Europa Spacecraft

Set to blast off sometime in the 2020s

This artist’s rendering shows NASA’s Europa mission spacecraft, which is being developed for a launch sometime in the 2020s. This view shows the spacecraft configuration, which could change before launch, as of early 2016.
The mission would place a spacecraft in orbit around Jupiter in order to perform a detailed investigation of the giant planet’s moon Europa — a world that shows strong evidence for an ocean of liquid water beneath its icy crust and which could host conditions favorable for life. The highly capable, radiation-tolerant spacecraft would enter into a long, looping orbit around Jupiter to perform repeated close flybys of Europa.
The concept image shows two large solar arrays extending from the sides of the spacecraft, to which the mission’s ice-penetrating radar antennas are attached. A saucer-shaped high-gain antenna is also side mounted, with a magnetometer boom placed next to it. On the forward end of the spacecraft (at left in this view) is a remote-sensing palette, which houses the rest of the science instrument payload.
The nominal mission would perform at least 45 flybys of Europa at altitudes varying from 1,700 miles to 16 miles (2,700 kilometers to 25 kilometers) above the surface.
This view takes artistic liberty with Jupiter’s position in the sky relative to Europa and the spacecraft. Credits: NASA/JPL/ESA

Space news (The search for life beyond Earth) – An artist’s rendition of the Europa spacecraft orbiting Jupiter

This 12-frame mosaic provides the highest resolution view ever obtained of the side of Jupiter’s moon Europa that faces the giant planet. It was obtained on Nov. 25, 1999 by the camera onboard the Galileo spacecraft, a past NASA mission to Jupiter and its moons which ended in 2003. NASA will announce today, Tuesday, May 26, the selection of science instruments for a mission to Europa, to investigate whether it could harbor conditions suitable for life. The Europa mission would conduct repeated close flybys of the small moon during a three-year period.
Numerous linear features in the center of this mosaic and toward the poles may have formed in response to tides strong enough to fracture Europa’s icy surface. Some of these features extend for over 1,500 kilometers (900 miles). Darker regions near the equator on the eastern (right) and western (left) limb may be vast areas of chaotic terrain. Bright white spots near the western limb are the ejecta blankets of young impact craters.
North is to the top of the picture and the sun illuminates the surface from the left. The image, centered at 0 latitude and 10 longitude, covers an area approximately 2,500 by 3,000 kilometers. The finest details that can discerned in this picture are about 2 kilometers across (about 1,550 by 1,860 miles). The images were taken by Galileo’s camera when the spacecraft was 94,000 kilometers (58,000 miles) from Europa.
Image Credit: NASA/JPL/University of Arizona

NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory released this artists rendering of the Europa spacecraft, which is set to head to Jupiter sometime in the 2020s. The Europa Mission spacecraft configuration in early 2016 is shown in this image. The final spacecraft configuration at launch could easily be different, so stay tuned here for more news. The position of Jupiter in the sky relative to Europa and the spacecraft are also off in this drawing

This is an artist’s concept of a plume of water vapor thought to be ejected off the frigid, icy surface of the Jovian moon Europa, located about 500 million miles (800 million kilometers) from the sun. Spectroscopic measurements from NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope led scientists to calculate that the plume rises to an altitude of 125 miles (201 kilometers) and then it probably rains frost back onto the moon’s surface. Previous findings already pointed to a subsurface ocean under Europa’s icy crust.
Image credit: NASA/ESA/K. Retherford/SWRI

Two large solar arrays are shown extending from the sides of the Europa spacecraft to which the ice-penetrating radar antennas are attached in this artist’s rendition. On the side of the craft, a saucer-shaped high gain antenna is depicted next to a magnetometer boom. On the forward section is a remote-sensing palette with the remaining science instruments.

Jupiter’s moon Europa has a crust made up of blocks, which are thought to have broken apart and ‘rafted’ into new positions, as shown in the image on the left. These features are the best geologic evidence to date that Europa may have had a subsurface ocean at some time in its past.
Combined with the geologic data, the presence of a magnetic field leads scientists to believe an ocean is most likely present at Europa today. In this false color image, reddish-brown areas represent non-ice material resulting from geologic activity. White areas are rays of material ejected during the formation of the Pwyll impact crater. Icy plains are shown in blue tones to distinguish possibly coarse-grained ice (dark blue) from fine-grained ice (light blue). Long, dark lines are ridges and fractures in the crust, some of which are more than 1,850 miles long. These images were obtained by NASA’s Galileo spacecraft during Sept. 7, 1996, Dec. 1996 and Feb. 1997 at a distance of 417,489 miles.
Image Credit: NASA/JPL/University of Arizona

The Europa Mission profile has a very capable, radiation-resistant spacecraft traveling to Jupiter, where it enters into a long, looping orbit of the giant planet in order to perform at least 45 repeated flybys of Europa at altitudes ranging from 1700 miles to 16 miles (2700 kilometers to 25 kilometers) above its surface. Planetary scientists want to take a closer look at the evidence for an ocean of liquid water beneath its icy shell. An ocean of liquid water that could be the habitat of alien lifeforms we want to get to know better. 

Join the human journey to the beginning of space and time by joining the people helping NASA scientists look for possible planetary bodies between Neptune and Alpha Centauri.

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Chance of 300 to 800 ft. Asteroid Impact on Sept 20, 2020 Estimated at 2 Percent

NASA and FEMA scientists tracking asteroid using ground and space-based telescopes to refine estimates

If this asteroid impacted on the Earth, it would be a dark, bad day for life on the planet. Image Credit: NASA
If this asteroid impacted on the Earth, it would be a dark, bad day for life on the planet. Image Credit: NASA

Space news Sept. 20, 2020 ( NASA Planetary Defense Office: joint NASA and FEMA operation; emergency response to future asteroid impact) – Jet Propulsion Laboratory in El Segundo, California; conducting emergency response exercise for possible future asteroid impact

NASA Planetary Defense Officer Lindley Johnson was among speakers at an Oct. 25, 2016, NASA/FEMA tabletop exercise in El Segundo, California, simulating emergency response to a hypothetical future asteroid impact. Regular exercises like this facilitate a strong working relationship between the asteroid science community and emergency managers. Credits: The Aerospace Corporation.
NASA Planetary Defense Officer Lindley Johnson was among speakers at Oct. 25, 2016, NASA/FEMA tabletop exercise in El Segundo, California, simulating an emergency response to a hypothetical future asteroid impact. Regular exercises like this facilitate a strong working relationship between the asteroid science community and emergency managers.
Credits: The Aerospace Corporation.

NASA Planetary Defense Officer Lindley Johnson spoke today at a simulated emergency response exercise to a possible future asteroid impact estimated for some time around Sept. 20, 2020. The exercise provided a forum for the planetary science community to prepare emergency managers by collecting, analyzing, and sharing data about such an event should it occur. It also provided the chance for emergency response personnel, the asteroid science community, and emergency managers across the country and the world to begin forming the strong working relationships required to protect humanity from an asteroid strike.

