Nature Watch: Exploring Our Solar System – Events To Watch In 2015
Our solar system is our neighbourhood, with many questions remaining about our planets, moons, comets, and asteroids. If you are interested in space and planetary exploration, the search for water on other planets, and uncovering the secrets of our solar system, these are three events to keep an eye on this summer.
Rosetta Mission – Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko
(European Space Agency)
The Milestone: Rosetta is performing the first long-term close observation of a comet, and the Philae lander is the first scientific lander on a surface other than a planet or moon.
The Mission: Launched in March 2004, Rosetta’s main objective was to catch up to and orbit comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko, and deploy the Philae lander to the surface. Both events succeeded in November 2014. In 2015, Rosetta continues to observe 67P as it nears its closest approach to the Sun, examining gas and dust interactions that create a comet’s characteristic “tail”. Both Rosetta and Philae have sent back stunning photographs of the comet from orbit.
Events This Summer: 67P’s perihelion (closest approach to the Sun) will occur around August 13, 2015. The data gathered will show what happens to comets as they pass close to the Sun.
More Information: http://sci.esa.int/rosetta
Dawn Mission – Protoplanet Vesta and Dwarf Planet Ceres
(NASA and JPL)
The Milestone: Using a specially designed ion propulsion system, Dawn achieved a remarkable feat: visiting two separate planetary bodies in the asteroid belt, and performing orbital observations around both. This also marks the first visit to a dwarf planet by any spacecraft.
The Mission: Launched in September 2006, Dawn travelled through the solar system to encounter and orbit the proto-planet Vesta from July 2011-September 2012. After mapping and science observations, Dawn broke orbit from Vesta and travelled another two years to rendezvous with dwarf planet Ceres in March 2015. By studying these planetary bodies, we hope to learn about the early formation of the solar system.
Events This Summer: August 2015 and December 2015 will see Dawn perform the two lowest mapping orbits, providing detailed surface photographs and scientific measurements, and hopefully solving the mystery of the “bright spots” on Ceres’ surface.
More Information: http://dawn.jpl.nasa.gov
New Horizons Mission – Pluto System Flyby
The Milestone: The first ever flyby of the dwarf planet Pluto and its moon system, the most distant and still unexamined member of our solar system.
The Mission: New Horizons launched in 2006, and will perform a flyby observation of the Pluto system, then continue on an extended mission into the distant Kuiper Belt to visit the small, icy bodies orbiting the outer edges of our solar system. This mission will provide detailed photographs, surface maps, and valuable scientific data about Pluto, and help us learn about the outskirts and formation of our solar system.
Events This Summer: New Horizons closest approach to Pluto is scheduled for July 14, 2015. Currently in approach phase, new pictures with increasing detail are regularly transmitted back to Earth and made available to the public.
More Information: http://nasa.gov/mission_pages/newhorizons