's crust display fewer impact craters than the darker areas along the edges (Image from NASA)

As exciting as the aforementioned are, what really gets me going are the pictures sent back from the Dawn Mission. Dawn is studying two protoplanets in the asteroid belt- Ceres and Vesta.  A group of meteorites called HED’s- Howardites, Eucrites, Diogenites- are thought to come from Vesta and this mission will fill in the gaps of information that the meteorites can’t. This mission, along with JUNO, will greatly further our understanding of the evolution of the solar system. It’s thought that Jupiters formation basically stunted the growth of Vesta, Ceres and even Mars by sucking up material needed for accretion.

Vesta as seen from Dawn. The south pole is basically an impact crater from which the HED's possibly originated. (Image from NASA)

These images barely scratch the surface of what we’re accomplishing in our neck of the galaxy. There’s a long list of satellites that take beautiful images of our own planet, the moon and the sun. I didn’t even mention all the awesome information we’re getting back from the Cassini mission. Things may seem bleak for the science community with funds becoming more scarce, but we still have some reasons to celebrate what we do and further reasons to fight for what we do.

Good-bye to the space shuttle

-The space shuttle Atlantis before its last launch (Image courtesy of NASA/Bill Inglalls)

I’m not sure what saddens me more: that today marks the end of US manned space flight or that we don’t have a damn thing to replace it. Congress and NASA want to point fingers at whose to blame for the, hopefully temporary, demise of the manned space flight program. Was it a lack of funding by Congress or NASA’s mismanagement and bureaucracy? I don’t know and I’m not particularly interested in the politics and squabbling. Either way, both parties have squandered our legacy and potential and should be ashamed of themselves.

Meteorite Monday: The OSIRIS-REx Mission

Today’s Meteorite Monday is going to be a short one. I just returned from my petrology field trip to Eastern Oregon and I haven’t had a whole lot of time to put together an original post. So, I thought I’d share a video about NASA’s latest planetary science mission to asteroid 1999 RQ-36. Asteroids are basically the parent body of most meteorites and can tell us a lot about the formation of the solar system. It’s a very exciting mission that will return actual pieces of asteroid to the earth where we can study it and learn about the origins of the solar system.