This particular exercise was the third in a series hosted jointly by NASA and the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). It was conducted to prepare emergency services in the event of an asteroid impact becomes more likely during the years ahead and strengthen bonds between their partnership. At this point, NASA and FEMA officials say an asteroid impact is very unlikely, but we need to be ready in case of an emergency. 

Representatives of NASA, FEMA, the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, the U.S. Department of Energy’s national laboratories, the U.S. Air Force, and the California Governor’s Office of Emergency Services gathered in El Segundo, California, on Oct. 25, 2016, for a tabletop exercise simulating a possible asteroid impact in 2020. The exercise provided a forum for the planetary science community to show emergency managers how it would collect, analyze and share data about such an event. Credits: The Aerospace Corporation
Representatives of NASA, FEMA, the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, the U.S. Department of Energy’s national laboratories, the U.S. Air Force, and the California Governor’s Office of Emergency Services gathered in El Segundo, California, on Oct. 25, 2016, for a tabletop exercise simulating a possible asteroid impact in 2020. The exercise provided a forum for the planetary science community to show emergency managers how it would collect, analyze and share data about such an event.
Credits: The Aerospace Corporation

“It’s not a matter of if — but when — we will deal with such a situation,” said Thomas Zurbuchen, Associate Administrator for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate in Washington. “But unlike any other time in our history, we now have the ability to respond to an impact threat through continued observations, predictions, response planning, and mitigation.”

During the emergency response exercise, planetary science community representatives showed how data concerning a possible future asteroid impact would be collected, analyzed, and shared. Emergency response managers talked about the way the information would be used to consider the challenges and options during an asteroid impact. They also talked about the way to prepare, respond, and tell the public about the crisis. 

Washington, DC, May 12, 2009 -- FEMA Administrator W. Craig Fugate in the FEMA Studio. FEMA/Bill Koplitz
Washington, DC, May 12, 2009 — FEMA Administrator W. Craig Fugate in the FEMA Studio. FEMA/Bill Koplitz Image Credits: Bill Koplitz/FEMA/NASA

“It is critical to exercise these kinds of low-probability but high-consequence disaster scenarios,” FEMA Administrator Craig Fugate said. “By working through our emergency response plans now, we will be better prepared if and when we need to respond to such an event.”

This possible asteroid impact in four years time was first discovered in the fall and was at that time estimated at 2 percent. NASA assets will continue to track the asteroid for the next three months, before updating the chances of a possible impact. But at this point, NASA and its partners are preparing to launch a possible mission to deflect or otherwise intercept the asteroid. Exercise attendees were left with the challenge of preparing for a mass evacuation of a major US metropolitan city and region in the worst case scenario. They went over possible impact scenarios, looked at possible population displacement estimates, discussed infrastructure that would be affected, and all data that could realistically be known concerning a possible asteroid impact in four years time. 

“The high degree of initial uncertainty coupled with the relatively long impact warning time made this scenario unique and especially challenging for emergency managers,” said FEMA National Response Coordination Branch Chief Leviticus A. Lewis. “It’s quite different from preparing for an event with a much shorter timeline, such as a hurricane.”

They also looked at ways to pass on accurate, timely, and useful information to the general public, while still addressing the possible issue of false rumors and information emerging during the years leading up to an impact. 

“These exercises are invaluable for those of us in the asteroid science community responsible for engaging with FEMA on this natural hazard,” said NASA Planetary Defense Officer Lindley Johnson. “We receive valuable feedback from emergency managers at these exercises about what information is critical for their decision making, and we take that into account when we exercise how we would provide information to FEMA about a predicted impact.”

Study and planning for a possible asteroid impact continues

NASA’s continuing to provide expert input to FEMA about the asteroid through the Planetary Coordination Office. The partners will continue to assess the asteroid and conduct asteroid impact exercises in preparation for a worst case scenario. They also intend to start reaching out to other representatives from local and state emergency management agencies and the private sector in future emergency exercises.

NASA’s looking for a few good firms and private individuals to form meaningful, useful business partnerships with, check it out here

Learn more about the ferocious wind nebula astronomers observed for the first time around the most powerful magnets discovered during the human journey to the beginning of space and time, a magnetar.

Learn how astronomers measure distances to objects on the other side of the Milky Way.

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Check out NASA’s Planetary Defense Office plans and news here.

Rosetta Spacecraft Says Its Final Goodbye

An image of the surface of comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko worth a thousand words

The OSIRIS narrow-angle camera aboard the Space Agency's Rosetta spacecraft captured this image of comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko on September 30, 2016, from an altitude of about 10 miles (16 kilometers) above the surface during the spacecraft’s controlled descent. The image scale is about 12 inches (30 centimeters) per pixel and the image itself measures about 2,000 feet (614 meters) across. Credits: ESA/Rosetta/MPS/UPD/LAM/IAA/SSO/INTA/UPM/DASP/IDA
The OSIRIS narrow-angle camera aboard the Space Agency’s Rosetta spacecraft captured this image of comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko on September 30, 2016, from an altitude of about 10 miles (16 kilometers) above the surface during the spacecraft’s controlled descent. The image scale is about 12 inches (30 centimeters) per pixel and the image itself measures about 2,000 feet (614 meters) across.
Credits: ESA/Rosetta/MPS/UPD/LAM/IAA/SSO/INTA/UPM/DASP/IDA

Space news (solar system science: planetary science; cometary science) – 66 feet above the surface of comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko; in a controlled descent –

Rosetta's last image of Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko, taken shortly before impact, at an estimated altitude of 66 feet (20 meters) above the surface. The image was taken with the OSIRIS wide-angle camera on 30 September. The image scale is about 5 mm/pixel and the image measures about 2.4 m across. Credits: ESA/Rosetta/MPS for OSIRIS Team MPS/UPD/LAM/IAA/SSO/INTA/UPM/DASP/IDA
Rosetta’s last image of Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko, taken shortly before impact, at an estimated altitude of 66 feet (20 meters) above the surface. The image was taken with the OSIRIS wide-angle camera on 30 September. The image scale is about 5 mm/pixel and the image measures about 2.4 m across.
Credits: ESA/Rosetta/MPS for OSIRIS Team MPS/UPD/LAM/IAA/SSO/INTA/UPM/DASP/IDA

The image above is the last thing the OSIRIS narrow-angle camera aboard the European Space Agency”s (ESA)Rosetta spacecraft captured before it hit the surface of comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko at 4:19 a.m. PDT (7:19 a.m. EDT/1:19 p.m. CEST) on September 30, 2016. During this controlled crash landing of the first spacecraft in history to rendezvous and escort a comet as it orbits the Sun. Astronomers were able to conduct an additional study of the gas, dust and plasma environment close to the surface of the comet and take these high-resolution images.

