Wednesday, March 28, 2007
Monday, March 26, 2007
Alberto Salama, ESA - ISO and AKARI Project Scientist, answered some spacEurope questions on this occasion.
We are seing with AKARI, the unseen, things that escaped observations with other missions, is this true?
What we are seeing is information transmitted to us from the Universe via infrared radiation.
The study of the nebula IC4954/4955 provided a look into the life of three generations of stars. Are they related?
Is there indeed a "family" bond between this stellarbodies?
Take a look at the images of the nebula IC4954/4955 (in the ESA press release). On the left hand side you see arc-like structures, these are formed by a young, massive star (not seen in the image) at the centre of the nebula sweeping the material outward by its strong radiation pressure. Astronomers believe that new stars are formed in such high-density regions.
UGC 05101, an ultraluminous infrared galaxy , is at about 550 million light years in the constellation Ursa Major...How did AKARI revealed us the galaxy's cloud temperature?
What answers are obtained regarding the appearance of galaxies in the Universe by making observations at the 15-micrometre wavelength?
And what can the observations on other wavelengths bring us on this same matter?
Galaxies in which active star formation is taking place emit most of their energy as infrared radiation from the interstellar material heated by the light from the young hot stars. The light observed from the distant galaxies, has long left the galaxies and is stretched (or "red-shifted") due to the expansion of the Universe. This is why it is observed at wavelengths longer than the original emitting wavelengths. Due to the redshift, observations with ESAs Infrared Space Observatory (ISO) revealed that the number of faint, distant galaxies increased drastically when observed at 15 micrometres. The original emitting wavelength was 7 micrometres, approximately 6 thousand million years ago, and has been redshifted to 15 micrometres during its journey across the Universe.This emission feature around 7 micrometres, due to the characteristic emission from organic materials in the interstellar medium, is stronger in regions of active star formation. Thus, the ISO observations of a very small area of the sky containing only 24 galaxies already showed that active star formation took place at this epoch in the history of the Universe. The area observed by AKARI is about three times wider than that of ISO. AKARI detected around 280 galaxies in this region, confirming the increase in the number of galaxies at 15 micrometres implied by the earlier ISO observations. Comparable numbers of even fainter galaxies have been discovered with AKARI, leading to the conclusion that the star formation activity was already intense even earlier than 6 thousand million years in the past. Similar deep surveys over the entire wavelength range (from 2 to 24 micrometres) are being carried out with AKARI. These data will provide a definitive description of the evolution of galaxies over the lifetime of the Universe.
The mission liquid Helium cryogen is expected to last untill September
That's not far...
Are there already any results that we may consider the mission's cherry on the cake?Is there any future pointed observations that you expect with more anticipation before the mission's end?
This post was edited in March 27, 2007 > 13:45
Like a curious child wanting to know what lies behind Titan’s stage, with hands opening the curtains before the show begins, the Cassini-Huygens mission represents our own eyes, our own desire to Know, to reveal, not only the scenary, but the whole play and its characters.
This infant, this Little Prince, not only formulating questions, but also helping to get answers, out of Earth’s boundaries, has many names, people that gave their time and dedication to achieve an out of this world goal, one of them is Ralph Lorenz.
Now, that two years have passed since the Huygens landing, how do you feel about those days of 2005?
I feel immensely proud to have been part of the project, from beginning to end. To have designed and built a little part of Huygens as a student in the 1990s, and then to see it work a billion miles away 12 years later, and analyze the data to learn about a completely new world was just an incredible opportunity. The dedicated and talented group of people from many different countries I got to work with made it an awesome experience I’ll remember forever. I talk in more depth about my experiences throughout the project in my book Lifting Titan’s Veil (Cambridge, 2002) and its sequel Titan Unveiled which will be published at the end of this year by Princeton.
What were, in your oppinion, besides the astounding technical success of landing a man made object on an unknown moon, Huygens major achievements?
It was a major technical achievement for Europe, of course, and set the stage for developments since like Beagle and Exomars. In terms of understanding Titan, the images of the surface showing the unmistakeable evidence of fluvial activity, and the measurements of the gas composition that help us understand Titan’s formation are probably the principal scientific results. We should not forget also that Huygens was designed with relatively little information about the Titan environment (winds, gas composition etc.) so even many of the ‘simpler’ Huygens results like windspeeds are going to be very helpful in designing future missions.
