Topic: Solar System
Written by DC Agle
Pasadena, CA – NASA’s solar-powered Juno spacecraft successfully executed a maneuver to adjust its flight path, February 3rd, 2016. The maneuver refined the spacecraft’s trajectory, helping set the stage for Juno’s arrival at the solar system’s largest planetary inhabitant five months and a day from now.
“This is the first of two trajectory adjustments that fine tune Juno’s orbit around the sun, perfecting our rendezvous with Jupiter on July 4th at 8:18pm PDT [11:18pm EDT],” said Scott Bolton, Juno principal investigator at the Southwest Research Institute in San Antonio.
Written by Preston Dyches
Pasadena, CA – It seems intuitive that an opaque material should contain more stuff than a more translucent substance. For example, muddier water has more suspended particles of dirt in it than clearer water. Likewise, you might think that, in the rings of Saturn, more opaque areas contain a greater concentration of material than places where the rings seem more transparent.
But this intuition does not always apply, according to a recent study of the rings using data from NASA’s Cassini mission. In their analysis, scientists found surprisingly little correlation between how dense a ring might appear to be — in terms of its opacity and reflectiveness — and the amount of material it contains.
Written by Kimm Fesenmaier
Pasadena, CA – Caltech researchers have found evidence of a giant planet tracing a bizarre, highly elongated orbit in the outer solar system.
The object, which the researchers have nicknamed Planet Nine, has a mass about 10 times that of Earth and orbits about 20 times farther from the sun on average than does Neptune (which orbits the sun at an average distance of 2.8 billion miles). In fact, it would take this new planet between 10,000 and 20,000 years to make just one full orbit around the sun.
The researchers, Konstantin Batygin and Mike Brown, discovered the planet’s existence through mathematical modeling and computer simulations but have not yet observed the object directly.
Written by Jane Platt
Pasadena, CA – “When the moon is in the seventh house, and Jupiter aligns with Mars, then peace will guide the planets, and love will steer the stars.”
Well, it’s not quite like the song about the dawning of the Age of Aquarius, but our solar system is experiencing an uncommon lineup that should be quite a treat for sky-watchers. The solar system itself hasn’t changed — it’s just that the timing of the planets orbiting the sun puts them into a lineup that makes for good viewing by Earthlings.
Written by DC Agle
Pasadena, CA – It was less than an hour into the new day of January 15th, 2006 (EST), when tens of thousands of miles above our planet, two cable cutters and two retention bolts fired, releasing a spring which pushed a 101-pound (46-kilogram) sample return capsule away from its mother ship.
Later, during its final plunge Earthward, the capsule would become the fastest human-made object to enter our atmosphere, achieving a velocity of about 28,600 mph (12.8 kilometers per second).
Washington, D.C. – The U.S. Postal Service has previewed the New Year’s series of stamps highlighting NASA’s Planetary Science program, including a do-over of a famous Pluto stamp commemorating the NASA New Horizons’ historic 2015 flyby.
The Postal Service on Wednesday released a preview of its new 2016 stamps, which include an image of Pluto and the New Horizons spacecraft, eight new colorful Forever stamps of NASA images of solar system planets, a Global Forever stamp dedicated to Earth’s moon as well as another postal treat for space fans: a tribute to 50 years of Star Trek.
Washington, D.C. – Did you get a telescope or pair of binoculars under the Christmas tree? If so, you can put them to the test by searching the Eastern sky for a view of a fuzzy comet on or shortly after New Year’s Day.
Comet Catalina, formally known as C/2013 US10, is currently perched in the pre-dawn skies as it returns to the depths of space following a recent visit to the inner part of our solar system. Named for the NASA-funded Catalina Sky Survey at the University of Arizona in Tucson, the comet was discovered on October 31st, 2013.
Written by Dwayne Brown
Washington, D.C. – The first U.S. production in nearly 30 years of a specialized fuel to power future deep space missions has been completed by researchers at the Department of Energy’s Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL) in Tennessee.
The production of 50 grams of plutonium-238 -roughly the mass of a golf ball – marks the first demonstration in the United States since the Savannah River Plant in South Carolina ceased production in the late 1980s.
Written by Elizabeth Landau / Preston Dyches
Pasadena, CA – NASA’s Dawn spacecraft, cruising in its lowest and final orbit at dwarf planet Ceres, has delivered the first images from its best-ever viewpoint. The new images showcase details of the cratered and fractured surface. 3-D versions of two of these views are also available.
Dawn took these images of the southern hemisphere of Ceres on December 10th, at an approximate altitude of 240 miles (385 kilometers), which is its lowest-ever orbital altitude. Dawn will remain at this altitude for the rest of its mission, and indefinitely afterward. The resolution of the new images is about 120 feet (35 meters) per pixel.
Written by Preston Dyches
Pasadena, CA – NASA’s Cassini spacecraft has begun transmitting data and images from the mission’s final close flyby of Saturn’s active moon Enceladus. Cassini passed Enceladus at a distance of 3,106 miles (4,999 kilometers) on Saturday, December 19th, at 9:49am PST (11:49am CST).
“This final Enceladus flyby elicits feelings of both sadness and triumph,” said Earl Maize, Cassini project manager at JPL. “While we’re sad to have the close flybys behind us, we’ve placed the capstone on an incredible decade of investigating one of the most intriguing bodies in the solar system.”
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