Space Probes


NASA has activated all the possibilities of close study of the global dust storm that is affecting the planet Mars. This type of event usually occurs once every three or four Martian years (between six and eight Earth’s years) but it is still unclear how a dust storm that starts on a small scale can grow to the point of enveloping the entire planet. Space probes in orbit are studying the phenomenon in various ways and the Mars Rover Curiosity is collecting data on the ground while the situation of the Mars Rover Opportunity is difficult because it can’t use its solar panels so it went into hibernation.

Titan (Image NASA/JPL-Caltech/University of Nantes/University of Arizona)

NASA has published a series of 6 images of Titan, one of the moons of the planet Saturn, seen at infraredd by the Cassini space probe’s VIMS instrument. The images were created by combining observations conducted over the 13 years of the mission that were processed to compensate for the fact that they were made with a great variety of light conditions and viewing angle by Cassini.

CMB Final Map (Image ESA/Planck Collaboration)

ESA presented the final map of the cosmic microwave background radiation created thanks to the Planck Surveyor space probe. This map shows what the universe was like before galaxies formed when it was about 380,000 years old. These are the results of the last processing of the collected data and now scientists are certain that the temperature and polarization are accurately determined. This final map confirms the standard model but also the inconsistency between the calculation of the Hubble constant based on those data and the one based on observation of the current universe.

Cerealia Facula in Occator Crater (Image NASA/JPL-Caltech/UCLA/MPS/DLR/IDA)

At the Committee on SPAce Research (COSPAR) meeting held this week in Pasadena, NASA’s JPL scientists are presenting the latest information gathered by NASA’s Dawn space probe about the dwarf planet Ceres. In particular, there’s an attention on Occator Crater, the most famous crater thanks to its brightness due to the various bright spots made of salts inside it, now called faculae. In the next few months Dawn will finish its mission but will continue to collect data from the lowest orbit at only 34-35 kilometers (about 21 miles) of altitude.

Scheme of Hubble and Gaia at work (Image NASA, ESA, and A. Feild (STScI))

An article published in the journal “The Astrophysical Journal” describes a new measurement of the expansion of the universe. A team of astronomers led by Nobel Prize winner Adam Riess combined observations made with the Hubble Space Telescope and those made with ESA’s Gaia space probe, an observatory that specifically aims to map billions of objects in the sky including the variable stars called Cepheid variable used for those measurements. The new results increase the accuracy but also the discrepancy between the measures of the expansion of the near universe and those of the early universe.