Now that yours truly has mostly recovered from Fanfest, it’s time to get back into the space saddle and deliver news to you spacefans!
DWARF PLANET ‘MAKEMAKE’ HAS A MOON OF ITS OWN
This mysterious little world out there in the distant Kuiper Belt was only discovered in 2005 by ‘Plutokiller’ Mike Brown of Caltech. The observing team used the same Hubble technique to observe the moon as they did for finding the small satellites of Pluto in 2005, 2011, and 2012. Several previous searches around Makemake had turned up empty.
“Our preliminary estimates show that the moon’s orbit seems to be edge-on, and that means that often when you look at the system you are going to miss the moon because it gets lost in the bright glare of Makemake,” said Alex Parker of Southwest Research Institute, Boulder, Colorado, who led the image analysis for the observations.
This Hubble image reveals the first moon ever discovered around the dwarf planet Makemake. The tiny satellite, located just above Makemake in this image, is barely visible because it is almost lost in the glare of the very bright dwarf planet. Hubble’s sharp-eyed WFC3 made the observation in April 2015.
Credits: NASA, ESA, and A. Parker and M. Buie (SwRI)
Finding a moon gives valuable information on details like the mass of the system, and perhaps about how it evolved.
“Makemake is in the class of rare Pluto-like objects, so finding a companion is important,” Parker said. “The discovery of this moon has given us an opportunity to study Makemake in far greater detail than we ever would have been able to without the companion.”
Makemake has many similarities to Pluto – both are covered in methane, for example. The discovery of a moon also helps scientists gaugue its density and just how similar it is in composition to Pluto.
“This new discovery opens a new chapter in comparative planetology in the outer solar system,” said team leader Marc Buie of the Southwest Research Institute, Boulder, Colorado.
This artist’s concept shows the distant dwarf planet Makemake and its newly discovered moon. Makemake and its moon, nicknamed MK 2, are more than 50 times farther away than Earth is from the sun.
Credits: NASA, ESA, and A. Parker (Southwest Research Institute)
Determining the moon’s orbit is important, as if it is very close in, then its likely a collision formed the moon. If it’s further out and elliptical, its more likely to be a captured object. I can’t help but be intrigued as to whether this system is as fascinating as Pluto’s.
CASSINI TAKES ANOTHER LOOK AT TITAN
Titan is a very unique object in that it is the only moon with a dense atmosphere, liquid lakes, and seas on its surface. Like Earth, it has a predominantly nitrogen atmosphere, but unlike Earth, Titan’s atmosphere is 95% nitrogen with very little oxygen – and of course it is very cold, so only methane and ethane can remain liquid. There are three large seas, all located close to the moon’s north pole, surrounded by numerous of smaller lakes in the northern hemisphere. Just one large lake has been found in the southern hemisphere.
This labeled graphic illustrates how different organic compounds make their way to the seas and lakes on Titan, the largest moon of Saturn.
Ligeia Mare is the second-largest sea on Titan, and about the same size as Lake Huron and Lake Michigan combined. It is methane-rich.
“Before Cassini, we expected to find that Ligeia Mare would be mostly made up of ethane, which is produced in abundance in the atmosphere when sunlight breaks methane molecules apart. Instead, this sea is predominantly made of pure methane,” said Alice Le Gall, a Cassini radar team associate at the French research laboratory LATMOS, located in Paris, and lead author of the new study.
A number of possible explanations could account for the sea’s methane composition, according to Le Gall. “Either Ligeia Mare is replenished by fresh methane rainfall, or something is removing ethane from it. It is possible that the ethane ends up in the undersea crust, or that it somehow flows into the adjacent sea, Kraken Mare, but that will require further investigation.”
Titan does appear to have a climate, with the exchange between nitrogen and methane producing many other organic materials.
“It’s a marvelous feat of exploration that we’re doing extraterrestrial oceanography on an alien moon,” said Steve Wall, deputy lead of the Cassini radar team at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California. “Titan just won’t stop surprising us.”
Could there be life? That we can’t tell yet, but it certainly would not be ‘life as we know it’.
SPACEX TO GO TO MARS IN 2018
After signing an agreement with NASA for technical support, SpaceX wants to send the spacecraft the call Red Dragon to Mars as early as 2018. This will be an unmanned mission planned to achieve the same type of propulsive soft landing, much like the recent return mission from re-supplying the International Space Station.
“SpaceX is planning to send Dragons to Mars as early as 2018,” the company posted in a brief announcement on Facebook and other social media about the history making endeavor.
The 2018 commercial Mars mission involves launching the ‘Red Dragon’ – also known as Dragon 2 – on the SpaceX Falcon Heavy rocket from Launch Pad 39A at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida. It’s a prelude to eventual human missions.
The Red Dragon initiative is a commercial endeavor that’s privately funded by SpaceX and does not include any funding from NASA. The agreement with NASA specifically states there is “no-exchange-of-funds.”
Artists concept for sending SpaceX Red Dragon spacecraft to land propulsively on Mars as early as 2018.
It is also hoped that there may be a science payload, however that has not yet been determined. The craft itself is 5-10 times the size of anything so far landed on the red planet, though it is about the size of an SUV and not big enough to carry astronauts. The 2018 liftoff campaign marks a significant step towards fulfilling Musk’s Red Planet vision. But we’ll have to wait another five months for concrete details.
“Red Dragon missions to Mars will also help inform the overall Mars colonization architecture that SpaceX will reveal later this year,” SpaceX noted.“These missions will help demonstrate the technologies needed to land large payloads propulsively on Mars,” SpaceX further posted.
We will of course keep you updated as things progress.
SPACEPOPE DELIVERS FANTASTIC FANFEST PRESENTATION
Lastly, but by no means least, our very own Spacepope, otherwise known as the Jet Proplusion Laboratory’s Chief Knowledge Officer, Charles White, gave a fantastic NASA presentation. I strongly urge you to watch it!
In his presentation, he discusses what is in store for the future of NASA missions. Have a great week, spacefans!
This article originally appeared on TheMittani.com, written by Feiryred.