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InSight lander’s troubled seismometer passes major test

3 April 2017 Stephen Clark

A balky interplanetary seismic instrument that ran into technical problems in 2015, forcing a two-year delay in the launch of NASA’s InSight lander to Mars, cleared a major test last month after engineers redesigned part of the sensor package, boosting confidence that the mission will be ready to blast off in May 2018.

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Hunt for water at Ceres goes underground

23 December 2016 Stephen Clark

NASA’s Dawn spacecraft has continued its survey of the dwarf planet Ceres this year, discovering rock-bound ice hidden just beneath the airless world’s rugged surface and a handful of icy outcrops inside craters in the northern hemisphere, raising hopes that Ceres could have once held a buried habitable ocean of liquid water.

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Flying observatory SOFIA expanding frontiers in solar system and beyond

16 November 2016 Astronomy Now

NASA’s Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy (SOFIA) is a Boeing 747SP jetliner modified to carry a 100-inch diameter telescope to study the universe at infrared wavelengths that cannot be detected from ground-based observatories. SOFIA’s Science Cycle 5, which runs from February 2017 through January 2018, spans the entire field of astronomy from planetary science to extragalactic investigations.

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Recently active lava flows from volcano Idunn Mons on Venus

19 October 2016 Astronomy Now

Planetary researchers at the German Aerospace Center (DLR) have pushed the limits of the data resolution from ESA’s Venus Express spacecraft. With this new technique, analysis of the top and eastern flank of 200-kilometre-wide volcano Idunn Mons in the southern hemisphere of Venus revealed an indication of geologically recent volcanism in this area.

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Take a colourful virtual flight over dwarf planet Ceres

29 January 2016 Astronomy Now

A new animation showing a simulated flight over the surface of dwarf planet Ceres using images from NASA’s Dawn spacecraft in its high-altitude mapping orbit has been produced by members of Dawn’s framing camera team at the German Aerospace Center, DLR. The movie emphasises the most prominent craters, such as Occator, and the tall, conical mountain Ahuna Mons.

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New names and insights at dwarf planet Ceres

29 July 2015 Astronomy Now

Colourful new maps of Ceres, based on data from NASA’s Dawn spacecraft, showcase a diverse topography, with height differences between crater bottoms and mountain peaks as great as 9 miles (15 kilometres). Some of these craters and other features now have official names, inspired by spirits and deities relating to agriculture from a variety of cultures.

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New contact with intractable comet lander

11 July 2015 Stephen Clark

Europe’s Rosetta comet probe re-established momentary contact with the Philae lander late Thursday, renewing hopes of starting up the craft’s research instruments after two weeks of radio silence dampened the moods of scientists.

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Fly over Ceres in a new video

9 June 2015 Astronomy Now

A new animated video of dwarf planet Ceres, based on images taken from NASA’s Dawn spacecraft’s first mapping orbit at an altitude of 8,400 miles (13,600 kilometres), as well as the most recent navigational images taken from 3,200 miles (5,100 kilometres), provides a unique perspective of this heavily cratered, mysterious world.