Space Probes

Geological feature in Hellas Planitia (Image NASA JPL-Caltech UoA Matt Balme & William McMahon)

An article published in the journal “Nature Communications” reports evidence of the existence of a river of a size comparable to that of the great European rivers such as Po and Rhine in the Izola mensa area, an outcrop within the large Hellas Planitia basin on the planet Mars. A team of researchers led by Dr. Francesco Salese and Dr. William McMahon examined high-resolution images captured by NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) space probe to identify traces of an area where some 3.7 billion years ago there was a large river. The environmental conditions had to be favorable to a constant flow of water for a long period with a hydrological cycle, yet another confirmation that at the time the red planet was similar to Earth.

Europa seen by the Galileo space probe

NASA has published reprocessed versions of three old photos of areas of the surface of Jupiter’s large moon Europa taken by the Galileo space probe on September 26, 1998. NASA scientists applied some processing techniques developed in recent years to the images obtaining new details of a series of geological features existing at the time on Europa’s frozen surface. This result offers is immediately useful for scientists interested in studying this moon and for the future because NASA is preparing the Europa Clipper mission, which also aims to try to understand what’s hidden in Europa’s underground ocean, with the hope to find life forms.

Uranus seen by Voyager 2 (Image NASA/JPL-Caltech)

An article published in the journal “Geophysical Research Letters” reports the discovery of a plasmoid, a structure composed of plasma formed mainly of hydrogen in the midst of magnetic fields, in the magnetotail – the magnetosphere’s tail – of the planet Uranus that was moving away from it. The plasmoid’s formation isn’t a new event because Gina DiBraccio and Daniel J. Gershman of NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center examined the observations made by the Voyager 2 space probe during the its Uranus flyby on January 24, 1986. It’s the first plasmoid discovered in the Uranus’ atmosphere and could be a crucial mechanism for its loss of atmosphere.

Moreux Crater on Mars

ESA has released new photos of Moreux Crater on the planet Mars taken by the Mars Express space probe’s High Resolution Stereo Camera (HRSC). It’s an impact crater, but shows characteristics that are out of normal, considered the result of erosion caused by glacial processes. Glaciations probably occurred in different periods since the geological traces present in the area suggest that they occurred even in the last millions of years. Another reason for interest in this crater is the presence of dunes inside it, which provide information on the winds blowing in the area.

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.