Photo: Nintendo halloween pumpkins.
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NASA spacecraft healthy after comet encounter.
NASA preparing for comet encounter this weekend
Comet Siding Spring will be making its closest pass to Mars this Sunday, bringing with it a wealth of information about the formation of our solar system 4.6 billion years ago.
Siding Spring - named after the Australian observatory which first identified it - comes from the Oort Cloud, material left over from the formation of the solar system. It’s thought that the comet has come straight from the Oort cloud, making it the first time it has passed this close to the sun, giving scientists a unique opportunity to observe it and gather data as it passes only 87,000 miles (139,500km) from the surface of Mars. That’s less than half the distance between the Earth and the Moon, and close enough for NASA to decide to ‘hide’ satellites currently orbiting Mars to avoid the trail of debris. Their orbits have been altered just enough to ensure they will all be passing behind Mars at the time the worst of the comet dust is passing, while allowing them to still observe as much of the comet encounter as possible.
NASA has been hard at work repurposing a wide range of spacecraft for this comet encounter, with Mars satellites like the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) - which normally faces down towards Mars - being turned skywards to capture the event. Instruments on Martian soil are also being used to gather data, with cameras on the Opportunity and Curiosity rovers being adjusted to observe the comet.
Images of the comet will be posted in the days and weeks to come, at mars.nasa.gov/comets/sidingspring.
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Saturn’s moon may hide an ocean.
NASA’s Cassini spacecraft has returned data showing that Mimas may contain either a liquid water ocean, or a frozen core shaped like a football. Because the moon formed over four billion years ago, the expectation was that its core would have relaxed into a more or less spherical shape by now. So if Mimas’ core is oblong in shape, it likely represents a record of the moon’s formation, frozen in time.
If Mimas possesses an ocean, it would join an exclusive club of “ocean worlds” that includes several moons of Jupiter and two other Saturn moons, Enceladus and Titan. A global ocean would be surprising, said Tajeddine, as the surface of Mimas does not display signs of geologic activity.
I’m in mission control at NASA/JPL as part of a #NASASocial ! There’s a live stream coming up at 2pm, check it out at
Edit: Predictive text fail! It’s http://www.ustream.tv/nasajpl2
Ready for a big day at the #NASASocial woo hoo!