Comet from 5.7 km – narrow-angle camera Credit: ESA/Rosetta/MPS for OSIRIS Team MPS/UPD/LAM/IAA/SSO/INTA/UPM/DASP/IDA
Comet from 5.7 km – narrow-angle camera
Credit: ESA/Rosetta/MPS for OSIRIS Team MPS/UPD/LAM/IAA/SSO/INTA/UPM/DASP/IDA

The OSIRIS narrow-angle camera also captured the image shown at the top of the page from a height of around 10 miles (16 kilometers) from the surface of comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko. This image spans a distance of around 2,000 feet (614 meters) across the comet’s icy and volatile surface. Attempting to walk across such a surface as Bruce Willis and his drilling crew did in the movie Armageddon is going to be tricky at best.

OSIRIS narrow-angle camera image with Philae, 2 September Credit: ESA/Rosetta/MPS for OSIRIS Team MPS/UPD/LAM/IAA/SSO/INTA/UPM/DASP/IDA
OSIRIS narrow-angle camera image with Philae, 2 September
Credit: ESA/Rosetta/MPS for OSIRIS Team MPS/UPD/LAM/IAA/SSO/INTA/UPM/DASP/IDA

It might seem like a waste to purposely crash the Rosetta spacecraft on comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko, but in the end, it’s probably the best solution. This comets headed out beyond the orbit of Jupiter, which is further from the Sun than the spacecraft has traveled before, and there wouldn’t be enough solar power to operate its systems. Communicating with the spacecraft’s also about to become difficult for a month, with the Sun being close to the line-of-sight between Earth and Rosetta during this time period.

Close-up of the Philae lander, imaged by Rosetta’s OSIRIS narrow-angle camera on 2 September 2016 from a distance of 2.7 km. The image scale is about 5 cm/pixel. Philae’s 1 m-wide body and two of its three legs can be seen extended from the body. The images also provide proof of Philae’s orientation. The image is a zoom from a wider-scene, and has been interpolated. More information: Philae found! Credit: ESA/Rosetta/MPS for OSIRIS Team MPS/UPD/LAM/IAA/SSO/INTA/UPM/DASP/IDA
Close-up of the Philae lander, imaged by Rosetta’s OSIRIS narrow-angle camera on 2 September 2016 from a distance of 2.7 km. The image scale is about 5 cm/pixel. Philae’s 1 m-wide body and two of its three legs can be seen extended from the body. The images also provide proof of Philae’s orientation.
The image is a zoom from a wider-scene, and has been interpolated.
More information: Philae found!
Credit: ESA/Rosetta/MPS for OSIRIS Team MPS/UPD/LAM/IAA/SSO/INTA/UPM/DASP/IDA

Rosetta mission complete

Feel happy for Rosetta and team, they both did the job, and then some in the end. It took a decade of careful planning and travel to rendezvous with comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko and write history. Just one month and two days later, a smaller lander named Philae touched down on the surface of the comet. It bounced on the surface a few times, before finally setting down. During the next few days, it took the first images ever of a comet’s surface up close and sent back important data planetary scientists will use to look for clues to the role comets played in the formation of the planets 4.5 billion years ago. Clues they hope to use to learn more about the origin and evolution of our solar system and possibly the formation of solar systems in general.

JPL/NASA Rosetta Team From left to right: Dongsuk (Don) Han- Outer Planet Navigation Bruce Tsurutani - Rpc-mag Essam Heggy - Consert Sam Gulkis - Miro Danny Tran - Aspen Josh Doubleday - Aspen Gregg Rabideau - Aspen Tim Koch - Miro Martina Troesch - Software Barbara Hesselgesser - Acquisitions Paul Von Allmen - Miro Belinda Arroyo - DSN Sophia Lee - Scheduling Paul Friz-Rosetta Shadow Project Liz Barrios - Illustrator Paul Springer - Miro Steve Chien - Aspen Cynthia Kahn-Former SE David Delgado - Public Engagement Claudia Alexander - Project Scientist Grant Faris - MA Shyam Bhaskaran - NAV Mark Hofstadter - Miro Seungwon Lee - Miro Lei Pan - Miro Jacky Bagumyan - Assistant Adans Ko - MA Sarah Marcotte - Mars consultant Charlene Barone - Rosetta Web Project Lead Dan Goods - Creative Director Virgil Adumitroale - Miro Richard Flores - Acquisitions Artur Chmielewski - Rosetta Project Manager Veronica McGregor - Social Media Credits: NASA/JPL
JPL/NASA Rosetta Team
From left to right:
Dongsuk (Don) Han- Outer Planet Navigation
Bruce Tsurutani – Rpc-mag
Essam Heggy – Consert
Sam Gulkis – Miro
Danny Tran – Aspen
Josh Doubleday – Aspen
Gregg Rabideau – Aspen
Tim Koch – Miro
Martina Troesch – Software
Barbara Hesselgesser – Acquisitions
Paul Von Allmen – Miro
Belinda Arroyo – DSN
Sophia Lee – Scheduling
Paul Friz-Rosetta Shadow Project
Liz Barrios – Illustrator
Paul Springer – Miro
Steve Chien – Aspen
Cynthia Kahn-Former SE
David Delgado – Public Engagement
Claudia Alexander – Project Scientist
Grant Faris – MA
Shyam Bhaskaran – NAV
Mark Hofstadter – Miro
Seungwon Lee – Miro
Lei Pan – Miro
Jacky Bagumyan – Assistant
Adans Ko – MA
Sarah Marcotte – Mars consultant
Charlene Barone – Rosetta Web Project Lead
Dan Goods – Creative Director
Virgil Adumitroale – Miro
Richard Flores – Acquisitions
Artur Chmielewski – Rosetta Project Manager
Veronica McGregor – Social Media
Credits: NASA/JPL

Watch this YouTube video of the last few hours of ESA’s Rosetta mission.

Read and learn more about planetary scientists anticipation of studying a sample of material from the surface of comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko, material left over from the early moments of the birth of the solar system.

Read about comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko.

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Learn more about comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko here.

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Read and learn more about comets here.

 

NASA’s OSIRIS-REx Launches Toward 2018 Rendezvous with Asteroid Bennu

Expected 2023 return to Earth with the largest sample returned from space since the era of the Apollo missions

NASA's OSIRIS-REx mission launches from NASA Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida. Credits: NASA
NASA’s OSIRIS-REx mission launches from NASA Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida. Credits: NASA

Space news (planetary science missions: sampling asteroid that was remnant of early solar system; OSIRIS-REx spacecraft’s seven-year mission to asteroid Bennu) – 7:05 p.m. EDT from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida – 

Post launch conference inside the KSCTV Auditorium after the successful launch of OSIRIS-REx. Credits: Photo credit: NASA/Kim Shiflett
Post launch conference inside the KSCTV Auditorium after the successful launch of OSIRIS-REx. Credits: Photo credit: NASA/Kim Shiflett

NASA launched its OSIRIS-REx mission to return a sample of a nearby asteroid that formed part of the early solar system more than 4.5 billion years ago at 7:05 on Thursday. The OSIRIS-REx spacecraft will be the agency’s first automated envoy to rendezvous with a nearby asteroid and return a sample for planetary scientists to study and discuss.  

