Thursday, October 13, 2016

Space Highlights - October 13, 2016

October 13, 2016

Google has contracted SpaceX to provide launch services for Google's next earth observation satellite.

Satellite images indicate that North Korea may be preparing for another satellite launch/ballistic missile test.

International Launch Services (ILS) has announced launch dates for two future booster rockets, both for the launch of EUTELSAT communications satellite aboard a Russian Proton booster.

Two satellites carrying amateur radio payloads have been confirmed operational, following their launch last month by India's ISRO.

Scientists studying data from the Cassini spacecraft have confirmed the existence of a subsurface ocean on Saturn's moon Dione, creating another potential candidate in the search for extraterrestrial, microbial life.  Two other of Saturn's moons, Enceladus and Titan, were previously identified as having subsurface oceans, as have three of Jupiter's moons.

NASA is preparing to send its Opportunity rover into a gully on the surface of Mars that is believed to have been carved by running water billions of years ago.  Although the scientific opportunities of exploring such a feature are immense, the decision also risks getting the rover stuck in the soft soil of the gully.

Scientists puzzling over how and why X-rays were detected at Pluto during the recent flyby of the New Horizons spacecraft have suggested that the unexpected anomaly could be tied to the presence of a subsurface ocean.  X-ray emissions such as the ones detected at Pluto are usually tied to neutral gases that interact with the planet's magnetic field and solar wind.  At Pluto, however, the solar wind is too sparse to explain the observed phenomena given Pluto's sparse atmosphere, indicating that the necessary gases must be vented from Pluto's interior - adding further evidence for those who have suggested that Pluto must have a subsurface ocean of liquid water.

Researchers have identified a new Kuiper object, 2014 UZ224 located some 91.6 AU (astronomical units) from the sun - or about 9 AU beyond Pluto.  The newly identified object has an estimated diameter of 530 km, slightly smaller than the 800 km threshold needed to qualify it as a "dwarf planet".

NASA researchers reviewing data from the Kepler Space Telescope have identifed at least 24 new exoplanet star systems that are believed to possess a "hot Earth" - a planet less than twice the diameter of the Earth with an orbital period of less than two-days.  The formation of these planets, in such close proximity to their parent star, continues to challenge theories for how planet systems evolve.

European researchers have identified a young, binary star system that appears to have three planet-forming disks around them - each potentially producing a different family of exoplanets.

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