Courtesy ESA/Rosetta/MPS for OSIRIS Team MPS/UPD/LAM/IAA/SSO/INTA/UPM/DASP/IDARosetta - a spacecraft launched over ten years ago by the European Space Agency (ESA) - finally reached its goal yesterday, aligning and syching itself up with the orbital path of a comet (67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko) speeding around the Sun.
During the course of its trajectory, Rosetta utilized the gravity of both Earth and Mars in several slingshot maneuvers to accelerate and help hurdle the spacecraft toward its destination. The comet is traveling toward the sun at 34,175 mph. After a high-speed chase across nearly 4 billion miles (6.4 billion kilometers) of interplanetary space Rosetta had to slam on its brakes over the past to months to reduce its speed (relative to the comet) to just under 2 miles per hour.
"This arrival phase in fact is the most complex and exotic trajectory that we have ever seen," said Jean-Yves Le Gall, head of the French Space Agency CNES.
Courtesy ESA/Rosetta/MPS for OSIRIS Team MPS/UPD/LAM/IAA/SSO/INTA/UPM/DASP/IDAThe spacecraft will spend the next year or so collecting data and photographing the comet which is roughly 2 miles in diameter and shaped somewhat like a duck. Comets are thought to be composed of the same nebular material present when the Sun and planets first formed more than 4.6 billion years ago. Rosetta will help increase our knowledge of the solar system's beginnings.
This coming November ESA engineers will command Rosetta's lander, Philae, to set down on the comet's surface to collect even more data, a feat never before attempted. That will certainly be worth watching.
Courtesy NASA?JPL-CaltechRemember last month when we posted a photo of the Earth and Moon taken by the Cassini spacecraft as it looked back from its location near the planet Saturn? Well, at the time, NASA made a request of all Earthlings to send in photos of themselves waving back at Saturn, and here are the results made into a collage of our Big Blue Oasis in space:
Click on the globe to see enlargements of the 1400 or so photographs NASA received.
Courtesy NASA/JPL/University of ArizonaAn National Geographic website article says the next rover mission to the planet Mars could conceivably find the fossilized remains of life that once lived there. Data from the Opportunity and Spirit rover missions found evidence of surface deposits and flowing water on the Red Planet, and sedimentary rock outcrops laid down by water in the past. Other indications suggest a vast ocean once covered the planet. Whether the planet's thin atmosphere or hostile surface environment could sustain life is unknown. But with all these signs of water, the possibility of finding signs of past life increases. A new study led by J. Alexis Palmero Rodriguez of the Planetary Science Institute theorizes that water on Mars may have been stable beneath the surface for billions of years - long enough for life to develop. And the subsurface may have seeped up through cracks in the crust and left behind deposits on the surface, and possibly fossil remains of life. Palmero and his colleagues hope a future rover mission will focus on the northern regions of the planet where fossils may be found.
Popular Mechanics summarizes how our knowledge of planets in the Solar System has changed over the last 30 years of space exploration.
Every space probe ever launched, all on one map of the Solar System.
The edge of the Solar System is defined by the heliosheath, the point where the solar wind – a constant stream of high-energy particle emitting from the Sun – drops off abruptly. Rather than being perfectly spherical, it is pushed in at the bottom by an inter-stellar magnetic field. To which I say: huh.
If you were sad to see Pluto stripped of its planetary status, you can be glad that the poor mass of rock and ice has been given a break. The international body that officially defines the names of stellar objects has decided to call all objects like Pluto, plutoids. So if Pluto isn't a planet, what is it? It's a plutoid...so is Eris.
Courtesy M. Wong and I. de Pater (University of California, Berkeley)New images from the Hubble Telescope show that the Giant Planet has picked up a couple more red spots, smaller but very near to the Great Red Spot.
Images taken earlier this month discovered the third red spot on the planet, which has been nicknamed “Baby spot.” Red Spot, Jr., was discovered in spring 2006. The Great Red Spot, which is a raging storm about the same size as our Earth, has been churning in Jupiter’s atmosphere for 200 to 350 years.
“Baby Spot” had been a white storm prior to taking on its reddish appearance. Scientists believe the red color come from clouds reacting to solar ultraviolet radiation.
Why is Jupiter getting a surge of extra red spots? Researchers think that it has to do with climate changes on the planet. In 2004 a California astronomer predicted that the planet was moving into a phase of warming temperatures that would destabilize its atmosphere.
“Baby Spot” is on a collision course with the Great Red Spot and could be gobbled up by it later this summer or bounced into a different location on the planet.
Encladaeus, a moon of Saturn, is emitting jets of very pure water, forcing scientists to reconsider just what the heck is going on up there.
Scientific American.com has a cool interactive on what they think the Five Goals for Exploring the Solar System should be. Check it out, and then think about what you think our goals for exploring the solar system should be. What do you think?