Huygens accomplished its objectives, now Cassini is revealing, little by little, a whole new world, what can we expect from the mission untill its end? The moon's whole mapping? And on the scientific field? What sort of new data can we expect that will help us understanding better Titan?
Cassini may be able to make radar map of about a third of the surface at km-resolution with its extended mission through 2010, but the high resolution multispectral coverage in the near-infrared will be much less – just some selected targets. But we have another 17 flybys to go in the nominal mission, and another 26 after that in the extended mission, so there is still a lot of good science to come. Seeing how Titan’s atmospheric circulation (and the clouds and rain in particular) change as we get to the northern spring equinox in 2009 will be very exciting.
Regarding latest announcements of lakes and now seas, is it already possible to have a global sense to what are we seing?
What is really interesting is the diversity of Titan – that the low latitudes (a mix of mountainous terrain and vast fields of sand dunes) are very distinctive from the polar regions, which have lakes and seas. The landscape is of course influenced by the atmosphere – perhaps more profoundly than we expected. It makes it obvious that Titan has to be understood as a complex system – no part of it is in isolation – everything affects everything else.
I have to make this one, what would our eyes see if we were standing at the shore of one of those lakes? Would we see any movement? Waves? In what sort of ground would we be stepping on?
That’s like asking ‘What is it like to stand on the surface of the Earth’. I am sure the answer depends on exactly where you happen to be.
For lakes/seas generally there are probably changes on several timescales. First, at least small waves (propagating in slow motion in Titan’s low gravity) should be formed, even by Titan’s gentle winds. In fact I did some wind tunnel experiments a few years ago with a tray of kerosene to see how wave generation by wind in hydrocarbons might be different from waves in water – the thicker atmosphere on Titan also makes wave generation easier. Second, if you can wait a couple of weeks, you might see the sea level go up and down by a meter or so (depending on where the sea is and how big) due to Saturn’s gravity. It may be there are seasonal changes in lake level due to rainfall and evaporation as well – if so there may be overturn (as seen in some lakes on Earth), stirring up of sediment, and so on.
The ground at the edge of lakes might be a lot like the Huygens landing site – ‘wet sand’ (well, ice or organic sand made wet with liquid ethane and methane!) but probably without the rounded cobbles and boulders – the Huygens site was more like a river bed showing evidence of transport and removal of material, whereas the lakes are more depositional. But some of the radar images of the lakes show some steep slopes at the edge of some lakes, so there might also be cliffs.
Before this mission, our idea of Titan was quite different, we know now that even dunes exist there...
What are the major surprises once hidden behind the veil and now revealed?
The diversity of Titan’s surface, and the menagerie of different clouds types and so on really is remarkable, and probably surprising even to me (although with a little thought the surface diversity maybe not a complete surprise – I suggested in Lifting Titan’s Veil that Titan might be a wide world too, with areas like many different areas on Earth…) The vast sand seas of dunes were a genuine surprise, though.
I expected to see more impact craters – the fact that other processes have obliterated these is very interesting. The balance of liquid and solid organic material on the surface has also been a surprise – made manifest in the sand seas.
One of the questions arousing is if the lakes are filled or not, in this paper, it is pointed out that the backscatter values are not untypical for dry, flat areas on Earth" and "consistent with asphalt surfaces".
There is also referred that this may not be a proper analogy to Titan, so...if the lakes dried out what can we be looking at?
The lakes we found near the poles are much, much darker than either the dunes or the dark spots seen in the earliest radar observations further south (to which the paper refers). In as much as asphalt is an organic solid, it may not be too bad an analog after all for a dried lake bed on Titan.
Seasonal changes, remarkable differences from one pole to the other.
Are we facing a planetary body as dynamic as Earth itself?
This is a very interesting question. In an energetic sense, no – there is much less sunlight and geothermal heat on Titan to drive meteorological and geological processes than there is on Earth. But interestingly, Titan is made of much more volatile materials – ice rather than rock, methane rather than water, and these materials need less energy to move around or be evaporated or melted or whatever. And so this compensates for the lower energy – thus in a landscape evolution sense, Titan is indeed very dynamic.
