Space News

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Elliptical Pathways

space-news-elliptical-orbits-minThe energy from by the newly formed sun set the planets into motion four billion years ago. Each one eventually settled into a stable orbit around the sun, traveling on pathways that range from near circular to flat and oval. Without the pull of gravity, the planets would spin outwards from the Sun into what scientists theorize is an ever expanding universe.

A circular orbit through the solar system, like that of Venus, means that a planet is traveling around the sun at a constant distance and speed. Planets with an elliptical orbit, such as Mercury, were formed with a speed and trajectory that is continually changing.

At perihelion (nearest the sun) Mercury speeds up and then “sling shots” away, slowing down at aphelion (farthest from the sun) before being pulled in again by gravity.

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First Images of Mercury

From 1961 to 1972, the Mariner space program designed and launched a series of orbiters that explored Mars, Venus, and finally Mercury. Mariner 10 made NASA history in 1975 as it transmitted the first images of Mercury’s cratered surface and discovered a faint magnetosphere. 

Water on Mercury

In more recent years, the solar and battery powered Messenger spacecraft imaged the entire surface of Mercury and found water-ice at its north pole. Messenger was launched in August 2004, performing ‘flybys’ of both Earth and Venus before becoming the first spacecraft to enter into orbit around Mercury in March of 2011. After several mission extensions, Messenger ran out of propellant and descended to the surface on April 15, 2015.

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Rosetta - On September 30, 2016, the Rosetta Spacecraft joined the Philae lander on the surface of Comet 67P. Scientists found evidence of organic compounds on the comet that could explain how life on earth began
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The Solar System

The Solar System was formed within the Milky Way galaxy about 4.5 billion years ago when a molecular cloud of interstellar elements began to spin and heat up to the point that a gravitational implosion sparked the process of thermonuclear fusion … continue >

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Elliptical Pathway

space-news-elliptical-orbits-minEnergy from the newly formed sun set the planets into motion four billion years ago. Each one eventually settled into a stable orbit around the sun, traveling on paths that range from near circular to oval. Without the pull of gravity, the planets would spin outwards from the Sun into what scientists theorize is an ever expanding universe.

A circular pathway through the solar system, such as the one Venus travels on, means that a planet is orbiting the sun at a constant distance and speed. Planets with an elliptical orbit, like that of Mercury, were formed with a speed and trajectory that is continually changing.

At perihelion (nearest the sun) Mercury speeds up and then “sling shots” away, slowing down at aphelion (farthest from the sun) before being pulled in again by gravity.

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First Images of Mercury

From 1961 to 1972, the Mariner space program designed and launched a series of orbiters that explored Mars, Venus, and finally Mercury. Mariner 10 made NASA history in 1975 as it transmitted the first images of Mercury’s cratered surface and discovered a faint magnetosphere. 

Water on Mercury

In more recent years, the solar powered Messenger spacecraft imaged the entire surface of Mercury and found water-ice at its north pole.

Messenger was launched in August 2004, performing ‘flybys’ of both Earth and Venus before becoming the first spacecraft to enter into orbit around Mercury in March of 2011. After several mission extensions, Messenger ran out of propellant and descended to the surface on April 15, 2015.

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Shaping the Landscape

On Earth, composite volcanoes are the cone shaped structures that explosively spew lava, ash, and hot gases from a chamber of molten rock beneath the surface. They’re usually located along fractures in the earth’s crust where tectonic plates are clashing, such as the “ring of fire” that includes Mt. St. Helens in the north western US.

Shield volcanoes, in contrast, are like the ones found in the Hawaiian Islands, characterized by a continuous and steady flow of lava that cools to reshape the landscape.

Venus and the Earth are similar in that they both have a molten core that erupts at the planet’s surface. Due to the heavy atmosphere on Venus, and the lack of tectonic plates, the volcanoes on Venus are the shield type from which molten rock slowly and uneventfully flows to create the lava plains and “pancake” domes that cover the planet.

Images from Venera

In 1982, Venera 13 landed on Venus and transmitted data back to earth for two hours. Among the information received by Russian scientists were the first color images of the planet’s surface.

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Transit of Venus

Venus is only 38 million kilometers from the earth. Because of this proximity, and because the orbit of Venus is between the earth and the sun, Venus has come to be known as the “morning star” and the “evening star” as the planet reflects the bright light of the rising and setting sun.

Every 100 years or so, Venus can be seen as a dark spot passing in front of the sun. The most recent transit of Venus was on June 5 of 2012 and the next is estimated to be in December of 2117.