Highlights for 2008

Titan on Jan 05, Feb 22, Mar 25, May 12 and May 28 Cassini takes a pass at Titan on February 22 (already having made a pass this year on January 5th).

Cassini Goes Plume Diving

Soon after Titan, Cassini performs a truly unexpected maneuver and flies directly through the plumes of Enceladus on March 12th. This is a somewhat risky task for the probe as the particles it will surely encounter may pose some kind of impact threat to the spacecraft. Mission planners expect the risk to be low as they intend to turn the spacecraft around and let the less delicate side of Cassini bear the brunt of the material and photograph the geysers as it moves away from Enceladus. It should make for some of the most exciting planetary science planned for this year.

Titan Alt

Cassini has another go at Titan on March 25.

Titan Alt

Yup – you guessed it. Cassini at Titan again on May 12th.

Phoenix on May 25

The Phoenix lander arrives at Mars on May 25th and (hopefully) makes good on the failure of the Mars Polar Lander. It will be the first time a probe will attempt a landing on the Martian pole and will conduct a series of experiments looking for the existence of water ice.

Titan Alt

You can never have too much of a good thing. Cassini at Titan again on May 28th as well as July 31.

Chandrayaan on April 9

Chandrayaan becomes India’s first planetary probe as it leaves for the moon in Early July (was April).

Cassini at Enceladus Aug 11, Oct 9 and Oct 31

The extended Cassini mission has made Enceladus a prime target of investigation and the new encounters begin on Aug 11th and comes within 54km of the surface.

Rosetta at 2867 Steins on Sept 5

Rosetta still on its way for an encounter with Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko in 2014, will make a close pass at an asteroid named 2867 Steins on Sept 5th at a distance of only 1700 km. Steins is a small asteroid measuring only a few kilometers in size and the craft will be traveling at a relatively slow speed which should allow for some good resolution images to be acquired during the encounter.

Messenger on Jan 14 and Oct 6

Messenger (having just completed the first encounter in 33 years this past week) has another go at Mercury on Oct 6th and flies past more uncharted territory on its way to eventual orbit insertion in 2011.

Cassini Enceladus Alt

Two more close flybys of the Saturnian moon Enceladus on Oct 9 and Oct 31. The first at hair-raising distance of 25km and the second around a more reasonable 200km.

Lunar Recon Orbiter on Nov 3

In an effort to recognize the International Lunar Decade (and intended manned Lunar missions within 15 years), the United States returns to the moon with the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter on Nov 3rd. It is expected to begin its scientific goals only 3 days after launch and is expected to look for possible deposits of water ice in permanently shadowed craters near the Lunar poles.

Titan Alt

And finally more Titan flybys on Nov 3, Nov 19, Dec 5 and Dec 21.

All this is in addition to the ongoing work of Opportunity and Spirit on the surface of Mars. Mars Express and Mars Reconnaissance in orbit around Mars. Cassini’s non-targeted continuing tour of other icy Saturnian moons. And who knows, maybe we will see more than 2 or 3 reports coming from the ever quiet Venus Express mission currently at Venus.

Sadly, some very exciting missions will be quietly traveling en route to their targets and are not expected to be heard from in 08 like the Dawn Mission to the Asteroid Belt, New Horizons mission to Pluto/Charon, the newly re-targeted Deep Impact mission (now known as Epoxi) as well as Stardust now on its way to a follow-up visit to Tempel 1 the comet that was smacked by Deep Impact in 2005.