Another aspect is the weather. There is only enough sunlight to drive about 1cm per earth year of methane rainfall on average on Titan (compared with about 1m of water rain on Earth per year.) But on Titan, with its thicker atmosphere that can hold a lot of moisture, rainstorms may be very rare (as are Titan’s clouds, compared with Earth’s) but very violent. And so even though the average rainfall is small, we still see a landscape shaped by rain and rivers.
It is clear we can learn a lot about the processes that shape the Earth by studying how they are taken to extremes on Titan. Titan is a great laboratory – for geophysics and meteorology as well as organic chemistry.
Athena Coustenis, on a previous post talked about a project being developed to be presented by the end of June, and which goal is to return us to Titan in 2020-2025.
I would like to ask you if you are envolved in this project in particular or in another one with the same goals?
ESA is soliciting ideas for future mission as part of its Cosmic Visions programme. I have worked on several Titan mission studies in the past, and Athena has been a dear colleague of mine for over a decade and a half, so of course I am contributing some thoughts to this effort, at least informally.
Balloons, surface probes...What do you think it would be the most valuable approach to earn the more knowledge as possible in a single mission from Titan? Are you working on the development of new technology regarding this particular approaches?
There is presently a study underway to develop a mission concept for NASA (separate from the ESA Cosmic Visions effort above) which I am involved in as co-chair of the Science Definition Team and Study Scientist. It is obvious that landers, balloons and orbiters all address different aspects of the Titan system – for example, the material that makes the dunes probably starts its formation process up at 1000km altitude where Cassini has already found large molecules, perhaps to be brought down through the polar stratosphere where Cassini sees the strange winter polar hood and ethane clouds, and then lakes on the surface where maybe it dries up to form sand. So to understand the system as a whole, we may need all of these platforms together.
Let us dream a little, what future do you foresee for the exploration of Titan?
Titan is a very rich scientific target – lots of complex organic chemistry, a diverse Earth-like landscape and earth-like weather – these in addition to all the icy satellite geophysics it shares with other bodies like Europa. It is also very easy (comparatively) to explore –no hazardous radiation, and the thick atmosphere makes it easy to deliver exciting capabilities there – aerocapture for orbiters, easy soft-landing by parachute, and of course things like balloons or aeroplanes. These technological factors as well as the obvious scientific and public appeal make it, I think, inevitable that we will return to Titan soon.
Thursday, March 22, 2007
More at ESA.int
Dr. Brekke, I believe you must be quite satisfied with the sharpeness and quality images provided by Hinode...
Yes, it really shows that the instrument teams have done a great job designing and building them.
It was said that the Sun's magnetic field is much more turbulent and dynamic than we we were aware of.Was this a complete surprise? Wasn't there not even a slight suspicious?
You are right. I will say that it was with the launch of SOHO that we really got to see the dynamic aspect of the solar atmosphere.
And early on in the SOHO mission we noticed that we did not resolve all the dynamics due to lower time resolution compared to Hinode.
What are your specific responsabilities as Senior Advisor within the Hinode mission?And what does this participation mean to the Norwegian Space Center?
Actually, I am not a senior advisor for Hinode. [OK, my mistake...]
I am the programme manager for the Norwegian participation in the mission. Norway is providing data downlink at our Svalbard station - the only satellite station that can all of the 15 orbits each day of Hinode.
In addition we built the European Data center in Oslo to distribute the scientific data. All this was done under a contract with ESA.
Our (NSC) involvement in Hinode, in particular the Data Center means that Norwegian scientists will be very close to the data stream and have better access to the data than others. This makes it attractive for new students to get involved.
So it will be a nice boost for our scientific groups.
It is referred in the latest news that we are closer to understand space storms...How do they evolve in the interplanetary space?
I do not think Hinode can answer how they evolve in Space.
It can give many answers to how and why things "explodes/erupts". The mechanisms. And maybe we in the future can predict such eruptions. The NASA mission Stereo is designed to studye how solar storms evolve on their way towards the Earth.