NASA's OSIRIS-REx tests onboard thrusters during its journey to asteroid Bennu in this image. Credits: NASA
NASA’s OSIRIS-REx tests onboard thrusters during its journey to asteroid Bennu in this image. Credits: NASA

“Today, we celebrate a huge milestone for this remarkable mission, and for this mission team,” said NASA Administrator Charles Bolden. “We’re very excited about what this mission can tell us about the origin of our solar system, and we celebrate the bigger picture of science that is helping us make discoveries and accomplish milestones that might have been science fiction yesterday, but are science facts today.” 

How do you study the topography of an asteroid millions of miles away? Map it with a robotic cartographer! The OSIRIS-REx Laser Altimeter, or OLA, is provided by the Canadian Space Agency and will be used to create three-dimensional global topographic maps of Bennu and local maps of candidate sample sites. Credits: NASA
How do you study the topography of an asteroid millions of miles away? Map it with a robotic cartographer! The OSIRIS-REx Laser Altimeter, or OLA, is provided by the Canadian Space Agency and will be used to create three-dimensional global topographic maps of Bennu and local maps of candidate sample sites. Credits: NASA

Scientists suspect asteroids like Bennu could have been the source of much of the water and possibly organic molecules of the Genesis of Earth-based life. An uncontaminated asteroid sample to precisely analysis might provide results far beyond those achieved by spacecraft instruments or studying meteorites that have fallen to Earth.  

Dante Lauretta Professor, Principal Investigator, OSIRIS-REx. Credits: The University of Arizona
Dante Lauretta
Professor, Principal Investigator, OSIRIS-REx. Credits: The University of Arizona

“With today’s successful launch, the OSIRIS-REx spacecraft embarks on a journey of exploration to Bennu,” said Dante Lauretta, OSIRIS-REx principal investigator at the University of Arizona, Tucson. “I couldn’t be more proud of the team that made this mission a reality, and I can’t wait to see what we will discover at Bennu.” 

Doing a gravitational dance with asteroid Bennu

After rendezvousing with asteroid Bennu sometime in 2018, NASA’s OSIRIS-REx spacecraft will begin a delicate gravitational dance with the asteroid, mapping and studying its surface in preparation for collecting a sample. Around July 2020, the spacecraft will perform an intricate, daring maneuver designed to stir up surface material for collection. Plans are to scoop up at least two ounces (60 grams) of small rocks and dust in its onboard sample return container for planetary scientists at NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas to examine in depth.  

NASA's OSIRIS-REx mission will map the surface of asteroid Bennu and retrieve a sample of surface material for planetary scientists at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory to examine in depth. Credits: NASA
NASA’s OSIRIS-REx mission will map the surface of asteroid Bennu and retrieve a sample of surface material for planetary scientists at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory to examine in depth. Credits: NASA

“It’s satisfying to see the culmination of years of effort from this outstanding team,” said Mike Donnelly, OSIRIS-REx project manager at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland. “We were able to deliver OSIRIS-REx on time and under budget to the launch site, and will soon do something that no other NASA spacecraft has done – bring back a sample from an asteroid.” 

Learn about small, near-Earth asteroid 25143 Itokawa.

Learn about NASA’s NEOWISE and its one year mission to detect near-Earth asteroids.

Read about US Congress recognizing the right of Americans to own asteroid resources.

Watch this video of the liftoff of the OSIRIS-REx mission from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida.  

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Chandra Detects X-ray Emissions of Comets PanSTARRS and ISON

Produced when heavy atoms in solar wind strike lighter atoms in comets’ atmosphere 

Astronomers used Chandra to observe Comet ISON and Comet PanSTARRS in 2013, when these comets were relatively close to the Earth. The graphic shows the comets in optical images taken by an astrophotographer, with insets showing the X-ray images from Chandra. The X-ray emission is produced when a wind of particles from the Sun – the solar wind – strikes the comet’s atmosphere. The Chandra data was used to estimate the composition of the solar wind, including the amount of carbon and nitrogen, finding values that agree with independent measurements. Image credit: X-ray: NASA/CXC/Univ. of CT/B.Snios et al, Optical: DSS, Damian Peach (damianpeach.com)
Astronomers used Chandra to observe Comet ISON and Comet PanSTARRS in 2013, when these comets were relatively close to the Earth. The graphic shows the comets in optical images taken by an astrophotographer, with insets showing the X-ray images from Chandra. The X-ray emission is produced when a wind of particles from the Sun – the solar wind – strikes the comet’s atmosphere. The Chandra data was used to estimate the composition of the solar wind, including the amount of carbon and nitrogen, finding values that agree with independent measurements.
Image credit: X-ray: NASA/CXC/Univ. of CT/B.Snios et al, Optical: DSS, Damian Peach (damianpeach.com)

Space news (planetary dynamics: Oort Cloud comets; PanSTARRS & ISON) – 90 & 130 million miles from Earth, respectively, observing x-ray emissions as solar wind particles strike comets’ atmosphere – 

Astronomers used Chandra to observe Comet ISON and Comet PanSTARRS in 2013, when these comets were relatively close to the Earth. The graphic shows the comets in optical images taken by an astrophotographer, with insets showing the X-ray images from Chandra. The X-ray emission is produced when a wind of particles from the Sun - the solar wind - strikes the comet's atmosphere. The Chandra data was used to estimate the composition of the solar wind, including the amount of carbon and nitrogen, finding values that agree with independent measurements.
Astronomers used Chandra to observe Comet ISON and Comet PanSTARRS in 2013, when these comets were relatively close to the Earth. The graphic shows the comets in optical images taken by an astrophotographer, with insets showing the X-ray images from Chandra. The X-ray emission is produced when a wind of particles from the Sun – the solar wind – strikes the comet’s atmosphere. The Chandra data was used to estimate the composition of the solar wind, including the amount of carbon and nitrogen, finding values that agree with independent measurements.

Thousands of years ago, ancient sky watchers observed terrible, fiery balls of fire that appeared suddenly in the sky. Hairy stars resembling fiery swords that appeared unpredictably, ancient astronomers and societies interpreted these terrifying, fear inducing travelers as harbingers of doom predicting impending disaster or even success in a future endeavor. Often connecting their appearance to famine, war, and plague, to the death of a beloved or fall of an empire or warlord, throughout history comets filled us with fear and even during modern times continue to entrance and fill us with awe. 

