Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Space Highlights - April 19, 2017

April 19, 2017

China has launched its highest capacity communications satellite yet, the Shijian 13 - also known as Chinasat 16 - which was launched into orbit by a Long March 3B rocket.

An Atlas V rocket has sent a payload on its way to the International Space Station, which in addition to space station supplies includes 36 experimental microsatellites.  The collection of small satellites were largely sponsored as university experiments, including for example, the first such Australian-built satellite to be launched in 15 years.

Researchers combing throught data supplied by the Cassini spacecraft have concluded that the oceans on Saturn's moon, Enceladus contain the necessary chemical ingredients to support life.  Cassini sampled gases released by hydrothermal geysers, which provided a chemical trace for the oceans hidden beneath the icy exterior of the moon.

As part of its grand finale, before plunging into the depths of Saturn's atmosphere, the Cassini spacecraft is expected to fly between Saturn and its rings for the first time - providing new data on the rings' structure and composition.

NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter has identified a region of Mars marked by mysterious secondary craters - which feature a raised-relief structure not normally seen.  The unusual contours point to an unusual soil composition at the time of the impact, possibly involving some amount of water on the surface.

New images released from NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter reveal newly identified lakes and gullies that once cut across ancient craters on the Martian surface.

NASA's Mars Atmosphere and Volatile Evolution (MAVEN) orbiter has detected a distribution of metal particles and ions in the upper atmosphere of Mars which underscore differences between the Martian environment - where there is no strong magnetic field - and Earth - where a planetary magnetic field deflects charged metal ions.

Landslides on the surface of the dwarf planet Ceres, as documented by the Dawn spacecraft, point to an underlying icy crust.

New observations from the Dawn spacecraft confirm that Ceres does have a thin atmosphere - but that the composition and density changes during the orbit of the dwarf planet, and with the intensity of solar activity at any given time.

The New Horizons spacecraft, now half way between Pluto and its next fly-by target, has been placed in a five-month slumber to reduce wear on the spacecraft.

Scientists have confirmed the identification of the smallest exoplanet known to have an atmosphere.  The planet, located 39 light years away, is only slightly larger than the Earth.  Traces of water and methane have been identified in the atmosphere of the planet, which orbits closely around a red dwarf star.

Researchers searching for exoplanets have identified a large planet, three times the size of Jupiter, in orbit around a star 21,000 light years away, using a new technique known as gravitational microlensing.  The researchers hope to use this method to eventually locate smaller planets closer to Earth.

A group of researchers has identified a "bridge" of dark matter connecting distant galaxies.  If confirmed, this finding could help to explain the large-scale structure among galaxy clusters witnessed in the universe.

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