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Scientists will get new insights into Titan's unique environment.
The main camera for NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) was delivered to NASA this week to be installed on the spacecraft. This camera will be capable of viewing 6 km (3.5 mile) swaths of Mars at a resolution of 25 cm (10 inches) per pixel (Mars Express' camera can resolve down to 2 metres per pixel). MRO is due to launch in August 2005 when the next Earth-Mars launch window opens up, and it's expected to arrive at the Red planet in March 2006. The orbiter will also serve as a communications link for upcoming lander and rover missions.
It's been a 7-year journey, but now it's almost over; Huygens will detach from Cassini on December 25th. On January 14th, it'll reach Titan and plunge into the moon's thick clouds and parachute down to its surface. It'll be transferring data back to Cassini for the whole journey, and if it survives the landing, it'll be able to send back data for an additional 2 hours until Cassini moves out of range. If everything goes well, scientists will get new insights into Titan's unique environment, which could be similar to the Earth's early history.
On Monday, December 13, brave skywatchers should be able to see hundreds of meteors an hour when the Geminids begin. It's possibly the best meteor showers in the whole year, and happens because the Earth is plowing through bits of dust left over from asteroid 3200 Phaethon at 129,000 kph (80,000 mph). Although you'll see more meteors at midnight, one of the best times to watch is right at sunset when the constellation of Gemini is right on the horizon. You might see an Earthgrazer, where a meteor skips across the Earth's atmosphere and leaves a long, bright and colourful tail.
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