This is a mission where everyone seems to make part of. How do you see such a wide cooperation between so different agencies?
Its very positive, and also the only way to go.
The reason is that very often single agencies do not have money to build large complex mission alone, so international collaboration is much more common.And it brings together engineers and scientists from many different countries...which is very positive.
Wednesday, March 21, 2007
"This Tripartite Space Dialogue was set up at the St Petersburg Summit in May 2003, when the EU and Russia decided to create four ‘common spaces’ in the framework of the EU/Russia Partnership and Cooperation Agreement: common economic space; freedom, security and justice; cooperation in the field of external security; as well as research and education. The agreement was subsequently signed at the Moscow summit in May 2005. Within the Common Economic Space, cooperation in space was identified as a priority sector."
Click here to watch animation.
More at ESA.int
Monday, March 19, 2007
"To enter the SUCCESS contest European university students were challenged to think of original ideas for an experiment to fly on the International Space Station (ISS). Over 80 entries were received from all over Europe, with proposals covering a wide variety of fields, ranging from the classical life and physical sciences, to interior design and advanced robotics."
"A scientific jury selected three prize winners, with the first prize going to an investigation into cosmic radiation proposed by Norwegian student Haakon Lindekleiv."
"Lindekleiv's prize is to spend one year working at ESA's research and technology centre, ESTEC, in Noordwijk, the Netherlands, where he will prepare his experiment for flight on the ISS."
More at ESA.int
Optical images (which are sharper than X-ray images) of SN1987A have revealed the existence of bright rings around the exploded star. They were formed before the explosion during the development of the progenitor star: from a stellar wind or other kind of mass ejection, the details are not yet understood.The X-ray emission we see now originates from the shock wave crossing the inner ring heating the ring matter.
The brightness was slowly increasing as long as the shock wave was inside the inner ring, heating matter of lower density. When the shock wave entered the denser matter in the ring the increase in brighness became faster.
Is it possible to predicts its future under the observation of its brightening "progression"? SN1987A will keep on brightning untill when and what will happen next and in what timescale?
As soon as the shock wave passes the innermost (densest) parts of the ring, the increase of the brightness will become slower again (this is in fact already indicated by the last XMM-Newton observation as the detailed quantitative analysis shows). How it further develops, depends on the exact distribution of matter in the ring. At some point it will reach constant (for yearly time scales) level as is the case of typical supernova remnants. On time scales of ten-thousands of years the remnant will then cool and fade away.
Is SN1987A a unique known case with this caractheristiques at the range of study?
More about XMM-NEWTON at ESA.int
Friday, March 16, 2007
The topic was presented by the Portuguese Astrobiology Working Group. PAWG is currently studing the 'Mars Exobiological Potential' as part of the MAGIC project (Mars Atmospherical Geophysical and ExobIological Characterisation), financed by the FCT (Fundação para a Ciência e Tecnologia) and with the Recognised Cooperating Laboratory status for the Mars Express mission. The group, coordinated by Prof. Maria Eugénia Webb, the Portuguese representative at the European Astrobiology Network Association.
It was on the behalf of the PAWG that Susana Direito, from the Faculdade de Ciências e Tecnologia, Universidade Nova de Lisboa, kindly answered some spacEurope questions.
Your research derives from a premise inverse to the one adopted on Earth...it deals with searching oil to find life and no to dizimate it...
Yes, effectively. It is my oppinion that we must invest more and more on alternatives to the use of oil as fuel.
The search for oil on Mars must be done, exclusively, on a astrobiological and scientific point of view.
What might the consequences be, for a future exploration of Mars, if studies provide proofs of the existence of oil reservoirs?
If such happens then the key word will be “caution”. As in other space missions “caution is fundamental, because there will always be a contamination problem.
Every mission being planned will need to be ver well thought.
Any promising results so far? Are there specific locations as serious candidates?
It is a very promising hypothesis because a deep study of the planet was undertaken.
The candidate locations are the areas where we can find dark streaks and dark features.
The choice of one of them as a target for a potential mission depends on the technical means available and the terrain caractheristiques.
You have made reference to the use of MOC and MGS images in your study, could you be more specific and tell us which?
