Thursday, September 24, 2015

Space Highlights - September 24, 2015

September 24, 2015

North Korea is expected to attempt another satellite launch in coming weeks, to coincide with an upcoming national holiday.  The satellite launches have, to date, failed to deliver a usefull satellite - with three failed launch attempts and a fourth that delivered a tumbling payload into orbit.  The launch attempts are widely interpreted as a cover for the development of ballistic missile technology.

China successfully launched their first Long March 6 (LM6) booster into orbit, carrying some 20 satellites into space.  The 20 micro-satellites were contributed by Chinese universities, and comprise a mix of various research projects.

NASA recently released a nearly edge-on view of Saturns rings from the Cassini space probe, that captures two of the shepherd moons that maintain Saturns rings.  Another newly released Cassini image captures Saturn from its dark side.

The launch date for the next European Space Agency (ESA) mission to Mars has been postponed from January to March 2016, to allow time to replace two sensors associated with the propulsion system of the probe's Schiaparelli lander.  The ESA mission includes the battery-powered Shiaparelli lander, and the Trace Gas Orbiter, which is intended to probe the Martian atmosphere for signs of recent geologic or biologic activity.

NASA has released a new video, compiled from images taken by the New Horizons spacecraft, to provide an aerial view of Pluto's surface.

Researchers believe that the reddish color revealed at Charon's northern pole by the New Horizons spacecraft comes from compounds known as tholins, deposited over time from Pluto's atmosphere.  Pluto's thin atmosphere is mostly nitrogen, but also contains small amounts of methane, some amount of which is lost into space over time.  When the methane reaches Pluto's moon, Charon it freezes on contact, due to the much lower temperatures on Charon's surface.  Over time, this methane will interact with cosmic rays and ultraviolet light to produce tholins, giving Charon's polar cap its reddish color.

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