Space Probes

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.

Artistic representation of the interior of Enceladus with a global underground ocean (Image NASA/JPL-Caltech)

An article just published in the journal “Icarus” describes a research that used data collected by the Cassini space probe to determine that Enceladus, one of Saturn’s moons, has a global underground ocean. That there was an ocean beneath the icy surface of Enceladus was a well-established fact from previous research but it remained to be seen whether the water was liquid all over beneath the surface or only in some warm enough areas.

Artistic concept of NASA's GRAIL space probes during their mission in Moon's orbit (Image NASA/JPL-Caltech)

An article published in the journal “Geophysical Research Letters” describes a research on the implications of multiple asteroid impacts on the Moon some four billion years ago. Using data collected by NASA’s GRAIL (Gravity Recovery and Interior Laboratory) twin space probes, a team of scientists led by MIT (Massachusetts Institute of Technology) discovered a significant porosity in the lunar surface and a network of large seams below it.