Friday, July 14, 2006
MESSENGER had been flying with its back to the Sun since a March 8 “flop,” allowing it to maintain temperatures within safe operating ranges at Sun distances greater than 0.95 astronomical units (1 AU is Earth’s distance from the Sun). Mission plans call for the spacecraft to keep its sunshade facing the Sun for the remainder of its cruise and science orbital operations around Mercury. "Initial indications look very good” says MESSENGER Mission Operations Manager Mark Holdridge, of APL. "Spacecraft temperatures are coming down as expected and all systems and instruments are nominal.” The team will now turn its attention to preparing for the first Venus flyby on October 24.Another Venus probe, this one from the European Space Agency (ESA), has been returning interesting results. Lots of movies on that page, if you care to view. Below, I've clipped images taken about an Earth day apart from high orbit that capture the thick atmosphere's double vortex over the Venusian south pole:
I don't know how this image of Burns Cliff will turn out on my site, but if it's poor, just go to this link with your 3D glasses.
This area of Mars features shield volcanoes. The most well-known shield volcano on Earth is Hawaii's Big Island. Because of the drift of the Earth's crust over interior hot spots, our planet's shield volcanoes manifest as island chains when they pop up from the oceans.
Yellowstone is another shield volcano, and geologists have tracked its progress southwest from Idaho and Washington over the past millions of years. Closest approach to Kansas City will be in another 60 million years or so. Maybe I'd better not wait for Yellowstone to come to me.