News from NASA

Published: 29th September 2012 09:30 AM  |   Last Updated: 29th September 2012 09:30 AM   |  A+A-

Viewing Saturn through the telescope is an unforgettable experience. The beautiful rings and the riot of colours that merge into each other is an amazing sight. Imagine, how spectacular the view would be from up close.

NASA’a Cassini spacecraft sent home some pretty pictures of Saturn and its largest moon Titan, in myriad shades. What makes the pictures exceptionally colourful is the change of seasons on Saturn.

 When Cassini reached Saturn eight years ago, Saturn’s northern winter atmosphere was an azure blue. With winter approaching, the planet’s southern hemisphere and summer on the north, there is a reversal in the colour scheme. The blue hue has moved from the north to the south.

Colours and rings are not specific just to Saturn. NASA’s Dawn spacecraft has taken portrait pictures of the giant asteroid Vesta which has its own version of rings and colours on its surface. The colour, scientists say, come from volatile or easily evaporated materials.

 The marks look like potholes from where volatiles, even water, might have been released from hydrated minerals boiled off. The holes from which the water seems to have escaped are, however, as big as 1 km across and as deep as 214 m.

 While Dawn could not find actual water ice at Vesta, there were signs of hydrated minerals that might have been delivered by space rocks or meteorites. These are evident in the asteroid’s geology as well as chemistry. These findings have been published in the latest issue of the journal, ‘Science.’

The findings also confirm the connection between Vesta and a class of meteorites found on Earth called Howardite, Eucrite and Diogenite meteorites that have the same ratio of elements. The Dawn Mission is managed by the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate.

 Meanwhile, studies by another JPL operated mission, the Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer (WISE), has uncovered innumerable brilliant galaxies hidden behind dust in deep space. These have been nick-named hot DOGS, short for ‘dust obscured galaxies.’

 Images from the telescope, taken in 2011, have revealed millions of dusty black hole candidates across the universe and about 1,000 even dustier objects thought to be among the brightest galaxies ever found.

 While the scientists on WISE team are trying to corner the black holes, the Mars rover Curiosity has completed seven weeks of stay on the barren planet. One of the astounding findings is that it has found evidence of a stream that once ran vigorously across the area on Mars where the rover is driving. There is earlier evidence for the presence of water on Mars, but this evidence, images of rocks containing ancient streambed gravels, is the first of its kind.

 Scientists are studying the images of stones cemented into a layer of conglomerate rock. The sizes and shapes of stones offer clues to the speed and distance of a long-ago stream’s flow.

 Last week, Curiosity had managed to get its Alpha Particle X-Ray Spectrometer (APXS) on a small tower at the end of the rover’s seven-foot arm to study Martian rocks. The Chemistry and Camera (Chemcam) instrument, which shoots laser pulses from Curiosity’s mast, has also started assessing what chemical elements are in the rocks.

While all this exciting stuff is happening up there in the sky, on the ground, NASA software for earthquake forecasting and NASA’s first mobile application are co-winners of NASA’s 2012 Software of the Year Award. The award recognises innovative software technologies that significantly improve the agency’s exploration of space and maximise scientific discovery on Earth.


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