Messenger, Cassini missions, Comets in the news

Messenger, Cassini missions, Comets in the news

Postby steve-munsey » Tue Mar 17, 2015 10:26 am

MESSENGER Observing New Features On Mercury.
SPACE reports on the release of two new maps of Mercury developed from MESSENGER spacecraft data, showing “never-before-seen formations on the planet’s surface.” The studies based on those maps found that the formations were likely “not from the planet’s crust but from just below it, in the mantle.” For instance, one of the studies, led by Patrick Peplowski of the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory, “four distinct geochemical terranes on the planet.” Larry Nittler, “deputy principle investigator of the mission and co-author on both studies,” said that the MESSENGER data should result in “critical constraints” for future models of Mercury’s mantle and crust.
According to Nature, MESSENGER is capturing “the best images ever taken of the planet” just ahead of its “inevitable doom” on April 30 when it no longer has enough fuel to overcome Mercury’s gravity. The spacecraft is taking “new low-altitude images” of “the ice that lurks in permanently shadowed craters near Mercury’s poles.” According to the article, scientists looking at data from the Dawn mission at Ceres are “anxious to see” if the “bright glints” observed there are similar at all to features at Mercury.
Sen also covers the story.

Cassini Spacecraft To Soon Pass By Titan.
Popular Mechanics reports that the Cassini spacecraft is about to make another pass of Titan, “one of the coolest moons in the solar system.” According to the article, the public should look forward to “cool news (and cool photos)” about Titan’s hydrocarbon lakes and its interior.
Recently Discovered Crater Named After Earhart.
The BBC News reports that a large lunar crater discovered in NASA’s Grail spacecraft data by Purdue University researchers, “the first detection of its kind in at least a century,” has been named after Amelia Earhart. Purdue’s H. Jay Melosh said that previously, the feature was not identified as a crater rim, but it is “very clearly” seen in the Grail’s measurements of the moon’s gravitational field. The article noted that the crater was “hiding in plain sight for years.”
Chiron May Have Ring System.
The International Business Times (UK) reports that a team from MIT has discovered a potential ring system around Chiron, which could be a minor planet or centaur, a class of objects that have the characteristics of both asteroids and comets. The discovery was made during a stellar occultation back in 2011.
Blog Coverage. Ian O’Neill at Discovery Newswrites that the “powerful” Infrared Telescope Facility and Las Cumbres Observatory Global Telescope Network were used to make the discovery.
New Mechanism Could Explain Comet’s Features.
BBC News reports that researchers may have discovered why Comet 67P appears to have features “produced by wind” when there is no atmosphere. Stefano Mottola, the chief scientist for the Rosetta spacecraft’s Rolis instrument, explained that the features were generated by “splash saltation,” a new process by which “a stream of falling particles” can eject dust grains “from their original positions.” No wind is needed for this to take place. Meanwhile, Ian Wright, “who leads the British Ptolemy instrument on Philae,” said that the lander’s disappearance may mean that it will be awake when the comet becomes more active. Wright said that this opportunity caused teams to “re-define some of the science objectives.”
New Scientist also covers the new results from the mission.
Solar Eclipse Could Reveal Why The Corona Is Hotter Than The Sun’s Surface.
The Daily Mail (UK) reports astronomers on Thursday will be “observing the total solar eclipse from the North Pole” in an attempt to answer the question of why the sun’s corona is “so much hotter than its surface.” The event Thursday represents a “unique opportunity to try and solve the puzzling phenomena,” since “the plasma of the sun is only visible during a total eclipse.” The team of scientists will be “led by Professor Shadia Habbal, Professor of Solar Physics at the University of Hawaii,” and “will include scientists from Aberystwyth University in Wales.”
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