Comet ISON comes in from the bottom right and moves out toward the upper right, getting fainter and fainter, in this time-lapse image from the ESA/NASA Solar and Heliospheric Observatory. The image of the sun at the center is from NASA's Solar Dynamics Observatory. Image Credit: ESA/NASA/SOHO/SDO/GSFC
Comet ISON comes in from the bottom right and moves out toward the upper right, getting fainter and fainter, in this time-lapse image from the ESA/NASA Solar and Heliospheric Observatory. The image of the sun at the center is from NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory.
Image Credit: ESA/NASA/SOHO/SDO/GSFC

Recently, astronomers working with NASA’s Chandra X-ray Observatory detected x-ray emissions produced as particles in the solar wind struck the atmospheres’ of Comets ISON and PanSTARRS. Two long-period comets originating in the Oort Cloud far beyond the orbit of the planets, solar scientists use them as laboratories to study the composition of the stream of exotic particles flowing from the Sun called the solar wind. Astrophysicists determined x-ray emissions were produced as heavy particles in the solar wind struck lighter particles in the atmospheres’ of Comets ISON and PanSTARRS. X-ray emissions with varying shapes indicating differences in the solar wind and atmospheres’ of these comets at the time of the observations.  

This image from NASA's Solar Dynamics Observatory shows the sun, but no Comet ISON was seen. A white plus sign shows where the Comet should have appeared. It is likely that the comet did not survive the trip. Credits: NASA/SDO
This image from NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory shows the sun, but no Comet ISON was seen. A white plus sign shows where the Comet should have appeared. It is likely that the comet did not survive the trip.
Credits: NASA/SDO

Observations of Comet ISON detected a greenish hue attributed to gasses like cyanogen, which contains oxygen and nitrogen, streaming from its nucleus. Chandra data obtained shows this comet has a well-developed, parabolic shape indicative of a dense atmosphere. In comparison, observations of Comet PanSTARRS show a more diffuse x-ray spectrum, indicating it has less gas and more dust in its atmosphere. Observations that agree with independent measurements made by NASA’s Advanced Composition Explorer and other instruments. Planetary scientists plan to use the detailed computer simulations they developed during these studies to help analyze the data obtained by Chandra of Comets ISON and PanSTARRS to investigate interactions between the solar wind and other comets, planets, and even interstellar gas.  

Twelve NASA spacecraft assets had an opportunity to observe Comet ISON, including the Heliophysics solar observatories; Solar Dynamic Observatory, STEREO and SOHO. Credits: NASA
Twelve NASA spacecraft assets had an opportunity to observe Comet ISON, including the Heliophysics solar observatories; Solar Dynamic Observatory, STEREO and SOHO.
Credits: NASA

Learn more about the role planetary scientists suspect comets and asteroids played during the opening moments of the birth of the solar system and planets.

Read and learn about viewing the ghostly glow of streaking Orionid meteorites.

Learn about what planetary scientists discovered during the recent visit of NASA’s Deep Impact spacecraft to comet Hartley 2.

After perihelion comet, ISON’s changed in ways planetary scientists are trying to determine at this time. Watch this NASA video on the ultimate fate of comet ISON.

Join NASA’s journey to the beginning of space and time here

Watch this NASA-sponsored tour of  Comet ISON

Discover more about comet PanSTARRS here

Learn more about NASA’s Chandra X-ray Observatory.

NASA’s Juno Spacecraft Makes Jupiter Orbit After Five Years Traveling Across the Solar System

Juno team still celebrating confirmation of successful insertion into Jupiter orbit

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This computer-generated image depicts NASA’s Juno spacecraft firing its Leros-1b main engine. Credits: NASA/JPL

Space news (Space missions to Jupiter: NASA; Juno makes orbit around mighty Jupiter) – 370 million miles (596 million kilometers) from Earth, traveling at around 11 miles per second (17 kilometers per second) relative to the Sol, or 29 miles/second (46 kilometers/s) relative to Earth – 

This artist's rendering shows NASA's Juno spacecraft above the north pole of Jupiter. Credits: NASA/JPL
This artist’s rendering shows NASA’s Juno spacecraft above the north pole of Jupiter. Credits: NASA/JPL

It’s a bold, confident step forward into the solar system for NASA and the human journey to the beginning of space and time. After traveling nearly 1.36 billion miles (2.2 billion kilometers) during a journey lasting almost five years, NASA scientists and engineers prepared the Juno spacecraft for a planned 45-minute main engine burn to slow the spacecraft by around 1,200 mph (540 meters per second). At this lesser speed, the spacecraft falls quietly into mighty Jupiter’s gravity well, by entering Jupiter orbital insertion at a more controlled velocity. During this pre-insertion phase mission, specialists in NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California altered Juno’s altitude to point its main engine in the right direction for the maneuver. They also increased the spacecraft’s rate of rotation from 2 to 5 revolutions per minute (RPM) to help stabilize it. 

Portrait, Charles F. Bolden, Jr., Administrator, National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA). Washington, DC, July 29, 2009. Photo Credit: (NASA/Bill Ingalls)
Portrait, Charles F. Bolden, Jr., Administrator, National Aeronautics, and Space Administration (NASA). Washington, DC, July 29, 2009. Photo Credit: (NASA/Bill Ingalls)

“Independence Day always is something to celebrate, but today we can add to America’s birthday another reason to cheer — Juno is at Jupiter,” said NASA administrator Charlie Bolden. “And what is more American than a NASA mission going boldly where no spacecraft has gone before? With Juno, we will investigate the unknowns of Jupiter’s massive radiation belts to delve deep into not only the planet’s interior but into how Jupiter was born and how our entire solar system evolved.” 

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This infographic illustrates the radiation environments Juno has traveled through on its journey near Earth and in interplanetary space. Credits: NASA/JPL

At 8:18 p.m. PDT (11:18 p.m. EDT) on Monday, June 4, 2016, NASA’s Juno spacecraft started its 645-Newton Leros-1b main engine to decrease velocity to allow for a safe Jupiter orbital insertion. 35 minutes later, at 8:53 p.m. PDT (11:53 p.m. EDT), NASA’s Juno team received data from the spacecraft confirming a successful insertion into orbit around mighty Jupiter. A little earlier than expected, but better early, than never at all.  

Description: Scott Bolton, Div. 15, Portrait, man, 1 image Date photographed: 12/7/04 Charge number: 68OH Publication: New Hire/Professional Announcement Contact name: Brenda Decker Photographed by: Larry Walther Department name: Division: (68)
Scott Bolton, principle investigator of Juno from Southwest Research Institute in San Antonio. Credits: NASA/JPL 

“This is the one time I don’t mind being stuck in a windowless room on the night of the 4th of July,” said Scott Bolton, principal investigator of Juno from Southwest Research Institute in San Antonio. “The mission team did great. The spacecraft did great. We are looking great. It’s a great day.” 

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This is the final view taken by the JunoCam instrument on NASA’s Juno spacecraft before Juno’s instruments were powered down in preparation for orbit insertion on July 4. Credits: NASA/JPL

After the successful Jupiter orbital insertion, the team turned Juno so its three huge solar arrays, shaped like a windmill, could capture the sun’s rays on 18,698 individual solar cells that give Juno its energy. At an average distance of around 484 million miles (778 million kilometers) from Sol, Jupiter is generally five times further from the sun than Earth, which means the amount of solar energy collected by Juno’s solar array’s about 25 times weaker. At this distance, despite recent advances in solar cell technology, Juno’s solar collectors only provide about 450 watts of power, enough to power four household light bulbs. 

