MAVEN spacecraft is on its way to Mars

The MAVEN spacecraft is launched on Nov. 18, 2013 for a 10-month journey to Mars. Credit: NASA/Bill Ingalls
The MAVEN spacecraft is launched on November 18, 2013 for a 10-month journey to Mars. Credit: NASA/Bill Ingalls

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.

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Unusual oval pit near Galaxias Chaos on Mars

Oval pit or crater with opening in the bottom, as photographed near Galaxias Chaos on Mars by the HiRISE camera on the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter spacecraft. Click for larger version. Credit: NASA/JPL/University of Arizona
Oval pit or crater with an opening in the bottom, as photographed near Galaxias Chaos on Mars by the HiRISE camera on the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter spacecraft. Click for larger version. Credit: NASA/JPL/University of Arizona

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.

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Stunning new image from Cassini of Saturn – and Mars, Earth and Venus too!

Beautiful panoramic view of Saturn, some of its moons, and even some of the inner planets including Earth, as imaged by Cassini on July 19, 2013 as part of The Day the Earth Smiled event. Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/SSI
Beautiful panoramic view of Saturn, some of its moons, and even some of the inner planets including Earth, as imaged by Cassini on July 19, 2013 as part of The Day the Earth Smiled event. Click on image for larger version. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/SSI

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!

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Postcard from Mars – the view from Curiosity on sol 409

Sol409_pano_postcard_colorized
Panoramic image of the view from Curiosity on sol 409. Click image for link to larger version.
Credit: NASA / JPL-Caltech / Damia Bouic

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.

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India launches first mission to Mars

Launch of India's Mars Orbiter Mission (MOM) on November 5, 2013. Credit: Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO)
Launch of India’s Mars Orbiter Mission (MOM) on November 5, 2013. Credit: Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO)

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.”

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This Mars rock has teeth

Part of the rock outcrop called Cooperstown. Interesting pointed protrusions can be seen. Credit: NASA / JPL-Caltech
Part of the rock outcrop called Cooperstown. Interesting pointed protrusions can be seen in this Mastcam image from sol 440. Click image for larger version. Credit: NASA / JPL-Caltech

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.

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Billions of potentially Earth-like planets in our galaxy

Astronomers now estimate that about one in five sun-like stars in our galaxy has an Earth-sized planet in the habitable zone. Credit: UC Berkeley
Astronomers now estimate that about one in five sun-like stars in our galaxy has an Earth-sized planet in the habitable zone. Credit: UC Berkeley

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.

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Astronomers confirm first Earth-sized rocky exoplanet

Artist's conception of Kepler-7b. Credit: David A. Aguilar (CfA)
Artist’s conception of Kepler-78b. Credit: David A. Aguilar (CfA)

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.

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Will Curiosity find new clues to ancient Martian habitability, or perhaps even life, at Hematite Ridge?

Hematite ridge, as seen from near Curiosity's landing site, a few kilometres away. Credit: NASA / JPL-Caltech / annotated by A. Fraeman
Hematite Ridge, as seen from near Curiosity’s landing site, a few kilometres away. Click on image for larger version. Credit: NASA / JPL-Caltech / annotated by A. Fraeman

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.

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Amazing view of Saturn from above

Saturn as seen from above by the Cassini spacecraft. Credit: NASA / JPL-Caltech
Saturn as seen from above by the Cassini spacecraft. Click image for larger version.
Credit: NASA / JPL-Caltech / Gordan Ugarkovic

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!

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