Pasadena, CA – When NASA’s Voyager 2 spacecraft flew by Neptune’s strange moon Triton three decades ago, it wrote a planetary science cliffhanger.
Voyager 2 is the only spacecraft ever to have flown past Neptune, and it left a lot of unanswered questions. The views were as stunning as they were puzzling, revealing massive, dark plumes of icy material spraying out from Triton‘s surface. But how? Images showed that the icy landscape was young and had been resurfaced over and over with fresh material. But what material, and from where?
Pasadena, CA – NASA says even by the wild standards of the outer solar system, the strange orbits that carry Neptune’s two innermost moons are unprecedented, according to newly published research.
Orbital dynamics experts are calling it a “dance of avoidance” performed by the tiny moons Naiad and Thalassa. The two are true partners, orbiting only about 1,150 miles (1,850 kilometers) apart. But they never get that close to each other; Naiad’s orbit is tilted and perfectly timed. Every time it passes the slower-moving Thalassa, the two are about 2,200 miles (3,540 kilometers) apart.
Written by Sarah Frazier
Greenbelt, MD – On October 3rd, 2018, NASA’s Parker Solar Probe performed the first significant celestial maneuver of its seven-year mission. As the orbits of the spacecraft and Venus converged toward the same point, Parker Solar Probe slipped in front of the planet, allowing Venus’ gravity — relatively small by celestial standards — to twist its path and change its speed.
This maneuver, called a gravity assist, reduced Parker’s speed relative to the Sun by 10 percent — amounting to 7,000 miles per hour — drawing the closest point of its orbit, called perihelion, nearer to the star by 4 million miles.
NASA Ames Research Center
Moffett Field, CA – Researchers on the flying observatory SOFIA, the Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy, are preparing for a two-minute opportunity to study the atmosphere of Neptune’s moon Triton as it casts a faint shadow on Earth’s surface. This is the first chance to investigate Triton’s atmosphere in 16 years.
On October 5th, as Triton passes in front of a faraway star it will block the star’s light in an eclipse-like event called an occultation. During the celestial alignment, the team aboard the specially equipped Boeing 747SP aircraft will make observations of the distant star’s light as it passes through Triton’s atmosphere.
Written by Elizabeth Landau / Jia-Rui Cook
Pasadena, CA – Humanity’s farthest and longest-lived spacecraft, Voyager 1 and 2, achieve 40 years of operation and exploration this August and September. Despite their vast distance, they continue to communicate with NASA daily, still probing the final frontier.
Their story has not only impacted generations of current and future scientists and engineers, but also Earth’s culture, including film, art and music. Each spacecraft carries a Golden Record of Earth sounds, pictures and messages. Since the spacecraft could last billions of years, these circular time capsules could one day be the only traces of human civilization.
Written by Whitney Clavin
Pasadena, CA – The engineers huddled around a telemetry screen, and the mood was tense. They were watching streams of data from a crippled spacecraft more than 50 million miles away — so far that even at the speed of light, it took nearly nine minutes for a signal to travel to the spacecraft and back.
It was late August 2013, and the group of about five employees at Ball Aerospace in Boulder, Colorado, was waiting for NASA’s Kepler space telescope to reveal whether it would live or die. A severe malfunction had robbed the planet-hunting Kepler of its ability to stay pointed at a target without drifting off course.
Washington, D.C. – NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft has sent back the first in a series of the sharpest views of Pluto it obtained during its July flyby – and the best close-ups of Pluto that humans may see for decades.
Each week the piano-sized New Horizons spacecraft transmits data stored on its digital recorders from its flight through the Pluto system on July 14th.
Written by Tony Phillips
Washington, D.C. – NASA’s Pluto-bound New Horizons spacecraft has traversed the orbit of Neptune. This is its last major crossing en route to becoming the first probe to make a close encounter with distant Pluto on July 14th, 2015.
The sophisticated piano-sized spacecraft, which launched in January 2006, reached Neptune’s orbit — nearly 2.75 billion miles from Earth — in a record eight years and eight months. New Horizons’ milestone matches precisely the 25th anniversary of the historic encounter of NASA’s Voyager 2 spacecraft with Neptune on August 25th, 1989.
Written by Elizabeth Landau/Preston Dyches
Pasadena, CA – NASA’s Voyager 2 spacecraft gave humanity its first close-up look at Neptune and its moon Triton in the summer of 1989. Like an old film, Voyager’s historic footage of Triton has been “restored” and used to construct the best-ever global color map of that strange moon.
The map, produced by Paul Schenk, a scientist at the Lunar and Planetary Institute in Houston, has also been used to make a movie recreating that historic Voyager encounter, which took place 25 years ago, on August 25th, 1989.
NASA’s Voyager 2 spacecraft launched 35 years ago still going strong as it hurtles towards Interstellar Space
Written by Jia-Rui Cook
Pasadena, CA – Thirty-five years ago today, NASA’s Voyager 2 spacecraft, the first Voyager spacecraft to launch, departed on a journey that would make it the only spacecraft to visit Uranus and Neptune and the longest-operating NASA spacecraft ever.
Voyager 2 and its twin, Voyager 1, that launched 16 days later on September 5th, 1977, are still going strong, hurtling away from our sun. Mission managers are eagerly anticipating the day when they break on through to the other side – the space between stars.
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