Mission Juno Tonight, Earth species Homo sapiens sapiens, with ongoing support from photosynthesizing relatives in the Plant kingdom, will attempt the delicate task of inserting a large machine into polar orbit around the highly radioactive gas giant Jupiter. After using a slingshot maneuver around Earth and Jupiter's tremendous gravitational pull to become "one of the fastest human-made objects ever built," it is hoped Juno will collect data for 20 months, shedding light on the composition of the planet and what it can tell us about the origin of the Sol system 4.6 billion years ago. [more inside]
California-based Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) has been central to the US missile and rocket development and operations for decades, and from the beginning that technology's success rested on a corps of expert mathematicians, people known as computers. And from the beginning they were all women, in a time when such opportunities were few and far between. You can find pictures of them, but names have not been well-recorded ... until now. Nathalia Holt found many of those women and wrote about their experiences in her book, Rise of the Rocket Girls: The Women Who Propelled Us, from Missiles to the Moon to Mars. [more inside]
Well, if you're going to Europa, you definitely want to pack a magnetometer, among other neat tools.
With the discovery of life beneath the Ross Ice Shelf, the abundance of water in our solar system and a huge salty ocean under Ganymede's ice, scientists are rethinking the possibilities of life on other worlds.
We know space is big, but trying to understand how big is tricky. Say you stare up at the sky and identify stars and constellations in a virtual planetarium, you can't quite fathom how far away all those stars are (previously, twice). Even if you could change your point of view and zoom around in space to really see 100,000 nearby stars (autoplaying ambient music, and there are actually 119,617 stars mapped in 3D space), it's still difficult to get a sense of scale. There's this static image of various items mapped on a log scale from XKCD (previously), and an interactive horizontal journey down from the sun to the heliosphere with OMG Space (previously). You can get a bit more dynamic with this interactive Scale of the Universe webpage (also available in with some variants, if you want the sequel [ previously, twice], the swirly, gravity-optional version that takes some time to load, and the wrong version [previously]), but that's just for the scale of objects, not of space itself. If you want to get spaced out, imagine if If the Moon Were Only 1 Pixel, and travel from there (previously). This past March, BBC Future put out a really big infographic, which also takes a moment to load, but then you can see all sorts of things, from the surface of Earth out to the edge of our solar system.
NASA's 2015 budget request has been released (PDF, OMB Summary), with an interesting mission study : $15 million to look at a unmanned mission to Jupiter's moon Europa. Why Europa? It may have more water than Earth, sloshing around under a thick ice, which makes it a major contender for harboring life. Don't get too excited just yet though. The mission would't launch until around 2025 and would arrive in Jupiter's orbit in the early 2030s. That's a long way off, but a particular US Congressman really wants this mission to happen.
If the Moon Were Only 1 Pixel is a tediously accurate model of the Solar System that Josh Worth made to explain to his daughter just how difficult it is to go on holiday to Mars.
Tvashtar in Motion. Awesome five-frame GIF of fountaining sulfuric lava on Io courtesy New Horizons as it swung by Jupiter earlier this year. Found via Planetary Society Blog (Thank you, Emily). More on Tvashtar.
Saturn's enigmatic moon Titan holds on to its mysteries. Radar images reveal quite a bit of variation but no clear interpretation. The hazy atmosphere prevents the sudden shock of discovery that characterized the Voyager and Galileo flybys of the moons of Jupiter, revealing little more than fuzzy Rorschach blobs. With less than 1% of the surface mapped, researchers suspect that Titan has a young surface shaped by processes that have yet to be revealed.
NASA's Official 'Galileo Dies' Page. Galileo is set to crash into Jupiter on Sunday. Responsible for many great images and tons of information, Galileo served well. Find a complete history of the Galileo mission here. Also, don't forget to watch the End of Mission webcast this Sunday at approx. 2 PM EST here.
Swan song for a great explorer. Tomorow, the Galileo explorer will make a flyby of Jovian moon Amalthea ending pehaps the geatest unmanned mission in NASA history. Galileo telemetry may not survive the flyby having already receieved much more radiation than it was designed for. Even if it does survive, this will be its final orbit scheduled to crash into Jupiter in September of next year. In spite of antenna difficulties, the spacecraft returned many beautiful images of Jupiter's moons, along with coverage of the Shoemaker-Levy collision and the first atmospheric probe to decend into Jupiter's weather.
Puzzling X-rays from Jupiter "We weren't surprised to find x-rays coming from Jupiter." Other observatories had done that years ago. The surprise is what Chandra has revealed for the very first time: the location of the beacon -- surprisingly close the planet's pole -- and the regular way it pulses. (Via Fark.)
Interesting hypothesis that Europa's seas are swimming with bacteria. Preliminary results show that all three species, the ordinary gut bacteria Escherichia coli, and extremophiles Deinococcus radiodurans and Sulfolobus shibatae, are just as good at explaining Europa's IR spectrum as the [magnesium sulphate] salts.
Cassini's just outside the orbit of Jupiter. Where is the space program in all of this? Have mundane zealots hobbled humanity's greatest feats to come? Should we be plotting ourselves to the stars now?