“The spacecraft worked perfectly, which is always nice when you’re driving a vehicle with 1.7 billion miles on the odometer,” said Rick Nybakken, Juno project manager from JPL. “Jupiter orbit insertion was a big step and the most challenging remaining in our mission plan, but there are others that have to occur before we can give the science team members the mission they are looking for.” 

Next, the team will prepare Juno to conduct the science data collection phase of the mission. They need to do final testing of all spacecraft subsystems, calibrate science instruments, and collect some data to enable the next phase of Juno’s mission to Jupiter.  

This illustration depicts NASA's Juno spacecraft approaching Jupiter. Credits: NASA/JPL
This illustration depicts NASA’s Juno spacecraft approaching Jupiter. Credits: NASA/JPL

“Our official science collection phase begins in October, but we’ve figured out a way to collect data a lot earlier than that,” said Bolton. “Which when you’re talking about the single biggest planetary body in the solar system is a really good thing. There is a lot to see and do here.” 

The Juno mission’s primary science objective is to uncover clues to the origin and evolution of mighty Jupiter, the biggest planet in our solar system. Now, Juno will turn its suite of nine science instruments to the task of exploring the possible existence of a solid planetary core and mapping the gas giant’s extreme magnetic field. It will also measure the amount of water and ammonia in the deep atmosphere of Jupiter and observe its amazing, stunning auroras. If the mission goes as scripted, human knowledge and understanding of the birth and formation of giant planets will take a huge step forward, and the part Jupiter played in the origin and evolution of the solar system and life on Earth could be partly revealed. The knowledge we gain through our journey to Jupiter can even offer us useful, critical clues to the processes creating some of the bizarre creatures in the Planetary Zoo of Exoplanets.  

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This trio of Junocam views of Earth was taken during Juno’s close flyby on October 9, 2013. The leftmost view shows the southern two-thirds of South America. As the spacecraft moved eastward during its flyby, the Chilean coast and the snowy line of the Andes Mountains recedes toward the limb at left on the planet. The third image includes a view of the Argentinean coastline with reflections, or specular highlights, off the Rio Negro north of Golfo San Matias, as well as cloud formations over Antarctica. Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

Watch JunoCam

Join the conversation and help determine future targets for JunoCam, a visible light camera on board Juno. Right now, people around the world are talking about and voting on the images the spacecraft will take of Jupiter during its mission. They’re uploading personal images and data NASA mission specialists can use to help plan the days ahead for the Juno mission. We suggest you read the submission guidelines before submitting images or data to the official Juno website.  

Here people can read the latest news concerning Juno, watch a series of videos with announcer Bill Nye (The Science Guy) explaining the dangers and interesting things you need to know about Jupiter and its moon system and meet the team behind our journey to the biggest planet in the solar system. You can follow the story of the Juno mission from start to finish and find out about future plans for our visit. 

Watch this movie of Juno’s approach to Jupiter and moons between June 12 – 29. It starts with the spacecraft about 10 million miles from Jupiter and ends 3 million miles away from the gas giant.  

For millennium Jupiter was but a wandering star until Galileo observed transiting bodies change position with respect to the suspect star over the course of a few nights. Through these observations, he realized these bodies were moons orbiting a distant planet. He came to the revelation the Earth isn’t the center of the universe and forever changed the way we view our place in the cosmos.  

Join the voyage of NASA and its scientists, engineers and brave astronauts here

Learn more about Jupiter and its moon system

Join Juno as it prepares to explore Jupiter here

Explore NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory

Read and learn about magnetic lines of force emanating from supermassive black holes.

Travel across the Tarantula Nebula on a runaway star.

Read about the star navigating skills of Polynesian islanders who colonized the isolated islands of the Pacific Ocean.

Europa Spacecraft

Set to blast off sometime in the 2020s

Space news (The search for life beyond Earth) – An artist’s rendition of the Europa spacecraft orbiting Jupiter

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NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory released this artists rendering of the Europa spacecraft, which is set to head to Jupiter sometime in the 2020s. The Europa Mission spacecraft configuration in early 2016 is shown in this image. The final spacecraft configuration at launch could easily be different, so stay tuned here for more news. The position of Jupiter in the sky relative to Europa and the spacecraft are also off in this drawing

Two large solar arrays are shown extending from the sides of the Europa spacecraft to which the ice-penetrating radar antennas are attached in this artist’s rendition. On the side of the craft, a saucer-shaped high gain antenna is depicted next to a magnetometer boom. On the forward section is a remote-sensing palette with the remaining science instruments.

The Europa Mission profile has a very capable, radiation-resistant spacecraft traveling to Jupiter, where it enters into a long, looping orbit of the giant planet in order to perform at least 45 repeated flybys of Europa at altitudes ranging from 1700 miles to 16 miles (2700 kilometers to 25 kilometers above its surface. Planetary scientists want to take a closer look at the evidence for an ocean of liquid water beneath its icy shell. An ocean of liquid water that could be the habitat of alien lifeforms we want to get to know better. 

Learn more about NASA’s Europa Mission here.

Explore NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory.

Learn more about Jupiter and its moons here.

Explore Europa.

Read about the next generation Large Synoptic Survey Telescope.

Learn more about the recent observation of gravitational waves by LIGO.

Learn about Gosek Henge a 7,000-year-old solar observatory.

U.S. Congress Recognizes Right of U.S. Citizens to Own Asteroid Resources

By passing historic legislation H.R. 2262 into law

A complex asteroid mining module is required to build possible future space settlements. This mining module is fully automated and can mine and process materials ranging from metal to fiberglass to volatiles
A complex asteroid mining module is required to build possible future space settlements. This mining module is fully automated and can mine and process materials ranging from metal to fiberglass to volatiles

Space news (November 17, 2015) – U.S. House of Congress –

When President Abraham Lincoln signed the Homestead Act into law on May 20, 1862, this spurred growth in the search for gold and timber to fuel the expanding economy of the nation and opened up new frontiers for continued growth and prosperity for all. 

Now, all Americans can take part in the future asteroid bonanza on the space frontier in the decades ahead. 

On November 10, 2015, U.S. Congress passed into law bill H.R. 2262, legislation recognizing the right of Americans to own the resources contained within asteroids they claim as property. 

One 300 meter asteroid can contain more minerals than have been mined on Earth, so far.
One 300 meter asteroid can contain more minerals than have been mined on Earth, so far.

We are proud to have the support of Congress. Throughout history, governments have spurred growth in new frontiers by instituting sensible legislation. Long ago, The Homestead Act of 1862 advocated for the search for gold and timber, and today, H.R. 2262 fuels a new economy that will open many avenues for the continual growth and prosperity of humanity. This off-planet economy will forever change our lives for the better here on Earth,” said Chris Lewicki, President, and Chief Engineer, Planetary Resources, Inc.

