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Carnival Of Space #74

Thanks to a combination of having a lousy cold that had me shuffling and snuffling around like a cross between Igor and the Creature from the Black Lagoon, and really just not being motivated to write anything on the old site after AOL’s decision to scrap their Journals, I didn’t submit anything for this week’s Carnival of Space, but you should definitely still check it out because, as always, there is some great writing on there. This week’s Carnival – the 74th – is being held at “Kentucky Space”. Go take a look!

Upcoming Outreach talks…

I have a few talks and lectures lined up for the near future. If you’re in the area, come along and say hi! ­čÖé

(click to see full size readable version!)

Phoenix still working away…

To be brutally frank about it, time is now running out for NASA’s Mars Phoenix lander. The hours of daylight available for the lander’s solar panels are shrinking, and those long, endless “Midnight Sun” days are now just a┬ámemory. Now Phoenix sees the Sun setting, plunging her into darkness, and it is getting very, very cold at the landing site. Frost is now forming around her, and the Phoenix team estimate that by the end of November, certainly by the middle of December, Phoenix will have sent back her last image. But we still have some time before then, and the latest batch of images sent back by the polar lander are very nice indeed. I’ve combined three of these Sol 134 (that’s Phoenix’s 134th day on Mars)┬áto make this colour image showing a kind of “spoil heap” of rocks, stones and dirt dumped by the lander’s robot arm scoop…

If you click on that image you will see afull size version. And there are a LOT more like it on my dedicated Phoenix Pictures Gallery, here

Oppy on her way…

The Mars Exploration Rover OPPORTUNITY – or “Oppy” to her legions of friends and followers – is now fairly racing along the western side of Victoria Crater, taking in the last of the sights along the rim before gunning her engine and heading south towards her next (and almost certainly final) goal: Endeavour Crater, which is a 12km and one year plus drive away…

During the past week Oppy passed, and took some pretty gorgeous pictures of, a wide and steep outcrop of rock christened “Cape Victory” by the MER team.

At first glance many people thought “Oh no! We should have driven down to THAT one, instead of Cape Verde!” because the ramp down to the base of the cliff looked flatter and less rubble-strewn than the slope of ‘Duck Bay’, and also the cliff face itself looked a lot more accessible, but hey, hindsight is always 20/20, and when you measure the angle of the ramp it turns out to be a LOT steeper than Duck Bay, so the MER drivers made the right decision there.

Anyway, Oppy is now really powering along, and within a week or so looks likely to leave Victoria Crater behind her for good. So let’s enjoy these last few days at this spectacular, amazing place, then settle down for what will be a long, looooooooooong drive.

MSL Saved… for now..?

Yesterday was a VERY important day for Mars scientists and enthusiasts alike. The next Big Thing for NASA – the almost 1 ton Mars Science Laboratory – is scheduled to be launched next October, but recently the program has had some big problems, financial as well as technical, and there had been rumours during the past week that the axe was about to fall on the mission, or at least its launch would be delayed by years. Yesterday NASA held a meeting to discuss the future of the project, and to try and find a way around its huge budget over-run, and everyone Out Here in space enthusiast land waited anxiously to hear what their decision was – would they delay the launch by a year? Delay it until 2016? Scrap it altogether..?

In the end they decided to stick to the original plan – launch next Ocober – and basically just “find the money from somewhere”. So, MSL has been saved, at least for now. Where’s that extra money going to come from tho? Well, other NASA programs, so there will be casualties somewhere.

You can read a LOT more information about this in a great report by The Planetary Society’s Emily Lakdawalla’s blog.