In recent months we go used to seeing the extraordinary photographs of the dwarf planet Pluto and its moons taken by NASA’s New Horizons space probe during its July 14, 2015 flyby but there are other instruments on board that were used to make various detecions. Like the photos, the data collected will keep on being sent for several more months. Those received so far by NASA have uncovered a presence of water ice greater than anticipated and allowed us to see the atmosphere of Pluto at infrareds.
The Mars Rover Opportunity landed on Mars January 25, 2004 at 05.05 UTC. Its mission went far beyond all expectations and after a few years we started taking it for granted. In 2010, the loss of its sister, the Mars Rover Spirit, reminded us that space missions are conducted in unforgiving environments and any problem can be fatal.
The Opportunity mission controllers tried to preserve the rover placing it on a sloping terrain during the Martian winters so that its solar panels can receive the most possible sunlight. Unfortunately, other problems have been limiting its efficiency for a long time.
Nearly three weeks ago NASA’s Dawn space probe reached its final orbit, at an altitude of about 380 kilometers (240 miles) over the dwarf planet Ceres. It will remain there indefinitely, meaning that it will keep that orbit until the end of its mission but at that point it won’t be moved. It’s its lowest orbit and from there Dawn immediately started taking the most detailed pictures and make new detections with its instruments.
The Mars Rover Curiosity has been finding many rocks rich in silica, a compound formed from silicon and oxygen, in an area of Mount Sharp on Mars that it’s been exploring for some months. A few months ago the discovery of that kind of rocks was a surprise, so much so that mission managers changed the Curiosity’s research schedule to perform further analyzes. That decision led to the discovery of other silica-rick rocks and to further studies to try to explain their presence.
An article published in the journal “Nature” describes a research that provides an explanation to the apparent scarcity of water detected on some exoplanets of the type known as hot Jupiter. These are gas giants like Jupiter but orbit very close to their stars and consequently have very high surface temperatures. An international team of astronomers used the Hubble and Spitzer space telescopes to study ten exoplanets of this kind.