Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Space Highlights - May 18, 2016

May 18, 2016

China's first Long March 7 booster has been delivered to China's new satellite launch center at Wenchang for preparation for launch.  The Long March 7 is expected to supercede the Long March 2F medium booster, and will serve along side the Long March 5 heavy booster and Long March 6 lightweight booster.

A Chinese Long March 2D booster successfully placed the Yaogan-30 remote sensing satellite into orbit this past weekend.

The SpaceX Falcon 9 first-stage booster recovered aboard a sea-based barge last week suffered significant damage during the landing, and will not be a candidate for reuse.  Reentry temperatures for the high-speed launch and recovery charred the booster across most of its length.

India's ISRO will launch India's first, experimental, reusable space plane next week.  The unmanned vehicle will test out its control and thermal protection systems.

A group of researchers at the Blue Marble Space Institute of Science in Seattle, WA have posited evidence that the Earth's atmosphere 2.7 billion years ago - shortly before the "great oxygen event" that transformed Earth's atmosphere to resemble its current composition - may have been much more thin than previously assumed.  Relying on evidence from gas bubbles trapped in ancient volcanic rock, a group of researchers are now proposing that the Earth's atmosphere was only half as thick at this time than it is today - most likely due to biological activity that converted the atmospheric nitrogen into ammonium, allowing it to be dissolved into water and trapped in soil and rock.

After having completed two full Martian years on the red planet, NASA has concluded that the mysterious spike in methane that was observed by the Curiosity rover in late 2013 and early 2014 was not a normal, seasonal event.  The event has still not been fully explained, with theories ranging from volcanic out-gassing to microbial activity.

NASA has released a new mosaic captured by the Opportunity rover, depicting a Martian dust devil.

The Cassini spacecraft has taken one last, close look at Saturn's small moon, Epimetheus - before its mission ends in September.

Astronomers have confirmed that the dwarf planet 2007 OR10 is one of the largest dwarf planets yet discovered beyond the orbit of Neptune.  Scientists had originally thought the object to be much smaller.

NASA's Kepler space telescope has added a batch of another 1,284 confirmed exoplanets to its trove of discoveries, including 9 which are within the habitable zone of their parent stars.  Since its launch in 2009, Kepler has identified over 2,300 exoplanets, including 21 in the habitable zone of their star system.

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