Space Probes

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.

NASA confirmed that its space probe Dawn regularly entered the dwarf planet Ceres’ orbit. It was at an altitude of about 61,000 kilometers (about 38,000 miles) when it was captured by the Ceres’ gravity. This happened yesterday but Dawn was on the hidden side of the dwarf planet when it entered its orbit. The consequence is that it took a bit before the probe reached a position where it could transmit data to Earth.

Montage of four pictures of the comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko taken by the Rosetta space probe's NAVCAM (Image ESA/Rosetta/NAVCAM)

After the flyby performed a few weeks ago, the Rosetta space probe moved away from the comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko and was able to observe its increasing activity. In late February, from a distance between 80 and 100 km (from 50 to 52 miles) its Navigation Camera (NAVCAM) instrument took several photographs that ESA processed to make the best observations of the jets of steam and dust emitted by the comet.