Tuesday, December 21, 2004

Mission Updates-Cool Saturn Picture and Deep Impact Update


Dione and Saturn

Cassini captured Dione against the globe of Saturn as it approached the icy moon for its close rendezvous on Dec. 14, 2004. This natural color view shows the moon has strong variations in brightness across its surface, but a remarkable lack of color, compared to the warm hues of Saturn's atmosphere. Several oval-shaped storms are present in the planet's atmosphere, along with ripples and waves in the cloud bands.

In other interesting Saturn news-

Lightning on Saturn '1m times stronger' than on Earth


FINDING yourself in a thunderstorm on Saturn would be a truly shocking experience, scientists have discovered.

New data from the Cassini spacecraft shows that lightning on the ringed planet is a million times stronger than on Earth. But even terrestrial lightning can deliver between 100 million and one billion volts of electricity.

Scientists compared the strengths of Earth and Saturnian lightning by detecting its radio signals.

Cassini, the NASA probe currently orbiting Saturn, picked up radio signals from Earth lightning as far out as 89,200 kilometres. But as the spacecraft approached Saturn last July, it started detecting lightning signals at a point about 161 million kilometres from the planet.

Dr Don Gurnett, a space physicist from the University of Iowa, said: "This means that radio signals from Saturn’s lightning are on the order of one million times stronger than Earth’s lightning. That’s just astonishing to me."

Some of the signals were linked to storm systems on Saturn observed by Cassini.

And the Latest from the JPL folks, Univ. Maryland and Cal Tech

Deep Impact-NASA Set to Launch First Comet Impact Probe

Launch and flight teams are in final preparations for the planned Jan. 12, 2005, liftoff from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Fla., of NASA's Deep Impact spacecraft. The mission is designed for a six-month, one-way, 431 million kilometer (268 million mile) voyage. Deep Impact will deploy a probe that essentially will be "run over" by the nucleus of comet Tempel 1 at approximately 37,000 kph (23,000 mph).

"From central Florida to the surface of a comet in six months is almost instant gratification from a deep space mission viewpoint," said Rick Grammier, Deep Impact project manager at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL), Pasadena, Calif. "It is going to be an exciting mission, and we can all witness its culmination together as Deep Impact provides the planet with its first man-made celestial fireworks on our nation's birthday, July 4th," he said.

Here are some great animations of the Mission itself and what we will be doing..

The Deep Impact mission will hopefully begin a serious discussion outside of the science and astronomy circles of how we will detect and mitigate deep and near space objects from hitting the planet and ruining everyones day, not to mention the fate of humanity. Stuff like that. Regular readers of this blog (all three of you) know about my borderline (what?) obssession with this subject, but I still feel that the current NASA budget expenditures for the NEO programs are a joke. There is simply no good reason to fund non-NEO related projects such as the Space Shuttle, when we are nowhere near properly or even slightly prepared to deal with mitigating a Near Earth Object. Hopefully all of the press Deep Impact will receive will help push this issue out in the spotlight.

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