Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Space Highlights - March 16, 2016

March 16, 2016

Europe's ExoMars space probe was successfully launched this week by a Russian booster, on its way to investigate trace elements in the Martian atmosphere.  The probe also carries a small, demonstrator rover - the first to be produced in Europe.

India has successfully launched IRNSS-1F, the sixth of seven planned GPS satellites, providing India with an independent GPS capability.

Russia has delayed the launch of the Resurs-P3 Earth-observation satellite.  The launch was aborted by the rocket's automatic systems, the cause of which is currently being investigated.  The delay in launching the Resurs-P3 will also result in a delay for the planned launch of the Soyuz TMA-20M spacecraft and Progress MS-2 cargo missions to the International Space Station - both of which had been planned for later this month.

China launched Laos' first communications satellite into orbit this past week, from China's Xichang launch center.

The Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter has marked its tenth anniversary in orbit around the red planet.  During that time the orbiter has collected more than 216,000 images, documenting seasonal changes, landslides, and paving the way for Mars landers.

Detailed images from the Rosetta space probe, documenting the unique crystaline ice structure of comet 67P, confirm that the comet was formed in the protosolar nebula from which our solar system emerged some 4.6 billion years ago.

Researchers believe that the "bite mark" made by a range of cliffs on Pluto may have been caused by methane ice sublimating beneath the surface.

Investigation continues into Pluto's "snakeskin" terrain - a region of mountains on the eastern side of Pluto's "heart".  The region is composed of a series of mountain ridgers with a strong methane ice signature.  The terrain is of special significance, since conventional methane ice is not expected to have the strength to support such steep slopes.  Studies indicate that either the methane ice crystals must be exceedingly large, or must be a form of methane clathrate ice - which relies on a skeleton of water ice to provide its strength.

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