Planetary Resources is grateful for the leadership shown by Congress in crafting this legislation and looks forward to President Obama signing the language into law. We applaud the members of Congress who have led this effort and actively sought stakeholder input to ensure a vibrant economy and prosperous way of life now and for centuries to come. Patty Murray (D-WA), Kevin McCarthy (R-CA), Lamar Smith (R-TX), Bill Posey (R-FL) and Derek Kilmer (D-WA) have been unwavering in their support and leadership for the growth of the U.S. economy into the Solar System. Their forward-looking stance and active role in enabling the development of an economically and strategically valuable new marketplace will ensure our country’s continued leadership in space,” said Peter Marquez, Vice President of Global Engagement, Planetary Resources, Inc.

Planetary Resources is one of a new breed of private space adventures planning on mining an asteroid close to Earth in the next decade.
Planetary Resources is one of a new breed of private space adventures planning on mining an asteroid close to Earth in the next decade.

In the words of Senator Murray, “I am glad that we’ve taken this important step forward to update our federal policies to make sure they work for innovative businesses creating jobs in Washington state. Washington state leads in so many ways, and I’m proud that local businesses are once again at the forefront of new industries that will help our economy continue to grow.”

Congressman Posey said, “This bipartisan, bicameral legislation is a landmark for American leadership in space exploration. Recognizing basic legal protections in space will help pave the way for exciting future commercial space endeavors. Asteroids and other objects in space are excellent potential sources of rare minerals and other resources that can be used to manufacture a wide range of products here on Earth and to support future space exploration missions. Americans willing to invest in space mining operations need legal certainty that they can keep the fruits of their labor, and this bill provides that certainty.”

Congressman Kilmer said, “The commercial space industry in Washington state is leading the way in developing the cutting edge technology necessary to support human space exploration. The U. S. Commercial Space Launch Competitiveness Act will give these ventures the framework they need to continue to innovate and to keep the United States at the head of this growing, global industry. I congratulate the Senate for taking this step, and I look forward to the House quickly sending this bill to President Obama’s desk.”

Eric Anderson, Co-Founder, and Co-Chairman, Planetary Resources, Inc., said, “Many years from now, we will view this pivotal moment in time as a major step toward humanity becoming a multi-planetary species. This legislation establishes the same supportive framework that created the great economies of history, and it will foster the sustained development of space.”

Time to cash in those old stocks and bonds from the bygone era of Earth exploitation. The future is asteroids! 

Private firms around the United States and the world are currently making plans to take part in the future space bonanza. Can you afford to sit idly on the sidelines, while the future and opportunity pass you by? 

Take action! Join Planetary Resources or one of the few private firms planning on mining an asteroid in the decades ahead. 

Get your little piece of the future, in the form of a portion of the resources and monetary rewards of being part of the coming space bonanza.

People are currently getting in on the ground floor of this adventure and opportunity to take part in the future of mankind. 

The future is before us! Waiting to greet us into a sustainable way of living among the stars.  

Join the human journey to the beginning of space and time by investing in the future of mankind.

Read about NASA’s Explorer Program, which allows for relatively low-cost exploration of the solar system and cosmos.

Learn more about private firm Planetary Resources Inc. and their plans to mine an asteroid in the future.

Read about the search for the missing link in black hole evolution.

Learn more about mining as asteroid here.

Check out and join private firm Planetary Resources Inc. in their plans to cash in on the asteroid mining bonanza here.

Learn more about historic legislation H.R. 2262 here.

Planetary Resources Inc. Planning on Mining an Asteroid

One 300-500 meter asteroid has enough resources to make it financially feasible to mine for ore and water

Space news ( September 02, 2015) – Finding and moving an asteroid of this size with the right composition safely to the right location for mining is the difficult part 

Here is an illustration that shows the three typical orbit patterns of near-Earth asteroids. You can see that the Aten, Amor and Apollo orbits come very close to, and sometimes intersect, with the Earth’s orbit. When this occurs we observe them and can even rendezvous with them with our Arkyd spacecraft. Credit: Planetary Resources, Inc.
Here is an illustration that shows the three typical orbit patterns of near-Earth asteroids. You can see that the Aten, Amor and Apollo orbits come very close to, and sometimes intersect, with the Earth’s orbit. When this occurs we observe them and can even rendezvous with them with our Arkyd spacecraft. Credit: Planetary Resources, Inc.

Planetary Resources Inc. is currently doing a survey of potential asteroids with the right composition close enough to make mining safely feasible. Potential asteroids are all closer to Earth than Main Belt asteroids, which are much more difficult to reach and mine for ore and water. Mining a Main Belt asteroid is a project for the future and one better done from a location closer to the target area.

1999 JU3 is on Planetary Resources Target list. It is a known carbonaceous asteroid that is predicted to be worth trillions. Image Credit: Planetary Resources, Inc. http://www.planetaryresources.com/asteroids/#asteroids-targets
1999 JU3 is on Planetary Resources Target list. It is a known carbonaceous asteroid that is predicted to be worth trillions. Image Credit: Planetary Resources, Inc. http://www.planetaryresources.com/asteroids/#asteroids-targets

At this point, Planetary Resources is gathering together the data collected by scientists during the last two decades on over 11,000 potential asteroids, along with nearly a million possible targets located in the Main Belt. Using this data they have developed a list of potential asteroids they’re currently following and evaluating for further prospecting. 

Prospecting potential asteroids using specifically designed spacecraft

In Planetary Resources factory in Redmond, WA engineers and scientists are developing advanced spacecraft capable of traveling to and prospecting potential asteroids. Called Arkyd rendezvous prospectors, these low-cost spacecraft are equipped with hyperspectral and infrared sensors, which will allow scientists to gather data on the composition of potential asteroids. They’ll also analyze data collected and send it back to Earth to be evaluated by geologists for mining feasibility.

Planetary Resources engineers are currently testing this space prospecting technology in low-Earth orbit. The Arkyd 3R deployed from the International Space Station during July. Engineers and scientists are presently testing systems and technologies designed for use in future Arkyd spacecraft.

Arkyd 6 launching in 2015
Arkyd 6 launching in 2015

Work continues

Later in 2015, Planetary Resources is planning on launching Arkyd 6 (A6), a slightly larger and more robust spacecraft carrying an infrared imaging sensor geologists want to use to look at asteroids for water and water-bearing minerals. The data they collect using their Arkyd 3R and A6 spacecraft will be used to define a mission profile for the feasible mining of a potential asteroid in the near future.

For more information on Planetary Resources and plans to mine an asteroid visit here.

For more information on asteroids go here.

Learn about a Magnetar found orbiting Sagittarius A, the supermassive black hole astronomers believe resides at the center of the Milky Way.

Read about the first Earth-sized exoplanet discovered suitable as a cradle for a new human genesis.

Learn more about the current search for habitable planets and life beyond Earth.

Pluto

Considered the ninth planet for nearly 75 years, the second biggest dwarf planet discovered in the solar system. Pluto was originally given the name of the Greek god of the underworld by 11-year-old Venetia Burney.

