Planets

The MAVEN space probe during its test phase at Kennedy Space Center (Photo NASA/Jim Grossmann)

NASA’s MAVEN space probe successfully completed the first of five deep-dip maneuvers into the depths of Mars atmosphere. The purpose was to gather measurements closer to the lower limit of the upper layer of the red planet’s atmosphere. The periapsis, which is the lowest altitude point of the orbit, reached by MAVEN was 125 kilometers (78 miles).

The purpose of the space probe MAVEN (Mars Atmosphere and Volatile Evolution), which reached the orbit of Mars on September 21, 2014, is precisely to study the red planet’s atmosphere. It’s much thinner than Earth’s one but is still a complex system. To understand its dynamics and its evolution over time, MAVEN is making continuous measurements and during the month started plunging into its depths.

Two pictures of Ceres taken by NASA's space probe Dawn (Image NASA/JPL-Caltech/UCLA/MPS/DLR/IDA)

NASA’s Dawn spacecraft is approaching the dwarf planet Ceres. On February 12, 2015, when it was at a distance of about 83,000 kilometers (about 52,000 miles), it took some pictures that show us Ceres with a quality never seen before, allowing us to see its craters. The photos taken previously had puzzled scientists for the presence of some white spots but the new images don’t solve the mystery.

Image of Pluto and Charon magnified four times to make them more visible (Image NASA/JHU APL/SwRI)

Yesterday, NASA released the first photographs of the dwarf planet Pluto and its main satellite Charon taken by the space probe New Horizons after its awakening. The spacecraft was still over 200 million kilometers (about 126 million miles) away from Pluto but February 4, 2015 was the 109th anniversary of the birth of Clyde Tombaugh, who in 1930 discovered the dwarf planet. A small portion of Tombaugh’s ashes were placed aboard New Horizons.

Artistic concept of the Kepler 444 system (Image Tiago Campante/Peter Devine)

Using data collected by the Kepler space telescope, a group of researchers led by asteroseismologists from the University of Birmingham discovered five planets orbiting the star Kepler-444. They’re small rocky planets: the smallest has a size similar to Mercury, the largest has a diameter about three-quarters of the Earth. Another special feature is that the star Kepler-444 is very ancient, with an age estimated to around 11.2 billion years.