A computer-generated image of Cassini entering Saturn's atmosphere.

To Infinity and Beyond: Cornell Astronomers Bid Farewell to Cassini

After 20 years, NASA’s Cassini mission ended with the spacecraft’s spectacular plunge into Saturn. To the very end, Cassini had its antenna pointed back at Earth to relay information about the planet’s atmosphere. Over the years, many Cornell astronomers had the opportunity to work closely on the project and have plenty of memories to share. Among them is Prof. Joseph Burns, astronomy, who is a member of Cassini’s imaging teams.

“Were it not for Saturn’s fleet of 62 satellites, the cloud of dust orbiting Saturn would assume the form of a circular disk in the equatorial plane, rather than discrete rings”, Burns said. “Cassini taught us that in order to understand the behavior of planetary ring systems, we need to observe them continuously over an extended period of time.


Top NASA Official to Visit Cornell, Speak on Mars Exploration

The organization is currently researching technology — including solar-powered propulsion and space agriculture — that will design long-term missions in which “explorers will be practically independent from spaceship Earth,” according to a release from Cornell’s School of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering.

A model depicts a prototype of PALLAS as it collects samples

Student Team Crafts Tools to Collect Rocks From Asteroids

In the ongoing quest for space exploration, an asteroid base like Magneto’s Asteroid M from the X-Men universe seems like a distant dream. If NASA hopes to replicate the sophisticated structures built on the asteroid, it’s going to need tools. Plenty of them.  And there’s one team at Cornell that could certainly engineer a few. Cornell University MicroGravity team, one of Cornell’s newest clubs, is collaborating with NASA to create a ‘Float Sample Grabber’ a device that the team hopes will help astronauts safely and securely retrieve rocks from asteroids.

NASA Scientists Discuss New Horizons Spacecraft’s Journey Past Pluto

Nearly 200 Cornell students and faculty members gathered in Schwartz Auditorium Wednesday, to hear Cathy Olkin and Ann Harch — two lead scientists on NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft, which flew by Pluto this July — give one of the earliest public presentations about the mission’s history and results. Olkin began the talk by emphasizing the necessity of flying a spacecraft by Pluto, rather than simply observing the dwarf planet from Earth. “This was the best image we had of Pluto at the beginning of this year,” she said, showing a picture of a pixelated white dot. “I spent decades studying this point of light.”

According to Harch, even though New Horizons passed by Pluto quickly, it was able to take pictures, determine the composition of the planet’s surface and atmosphere and gather data about its moons. However, getting New Horizons to Pluto was not easy.

In an undated handout photo, portions of the Martian surface shot by NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter show many channels on a scarp in the Hellas impact basin. Scientists reported on Monday definitive signs of liquid water on the surface of present-day Mars, a finding that will fuel speculation that life, if it ever arose there, could persist to now. (Jet Propulsion Laboratory/University of Arizona/NASA) -- NO SALES; FOR EDITORIAL USE ONLY WITH STORY SLUGGED MARS WATER BY KENNETH CHANG. ALL OTHER USE PROHIBITED. --

Water on Mars: Does It Matter?

During a news conference Monday, NASA confirmed the discovery of liquid water on the surface of Mars, possibly hinting toward the possibility of life on the red planet, according to The New York Times. The Sun reached out to Prof. Alexander Hayes, astronomy, to get another take on what this means for further research and public opinion. What were your first thoughts upon hearing about the discovery? Were you expecting it? My first thought was: “Great!


Student Team Designs Water-Propelled Satellite for NASA Launch Competition

“Shoot for the moon” may be an expression, but for the students working with Prof. Mason Peck, mechanical and aerospace engineering, it could also become a reality. Currently in the top five teams participating in the NASA competition known as CubeQuest, the “Cislunar Explorers” are working to create a satellite capable of orbiting the moon that demonstrates new methods of propulsion and navigation through space. “Ph.D. students and undergraduates with me have the opportunity to engage in basic research that Cornell’s known for and also build something that’s never been flown,” Peck said. “I’m serious when I say flying your senior project is something we do here. And Cornell’s one of relatively few institutions where this is commonplace.”
Hitching a Ride
In 2018, NASA will launch a spacecraft known as the Space Launch System, primarily to test the Orion capsule, which is planned to be the first U.S. human-flight spacecraft since the retirement of the Space Shuttle.

Scientists Seek More Space Exploration

While all presidents since John F. Kennedy have been touting their own space programs, some accomplished their goals and were immortalized in history, but others were never realized and are long since forgotten.