LCROSS crashes into the Moon

The Moon as LCROSS closes in
The Moon as LCROSS closes in

LCROSS has just crashed into Cabeus crater on the Moon four minutes after the Centaur upper stage crashed, too. During the four minutes, LCROSS observed the plume that the upper stage kicked up and hopefully getting data that confirms the existence of water. The spacecraft had separated from the Centaur upper stage almost ten hours previously, after which they traveled almost 10,000 kilometers before reaching the Moon. NASA TV had just broadcast the impact live, and it's impressive how much media attention the LCROSS impact has grabbed. I had thought only space enthusiasts such as myself would have paid any attention to it.

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MESSENGER's imperfect flyby

The MESSENGER spacecraft got the gravity assist it needed from its third flyby, but the flyby did not go perfectly. Four minutes before its closest approach to the planet, the spacecraft went into safe mode where only functions essential for the spacecraft's survival are left active. Taking pictures is not one of those functions, which means no images of Mercury were taken when MESSENGER made its closest approach.

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MESSENGER's third flyby

The MESSENGER spacecraft has just made its third flyby of Mercury, passing over just 228 kilometers away from the surface. It takes a lot of energy to directly get from Earth orbit to Mercury orbit, so MESSENGER has been making multiple flybys of Mercury. During each flyby, the planet is used as a gravity assist so that the spacecraft can achieve Mercury orbit with much less fuel. This is the final flyby of Mercury, and MESSENGER will start orbiting Mercury and studying the planet in March, 2011.

Now that MESSENGER has made its third flyby, we just need to wait for the spacecraft to send the data and have it processed for more cool images of Mercury ...

LCROSS changes its target

LCROSS was going to crash into crater Cabeus A. But after analyzing data from spacecraft such as the LRO, the Lunar Prospector, Chandrayaan-1, and Kaguya, the impact site for LCROSS has been changed to Cabeus (proper), a bigger crater close to Cabeus A. This determination was made because the hydrogen content and terrain suggests that crashing into Cabeus rather than into its satellite crater would give the best chance of observing water in the resulting plume.

Cabeus and other craters
Cabeus and other craters

First light from Planck

The Planck spacecraft launched in May will give us much more detailed maps of the cosmic microwave background than ever before. So it is good news that its first light survey over a narrow strip through the sky indicates that its instruments are all working very well. The first light survey would probably not give us any exiting scientific results, but its success bodes well for its future. We could be looking towards tremendous discoveries in cosmology after the end of 2012, which is when Planck's data from the cosmic microwave background will be released.

Planck first light survey
Planck first light survey