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Monthly Archives: May 2014

From a European Space Agency (ESA) press release, May 16. 2014:

After eight years in orbit, ESA’s Venus Express orbiting mission has completed routine science observations and is preparing for a daring plunge into the planet’s hostile atmosphere. Its suite of seven instruments have provided a comprehensive study of the ionosphere, atmosphere and surface of Venus.

Credit: ESA, C. Carreau

Credit: ESA, C. Carreau

The spacecraft’s fuel supplies, necessary to maintain its elliptical orbit, are running low and will soon be exhausted. The routine science operations concluded this week and the spacecraft is being prepared for one final mission: to make a controlled plunge deeper into the atmosphere than ever before attempted.

This experimental ‘aerobraking’ phase is planned for June 18 – July 11, during which time some limited science measurements with the spacecraft’s magnetic field, solar wind and atom analyzing instruments will be possible. Also, temperature and pressure sensors will record the conditions that the spacecraft experiences.

It is possible that the remaining fuel in Venus Express will be exhausted during this phase or that the spacecraft does not survive these risky operations. But if the spacecraft is still healthy afterwards, its orbit will be raised again and limited operations will continue for several more months, fuel permitting. However, by the end of the year, it is likely that Venus Express will have made its final descent into the atmosphere of the planet, bringing a fantastic scientific endeavor to an end.

Links: ESA press release; link to aerobraking movie (approx 1 min 30 s).



One of the key goals of NASA’s Science Mission Directorate (SMD) is to make its discoveries and missions accessible to a wide range of educators, students, and the public. The working group has commissioned two annotated resource guides from veteran astronomy and space-science educator Andrew Fraknoi (Foothill College) that address these two issues. One examines the contributions to astronomy by cultures outside of Europe and the U.S mainstream. The other looks at the contributions of women to astronomy, plus the barriers women have faced and the progress they have made in becoming equal partners in the enterprise of astronomical research.

The two guides include material that can be used by instructors to make lectures and class activities more inclusive, as well as readings and videos that students can use for projects and papers. The materials are mostly non-technical, so they can be used by a wide range of non-science students taking general education courses in the sciences, including those in public community and state colleges, where many future K-12 teachers begin their education.

Instructors and professors who teach such courses often don’t receive much training in taking a multi-cultural perspective and sometimes don’t have many role models who are not white males. These resource guides will allow them to highlight more of the contributions of women and underserved minorities in their classrooms.

This work was led by the Heliophysics Forum (formerly the Sun-Earth Connection Forum), co-led by Multiverse (formerly the Center for Science Education) at the Space Sciences Lab at the University of California at Berkeley.

Links: Unheard Voices part 1: The Astronomy of Many Cultures; Unheard Voices part 2: Women in Astronomy