Space & Planetary Science: December 2004 Archives

Hi-tech dumpsite on Mars

NASA Mars Rover Opportunity Visits its Heat Shield Impact Site (Photo gallery)

"NASA's Mars Exploration Rover Opportunity gained this view of its own heat shield during the rover's 325th martian day (Dec. 22, 2004). The main structure from the successfully used shield is to the far left. Additional fragments of the heat shield lie in the upper center of the image. The heat shield's impact mark is visible just above and to the right of the foreground shadow of Opportunity's camera mast."

Asteroid Impact Preview

Possibility of an Earth Impact in 2029 Ruled Out for Asteroid 2004 MN4

"Over the past week, several independent efforts were made to search for pre-discovery observations of 2004 MN4. These efforts proved successful today when Jeff Larsen and Anne Descour of the Spacewatch Observatory near Tucson, Arizona, were able to detect and measure very faint images of asteroid 2004 MN4 on archival images dating to 15 March 2004. These observations extended the observed time interval for this asteroid by three months allowing an improvement in its orbit so that an Earth impact on 13 April 2029 can now be ruled out."

NOAA Reacts Quickly to Tsunami

"A tsunami is a series of ocean waves generated by any rapid large-scale disturbance of the sea water. Most tsunamis are generated by earthquakes, but they may also be caused by volcanic eruptions, landslides, undersea slumps or meteor impacts."

Editor's note: If you want an idea of what an ocean impact of a small asteroid might look like in terms of the tsunami it might generate, take the time to view the Quicktime animation featured in this NOAA press release.

NASA Cassini Mission Status Report 24 December 2004

"The European Space Agency's Huygens probe successfully detached from NASA's Cassini orbiter today to begin a three-week journey to Saturns moon Titan. NASA's Deep Space Network tracking stations in Madrid, Spain and Goldstone, Calif., received the signal at 7:24 p.m.(PST). All systems performed as expected and there were no problems reported with the Cassini spacecraft."

Crash Site Dead Ahead

NASA Mars Rover Opportunity Approaches Location of Crashed Heatshield

"Having emerged from Endurance crater, Opportunity is now approaching the location where its heatshield crashed almost a year ago."

Opportunity Looks Back at Endurance Crater

Not only did Cassini make a second close pass over Titan on Monday, it also managed to get some great images of Dione - against the backdrop of Saturn - and close up.

For these images and more news concerning Cassini's mission, visit

Editor's note: Can anyone tell me why Spirit is taking hi res pictures of its photovoltaic arrays with its micro imager? [More images]. The detail that some of these self-portraits show is rather astonishing. Is this just about checking dust deposition (and power generation efficiency) or is there a reason why this one particular portion of the PV array is of such great interest?

The Rover's PI and and a scientist at NASA GRC respond to this posting below:

Editor's note: While I am on the topic of Mars rover images, why is it that these pages on the Exploratorium's website for Spirit and Opportunity have image updates multiple times a day - yet NASA's official rover raw image website regularly lags behind the Exploratorium in posting images - often by several days?

3 December 2004: NASA Cassini Image: Thieving Moon - Prometheus and F Ring Interactions

"As it completed its first orbit of Saturn, Cassini zoomed in on the rings to catch this wondrous view of the shepherd moon Prometheus (102 kilometers, or 63 miles across) working its influence on the multi-stranded and kinked F ring."

Editor's note: I responded to an official email from Carolyn Porco, Imaging Team Leader CICLOPS/Space Science Institute Boulder, announcing that this image had been posted on 3 December asking her "This was such a cool image. I noticed it on 31 October and posted it on NASA Watch and SpaceRef - but wondered why no one ever bothered to comment." Porco replied "What's your point? Comment on what?".

Someone needs some sensitivity training with regard to the media - and the general public.

1 November 2004: Small Moon (Prometheus?) Caught in the Act of Disturbing Saturn's F Ring?, NASA Watch

Editor's note: Science Magazine has published a special issue on the results obtained from the Mars Rover "Opportunity". Rather than let the results, and the scientists who have interpreted the rover's data, speak for themsleves, the British (and American) media have decided to whip up some controversy by jumping to conclusions.

2 December 2004: Reports Detail NASA Rover Discoveries of Wet Martian History

"The most dramatic findings so far from NASA's twin Mars rovers -- telltale evidence for a wet and possibly habitable environment in the arid planet's past -- passed rigorous scientific scrutiny for publication in a major research journal. Eleven reports by 122 authors in Friday's issue of the journal Science present results from Opportunity's three- month prime mission, fleshing out headline discoveries revealed earlier."



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This page is an archive of entries in the Space & Planetary Science category from December 2004.

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