Monday, July 3, 2017

Space Highlights - July 3, 2017

July 3, 2017

A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket has launched 10 communications satellites for Iridium Communications from Vandenberg AFB in California.  Shortly thereafter, in a separate launch from Cape Canaveral in Florida, another SpaceX Falcon 9 booster placed a Bulgarian communications satellite into orbit.

An ISRO PSLV rocket successfully placed 31 satellites into orbit, including the Cartosat-2 Earth observation satellite and 30 smaller satellites from 14 countries.

An Ariane 5 rocket placed two geosynchronous communications satellites into orbit, marking the 80th consecutive successful launch for the Ariane 5 booster.  The two satellites comprised the Indian-built GSAT 17, and the European Hellas-Sat 3/Inmarsat S EAN spacecraft.

China successfully launched an X-ray telescope into orbit aboard a Long March 4B rocket.  The Hard X-ray Modulation Telescope is intended to search for evidence of black holes.

The smallest experimental satellite yet built was recently launched into space from NASA's Wallop Island facility.  The microsatellite, which weighed in at 64 g, was designed by a student in India.

An upper stage booster malfunction has left the Chinasat-9A communications satellite in a lower-than-planned orbit.  This was the first failure involving a Long March 3B rocket since 2009.  The satellite is reportedly healthy, but will not be able to fulfill its planned role from its current, low earth orbit.

Upgraded software recently uploaded to Curiosity will allow NASA's Mars rover greater autonomy to identify targets for investigation.  The new AI software is being tested as a means to reduce idle time between when the rover initially surveys an area, and when human controllers on Earth can relay radio signals directing the rover to further investigate specific features.

NASA has released new images of sunrise on Saturn, as well as of Saturn's moon Iapetus, captured by the Cassini spacecraft as it winds down its mission to the ringed planet.  Cassini recently marked the 13-year anniversary of its arrival at Saturn.

NASA's Juno spacecraft has now completed five up-close passes of Jupiter, mapping atmospheric conditions at the gas giant.

A new study claims that a survey of the orbital patterns of four newly discovered Kuiper belt objects suggests that previous claims that orbital distributions in the outer solar system were indicative of a previously unidentified, Neptune-sized "Planet Nine" may have been premature.  However, the team which assembled the original "Planet Nine" study have countered that three of the four new objects actually do bolster the case for a ninth planet - and that only one of the newly discovered objects does not.

A separate study of inner-Kuiper belt objects has suggested that another candidate planet my exist in the outer solar system: pointing to a much smaller, Mars-sized planet as being responsible for the orbital inclination of these inner Kuiper belt objects.  The proposed new object would be much smaller than the Neptune-sized "Planet Nine" that was first proposed in 2016, and would also lie much closer to the sun - close to the orbit of Pluto.

A new theory for the behavior of dark matter suggests that part of the reason that it may be so difficult to detect is that it behaves differently at different scales - forming a "superfluid" or Bose-Einstein condensate at a galactic level, but acting like a low-density gas or vapor when viewed from an inter-galactic scale.

A separate study has also attempted to resolve the differences in observed dark matter distributions and behavior at the galactic level - as compared to the intergalactic scale - by conducting a series of numerical simulations to pinpoint the dark matter characteristics that best match all observed phenomena.

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