Written by Dwayne Brown / Laurie Cantillo
Washington, D.C. – On June 24th, at exactly 9:57 and 48 seconds am PDT, NASA’s Juno spacecraft was 5.5 million miles (8.9 million kilometers) from its July 4th appointment with Jupiter. Over the past two weeks, several milestones occurred that were key to a successful 35-minute burn of its rocket motor, which will place the robotic explorer into a polar orbit around the gas giant.
“We have over five years of spaceflight experience and only 10 days to Jupiter orbit insertion,” said Rick Nybakken, Juno project manager from NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California. “It is a great feeling to put all the interplanetary space in the rearview mirror and have the biggest planet in the solar system in our windshield.”
Written by Donna Weaver / Ray Villard
Baltimore, MD – New images obtained on May 16th, 2016, by NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope confirm the presence of a dark vortex in the atmosphere of Neptune. Though similar features were seen during the Voyager 2 flyby of Neptune in 1989 and by the Hubble Space Telescope in 1994, this vortex is the first one observed on Neptune in the 21st century.
The discovery was announced on May 17th, 2016, in a Central Bureau for Astronomical Telegrams (CBAT) electronic telegram by University of California at Berkeley research astronomer Mike Wong, who led the team that analyzed the Hubble data.
Written by DC Agle
Pasadena, CA – On July 4th, NASA will fly a solar-powered spacecraft the size of a basketball court within 2,900 miles (4,667 kilometers) of the cloud tops of our solar system’s largest planet.
As of Thursday, Juno is 18 days and 8.6 million miles (13.8 million kilometers) from Jupiter. On the evening of July 4th, Juno will fire its main engine for 35 minutes, placing it into a polar orbit around the gas giant.
During the flybys, Juno will probe beneath the obscuring cloud cover of Jupiter and study its auroras to learn more about the planet’s origins, structure, atmosphere and magnetosphere.
Written by DC Agle
Pasadena, CA – NASA’s Juno mission is now 26 days and 11.1 million miles (17.8 million kilometers) away from the largest planetary inhabitant in our solar system — Jupiter. On the evening of July 4th, Juno will fire its main engine for 35 minutes, placing it into a polar orbit around the gas giant.
It will be a daring planetary encounter: Giant Jupiter lies in the harshest radiation environment known, and Juno has been specially designed to safely navigate the brand new territory.
Written by Elizabeth Landau
Pasadena, CA – Water is a hot topic in the study of exoplanets, including “hot Jupiters,” whose masses are similar to that of Jupiter, but which are much closer to their parent star than Jupiter is to the sun. They can reach a scorching 2,000 degrees Fahrenheit (1,100 degrees Celsius), meaning any water they host would take the form of water vapor.
Astronomers have found many hot Jupiters with water in their atmospheres, but others appear to have none. Scientists at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, California, wanted to find out what the atmospheres of these giant worlds have in common.
Written by DC Agle
Pasadena, CA – Since its launch five years ago, there have been three forces tugging at NASA’s Juno spacecraft as it speeds through the solar system. The sun, Earth and Jupiter have all been influential — a gravitational trifecta of sorts. At times, Earth was close enough to be the frontrunner.
More recently, the sun has had the most clout when it comes to Juno’s trajectory. Today, it can be reported that Jupiter is now in the gravitational driver’s seat, and the basketball court-sized spacecraft is not looking back.
NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory
Pasadena, CA – A new NASA study modeling conditions in the ocean of Jupiter’s moon Europa suggests that the necessary balance of chemical energy for life could exist there, even if the moon lacks volcanic hydrothermal activity.
Europa is strongly believed to hide a deep ocean of salty liquid water beneath its icy shell. Whether the Jovian moon has the raw materials and chemical energy in the right proportions to support biology is a topic of intense scientific interest.
The answer may hinge on whether Europa has environments where chemicals are matched in the right proportions to power biological processes. Life on Earth exploits such niches.
Written by Steve Koppes
Chicago, IL – The four planets of the Kepler-223 star system appeared to have little in common with the planets of our own solar system today. But a new study using data from NASA’s Kepler space telescope suggests a possible commonality in the distant past.
The Kepler-223 planets orbit their star in the same configuration that Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus and Neptune may have had in the early history of our solar system, before migrating to their current locations.
Written by Michele Johnson
Moffett Field, CA – Dwarf planets tend to be a mysterious bunch. With the exception of Ceres, which resides in the main asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter, all members of this class of minor planets in our solar system lurk in the depths beyond Neptune.
They are far from Earth – small and cold – which makes them difficult to observe, even with large telescopes. So it’s little wonder astronomers only discovered most of them in the past decade or so.
Pluto is a prime example of this elusiveness. Before NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft visited it in 2015, the largest of the dwarf planets had appeared as little more than a fuzzy blob, even to the keen-eyed Hubble Space Telescope.
NASA’s Johnson Space Center
Houston, TX – Astronomers using the TRAPPIST telescope at ESO’s La Silla Observatory have discovered three planets with sizes and temperatures similar to those of Venus and Earth, orbiting an ultra-cool dwarf star just 40 light-years from Earth.
Michaël Gillon of the University of Liège in Belgium, leading a team of astronomers including Susan M. Lederer of NASA Johnson Space Center, have used the TRAPPIST telescope to observe the star 2MASS J23062928-0502285, now also known as TRAPPIST-1.
They found that this dim and cool star faded slightly at regular intervals, indicating that several objects were passing between the star and the Earth.
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