One example is the following image:
The dark features you made reference to are not comparable to dune fields such as El Dorado...how is the distinction made?
The dark slope streaks to which I make reference are as the one in the image example, differencing itself from the surrounding terrain due to its darker tone and appearing like liquid flows.
Could you resume how does oil acts on ice and what are the results, in comparative terms, on Mars?
The performed study was on a aspect/configuration level, this means that it was compared the aspect and configuration of terrestrial oil on ice with some images obtained on the martian south pole.
What are the instruments onboard Mars Express useful for your project?
The Planetary Fourier Spectrometer (PFS) onboard Mars Express was very useful, because it was through it that Formisano ad its team detected methane on the martian atmosphere.
The detection of this hydrocarbon is of great importance because on our planet, beyond the capability of metanogenic extremophiles to produce it it can be also related with the production of hydrocarbonates on sedimentary basins, because methane is often generated and stowed in sedimentary rocks associated to gas and oil deposits.
I don’t know if you have read the small spacEurope Q’n’A with Giovanni Picardi where he alludes to the possibility of present liquid water extensions detection.
Were you aware of this and which are the direct implications to your work?
Yes, I was already aware of that.
The existence of liquid water only comes in support of our hypothesis.
Water in liquid state is one of the prerequisits for the existence of life.
What distinguishes the dark streaks you mention from dust devils trails or from the gullies where recently alterations attributed to water were detected?
The dark slope streaks observed are different from the gullies or dust devils trails.
They tend to look like liquid flows and present a darker colour than its surroundings.
From the study we have done on Mars history and processes, we propose that this dark streaks might be oil seeps or mixtures of water and oil emerging to the surface.
We think that this seeps are not just water because liquid water wouldn’t persist such an amount of time on the martian surface, this would freeze due to the low temperatures or it would evaporate immediately as consequence of the low atmospheric pressure.
What happens is that this dark streaks stay for a longer period of time, persisting for many years, getting lighter with the passage of time.
We explain this event with the fact of oil, being a viscuous and sticky substance, easily attracts lighter color dust.
Equator, South Pole...
There is not a specific region, can Mars be an immense oil reservoir?
Would a discovery of that nature point out to a gigantic mausoleum of a planet thriving with life in the past?
Oly further investigations will be able to answer that question.
But I point to the fact that martian oil might had an abiogenic origin.
As astrobiologist you had to study also geology, in particular ancient tectonic processes that took place on Mars. How is it like to deal with that interdisciplinarity?...
I think that it was easy to deal with and, as with any researcher or student moved by curiosity, everything becomes more easy and interesting.
The MAGIC project envolves several different components.
In which manner do the other parts help in your particular study?
As we use to say, the parts make the whole. Interdisciplinarity is really important.
Could you explain me what are the advantages for the MAGIC project of having the RCL status?
I believe that the fact of being attributed by ESA, an instituion with such a high prestige speaks for itself.
Its the first time that Portuguese institutions are envolved in a project of this nature with the European Space Agency and it is also the first time we have the RCL status in Portugal.
You are also active part of the Extreme Database project.
What is the objective? Know where to look for life on Mars? Possible use on an eventual future Terraforming process?
The objective is to make available the more information as possible about this extraordinary microorganisms in order to anyone interested ad with the more distinct objectives (Terraforming, search for life on Mars, etc) can obtain informaion on a quick way, having access to the bibliographic references.
Who consults the database?
Astrobiologists, biologists and whom might be interested in the subject.
From all the organisms present there might there be the possiblity of some being, in fact, martians?
The panspermia possiblity can not be ruled out, it wouldn’t be certainly impossible that a martian meteorite could have transported life to Earth.
There is a lot of studies about the Rio Tinto, are organisms like those, in reality, the most serious candidates to be our red planet neighbours?
Do you discard the possiblity of more developed organisms?
I believe that, actually, if Mars sustains forms of life this will surely be microscopic or, at least, not visible in the images we have actually available from Mars.
The extremophiles are good candidates.
As astrobiologist how are your optimism levels regarding finding life beyond Earth, taking into account the latest missions?
My optimism levels are high. For example, the discovery of oil on Mars would be a good sign.
