A landing site has now been chosen for the Rosetta spacecraft’s lander, Philae, on comet 67P/Churyumov–Gerasimenko, it was announced yesterday morning. After several candidate landing sites had been considered, site J has now been selected for the daring landing later in November. It will be the first-ever attempt to actually land on a comet.
After a long, and at times risky two-year journey, the Mars Science Laboratory rover Curiosity has reached the base of the lower slopes of Mount Sharp, the primary destination since its landing back in 2012. Mount Sharp is about the same height as Mount Rainier on Earth and sits in the middle of the expansive Gale crater. The arrival was announced on Thursday, Sept. 11 at a NASA telecon which discussed Curiosity’s achievements so far and what else now awaits at the mountain.
Some interesting images taken on sol 739 by the Curiosity rover on Mars, at the entrance to Owens Valley. Some of the rocks here were overturned by the rover’s wheels and three of them here have a very speckled appearance with white spots. No word yet on what ChemCam analysis may have shown, but perhaps other geologists have some idea as to what these are?
Jupiter’s moon Europa is a fascinating little world, but particularly so for one reason: water. It’s deep alien ocean underneath the surface ice is reminiscent of our own planet, and since our oceans and seas are teeming with life, even beneath the ice at the poles, could Europa’s ocean also harbor life of some kind? Now, another discovery shows that Europa may be similar to Earth in yet another way, and one that could bolster the chances of life even more: plate tectonics. The new results were just published in Nature Geoscience on Sep. 7, 2014.
Saturn’s largest moon, Titan, is a very alien yet eerily Earth-like world, with rain, rivers, lakes, and seas; seen from above, the landscape has a familiar look to it. But those lakes, seas, and rivers are fed by a different kind of rainfall – liquid methane/ethane. It is far too cold on the surface for liquid water, but the liquid hydrocarbons nicely fill in for H20 in Titan’s “water cycle.” Now, a new study shows how this rainfall interacts with and changes underground aquifers.
Solar systems, including ours, are thought to begin as massive clouds of dust and gas surrounding young stars; over billions of years, planets form from repeated impacts of rocky debris. Asteroids and comets are left-over chunks of debris from that process which didn’t coalesce together. Such debris clouds, or protoplanetary disks, have been found around many young stars. These are solar systems still in their infancy. Now, astronomers have been able to observe the actual collision between two large rocky bodies, most likely asteroids, in a protoplanetary disk surrounding a young, Sun-like star 1,200 light-years away.
Is or was there life on Mars? That is one of the biggest and most hotly debated questions in planetary science. The manner in which the evidence has been searched for is also a topic of much discussion. The Viking landers in the 1970s were the first to look for direct evidence for microbial life still existing in the Martian soil, and the results are still regarded as inconclusive, with both pro and con supporters debating whether the landers actually found living microbes or just unusual soil chemistry. Subsequent lander and rover missions have focused more on determining whether conditions in Mars’ ancient past were habitable and able to support life as we know it, rather than searching directly for evidence of past or present life itself.
This photo taken a few days ago by the Curiosity rover has been getting a lot of attention. The object near the centre of the image looks a lot like a femur-type bone! This image was taken on sol 719 of the mission, at the entrance to Hidden Valley where Curiosity is ready to start drilling again at a site just a few feet away called Bonanza King.