Space Probes

Four image montage of pictures of the comet 67P/Churyumov–Gerasimenko taken by the space probe Rosetta (Image ESA/Rosetta/NAVCAM)

During the past weekend, ESA’s space probe Rosetta has taken a new flyby about 14 kilometers (about 8.6 miles) away from the comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko. This means that it hasnt come as close as in February, however, the comet’s increasing activity caused some problems in Rosetta. Among the consequences, it had serious difficulties in communicating with ESA’s mission control.

The Planck all-sky map at submillimetre wavelengths with the protoclusters indicated as black dots. The inset images showcase some of the observations made by Herschel’s SPIRE instrument (Image ESA and the Planck Collaboration/ H. Dole, D. Guéry & G. Hurier, IAS/University Paris-Sud/CNRS/CNES)

An article published in the journal “Astronomy & Astrophysics” describes the results of a research carried out by combining the observations made with ESA’s Herschel and Planck space telescopes. The purpose was to find protoclusters, the precursors of today’s galaxy clusters seen in the distant past when the universe was only three billion years. This will help to understand how these huge groups of tens, hundreds and even thousands of galaxies formed and evolved.

Artistic cutaway of Saturn's moon Enceladus that shows hydrothermal activity (Image NASA/JPL)

An article just published in the journal “Nature” shows a research based on the detections carried out by NASA’s Cassini space probe. Among other information provided by the mission there’s also evidence that on Enceladus, one of Saturn’s moons, there are signs of the presence of hydrothermal vents. This means that there are waters heated by geothermal energy similar to those existing on Earth, where the presence of various microorganisms abounds, particularly those known as extremophiles.

The Atlas V 421 rocket at liftoff with the MMS space probes (Photo NASA)

A few hors ago the four MMS (Magnetospheric Multiscale Mission) spacecraft were launched atop an Atlas V 421 rocket from Cape Canaveral. After nearly two hours the spacecraft started separating from the rocket’s last stage, one at a time at intervals of about five minutes. It’s only the beginning of a complex phase of tests, deployment of their booms with the sensors and positioning of the probes in a tetrahedron configuration which will last more than five months.

The MMS mission is really ambitious because it’s based on the work of a constellation of four identical spacecraft that will operate together in a tetrahedral formation in order to make three-dimensional measurements. The purpose is to study the magnetosphere in a way more sophisticated than those previously attempted.

In particular, the space probes will study the phenomenon of the magnetic reconnection. It’s a process in highly conductive plasma in which the magnetic topology is rearranged and the magnetic energy is converted into kinetic and thermal energy and into particle acceleration.