In a time that we ear so much about Titan, Enceladus, Europa, on the hypothesis of comets being carriers of life...are you envolved in other projects that dedicate to other bodies besides Mars? What are you developing in terms of future work?
At the moment the PAWG is envolved only in this project, but we would be very pleased to participate in other projects or cooperations with different institutions if proposals are presented to us.
If you could decide what should the next mission target be...where would you send it and with which goals?
I would send a mission to Mars to continue a focused search to the sites were the probability of existing life is higher such as the Martian subsurface. And to investigate if this seeps are really oil and its origin, I mean, if it is biogenic or abiogenic.
Its goal is to explore the planet closest to the Sun, a location that represents a major challenge in both technical and scientific fields.
Each of the spacecraft have clearly defined objectives, MPO will dedicate to the study the surface and internal composition of the planet, and the MMO will study it’s magnetosphere.
Obtaining more knowledge about Mercury will, undoubtfuly lead to a better understanding of the formation of Solar System itself.
When Bepi-Colombo arrives, in August 2019, it will return data that will help us knowing not only about the targeted planet but also about the processes envolved in the formation of inner planets in general, and that includes our own Mother Earth.
Facing temperatures temperatures as high as 350 °C, the mission will collect information during its 1 year nominal mission from September 2019 until September 2020, with a possible 1-year extension to September 2021.
Jan van Casteren, ESA BepiColombo Project Manager, gives us some clews about the mission’s concept and its ambitious goals.
BepiColombo comprises two orbiters.
Why isn't possible to accomplish the objectives with a single one?
In which diferes their orbits?
BepiColombo wants to do a comprehensive exploration of Mercury, that is on one hand a global mapping of the planet surface and study of its interior and on the other hand the study of Mercury's magnetosphere. A two spacecraft approach, with different orbits, provides an excellent means to satisfy these mission objectives. The Mercury Planetary Orbiter (MPO) is optimised for the remote sensing and is nadir pointing in a low orbit of 400 km x 1500 km to provide high resolution observations. The Mercury Magnetospheric Orbiter is optimised for the study of the magnetosphere in an orbit of 400 km x 12000km. Both orbits are polar orbits, allowing full coverage also at the polar regions.
What will be the trajectory towards Mercury?
Similar to the one followed by the Messenger mission?
Regarding this one what are the differences and advantages of the BepiColombo mission?
The journey from Earth to Mercury will be a first. The launch with Soyuz Fregat from CSG Kourou is into geostationairy transfer orbit. Using chemical propulsion, the Mercury Composite Spacecraft will be boosted to the phasing orbit where it will meet the Moon to give it a slingshot into its interplanetary trajectory. The spacecraft must brake against the Sun's gravity, which increases with proximity to the Sun, rather than accelerate away from it, as is the case with journeys to the outer Solar System. BepiColombo will accomplish this by making clever use of the gravity of the Moon, Venus and Mercury itself and by using solar electric propulsion (SEP).
In terms of propulsion it will be used a similar concept to the one used by SMART-1, this includes ion engines. Could you be more specific on how will the mission arrive and execute its tasks under this point of view?
The SMART-1 mission has used ion engines with a specific impulse of about 1500 s. Due to the very large velocity increment required for BepiColombo, a superior performance is demanded, namely 4600 s. This performance can only be achieved with gridded ion engines, for which there are two candidate manufacturers in Europe: EADS Astrium (D) and QinetiQ (UK).
In what consists the Weak Stability Boundary Capturing technique that will be used for the first time?
Mercury will be approached such that the composite spacecraft will just arrive within its gravitacional influence sphere in a highly eccentric orbit that has an apogee of approximately 100,000 km.
"Most of ESA's previous interplanetary missions have been to relatively cold parts of the Solar System. BepiColombo will be the Agency's first experience of sending a planetary probe to very 'hot' regions."
What are the major challenges for an innovative mission like this one?
Qualification temperatures, depending on the item, go up to temperatures between 250 and 350 deg C. Dedicated technology development activities were started a few years ago to prepare for the mission.
BepiColombo is also ESA's first mission in cooperation with Japan.
How are the parts dealing?
