One of the instruments on a 2016 mission to orbit Mars will provide daily maps of global, pole-to-pole, vertical distributions of the temperature, dust, water vapor and ice clouds in the Martian atmosphere.
NASA’s Mars rover Opportunity looks back at its tracks in the Martian soil on August 4th, 2010. (NASA/JPL)
Water And Organic Compounds Found On A Second Asteriod
Written by Micho Kaku
Six months ago, in late April, Research teams at the NASA Infrared Telescope facility in Hawaii made an astonishing discovery. They found that both water ice and organic compounds exist on an asteroid named 24 Themis which circles the Sun between the orbits of Mars and Jupiter. The discovery stole the headlines, and it was thought to support the notions that asteroids may have long ago been the delivery system for a lot of the materials that are essential for life here on Earth.
Well, on Friday the headlines were swamped again, as scientists confirmed the discovery of water ice and organic molecules on a second asteroid (65 Cybele) in the same region of the asteroid belt. Although the asteroids only contain very thin layers of ice, they suggest that water may be quite common on asteroids after all.
The entire research study will be published in the European Journal Of Astronomy and Astrophysics.
Upcoming Missions: Epoxi
Epoxi, on Nov. 4th, will fly just 435 miles from comet Hartley 2, hopefully providing us information on the comets composition, movement, speed, fate, etc.
Why study comets?
Comets are some of the first solids to form out of the nebula that birthed our solar system. We can learn a lot about the early atmosphere of our planet, and the early conditions of our solar system in general. Comets could have been responsible for bringing water and complex molecules to earth. Comets are extremely important to study: they can teach us about who and what we are, and how and why our planet formed the way it did.
Upcoming Missions: Akatsuki
Japan’s Akatsuki probe, also called the Venus Climate Orbiter, will fly in an equatorial orbit between the atmosphere’s top layers to an altitude of about 50,000 feet. It will study Venus’ violent winds and acid clouds, and science instruments will look for signs of recent volcanic activity. It launched this summer and should reach Venus by December.
Why Study Venus?
Well Venus is proposed to have looked similar to Earth. (It is often referred to as our “sister planet.”) A younger Venus might have had oceans, which have evaporated as the temperature rose. A runaway greenhouse effect has taken place: it now is one the most least hospitable places in our solar system. We all know why we need to be studying that here on Earth. We can learn a lot about our planet’s childhood, and our planet’s future/fate from studying Venus.
Upcoming Missions: Dawn
Dawn was launched in 2007 and in July 2011 will insert itself into orbit around Vesta, the second-most massive body in the asteroid belt. Though not a planet, Vesta has some interesting characteristics, including distinctive light and dark regions that resemble the moon’s. A year later, Dawn will fire up its ion engines and make its way to the dwarf planet Ceres, the largest body in the asteriod belt. It will be the first craft to leave one celestial body’s orbit and take off for another, according to NASA.
What study Vesta and Ceres?
Well, any time you study objects in the asteriod belt you learn more about the formation of the solar system. Vesta and Ceres were chosen intentionally together as they are contrasting bodies; Vesta is “dry” or rocky, and Ceres is “wet” or icy.
"They provide a bridge in our understanding between the formation of rocky planets and the icy bodies of our solar system, and under what conditions a rocky planet can hold water."