The Cosmic Mirror
By Daniel Fischer
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Current mission news: MGS (latest pictures!) + Cassini + Stardust

Machholz glides by the Plejades, displays complex gas tail
The latter was only really fine for electronic imagers only, though: pictures & reports of Jan. 13: Karrer. Jan. 12: James, Mobberley, Jan. 11: Koprolin (anim.). Jan. 10: James. Jan. 9: Broussard, Pikhard & Graf. Jan. 8: Yeom, Jäger & Rhemann, Koprolin, Weightman, Karrer, James, Heinz, Sostero, Pikhard. Jan. 7 (next to the Plejades - the plasma tail cut straight thru them): Gährken (animated!), J&R (!), Seip (in color!) [APOD], Salvato (amazing tail length!), Sostero (also in color!), Pikhard, Dalla Via, Schaller, Dauthel, Holloway. Jan. 6: Karrer (!), J&R (!), Rudz, Dittié, Roerig, Lawrence. Jan. 5: Talwar & Narang, J&R. Jan. 4: Lawrence, J&R, Brückner, Vollmann. Jan. 2: J&R [alt.] (also in color), James. Jan. 1: Candy [labelled], Westlake, J&R [alt]. Dec. 31: Mobberley. Dec. 30: Vollmann. Dec. 28: Broussard. Good sources for current pics: The Astronomer (scroll down), FG Kometen, Gährken. Summary report: Vollmann. Coverage: Science@NASA, S&T (also a Press Release), Alamogordo News, SC.
Update # 285 of Saturday, January 15, 2005
Huygens mission big success - scientists bathe in data! / Deep Impact up, out of safemode! / ATST goes to Maui / How the Quake affected the Earth as a planet

Huygens mission an overwhelming success - scientists bathe in pictures, other data

Loss of one data channel embarassing but no showstopper: All experiments will eventually have most of the expected data - or even more

The triumph is almost perfect, and if a simple human error had not killed one of the two data channels from Huygens to Cassini, there would be nothing whatsoever to complain about: On the other channel every data packet came through, which means that of the 7 experiments of Huygens, 5 got at least all they wanted. From the DISR cameras every other picture is lost, though, because they could not be sent as redundantly as the other data (due to their size), and the Doppler Wind Experiment could not be performed at all because it had relied solely on the lost channel A. Still one has all reason to hope that the DISR team will be able to fill in the gaps in their image panoramas by clever interpolation, and the motion of the Huygens probe in the atmosphere can probably be reconstructed from the worldwide radio telescope tracking to almost the quality wanted. Here, then, is what we learned so far from Huygens' instruments, based on the channel B transmission:
  • The descent from first contact to touchdown lasted 8869.76 seconds or 2 hours and 28 minutes. Huygens impacted with 4.5 m/s and experienced a decelleration of 15 g. The ground is solid but no rock; its mechanical properties resemble wet sand or clay, and there was probably a thin crust.

  • The NIR reflection spectra of the surface can be matched by water ice and additional constituents. Methane must be present in the soil because the impact of touchdown stirred up additional methane (the mixing ratio relative to nitrogen around Huygens went up).

  • The interpretation of the DISR images is tricky, though they have a pretty high contrast when Huygens dipped below 20 km (where a thick haze layer is located). The probe came down in a 'dark' area, but there is also bright material in the vicinity. Speculations about rivers, shores and lakes are just that: first guesses by sleep-deprived DISR scientists ...

  • The atmospheric temperature at the surface is 93.8 Kelvin, but higher up it reaches a minimum that is still 20 degrees lower. Its constituents were measured by several experiments, but the analysis is ongoing. The microphone onboard Huygens worked, and noises during the descent were transmitted (while echoes from the radar system were also sonified).

