Learn all about the end of the Rosetta Mission and more about the weather on Mars, the Moon’s colorful palette.
1. Rosetta’s Last Dance
The Rosetta mission was one of firsts: the first to orbit a comet and the first to dispatch a lander to a comet’s surface. Rosetta transformed our understanding of these ancient wanderers, and this week, mission controllers will command the spacecraft to execute a series of maneuvers to bring it out of orbit around Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko. Watch live on Sept. 30 from 6:15-8 a.m. EDT, the Rosetta mission’s 12-year odyssey in space reaches its conclusion. Rosetta will descend to make a planned impact on the comet’s surface with its instruments recording science data during descent.
2. Hubble Spots Possible Water Plumes Erupting on Jupiter’s Moon Europa
On Monday, Sept. 26, our scientists announced what may be
water vapor plumes erupting off the surface of Jupiter’s moon Europa, based on data from the Hubble Space Telescope.
This finding bolsters other Hubble observations suggesting the icy moon
erupts with high altitude water vapor plumes.
Scientists have found an “impossible” ice cloud on Saturn’s moon Titan. The puzzling appearance of an ice cloud prompted our researchers to suggest that a different process than previously thought could be forming clouds on Titan. The process may be similar to one seen over Earth’s poles. Today, the Cassini spacecraft will perform a targeted Titan flyby, skimming just 1,079 miles (1,736 kilometers) above its hazy surface. Several of Cassini’s instruments will be watching for clouds and other phenomena in the atmosphere, as well as taking measurements of the surface.
Earth’s moon is a colorless world of grays and whites, right? Not really. As seen in these images from the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter, some landscapes on the moon reveal a whole range of color. One such place is the mountainous complex of ancient lava flows known as the Lassell Massif, one of the moon’s so-called “red spots.”
A camera aboard our Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter monitors global weather patterns daily. The most recent report includes the remains of a large dust storm in the Noachis region, and smaller tempests spotted along the edge of the south polar ice cap and water-ice clouds over the volcano Arsia Mons.
This picture, about the story of the god Jupiter transforming himself into a white bull and abducting the nymph Europa, has been in Philadelphia since 1815. It belonged to Joseph Bonaparte, who lived here in exile following the fall of his brother, the emperor Napoleon.
Astronomers using the Hubble Space Telescope have imaged what may be water vapor plumes erupting off the surface of Jupiter’s moon Europa.
The plumes are estimated to rise about 125 miles (200 kilometers) before, presumably, raining back down onto Europa’s surface. Europa has a huge global ocean containing twice as much water as Earth’s oceans, but it is protected by a layer of extremely cold and hard ice of unknown thickness. The plumes provide a tantalizing opportunity to gather samples originating from under the surface without having to land or drill through
through miles of ice.
The team, led by William Sparks of the Space Telescope Science Institute (STScI) in Baltimore observed these finger-like projections while viewing Europa’s limb as the moon passed in front of Jupiter.
The original goal of the team’s observing proposal was to determine whether Europa has a thin, extended atmosphere, or exosphere.
“The atmosphere of an extrasolar planet blocks some of the starlight that is behind it,” Sparks explained. “If there is a thin atmosphere around Europa, it has the potential to block some of the light of Jupiter, and we could see it as a silhouette. And so we were looking for absorption features around the limb of Europa as it transited the smooth face of Jupiter.”
In 10 separate occurrences spanning 15 months, the team observed Europa passing in front of Jupiter. They saw what could be plumes erupting on three of these occasions.
Scientists may use the infrared vision of the James Webb Space Telescope, which is scheduled to launch in 2018, to confirm venting or plume activity on Europa. NASA also is formulating a mission to Europa with a payload that could confirm the presence of plumes and study them from close range during multiple flybys.
So what to take note of this is that if those plumes really exist, then we have a better way to sample one of the most promising places for extraterrestrial life in the Solar System.
The gif is an artist impression from this NASA Goddard video, and the image shows the water vapor plumes erupting at the 7 o’clock position of Europa.
Credits: Goddard/Katrina Jackson, NASA/ESA/W. Sparks (STScI)/USGS Astrogeology Science Center