Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Space Highlights - October 21, 2015

October 21, 2015

Officials continue to puzzle over the purpose and mission of a Russian satellite that has been parked in geosynchronous orbit between two existing Intelsat communications satellites.  The Russian spacecraft was launched in September 2014 and seven months later moved into position between Intelsat 7 and Intelsat 901.  U.S. Defense Department officials have indicated that the satellite has come within five kilometers of another satellite on three separate occasions since its launch.  Russian officials have described the object as a "relay" satellite, and given it the name "Luch" - although the "Luch" class of Russian satellites are all low earth orbit satellites, not geosynchronous satellites.

NASA has announced plans to publicly release daily photographs of earth from the Earth Polychromatic Imaging Camera (EPIC) aboard the Deap Space Climate Observatory (DSCOVR) spacecraft.  DSCOVR is located at the L1 Lagrange Point - between the earth and the sun - which allows it to continually monitor the sunlit side of earth.

The Cassini space probe has captured fresh images of Enceladus' polar region as part of a series of close-encounters that the space probe is expected to make during its final months of operation.  Enceladus was recently demonstrated to contain a global ocean below its icy exterior - making it a prime candidate for future space missions in search of primitive life.

A new study has suggested that when asteroids and comets impact Ceres - the largest object in the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter - that the impacted material will likely remain trapped on the asteroid surface instead of being ejected back into space.  This would suggest that the surface of Ceres would likely consist of a collection of captured material representing billions of years of collisions.  These studies - based on impact tests - may help to explain the relatively uniform, "bland" surface of Ceres, as recently observed by the Dawn space probe.

NASA has released photographs of a pitted region on Pluto's surface, as captured by the New Horizons spacecraft.  Scientists have theorized that the pits may have been caused by the evaporation of nitrogen ice, although additional study will be needed to understand the process.

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