Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Space Highlights - September 30, 2015

September 30, 2015

NASA scientists announced this week that orbital instruments have confirmed the existence of liquid water on the surface of modern day Mars.  For the past five years, scientists studying photographic images relayed by the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter have noted the existence of recurring slope lineae (RSL), dark streaks on crater or canyon walls that would appear seasonally, and then disappear.  Recent observations, however, have tied the appearance of the dark streaks to the
detection of spectral lines associated with hydrated perchlorates - which appeared only when the lines were present.  The hydrated perchlorates can only exist in the presence of liquid water, indicating that the dark streaks are formed by briny, subsurface water flows, which then wick to the surface to produce the dark streaks and deposit the hydrated perchlorate salts.

NASA has released a new topographical map of the surface of the asteroid Ceres, including the mysterious bright spots as well as massive mountains.  The maps were collected from images from the Dawn space probe.

The European Space Agency (ESA) has reported that studies from images collected by the Rosetta space probe have observed "onion skin" like strata on the surface of comet 67P - which intersect in a way that could only be possible if the comet were composed of two separate bodies that collided to form the comet that exists today.

New images released from the New Horizons space probe include a back-lit image of Pluto - highlighting the dwarf planet's thin atmosphere - as well as images of a "snakeskin" surface of a region on Pluto.

The Sky Muster communications satellite - intended to provide broadband internet services to rural Australia - was launched this past week aboard an Ariane 5 rocket.  The satellite is one of the largest communications satellites ever launched.

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