September, 2014

Rosetta Intercepts Target, Stardustís Interstellar Particles and New Horizons Crosses Neptune Orbit

Rosetta Intercepts Target


Rosetta Intercepts Target

Launched in 2004, The Rosetta spacecraft is on a mission to study a comet. After a 10-year journey to the outer solar system, it intercepted its target, comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko, on August 6, 2014. The spacecraft comprises an orbiter and a lander named Philae. Rosetta will stay in orbit around the comet until the end of 2015, studying it closely and mapping its surface. In November 2014, Philae will land and anchor itself to the cometís nucleus, where it can observe how the comet changes as it gets closer to the Sun.

Rosetta captured this image of its target on August 3, 2014, from a distance of 285 kilometers (177 miles). The other images (inset), taken on August 16, reveal the five potential landing sites (A, B, C, I, and J) for the Philae lander.

Rosetta is an international mission led by the European Space Agency with support from NASA.

Images courtesy of ESA/Rosetta/MPS for OSIRIS Team


Stardustís Interstellar Particles

Stardustís Interstellar Particles

Stardust is the first spacecraft to collect material from a comet and return it to Earth. In 2004, it collected particles from comet Wild-2 using an extremely light, silicon-based solid called aerogel. The samples were returned to Earth in 2006 and since then have been examined by scientists around the world. In August 2014, NASA reported the possible discovery of seven rare, microscopic interstellar dust particles among the samples. If confirmed, they could date to the beginnings of the solar system. Three particle tracks were found in this section of aerogel (right). Two particles, each only about two microns (thousandths of a millimeter) in diameter, were discovered at the ends of their long tracks (red arrows), but the third was moving so fast that it vaporized, leaving only a short track behind (red circle).

Artist concept courtesy of NASA/Jet Propulsion Laboratory
Aerogel image courtesy of UC Berkeley/Andrew Westphal


New Horizons Crosses Neptune Orbit

New Horizons Crosses Neptune Orbit

New Horizons is the first spacecraft sent to study Pluto and its moons. Launched in 2006, it is expected to reach Pluto in 2015, after a 4.8 billion-kilometer (3 billion-mile) journey. It entered the Jovian system in 2008, where it performed a flyby of Jupiter. Using the planet's gravity, it gained the extra speed needed to continue its journey. New Horizons reached the halfway point in 2010.

New Horizonsí LOng Range Reconnaissance Imager (LORRI) captured these images (top) of Pluto and its largest moon Charon in early July 2013. The original (left) was taken 880 million kilometers (550 million miles) from Pluto. The second image (right) is identical to the original, except for the yellow circles added to point out the positions of the two bodies. This is the first time Pluto and Charon have been seen by New Horizons as two separate objects.

On August 25, 2014, New Horizons crossed the orbit of Neptune. In a record eight years and eight months, the spacecraft had traveled nearly 4.43 billion kilometers (2.75 billion miles).

Images courtesy of NASA/Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory/Southwest Research Institute



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Exploring The Planets

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