Space Probes

On the left, OSIRIS images used to visually identify over 100 terraces (green). In the middle, a 3D shape model used to determine the directions in which the terraces/strata are sloping and to visualise how they extend into the subsurface. On the right, local gravity vectors visualised on the comet shape model perpendicular to the terrace/strata planes (Image ESA/Rosetta/MPS for OSIRIS Team MPS/UPD/LAM/IAA/SSO/INTA/UPM/DASP/IDA; M. Massironi et al (2015))

At the European Planetary Science Congress going on these days in Nantes, France, evidence were presented that the strange shape of the nucleus of comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko is due to the fact that it was born from the merger of two small comets occurred a few billion years ago. The study conducted by a team led by Matteo Massironi, a researcher at the University of Padua and Italian INAF (National Institute of Astrophysics) associate, was published in the journal “Nature”.

Image of narrow streaks of water on Martian slopes at Hale Crater (Image NASA/JPL-Caltech/Univ. of Arizona)

Yesterday NASA announced the existence of flows of liquid water on Mars. The study, just published in the journal “Nature Geoscience”, is based upon years of analysis of data collected mainly thanks to the NASA’s MRO (Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter) space probe. The images captured by its camera and spectrometric data allowed to find streams of water along the walls of craters and slopes that vary over time and perchlorate salts in them.

The snakeskin area called Tartarus Dorsa on Pluto's surface (Image NASA/JHUAPL/SWRI)

After more than two months since the extraordinary Pluto flyby of NASA’s New Horizons space probe some people might think that the data arrived to Earth are enough to know this dwarf planet comprehensively. Reality keeps on being very different on this small world frozen yet as varied as you would expect from a geologically active planet with an atmosphere that can erode its soil. Here then is the image of a “snakeskin” surface that again leaves scientists puzzled and surprised.

Maps of water ice abundance (left) and surface temperature (right) focusing on the Hapi ‘neck’ region of Comet 67P/Churyumov–Gerasimenko (Image ESA/Rosetta/VIRTIS/INAF-IAPS/OBS DE PARIS-LESIA/DLR; M.C. De Sanctis et al (2015))

An article just published in the journal “Nature” describes a research on the daily water-ice cycle on the surface of the comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko and its vicinity. A team of scientists led by Maria Cristina De Sanctis from Rome’s IAPS-INAF (National Institute of Astrophysics – Institute for Astrophysics and Space Planetology) analyzed data collected by the ESA’s Rosetta space probe’s VIRTIS spectrometer discovering that in some areas the ice water disappears in the day and reappears in the night.

Mountains and the layers of the atmosphere on Pluto (Photo NASA/JHUAPL/SwRI)

The latest images of Pluto just published by NASA show new details of this dwarf planet. So far, the photographs were usually taken from the New Horizons space probe’s LORRI camera, instead these ones were taken by MVIC (Multispectral Visible Imaging Camera), one of the components of the Ralph small telescope that’s part of probe’s payload. These pictures show in an extraordinary way mountains, glaciers and the hazy layers of Pluto’s atmosphere.