JAXA is the responsible for MMO but the Japanese instruments counted also with European contributions...
In which percentage is ESA investing on the mission?
With two spacecraft, BepiColombo is a large and costly mission - it is one of the 'cornerstones' in ESA's long-term science programme. The cost to ESA is 665 Meuro. ESA's responsability is to provide the overall mission design, the MPO spacecraft, the electrical and chemical propulsion module, the integration and test, the launch, the cruise operations and the MPO operations at Mercury. The mission is implemented in collaboration with JAXA, who will provide the MMO and its operations at Mercury.
Besides scientific results what benefits might a mission like this one bring to common citizens? What should be BepiColombo flag near European taxpayers?
BepiColombo will give European scientists a leading edge in planetary science and with its high technology spacecraft, may inspire a "can do" attitude in Europe. Mercury still is the least known planet in the inner solar system and its precise characterization is long overdue.
Here you can consult, kindly provided by Jan van Casteren, a mission timetable untill its launch.
More at ESA.int
"The amount of water trapped in frozen layers over Mars' south polar region is equivalent to a liquid layer about 11 metres deep covering the planet. This new estimate comes from mapping the thickness of the dusty ice by the Mars Express radar instrument that has made more than 300 virtual slices through layered deposits covering the pole. The radar sees through icy layers to the lower boundary, which in places is as deep as 3.7 kilometres below the surface."
Wednesday, March 14, 2007
"While there is no definitive proof yet that these seas contain liquid, their shape, their dark appearance in radar that indicates smoothness, and their other properties point to the presence of liquids. The liquids are probably a combination of methane and ethane, given the conditions on Titan and the abundance of methane and ethane gases and clouds in Titan's atmosphere."
"This image (click to enlarge) is the extract of a larger panoramic view of Titan obtained by Cassini's radar instrument during a near-polar flyby on 22 February 2007, and shows the largest lakes observed by Cassini’s radar to date.
The largest lake – at least 100 000 square kilometers - covers a greater fraction of Titan (0.12 percent of its surface) than the largest terrestrial inland sea, the Black Sea (0.085 percent of the Earth’s surface)."
Tuesday, March 13, 2007
The instrument is also able to perform geologic probing of Mars subsurface and to characterize it by using large scale altimetry.
Mars ionosphere sounding is another secondary scientific goal by globally measuring the ionosphere electron density and investigating sun and the solar wind on the electron density.
Since the mission start, MARSIS has retrieved precious information, giving us a new insight of Mars, revealing a new look towards the past of the Red Planet, finding evidence for large aquifers on early Mars or discovering a new layer in Martian ionosphere just to use two examples.
Dr. Picardi, what activities is, currently, MARSIS performing?
MARSIS is currently taking data for subsurface sounding as well for ionosphere sounding.
According to the latest buried crater findings might the finding of bodies of water become harder to achieve in the North hemisphere?
Presently INFOCOM is working on MARSIS data inversion process to determine the dielectric constant of the subsurface detected interface. The first results have been obtained on flat surface to avoid the clutter presence as well the surface and subsurface behaviour that can jeopardize the accuracy on the estimated dielectric constant. In the north hemisphere few areas exhibit suitable characteristics for the data inversion.
Is it possible to say that the North was similar to the South in the past? More heavily cratered? Is there a way to know if this might of cyclical nature?
Will the Southern Hemisphere become smoother?
This is a question whose answer should be stated by the geologist expertises. By the radar point of view the south pole surface is smoother than north pole area.
Regarding latest fresh gullies finding by NASA's MGS did MARSIS performed localized observations? Any results so far?
Not yet MARSIS data have been inverted on these areas.
Is it possible for MARSIS to "see" what lies beneath Elysium's frozen ocean or does the thickness of this one surpasses the capabilities of the instrument?
There is not any technical reason for limiting the MARSIS capabilities excluding the depth of the interface and its dielectric constant. Stated in other words depends from the first layer attenuation and from the reflectivity of the subsurface.
Elysium was a major finding, were there large concentrations of water founded?
The inversion has not be yet performed on this area.
And liquid water? Do we have answers to where it might be?
