February 2020

Jupiter's equatorial region

An article published in the journal “Nature Astronomy” reports a study on the abundance of water in the atmosphere and in particular in the equatorial region of the planet Jupiter. NASA’s Juno mission team used data collected by the space probe, which has been orbiting the gas giant for about 3.5 years. The conclusion is that water makes up about 0.25% of the molecules in Jupiter’s atmosphere, about three times those present in the Sun’s atmosphere estimated through the presence of its components. This is a result that indicates an abundance much higher than that measured in 1995 by the Galileo space probe.

Titan (NASA/JPL-Caltech/Space Science Institute)

An article published in “The Astrophysical Journal” reports a study of the chemical compounds in the atmosphere of Titan, Saturn’s great moon. Takahiro Iino of the University of Tokyo, together with Hideo Sagawa of Kyoto Sangyo University and Takashi Tsukagoshi of NRAO (National Astronomical Observatory of Japan) used the ALMA radio telescope to detect the chemical signatures of the compounds existing on Titan discovering that of acetonitrile, including a rare isotopomer that contains nitrogen-15.

The Cygnus "Robert Lawrence" cargo spacecraft captured by the Canadarm2 robotic arm (Image NASA TV)

Northrop Grumman’s Cygnus spacecraft, launched last Saturday, February 15, has just reached the International Space Station and was captured by the Canadarm2 robotic arm. Astronaut Andrew Morgan, assisted by his colleague Jessica Meir, will soon begin the slow maneuver to move the Cygnus until it docks with the Station’s Unity module after about two hours.

Arrokoth (Image NASA/Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory/Southwest Research Institute/Roman Tkachenko)

Three articles published in the journal “Science” report various aspects of a research on the origins and characteristics of Arrokoth, the Kuiper Belt object classified as 2014 MU69 and for some time known by the nickname Ultima Thule. Different teams of researchers with various members in common used data collected by NASA’s New Horizons space probe to study it from various points of view. One of the conclusions concerns its origin, which might have occurred following the collapse of a cloud of solid particles in the primordial solar nebula and not following the process known as hierarchical accretion, a process that has high-speed collisions between planetesimals.

The Cygnus cargo spacecraft blasting off atop an Antares rocket to start its NG-13 mission (Image NASA TV)

A little while ago Northrop Grumman’s Cygnus spacecraft blasted off atop an Antares rocket from the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport (MARS), part of NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility (WFF) on Wallops Island. After about nine minutes it successfully separated from the rocket’s last stage went en route to its destination. This is its 13th official mission, called NG-13 or CRS NG-13, to transport supplies to the International Space Station for NASA.