  • From the observations of Huygens as a faint radio source by as many as 18 radio telescopes around the world it will not only be possible to get most of the Doppler data needed to track wind speeds: It will also be possible to determine Huygens' position in Earth's sky to within 7 to 10 micro arc seconds which corresponds to about 1 km precision on Titan's surface.
Throughout the 14th of January one milestone after another had been passed with flying colors by Huygens, and all key events could be witnessed in real time or almost at the European Space Operations Centre in Germany where a mix of science activities, media events and partying was playing out. ESA clearly lacks the experience in staging evens like this (that one knows from NASA), but everyone at ESOC tried hard: There were plenty of updates at times, though also unfortunate gaps in communicating important events, however many experts made themselves available whenever possible. And the (free) food was excellent ...
  • 9:00 UTC: Festivities begin. Lots of speeches, no information about Huygens' state is available as it hasn't started transmitting yet.
  • 10:25 UTC: The Green Bank Telescope is the first to receive Huygens' carrier; it takes some 15 minutes for this key information to reach everyone at ESOC, where it is greeted by cheers.
  • 12:10 UTC: Titan sets for Green Bank, but some 20 minutes later Parkes picks up the carrier, still going strong.
  • 15:55 UTC: The last time the Huygens carrier is seen in real time by a large telescope (Parkes), but others may have seen it even longer (their data are on the way on disks ...).
  • 16:19 UTC: The first indication in the downlink from Cassini - that has been going on for a while - that the instruments on Huygens have worked; another reason for ovations after several tense moments (the crucial data packets were stuck somewhere between JPL and ESOC). Minutes later the trouble with channel A is noted.
  • 18:27 UTC: The DISR images appear on the computer screens of the team, all at once - a historic moment out of the sight of the world (though yours truly was present). Especially those from low altitude and the ground are very good, as raw as they came.
  • 19:56 UTC: Just one of the images is presented on ESA TV in a bizarre show that borders on parody - and it's not even the most stunning one (namely the one from the ground).
  • 20:18 UTC: In an improvised news conference in the ESOC cafeteria and out of the view of live TV the ground image and a third one are finally shown; the first results from the surface science package are also discussed.
  • 22:00 UTC: The day's wrap-up on ESA TV doesn't add anything new.
  • 10:10 UTC on Jan. 15: At a well-organized news conference a lot of details are discussed and the first panoramas from DISR frames are shown.
It is not clear how the world will learn about further insights that come up during the lengthy analysis of the treasure trove of data Huygens has delivered: More joint news conferences in the near future are unlikely. Perhaps there will be an opportunity at a major planetary science meeting to bring all key players together again (hint: this year's DPS Meeting is in the UK), and there will perhaps be a joint publication of many Huygens papers. Meanwhile an official ESA investigation into the channel A screw-up has been launched, which was apparently caused by someone forgetting to turn on Cassini's receiver. It is the only blemish on a stunning success that has further established Europe's position as a major player in planetary exploration, after Giotto at Halley in 1986 and the ongoing Mars Express mission.

Posted on January 14, 2005, at 15:00 UTC, from an office at ESOC, Darmstadt, Germany

Huygens' carrier seen clearly by radio telescopes; transmission continued for hours from surface!

The mission of the European Huygens probe floating thru the atmosphere of Saturn's moon Titan can already be declared a smashing half-success: We know that the fiery entry into the upper atmosphere and most stages of the descent process, i.e. the dropping of the heat shield and deployment of several parachutes, have worked, but whether any science data was sent to the Cassini orbiter cannot be said yet. For the information on the successful descent is based solely on the reception of Huygens' transmission carrier by several radio telescopes: It was picked up almost immediately after it began (i.e. around 10:20 UTC) by the Green Bank Telescope in W. Virginia, USA, where Titan 'set' at 12:10. About 12:30 the famous Parkes radio telescope in Australia (as well as a smaller one in Tasmania) picked up the carrier again - and it is still being received right now, over two hours after Huygens must have touched the ground (around 12:45 UTC)!

The signal received by the radio telescopes - the Earth's largest - is extremely weak, right at the edge of detectability, and it is not possible to say whether there is information from Huygens' instruments contained. But from the existence of the carrier alone it is clear that the mission was at least a fantastic technical success. There is also some information about the movements of Huygens in the raw (Greenbank) data: At first there were sharp excursions of the frequency, i.e. a strong Doppler effect, perhaps caused by wind gusts; later the frequency was extremely steady. With Huygens still transmitting, Cassini has now turned away (because the probe is setting from its point of view) and towards Earth and will start downlinking the data stream it should have recorded in the past 4 hours.

The first telemetry is expected at 15:21 UTC, but since the recording started well before Huygens started transmitting, the first real data will not arrive until 16:15 UTC. At this very minute a major press conference/party will begin here at the European Space Operations Centre in Darmstadt, Germany, where key ESA and NASA scientists have gathered, together with many hundreds of journalists and guests. By 18:00 UTC or so most data should be on the ground and will be transferred to the scientists from the 7 instruments on Huygens who will assemble the batches and start creating scientific results from it all. The first - rather raw - images from the DISR camera system are to be released around 19:45 UTC. Stay tuned!