MARSIS data inversion on the south pole has found compatibility with water dielectric constant. According to the geologist opinion in many areas at medium latitude could be possible to find subsurface water traces.
One of the objectives is to provide a 3D topographic map of the poles, was this already performed? What might we earn from it?
Actually has not yet been performed.
And about solar wind interaction. Are there already answers?
The solar wind interacts with Mars ionosphere and MARSIS is able to recover the distortion due to the ionosphere interaction with the electromagnetic pulses by contrast technique.
And on one of the parameters for the ionospheric sounding data processing, temperatures, any conclusions so far?
By the radar point of view the ionosphere parameters have been estimated by the surface signal and compared with the active ionosphere sounding data.
What will MARSIS provide us in the current year?
More wide area investigation in order to determine the subsurface dielectric constant to help the geologist on the interpretation of the Mars geological history.
The presented images had a 5km/pixel resolution, what is the planned image resolution for close views of 67/P Churyumov-Gerasimenko?
What are the planned observations for the Earth flyby?
Not yet, probably CO2 and H2O clouds mixed with dust.
High altitude haze.
Monday, March 12, 2007
As in the majority of the cases, no news is always sign of...good news...
I asked Dr. Fridlund, the mission Project Scientist, about the workload and the apparent silence around COROT, kindly he, once more, provided a quick update to tell us what’s happening.
“Basically the spacecraft is collecting excellent data and we are all of us very busy with the preparation for taking care of it (development of software, preparation of supporting observations, etc).
The only news at this time is that all systems are working beautifully.
It will be some months till you hear from us about science results however, but it was always planned this way, we needed real data before we could develop the necessary tools since nobody did this before.”
This were the words from Athena Coustenis (LESIA- Observatoire de Paris, Huygens DISR co-investigator) that gave me some serious goose bumps... “an exciting project that will take a lot of work and preparation and imagination of new technologies”.
Such proposal, that has to be ready for the end of June, presents a fantastic scenario for near future space exploration, my first thought it was that was going to be a mission fully dedicated to Titan but the astronomer answer was able to provide me a even larger smile...
Titan and... "Enceladus. We'll study surfaces and atmospheres, from all aspects including the astrobiological point of view...”
And if you’re thinking we’re just talking about orbiters here...
“Balloon, + probes on the surface + orbiter . Many options are considered and we'll have to study several scenarios. The aim is to bring in completely new technology since the launch won't be before 2020 and perhaps as late as 2025, if the mission is selected this round.”
This new technology issue also makes it impossible to see this happening sooner, of course we all would love to see this mission within 5, 10 years but the question is “if you want to have new technology and the time to put such an ambitious mission together” not even a major discovery made under Cassini's fly-bys that would alter this conditions.
We are seeking to reach not only Titan’s surface but also Enceladus appears as a strong possiblity, with concrete and hard work being developed right now to accomplish it.
Titan and its methane domains, lakes and riverbeds, misteries and dreamed acetylene icebergs, hydrocarbon rains and gargantuan clouds, Enceladus and its surface diversity, its fissures and plains, its plumes rising telling an enticing story...
Presenting the project is not only the Huygens team but also a future generation of space explorers “I have people from Huygens, from Cassini and younger people who'll bear the project in the long term”, and this ones? Which missions will they leave for their successors?...
Asked about the nature of the mission, if it will be entirely developed by ESA or a, as Cassini-Huygens, cooperative one, Athena Coustenis was clear: “Both are possible, but I much prefer a cooperation mission (with NASA, JAXA, etc.)”
You, foreseing the worlds to come, sailors of the unknown, explorers of the distant moons...
The future is being build today. The stepping stones for the tomorrow’s amazement are being carried by our contemporaries for future generations to evolve and rejoice with Mankind’s ability to weave its roads towards the beyond.
Each mission, each image, each single bit of data was precedeed by the work of hundreds of dedicated people, at a same time scientists and clairvoyants...
Today, a legion of scientists work under this premisses to build-up a mission that will only eventually lift-off, leaving Earth’s boundaries, in 2020 or 2025...
Some of them, some of us, won’t probably see the result of their enormous task but that won’t prevent them from thinking, drawing, building, testing...dreaming!