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Thursday 7 May 2015

Last of the US-German Moon team dies, and whatever happened to the Jade Rabbit?

The next two weeks are about moving house for me, so the blogging might be a bit patchy. That said.....

Last of the German-US Moon shot engineers dies at 95:

Oscar Holderer, the last surviving member of the engineering team that turned the technology from the  Nazi V2 WMD's towards the peaceful exploration of space, has died from a stroke at the age of 95. A skilled mechanic and engineer, Mr Holderer became a US citizen in 1955, and played a key role in the Apollo Moon landings. My sympathies to his family. More here.

SpaceX succesfully tests the abort motors for its Dragon capsule:

SpaceX passed a milestone on their way to carrying people into space, as they launched the capsule on a short flight and tested the abort motors. These small engines would pull the manned section of the craft clear of the rest of it, in the event of an explosion in the rocket:

The rabbit that won't quit:

Do you remember 'Yutu' (also called 'Jade Rabbit'), the Chinese lunar rover mission that suffered a malfunction and became stuck in one place? Well, as far as I know, it is still alive and sending data, along with the lander it rode down on  -  and  last month a paper was published that I missed, reporting some of its finds (here).
Above: OK, not a rabbit. In fact it's a wheeled, radar scanning, space robot that lives on the Moon. But try making a cool sounding name from that. This view was taken from the lander....
... And this was taken by the rover, of the landing vehicle. The Lander has become a lunar science station since it finished delivering Yutu, using it's UV telescope to observe distant galaxies.
To give you the pithy version: It seems that the soil where Yutu is has the wrong composition, and is too thick, to just be debris thrown up by asteroid strikes. Instead it the soil at Yutu's site was probably  laid down by volcanoes that were still active up until 1.5 billion years ago. That's still a long way into the past, but it's a lot longer lasting than the volcanoes of Imbrium basin next door, and yet more evidence that the Moon was still geologically alive, and perhaps more complex than we'd thought, much later than our theories predicted.

Flow features on Ceres?

Ceres, the dwarf planet the Dawn space probe is currently exploring, is far smaller than our Moon, and should really just be a big chunk of ice with a covering of dust and lots of craters. But the latest images to come back from Dawn show a world covered in features - like gigantic chasms and huge fields of churned up ground - that seem to point to more than just impacts at work on the surface. Most intriguing of all are features that look like they might be due to flows - on icy Ceres this raises the possibility of cryolava. Cryolava is a fancy term for a mix of melting ices boiling out onto the surface, and would be a sign that once Cere's had a subsurface ocean.

Top: The surface of Ceres, battered by craters but also streaked by features that look like canyons, or perhaps even flow features. Bottom: A wider angle image, showing the surface features as part of a full crescent, lit by the distant Sun. Images courtesy of NASA and the imaging Guru's over on unmanned

Lastly, an eagle eyed amateur observer has gone through the latest images and spotted this massive mountain, looming over the Cerean horizon towards Dawn.

Pictures from Mars :

A few snapshots taken by the Opportunity Mars rover as it prepares to enter Marathon Valley (each of these images is linked by the way, so follow them to find higher res versions)....
Above: The view over the Martian Desert. Original image from NASA/JPL, processed by Jan Van Driel of unmanned

Above: This is a weird one spotted by an observant amateur- a rock with a dark crust that seems to have been snapped in two. Definitely not by the rover though, this seems to have been natural break. Courtesy of unmanned

Lastly, here's a beautiful colour view of a distant rock spire, under the pinky-yellow martian sky. Courtesy of NASA/JPL

Saturn's moon play tag in the frozen deeps of space:

Before I go, here's one final thing: An animation , made from images taken the Cassini spacecraft, of the icy moons of Saturn, Tethys and Dione, passing by each other, waaay out in the cold of the outer solar system...

Above: Two worlds, passing each other like ... uh.. massive balls of ice and rock following the effects of gravity and inertia. It's a pretty good view though - and more so when you realise this is something no-one would have even imagined existed for most of human history. Courtesy of NASA/Val Klavans
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