Huygens at Titan: picture releases by ESA (earlier) and PhotoJournal views PIA 72... 32, 31, 30.
Blogs & logs of the events as they unfolded by Spaceflight Now, and a Plan. Soc. and FT, WDR and

ESA Releases of Jan. 15 (the first results, also audio files), Jan. 14 (earlier), Jan. 13 (earlier), Jan. 11, Jan. 10, Jan. 9 and Dec. 28, JPL Releases of Jan. 14, Jan. 9, Jan. 7, Jan. 3 and Dec. 30 and other releases by Keck Obs. [SN], NASA and LockMart, BMBF (früher), Uni Bonn, TU Braunschweig and RUB [IdW], the U of A of Jan. 5 and Jan. 4, LLNL and Plan. Soc.

Also Science@NASA of Jan. 12 and Dec. 30, the EVN Newsletter and an ATNF Release previewing the radioastronomical tracking of Huygens and a paper by Kostiuk & al. on Titan's winds.

Cassini pictures # 70 06, 05, 04, 03, 02, 01 (better pic of Huygens leaving), 00, 69 98 (Huygens leaves), 65 62 (Hyperion), 61, 58, 54, 53, 50, 47, 46 (Saturn cloud structures), 45, 44, 61 73, 72 (both showing the DISR FOV), 71 (Iapetus landslide), 70 (Iapetus mosaic), 69, 68, 67, 66 (Iapetus mystery ridge) and 45.

Raw images 26... 409, 394, 392, 384, 360, 338, 332, 259, 245, 210 and 197 (all of Iapetus), 25... 953 771 (all of Dione), early release picture # 1266 (Iapetus)
Coverage of Jan. 15: S&T (by yours truly), Plan. Soc. (sounds), SN, BBC (earlier), HC, FT (earlier), DW, MWC, PA, Guard. (other story), Scotsm., SF Gate (other story), AP, AFP, SC, NZ (früher), Welt.

Jan. 14: SN (earlier, still earlier, even earlier, still earlier, even earlier), S&T, Wired, CNN, Dsc., AFP, SC (earlier), SD (exaggerated as always, but - unfortunately - true in essence ...), ST (earlier), WAA (from an event in Graz),, RP (earlier), NZ (früher).

Jan. 13: S&T, BBC, HC, CSM, Welt. Jan. 12: SN, BBC, FT, AFP, Welt. Jan. 10: SpaceRev (by yours truly!), BBC, S&T, PressCit. Jan. 6: S&T, Plan. Soc., NZ. Jan. 4: BBC. Jan. 2: BBC. Dec. 31: UT. Dec. 29: CSM, BBC. Dec. 27: Guard., BBC, Welt.

Mars Update

Opportunity has investigated her own heat shield in detail and may also have discovered a meteorite. Pictures # 72 63, 56, 24, 23 (heat shield in color), 71 57, 47 (earlier heat shield pix), more Opp. heat shield views (more) and JPL Releases and Status Reports of Jan. 14, Jan. 6, Jan. 5 and Jan. 3 [MER].

Coverage of Jan. 14: New S., Nat. Jan. 13: SC. Jan. 6: Dsc. Jan. 5: FT, Reg. Jan. 4: SF Gate, BBC, HC, CSM, ST, NZ. Jan. 3: FT, SN, Dsc., SD, UPI, SC. Jan. 2: FT. Dec. 31: SC. Dec. 28: SN. Dec. 27: SC. How the MRO is doing: JPL Release. MSL instruments: SwRI Release.

Deep Impact out of safe mode - mission goes ahead!

NASA's Deep Impact spacecraft is out of safe mode, healthy and on its way to an encounter with comet Tempel 1 on July 4. While in the safe mode, the spacecraft successfully executed all mission events associated with commencing space flight operations. Data received from the spacecraft indicate it has deployed and locked its solar panels, is receiving power and has achieved proper orientation in space. "We are out of safe mode and proceeding with in-flight operations," said Deep Impact project manager Rick Grammier of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory. "We're back on a nominal timeline and look forward to our encounter with comet Tempel 1 this summer."

Posted on January 13, 2005

Deep Impact launched, but enters benign safe made shortly thereafter

The quickest and most bizarre comet mission ever is under way: NASA's Deep Impact spacecraft began its 431 million kilometer journey to Comet 9P/Tempel 1 on Jan. 12 at 18:47:08 UTC. Data received from the spacecraft indicates it has deployed and locked its solar panels, is receiving power and achieved proper orientation in space. Data also indicates the spacecraft has placed itself in a safe mode and is awaiting further commands from Earth. According to early reports, the problem is believed to be a non-critical glitch with a temperature sensor; the low-data-rate communications in the safe-mode is hampering efforts to diagnose the problem. Probably the temperature limit for the catalyst bed heaters in the propulsion system was violated by a few degrees after Deep Impact was on its own when the sensor threshold was set to tightly: The spacecraft itself seems to be healthy and the problem easy to fix.

