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Official NASA Communication 93-098

Official NASA Communication 93-098

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Published by: NASAdocuments on Oct 05, 2007
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Paula Cleggett-HaleimHeadquarters, Washington, D.C.May 26, 1993(Phone: 202/358-1547)Franklin O'DonnellJet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif.(Phone: 818/354-5011)RELEASE: 93-98MAGELLAN AEROBRAKING, GRAVITY STUDIES UNDERWAYHaving successfully completed its original mission of radar-mapping the planet Venus, NASA's Magellan spacecraft isembarking on a new experiment that will give scientists glimpsesinto the planet's interior and a better understanding of itsatmosphere.On May 25, the spacecraft completed its fourth 8-month cycle of orbiting Venus, during which it collected data on the planet'sgravity field, particularly close to the equator.On that same day, Magellan executed the first in a series of aerobraking maneuvers to be conducted over the next 70 days inwhich Magellan dips into Venus' atmosphere, taking advantage of drag on the spacecraft to lower its orbit. The maneuvers aredesigned to place Magellan in a circular orbit, allowing it to getbetter gravity data at the planet's north and south poles."This experiment is a scientific bonus for what is already ahighly successful mission," said Dr. R. Stephen Saunders, MagellanProject Scientist at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena,Calif.According to Saunders, the gravity data that Magellan iscollecting allow scientists to "see" into the interior of the
planet because they can gauge the density of the materialunderlying various parts of the planet.In recent weeks, for example, Magellan passed over a regiondominated by three volcanoes -- Hathor, Innini and Ushas. "Theyoccupy a broad swelling of the Venusian crust believed to resultfrom upwelling of hot material from the deep interior, aphenomenon known on Earth as a `hot spot,'" Saunders added.- more -- 2 -In other ways, Venus seems to be distinctly different fromEarth. While Earth's surface geology is largely created bytectonic motion -- enormous continental plates that move slowlyover an underlying magma -- the Magellan team found littleevidence of plate tectonics on Venus. One possible exception isthe Ovda region at the western end of the equatorial AphroditeTerra highlands."In this region we see what appear to be the closest thing onVenus to Earth's continents," said Saunders. "It has featuresthat seem to have been formed by compression of the Venusian crustin a process that may resemble some plate tectonic regions onEarth."Saunders said that Ovda and similar terrains -- calledtesserae, are intensely fractured regions that are pushed upwardcompared with most of the planet -- may represent ancient crustalmaterials on Venus. "They could, in fact, be fragments of theoldest rocks on the planet," he said.During Magellan's fourth 8-month orbital cycle which ended May25, flight controllers collected gravity data by monitoring thefrequency of the signal sent to Earth from the spacecraft.Changes in the gravity field would make Magellan speed up or slowdown slightly, causing the frequency of its signal to change bytiny fractions.During that cycle, however, Magellan was in a widely loopingelliptical orbit, a 100 miles (170 kilometers) by 5,300 miles(8,500 kilometers). Because of the varying distance, Magellancould collect high-resolution gravity data at the equator but notnear the poles.

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