Wednesday, May 4, 2016

Space Highlights - May 4, 2016

May 4, 2016

SpaceX is preparing for the launch of a Japanese communication satellite on Thursday, May 5th.  The launch will be aboard a Falcon 9 booster, from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station.

SpaceX has been awarded a contract for the launch of a U.S. Air Force GPS III global positioning satellite, the first such USAF launch made to SpaceX, since the company was authorized to compete for military satellite launches one year ago.

India has launched the seventh and final satellite of its own GPS satellite constellation, joining the United States, China, Europe and Russia - each of which maintains an independent GPS system.

Researchers probing data from the Cassini spacecraft have concluded that at least one of the hydrocarbon seas observed on Saturn's moon Titan is composed almost exclusively of liquid methane, with a seabed covered in organic-rich sludge, and surrounded by wetlands.  This finding contradicts earlier speculation that the seas might be composed of liquid ethane.

The ESA and Russian space agencies have announced that the next phase of the planned, joint ExoMars mission - which would have placed a European rover on the red planet - will be delayed from 2018 to 2020 due to developmental delays.

China also plans to place a rover on Mars in 2020, as well as placing a lunar lander on the far side of the moon in 2018.

NASA's Curiosity rover is currently traversing the most rugged terrain that it has seen thus far during its 44 months on Mars, as it crosses the weathered sandstone rocks of the Naukluft Plateau.  The rover is heading towards geological layers that are further uphill on Mount Sharp.

NASA has released a black-and-white composite map for the surface of Pluto, combining images from the New Horizons spacecraft to provide the sharpest possible image.

An international team of scientists has announced the discover of three planets in the habitable zone of a red dwarf star - just 40 light years from Earth.  The planets were discovered using a 6-meter telescope in Chile, and were detected while traversing (crossing in front of) their parent star.

Researchers have concluded that despite its distance from the sun, and relatively cool temperatures, that earth-based telescopes should nonetheless be capable of detecting the recently hypothesized "Planet Nine" - if they knew where in the sky to search for it.  Their assessment was based on the anticipated size of the planet, and its likely atmosphere - which should be similar to those of Neptune or Uranus.

Scientists have confirmed the discover of the first "rogue planets" to be positively identified: planets that do not orbit a parent star.  It is still unclear as to whether these recently identified objects originally formed as part of a planetary system, however, or if they formed independently - the way that individual stars are formed.

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