This is the most detailed view to date of the entire surface of the dwarf planet Pluto, as constructed from multiple NASA Hubble Space Telescope photographs taken from 2002 to 2003. The center disk (180 degrees) has a mysterious bright spot that is unusually rich in carbon monoxide frost. Pluto is so small and distant that the task of resolving the surface is as challenging as trying to see the markings on a soccer ball 40 miles away. Credit: NASA, ESA, and M. Buie (Southwest Research Institute). Photo No. STScI-PR10-06a
This is the most detailed view to date of the entire surface of the dwarf planet Pluto, as constructed from multiple NASA Hubble Space Telescope photographs taken from 2002 to 2003. The center disk (180 degrees) has a mysterious bright spot that is unusually rich in carbon monoxide frost. Pluto is so small and distant that the task of resolving the surface is as challenging as trying to see the markings on a soccer ball 40 miles away. Credit: NASA, ESA, and M. Buie (Southwest Research Institute). Photo No. STScI-PR10-06a

Space & Astronomy Wiki – the planets in the solar system –

The furthest of the original nine planets in the solar system from Sol at 3.7 billion miles (5.9 billion km) or 39.5 AU, Pluto is the second biggest dwarf planet behind Eris, which is about 28 percent more massive.

In 2005, this image from NASA's Hubble Space Telescope was used to identify two new moons orbiting Pluto. Pluto is in the center. The moon Charon is just below it. The newly discovered moons, Nix and Hydra, are to the right of Pluto and Charon. Credits: NASA, ESA, H. Weaver (JHU/APL), A. Stern (SwRI), and the HST
In 2005, this image from NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope was used to identify two new moons orbiting Pluto. Pluto is in the center. The moon Charon is just below it. The newly discovered moons, Nix, and Hydra are to the right of Pluto and Charon.
Credits: NASA, ESA, H. Weaver (JHU/APL), A. Stern (SwRI), and the HST

Orbited by moons Charon, Nix, Styx, Kerberos, and Hydra, Pluto was discovered on February 18, 1930, by Clyde W. Tombaugh. Charon is almost 50 percent the size of Pluto and is believed to be the result of a collision between a planet-sized object and the dwarf planet early in the history of the solar system.

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If the icy surface of Pluto's giant moon Charon is cracked, analysis of the fractures could reveal if its interior was warm, perhaps warm enough to have maintained a subterranean ocean of liquid water, according to a new NASA-funded study.
If the icy surface of Pluto’s giant moon Charon is cracked, analysis of the fractures could reveal if its interior was warm, perhaps warm enough to have maintained a subterranean ocean of liquid water, according to a new NASA-funded study.

With only 12, 173 miles (19, 591 km) between Pluto and Charon, astronomers and space scientists consider the pair to be a double planet system. The entire Pluto system is part of the distant Kuiper Belt, a distant disk-like region beyond the orbit of Neptune full of icy bodies formed during the early history of the solar system.

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NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft took this image of Pluto’s dark side with the Sun on the other side of this distant, lonely wanderer. Sunlight filters through and illuminates complex layers of atmospheric haze. Credit: NASA/New Horizons/JHUAPL/SwRI

A day on Pluto is about 153 hours long, which is the time it takes the dwarf planet to spin once on its axis, and a year, the time it takes this distant object it orbit the Sun, takes about 248 Earth years.

The structure of Pluto is not very well understood at present. Nevertheless, spectroscopic observation from Earth in the 1970s has revealed that the planet surface is covered with methane ice. Surface temperature is -230 degrees C, and the frozen methane exhibits a bright coloration. However, with the exception of the polar caps, the frozen methane surface is seen to change to a dark red on the basis of observation of eclipse by its moon Charon. Image Credit: Lunar and Planetary Institute
The structure of Pluto is not very well understood at present. Nevertheless, spectroscopic observation from Earth in the 1970s has revealed that the planet surface is covered with methane ice. Surface temperature is -230 degrees C and the frozen methane exhibits a bright coloration. However, with the exception of the polar caps, the frozen methane surface is seen to change to a dark red on the basis of observation of eclipse by its moon Charon.
Image Credit: Lunar and Planetary Institute

What are planetary scientists saying?

Some planetary scientists think Pluto could have an ocean hidden beneath its icy surface, but this cold and distant body isn’t thought to be a place life could exist. Scientists estimate this dwarf planet has three times as much water in the form of ice as contained within the oceans of Earth.

How big is Pluto’s atmosphere? This is not a typical question one finds in planetary science. Earth’s atmosphere has an equivalent thickness – the thickness if you compress the atmosphere to uniform pressure and density – of about 10 kilometers, or six miles. Compare this with the radius of Earth, 6,370 kilometers, and you see that the razor-thin thickness of Earth’s atmosphere is about 0.17% of its radius. Even if you consider the “outer limit” of Earth’s neutral atmosphere, what we call the exobase, that reaches about 600 kilometers altitude, the atmosphere’s equivalent thickness is only 10% of Earth’s radius—still very thin. So the volume of Earth’s atmosphere is tiny compared to Earth’s volume. Michael E. Summers is a professor of Planetary Science and Astronomy at George Mason University, and specializes in the study of the chemistry and dynamics of planetary atmospheres. He is a New Horizons co-investigator and member of the atmospheres science theme team.
How big is Pluto’s atmosphere? This is not a typical question one finds in planetary science. Earth’s atmosphere has an equivalent thickness – the thickness if you compress the atmosphere to uniform pressure and density – of about 10 kilometers or six miles. Compare this with the radius of Earth, 6,370 kilometers, and you see that the razor-thin thickness of Earth’s atmosphere is about 0.17% of its radius. Even if you consider the “outer limit” of Earth’s neutral atmosphere, what we call the exobase, that reaches about 600 kilometers altitude, the atmosphere’s equivalent thickness is only 10% of Earth’s radius—still very thin. So the volume of Earth’s atmosphere is tiny compared to Earth’s volume.
Michael E. Summers is a professor of Planetary Science and Astronomy at George Mason University and specializes in the study of the chemistry and dynamics of planetary atmospheres. He is a New Horizons co-investigator and member of the atmospheres science theme team.

The surface is also covered by frozen methane and nitrogen gas, which thaws as Pluto nears the Sun, forming a thin atmosphere composed primarily of nitrogen, carbon monoxide, with a little methane thrown in.

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NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft took this enhanced-color image of the southeastern region of Pluto’s great plains of ice called Sputnik Planum. At lower right these plains border rugged, dark highlands that rise 1.5 miles above them. Credit: NASA/JHUAPL/SwRI

NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft is the only human envoy to be sent to the Pluto system.

For more information on Pluto go here.

Follow New Horizons as it writes space history here.

Follow NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft as it closes in on Pluto and Charon and prepares to write space history.

Read about the search for the missing link in black hole evolution.

Learn how your firm or private institution can become a leader in the human journey to the beginning of space and time.