Busy Times In Solar System Studies

I continue to watch the multiple space probes that are giving us one of the busiest few months in the history of space exploration. (I’m sure I’m missing other interesting explorations — I haven’t paid any attention to Mars rover’s completion of a “marathon”, for instance.)

Closing On Pluto

The NASA “New Horizons” spacecraft is closing in for a close encounter with Pluto (and Charon) on July 14. The imagery will become much better and real science will begin in May.

(There is a nice dashboard for the mission at: http://pluto.jhuapl.edu/)

(And a 3D model at: https://nasa3d.arc.nasa.gov/detail/new-horizons)

First Pluto-Charon Color Image from New Horizons This image of Pluto and its largest moon, Charon, was taken by the Ralph color imager aboard NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft on April 9 and downlinked to Earth the following day. It is the first color image ever made of the Pluto system by a spacecraft on approach. The image is a preliminary reconstruction, which will be refined later by the New Horizons science team. Clearly visible are both Pluto and the Texas-sized Charon. The image was made from a distance of about 71 million miles (115 million kilometers)—roughly the distance from the Sun to Venus. At this distance, neither Pluto nor Charon is well resolved by the color imager, but their distinctly different appearances can be seen. As New Horizons approaches its flyby of Pluto on July 14, it will deliver color images that eventually show surface features as small as a few miles across. Credit: NASA/Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory/Southwest Research Institute

Imagery From Ceres

The “Dawn” probe is slowly spiraling in to Ceres, at the beginning of months of systematic imaging. NASA release imagery showing, well, a lumpy mini-planet.

This animation shows the north pole of dwarf planet Ceres as seen by the Dawn spacecraft on April 10, 2015. Dawn was at a distance of 21,000 miles (33,000 kilometers) when its framing camera took these images. The spacecraft was maneuvering toward its first science orbit, which it will enter on April 23. Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/UCLA/MPS/DLR/IDA

Serendipitous Findings From Philae Crash Landing

Last year the Philae probe dropped from Rosetta and attempted to land on 67P/CG. The grappling failed, and Philae bounced away, and after a couple of hops came to rest in a shady spot. We are waiting to see if Philae survived and will wake up as 67P/CG gets closer to the sun. Perhaps the batteries can recharge in the stronger light.

This week we learned that this unplanned crash landing was actually a reasonable way to get some data about the magnetic field of the comet.

The unplanned flight across the surface actually meant we could collect precise magnetic field measurements with Philae at the four points we made contact with, and at a range of heights above the surface,” says Hans-Ulrich Auster

It has been difficult to measure the magnetic properties of comets to date (after all, one needs to get pretty close to directly measure them). But magnetometer readings from the series of descents and ascents and multiple touch downs detected no magnetic field in the comet though the solar wind was detected. This suggests that 67P/CG, and probably other comets, are not held together by magnetic forces.

The non-magnetic comet Released 14/04/2015 12:00 pm Copyright ESA/Data: Auster et al. (2015)/Background comet image: ESA/Rosetta/NAVCAM – CC BY-SA IGO 3.0

 

 

Space Saturday

 

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