Deep Impact is comprised of two parts, a "fly-by" spacecraft and a smaller "impactor;" the latter will be released into the comet's path for a planned collision on July 4 at around 6:00 UTC (which is actually the evening of July 3 in California & Hawaii from where the impact itself can be observed in the sky). The crater produced by the impactor is expected to be up to football field sized and two to 14 stories deep. Ice and dust debris will be ejected from the crater, revealing the material beneath. The fly-by spacecraft will observe the effects of the collision. The Hubble, Spitzer and Chandra space telescopes, and others on Earth, will also observe the collision. Comets are time capsules that hold clues about the formation and evolution of the Solar System: They are composed of ice, gas and dust, primitive debris from the Solar System's distant and coldest regions that formed 4.5 billion years ago.

The status, KSC (earlier and still earlier), JPL (earlier), UMD [NW], Ball, Boeing and U of A Releases and coverage of Jan. 15: Welt. Jan. 14: ST, Welt. Jan. 13: FT, BBC, Diamondback, Scotsman, RP. Jan. 12: SN, FT, BBC, Dsc., AD, HC, AFP, Guard., SC, ST, NZ. Jan. 11: BBC, Dsc., Diamondback, SC, NZ. Jan. 10: HC, Telegr. Jan. 8: PA. Jan. 6: SN, CSM. Jan. 4: AB. Jan. 1: AP. Dec. 31: Guard.

Swift sees first gamma-ray bursts

The Burst Alert Telescope detected its first GRB on December 17, while the instrument was still being calibrated, followed by three more on December 19 - and the XRT is also alive: NASA and Penn State [SR] Releases, BBC, ST.
FUSE science operations suspended on Dec. 27 when the third of four reaction wheels stopped spinning - the satellite is in a safe configuration: JHU Gazette.

SRTM data all reduced after 5 years!

NASA and the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency have completed Earth's most extensive global topographic map, based on data from the Shuttle Radar Topography Mission (see Update # 177 story 2 and preceding ones): JPL Release, Nat.

Some space & astronomy highlights of 2005

Jan. 12

Launch of Deep Impact, to hit a comet nucleus just 5½ months later Homepage

Jan. 13

Opposition of Saturn

Jan. 14

Arrival of Huygens at Titan, with atmospheric descent and possible soft landing Science@NASA

Feb. 11

Next launch attempt for the Ariane 5 ECA heavy lift version; first one failed in 2002 Homepage

Mar. 1

Launch of Cosmos 1, the first solar sail in orbit, privately financed Updates

Mar. 9

First close Cassini fly-by of Enceladus, more close encounters with Saturn moons, esp. Titan, follow in the coming months Homepage

Mar. 25

Launch of Cryosat, an ESA radar altimetry mission to determine variations in the thickness of the Earth's continental ice sheets and marine ice cover Homepage

April 3

Jupiter in Opposition

April 8

Hybrid Solar Eclipse, total in the South Pacific Special Pages

May 14

First possible Return to Flight of the Shuttle, with mission STS-114 RTF pages


Hayabusa reaches asteroid Itokawa for a fly-by sample return attempt NEO page

July 4

Deep Impact comet nucleus impact and fly-by, respectively Homepage

Aug. 1

MESSENGER Earth fly-by enroute to Mercury Homepage

Aug. 10

Launch of the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, NASA's next Mars orbiter Homepage


First launch of an Automated Transfer Vehicle to the ISS Homepage

Oct. 3

Annular Solar Eclipse, visible from Spain, Africa Map

Oct. 19

Occultation of a very bright star by an asteroid, i.e. Regulus by (166) Rhodope Dennissenko page


Launch of the first Galileo spacecraft for the European navigation system Homepage


Launch of Venus Express, ESA's first Venus mission Homepage

Nov. 7

Opposition of Mars, not as close as in 2003 but at higher declination - closest approach with an angular diameter of 20.2" is already on Oct. 30! Special Pages

