Only a couple of weeks after India launched its first-ever mission to Mars, NASA has also just sent another probe to the Red Planet. The Mars Atmosphere and Volatile Evolution Mission (MAVEN) spacecraft was successfully launched yesterday, November 18th, at 1:28 pm EST from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida.
This is interesting, a recent HiRISE photo from the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter spacecraft showing an oval pit or crater with an opening in the bottom (cropped here from one of the larger images) near Galaxias Chaos on Mars. The opening is also oval, and you can see some sand dunes on the bottom. How did it form? More images are available here.
The Cassini spacecraft has taken another stunning new panoramic image, released yesterday, showing Saturn and its rings in all of their glory. It has done this before, including ones showing the Earth and Moon in the far distance, as tiny specks of light. But this new image is even better; not only does it again show Saturn and its rings beautifully backlit against the Sun in natural color, but this one also shows Mars and Venus, as well as the Earth and Moon!
As it continues to make its way to Mount Sharp, the Curiosity rover has been sending back to Earth some amazing images of the Martian surface. This latest “postcard” panoramic image by Damia Bouic is a montage of some of these latest photos, from sol 409. Part of the rim of Gale crater can be seen in the distance. Larger versions of the image (black & white and colour) can be seen here (French website). Thanks again to Damia for the use of her images, which beautifully capture the Martian scenery; the next best thing to actually being there! The rest of his Curiosity images can be seen here.
India has begun its first-ever mission to Mars, with the successful launch yesterday afternoon of the Mars Orbiter Mission (MOM) spacecraft, also known as Mangalyaan, which is Hindi for “Mars Craft.”
As the Curiosity rover currently inspects a rock outcrop called Cooperstown, this rock seems to be baring its teeth. Some interesting pointed protrusions can be seen near the middle and lower right of the image. Below is a closeup of one of these teeth-like protrusions. Fossilized Martian shark teeth? No, probably not, but they are an intriguing feature for sure.
Some exciting exoplanet news this week: based on the newest data from the Kepler space telescope, astronomers now estimate that there are billions of potentially habitable planets in our galaxy which are about the same size as Earth and orbit in the habitable zone of their stars, it was announced yesterday.
For the first time, an exoplanet orbiting another star has been discovered which is similar to Earth in size, mass and composition, it was announced today. Astronomers confirmed the finding using data from the Kepler space telescope.
As the Curiosity rover gets ever closer to its major destination of Mount Sharp, there is an interesting feature there which has become a priority target, one which may help scientists to further study the past habitability of this area, or even provide possible clues to life itself.
This stunning view of Saturn is one that can never be seen from Earth; it was taken by the Cassini spacecraft, still orbiting the huge ringed planet, from high above the equatorial plane on October 10, 2013. Only in such a view can the planet itself be seen as separate from the surrounding rings. This composite image was made from 36 individual images. Beautiful!