A Dusty Martian Opportunity

Mars is a planet wide desert with underground and polar cap water, but it’s general arid environment and occasional wind give rise to dusty weather events such as tornado-like dust devils and local dust storms.  Every so often, one of these little dust storms expands and becomes a planet wide phenomena, and in early June this is exactly what happened. So what does it mean for our rovers and orbiters? Global dust storms are a recurring phenomenon on Mars, and happen regularly about the planet regardless of season.  Every 3-4 Martian years (6-8 Earth years) one of these smaller storms...

Newest Moon Rocks Analyzed in 40 Years

Some days at work, when I am in the Space hall at the Ontario Science Center, I take a close look at the golf-ball-sized Moon rock we have on display.  I think about how this rock was brought back on an Apollo mission over 40 years ago, how it had been an untouched part of the Moon for Billions of years before this, and how it has taught us so much about how the Moon, and subsequently the Earth, formed.  But now it’s time for a new generation of Moon rocks to be analyzed, and China is in the nation...

Insight Launch Delayed

The Interior Exploration using Seismic Investigations Geodesy and Heat Transport (InSight) mission, originally set to launch in March of 2016, has been delayed.  It’s not yet clear when it will launch, but it certainly won’t be on schedule for March. The reason for the scrub is that a major science instrument on the lander has been having issues. The French-made Seismic Experiment for Interior Structure (SEIS) requires a vacuum seal around three main sensors to protect them from the Martian environment.  This vacuum seal allows them to detect seismic activity on Mars, and notice any ground movements as small as...

Send Your Name to Mars

The next mission to Mars, called InSight (Interior Exploration Using Seismic Investigations, Geodesy and Heat Transport), is slated to launch in Spring of 2016.  It will be the first stationary lander to investigate the internal structure of Mars and search for seismic activity, ie marsquakes!  NASA has always been good at including space enthusiasts in the public in their missions, giving them a human feel, and this mission is no exception.  You can sign up to have your name included on a silicon microchip on the lander! In the first 24 hours, NASA has had 67,000 people sign up, and they expect...

Perihelion Passage Captured by Rosetta

Rosetta captured comet 67P in all its glory this past week, as it reached perihelion, its closest approach to the Sun.  This marks the point where the comet feels the most solar energy, resulting in streams of gas and dust shooting from the nucleus.  Rosetta captured a series of images to show the brilliance of the comet. It’s been just over a year since Rosetta first injected itself into orbit around 67P on August 6th, 2014, and it has been hitching a ride around the Sun with the comet ever since, collecting amazing science data and observing the comet through its...

Surface Science from Philae – Finally!

A few weeks back, the Philae lander woke up and began transmitting the coveted science data it had been holding on to for the better part of 2015, waiting for the Sun to shine bright enough to wake it from its deep slumber.  As soon as it was able, it transmitted data back to the Rosetta orbiter, which then sent it on its long journey back home to Earth. Now that a few weeks have passed, we can finally see what the first science from the surface of 67P looks like, and determine its true fate. We can clearly see a...

Rosetta Approved for Epic Comet Landing!

The Rosetta orbiter lies in a vast empty space, inhabited only by its orbital companion – a 4 Km wide ball of ice and dust, spitting out gases and other material as it is warmed by the Sun’s rays.  It’s next mission milestone comes on August 13th, 2015, when the duo reaches perihelion, the closest point to the Sun in their orbit.  It will be the first time a spacecraft has the opportunity to study the outgassing and behaviour of a comet as it orbits close to the Sun.  So far the comet 67P/ Churyumov-Gerasimenko has been slowly increasing in...

Philae Lander Wakes Up After Months of Hibernation

Since it’s landing made international headlines back in November as it landed on Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko, the Philae lander has been in hibernation mode, not able to generate enough power to operate due to a lack of direct sunlight on its solar panels.  But after 7 months, as the comet has come closer to the Sun, the increasing solar intensity has given it the boost it needed to wake up! “Philae is doing very well: It has an operating temperature of -35ºC and has 24 Watts available,” explains DLR Philae Project Manager Dr. Stephan Ulamec. “The lander is ready for operations.” The...

Comets Crashed into the Moon

The Moon has clearly seen some stuff.  It’s visibly heavily cratered across it’s surface, which has remained unchanged since it’s surface solidified 4.2 Billion years ago.  Think about that – the Moon has been the same, with the exception of cratering, for 4 Billion years. This is a stark contrast to the Earth, whose erosion and tectonic activity cause the crust to change on scales of a few hundred million years. Astronomers have worked hard to learn about the early solar system by looking at the Moon and its cratering patterns.  Most of the visible craters on the Moon are...

11 Years of Searching Mars we Finally Found the Beagle 2!

I couldn’t believe it when I read the story this morning.  The Beagle 2 probe has been found, and partially intact even.  It’s been more than eleven years since the 2003 Christmas day launch of Beagle 2 by the European Space Agency, presumed lost forever after months of attempts at establishing communication. Many scientists had assumed that Beagle 2 had smashed into Mars at high-velocity, destroying it completely, but photos from NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO)  clearly show the lander made it to the ground safely.  The issue seems to be that the Beagle’s deployable ‘petals’ did not unfurl completely.  The...