Based on the JPL Calendar, an ESA Press Release and the AstroAlmanach

ISS etc. Update

The Progress has docked to the ISS and the food shortage is over, while the first new STS ET has been delivered. NASA Releases of Jan. 6 [SN; w/pix], Dec. 31 and Dec. 28, Science@NASA, PSRD and coverage of Jan. 14: HC, FT. Jan. 10: SpN. Jan. 8: ST. Jan. 7: BBC, FT, ST. Jan. 6: SN. Jan. 5: SN, FT, ST. Jan. 4: SN, FT. Jan. 3: UPI, SpaceRev. Dec. 31: FT, AP. Dec. 30: VoA, AP, ST. Dec. 29: HC, BBC, FT, ST. Dec. 28: FT, AFP. Dec. 25/26: SN, BBC, HC, FT (earlier), AFP, ST, NZ.
The HST crisis - IEEE and CSA Releases and coverage of Jan. 6: ST. Dec. 27: SciAm.

Advanced Technology Solar Telescope goes to Maui

Plans for the world's largest solar optical telescope moved forward Jan. 6 when the board of directors of AURA endorsed recommendations to build the 4-meter ATST at Haleakala, Maui, Hawaii: NSO and IfA Releases, S&T.

A 32 m parabolic antenna in Peru at 3370 m altitude, formerly used for telecommunications, will now become an astronomical instrument: a paper by Ishitsuka & al.

Amateurs detect possible exoplanet ringlike structure

TrES-1's 12th-magnitude host star apparently brightens shortly before and after each transit - such effects had not been seen before in other transiting exoplanets: S&T.

VLT exoplanet image almost confirmed by Hubble - a background object is probably ruled out in the case from Update # 280 story 2 sidebar 1: Hubble, ESA HST and NASA Press Releases, S&T, ST. First search in stellar graveyard yields two possible planets: PSU PR.

Spitzer sees trace of big collision in Vega's dust disk - the IR satellite is witnessing the aftermath of a relatively recent collision, probably within the last million years: JPL Release, PhotoJournal. Gemini discovers evidence for recent planet-forming collisions around Beta Pic: Gemini Release, S&T.

New type of microscopic interstellar dust

The discovery of a new type of microscopic interstellar dust could lead to new ways of quantifying quasars and the amount of light they produce: U Nebraska PR.

Youngest lunar meteorite identified, only 2.9 Gyr old: Univ. of NM PR [SR].

Giant star's corona brightens with age - Beta Ceti has a hot corona that radiates about 2000 times more X-ray power than the Sun: Chandra Release.

Super quake affected Earth as a planet

The planet's rotation axis moved, the period increased, and the body is still ringing: JPL Release, Science@NASA, ANU Press Release, Univ. Bern PM, UAI story (earlier), SD, NZ, Welt, Bild. Tsunami, effects seen from space: Digital Globe gallery and press release, a DLR PM (more), JPL Release, PhotoJournal, Aceh views by Landsat and Ikonos, Welt. What happened: UCSC and GSFC Press Releases, New Sci., Wikipedia. Why tsunami early warning systems are difficult - and what could work: a paper by Fargion, a Uni Bonn PM, ZEIT, Welt, NZ.

Soyuz cosmonaut Strekalov dies

Gennady Strekalov, 64, a veteran cosmonaut who flew five times to space and survived the first Soviet launch pad abort, has died on Dec. 25: CollectSpace.

Russian-launched satellite fails to reach correct orbit

A Russian-Ukrainian earth survey satellite launched on Dec. 24 has failed to reach its planned orbit: AFP, ST.

Delta 4 failure linked to sensor problem - the engines on each of the three common booster core stages shut down 8-9 seconds early when sensors erroneously reported that the stages had run out of propellant: SN (earlier), FT, ST.

Ariane 5 ECA launch attempt confirmed for Feb. 11 - a 'wet rehearsal' was successful: BBC.

Working on Virgin's spaceships in the Mojave desert: BBC, NZ.

Impact risk for 2004 MN4 drops, Torino value one

First the impact probability in 2029 had risen to 2.7%, then new (including pre-discovery) observations removed these and other possibilities, but later a tiny risk for 2053 reappeared: the current SENTRY page, how this risk list looked like on Dec. 27 and Dec. 31, 2004, a NEO Program Office message of (late on) Dec. 27, an MPEC of Dec. 27 and coverage of Jan. 9: Scotsman. Jan. 8: New Sci. Jan. 3: SpaceRev. Dec. 28: S&T, Scotsman, ST. Dec. 27: SC,

The ISS in front of the Moon on Dec. 29 (S. Etienne in S. France). Looking back at 2004: S&T.

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Compiled and written by Daniel Fischer