Saturday, November 23, 2013

Preview of MAVEN and other space and astronomy news

While I've already posted Typhoon Haiyan from space, much more was going on last week on space.  Arguably the most important is the launch of the MAVEN mission of Mars this week.  Not only is it the big story of this week, it's been a continuing story since September 2012, and it will be the big story of next week.  On that note, here are two videos from NASA Television about the mission, beginning with LeVar Burton Shares MAVEN's Story in a New NASA PSA.

NASA is returning to Mars!

This NASA Public Service Announcement regarding the MAVEN mission is presented by LeVar Burton in which he shares the story about NASA's Mars Atmosphere and Volatile Evolution mission-or MAVEN-and how it will explore Mars' climate history and gather clues about the question scientists have been asking for decades. MAVEN will look at specific processes at Mars that led to the loss of much of its atmosphere...and MAVEN data could tell scientists a lot about the history of climate change on the Red Planet.

When MAVEN arrives at Mars in September 2014, it will join ongoing NASA missions-Odyssey, Opportunity, MRO, and Curiosity-that continue to improve our understanding of Mars and the evolution of our Solar System. NASA is committed to a program of Mars exploration-with the goal of sending humans in the 2030s. The data from these missions, and those to come later this decade, will inform future human exploration as well as provide textbook-changing science.
Next, MAVEN headlines last week's space news in MAVEN Update on This Week @NASA.

The MAVEN spacecraft is the latest NASA probe designed to help piece together a complete picture of The Red Planet's past. MAVEN's piece of the puzzle -- to understand what happened to Mars' upper atmosphere. Following its launch from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station -- MAVEN is scheduled to reach Mars in September 2014. Also, Getting to deep space, A stunning new view of Saturn, Commercial success, Earth science satellite, Antarctica campaign, Tail wing technology and more!
Follow over the jump for the rest of the space news from NASA, Daily Kos, LSU, by way of LiveScience, and the University of Iowa by way of Iowa Farmer Today.

Science at NASA: ScienceCasts: Two Comets to Fly By Mercury on Nov 18 & 19

Consider it a cosmic coincidence: On Nov. 18-19, two comets (ISON and Encke) are going to fly by the planet Mercury in quick succession. NASA's MESSENGER spacecraft will have a front-row seat for the rare double flyby.
Ison also gets a mention in DarkSyde's This week in science: Hot tropics on Daily Kos.

Louisiana State University: Researchers develop algorithm to identify individual grains of Mars soil
Researchers develop algorithm to identify individual grains in planetary regolith
by Dept. Research Comm. Dir.
November 15, 2013
Instruments on the Curiosity Mars rover not only measure the chemistry of rocks, elemental abundances of soils and wind speeds, but also take an incredible number of images from both mast-mounted cameras and up-close imaging systems mounted to robotic arms. The process of analyzing soil images can be daunting, particularly when there are thousands of images and when the particles can be on the order of only 5-10 pixels wide. A team of researchers, led by Suniti Karunatillake at LSU’s Department of Geology and Geophysics, and including Stony Brook University, USGS-Flagstaff AZ, and Rider University, developed an image analysis and segmentation algorithm specifically to aid planetary scientists with this very basic, but often difficult, task.

Planetary scientists use images to identify the distribution of grain sizes of large-scale (centimeter or larger diameter) rocks and small-scale (less than 1 cm) grains. These grain sizes tell scientists about the processes that distributed the particles from their source regions to where they are now. For example, were they derived from a water source, blown by wind, or show hydrodynamic sorting?

The algorithm, implemented in Mathematica, uses a variety of image processing steps to segment the image, first into coarser (foreground) and finer (background) grains. The image is then further segmented until most grains are outlined. The code processes a single image within 1 to 5 minutes. via LiveScience: Mars Rover Curiosity Recovers from Software Glitch
By Mike Wall, Senior Writer
November 13, 2013 01:56pm ET
NASA's Curiosity rover has bounced back from a glitch that put the 1-ton robot into a protective "safe mode" for three days over the weekend.

The car-size Curiosity rover went into safe mode Thursday (Nov. 7), a few hours after receiving a software update from its handlers on Earth. But mission engineers have identified and fixed the problem, allowing Curiosity to resume normal operations on Sunday (Nov. 10), NASA officials said.

"We returned to normal engineering operations," Rajeev Joshi, a mission software and systems engineer at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif., said in a statement Tuesday (Nov. 12). "We are well into planning the next several days of surface operations and expect to resume our drive to Mount Sharp this week."
Iowa Farmer Today: Star light, star bright may not be meteorite
By Zoe Martin Iowa Farmer Today
November 14, 2013 7:00 am
IOWA CITY— Ray Anderson has seen thousands of strange-looking rocks famers suspected could be meteorites.

Only one was. The rest he calls “meteor-wrongs.”

“They’re not really uncommon, if you think about cosmic dust — about a shoebox of that falls per acre every year on earth,” explained Anderson, a retired professor of geophysics with the University of Iowa and Iowa Geological and Water Survey.

Bigger meteorites are much rarer — and finding them almost impossible — but Anderson said farmers have a sharp eye for unusual objects in their fields.
That's it for last week's news from Overnight News Digest: Science Saturday (Dog origins).  It's time to start collecting this week's stories.


  1. hey this is gary, do you remember those crazy sinkhole videos you showed us during class this past summer? well, i happened to come across a video of a sinkhole that swallows tree. enjoy!

    1. Of course I remember you. Thanks for sharing the video!