Mars Landing Sky Show

Every time NASA lands a rover on Mars–or even makes the attempt–it is cause for celebration. On August 5th, the heavens themselves are aligning to mark the event.

Only a few hours before the Mars Science Laboratory spacecraft Curiosity reaches the red planet and drops Curiosity on a hair-raising descent mission planners have dubbed the “seven minutes of terror,” Mars itself will be put on a special show in the sunset skies of Earth: Together with Saturn and Spica, a blue giant star in the constellation Virgo, the red planet will form a “Martian triangle” visible from almost all parts of our planet.

Satellites See Unprecedented Greenland Ice Sheet Surface Melt

For several days this month, Greenland’s surface ice cover melted over a larger area than at any time in more than 30 years of satellite observations. Nearly the entire ice cover of Greenland, from its thin, low-lying coastal edges to its two-mile-thick center, experienced some degree of melting at its surface, according to measurements from three independent satellites analyzed by NASA and university scientists.

Credit: Science@NASA

Fifth Moon Discovered Around Pluto

A team of astronomers using NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope has discovered another moon orbiting the dwarf planet Pluto.

They say the new moon, Pluto’s 5th, is likely irregular in shape and 6 to 15 miles across. Provisionally designated S/2012 (134340) 1, it was detected in nine separate sets of images taken by Hubble’s Wide Field Camera 3 on June 26, 27, 29, and July 7 and 9. The moon circles Pluto in a 58,000 mile-diameter orbit.

Pluto’s largest moon, Charon, was discovered in 1978 in observations made at the United States Naval Observatory in Washington, D.C. Hubble observations in 2006 uncovered two additional small moons, Nix and Hydra. In 2011 another moon, P4, was found in Hubble data.

In the years following the New Horizons Pluto flyby, astronomers plan to use Hubble’s planned successor, NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope, for follow-up observations. The Webb telescope’s infrared vision will be able to measure the surface chemistry of Pluto, its moons, and many other bodies that lie in the distant Kuiper Belt along with Pluto.

For more information about New Horizons and its mission to Pluto visit

Credit: Science News

NASA Survey Counts Potentially Hazardous Asteroids

Observations from NASA’s Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer have led to the best assessment yet of our solar system’s population of potentially hazardous asteroids. The results reveal new information about the asteroids’ total numbers, origins and the possible dangers they may pose.

Potentially hazardous asteroids are a subset of the larger group of near-Earth asteroids. The PHAs have the closest orbits to Earth’s. They come within about 8 million kilometers (5 million miles) of Earth and are big enough to survive passing through Earth’s atmosphere. PHAs could cause damage on a regional, or greater, scale.

This story is a great extension to NASA Now: Primitive Asteroids: OSIRIS-REx, where Dr. Joseph Nuth discusses a mission to a near-Earth asteroid. This NASA Now program is available on the NES Virtual Campus.

To read more about potentially hazardous asteroids, visit

Hubble to Use Moon as Mirror to See Venus Transit

This mottled landscape showing the impact crater Tycho is among the most violent-looking places on our moon. Astronomers didn’t aim NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope to study Tycho, however. The image was taken in preparation to observe the transit of Venus across the sun’s face on June 5-6.

Hubble cannot look at the sun directly, so astronomers are planning to point the telescope at Earth’s moon, using it as a mirror to capture reflected sunlight and isolate the small fraction of the light that passes through Venus’s atmosphere. Imprinted on that small amount of light are the fingerprints of the planet’s atmospheric makeup.

As the transit of Venus approaches, have your students use transit light curve data gathered by the Kepler mission to calculate the size of planets in other solar systems. To complete this lesson, students determine if these planets are in habitable zones. To gain access to Algebraic Equations: Transit Tracks—Finding Habitable Planets, visit the NES Virtual Campus.

To read more and view Hubble’s images of the moon’s impact crater Tycho, visit:

Astronaut Don Pettit and the ISS Transit of Venus

In 1768, when James Cook sailed out of Plymouth harbor to observe the Transit of Venus in Tahiti, the trip was tantamount to a voyage through space. The remote island had just been “discovered” a year earlier, and by all accounts it was as strange and alien to Europeans as the stars themselves. Cook’s pinpoint navigation to Tahiti and his subsequent observations of Venus crossing the South Pacific sun in 1769 have inspired explorers for centuries.

One of those explorers is about to beat Cook at his own game. High above Earth, astronaut Don Pettit is preparing to photograph the June 5th Transit of Venus from space itself.

ISS Transit of Venus

Credit: Science@NASA

Link to the NES Virtual Campus home page.

Partial Eclipse of the Strawberry Moon

On June 4, 2012, there’s going to be a full moon. According to Native American folklore it’s the Strawberry Moon, so-called because the short season for harvesting strawberries comes during the month of June.

This Strawberry’s going to have a bite taken out of it.

At 3:00 a.m. PDT, not long before sunrise on Monday, June 4, the moon passes directly behind our planet. A broad stretch of lunar terrain around the southern crater Tycho will fall under the shadow of Earth, producing the first lunar eclipse of 2012. At maximum eclipse, around 4:04 a.m. PDT, 37% of the moon’s surface will be in the dark.

Credit: Science@NASA