Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Space Highlights - August 17, 2016

August 17, 2016

SpaceX successfully launched Japan's JCSAT-16 communications satellite into orbit this past week, and recovered the first stage of its Falcon 9 booster aboard an ocean barge.

China launched an experimental satellite into orbit this past week, that is being hailed as the first "hack-proof" generation of satellites.  The satellite is intended to conduct experiments in quantum entanglement, a phenomena which some believe could result in unbreakable cyber codes.

Also this past week, China launched the Gaofen-3 radar imaging satellite into orbit aboard a Long March 4C booster.

NASA's Cassini spacecraft has confirmed that previously identifed canyons on the surface of Saturn's moon Titan were in fact carved by rivers of liquid methane.  The presence of liquid methane at the bottom of the steep-walled canyons was recently confirmed by the bright reflection of radar waves - which have been used to map the surface of Titan - signifying that the radar had detected a smooth, liquid surface.

Scientists scanning for signs of "dark matter" in distant galaxies have begun to eliminate various candidates and theoretical models for the matter than makes up the majority of the mass in the universe.  Many of the theoretical models for dark matter still require that the unidentified particles that make up this material should nonetheless interact with each other or with ordinary matter under select circumstances.  All observations to date, however, have failed to detect any such interaction, other than the observed gravitational pull that the "missing matter" exerts on a galactic scale.

Scientists have reportedly discovered an Earth-sized planet orbiting within the habitable zone of Proxima Centauri, the star closest to our own sun.  An official announcement is expected later this month, although the European astronomers who reportedly discovered the planet are refusing to comment.  Proxima Centauri is a red dwarf star, approximately 4.25 light years from Earth.  Any planet in its habitable zone would be tidally locked due to its close proximity to its parent star.

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