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Jason DavisNovember 15, 2019

The Downlink: Mercury Transits the Sun, Hayabusa2 Leaves Ryugu

Mercury Transit 2019

NASA/SDO, HMI, and AIA science teams

Mercury Transit 2019
This animation from images taken by NASA's Solar Dynamics Observatory spacecraft shows Mercury transiting the Sun on 11 November 2019. The actual transit lasted nearly five-and-a-half-hours.

Welcome to issue 7 of The Downlink, a planetary exploration news roundup from The Planetary Society! Here's everything that crossed our radar this week.

Mercury The planet Mercury transited the Sun for the last time until 2032. The planet’s small disk was visible as a black dot on the Sun from certain parts of the world for up to five-and-a-half hours. NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory observed the transit from its orbit roughly 36,000 kilometers above the Earth; you can see videos it captured of the transit here

Ryugu Japan's Hayabusa2 spacecraft left asteroid Ryugu after spending nearly a year-and-a-half collecting samples, creating an artificial crater, and deploying small probes. Hayabusa2 will return two samples to Earth in late 2020 that could teach us more about the origin and evolution of the solar system. Learn more about the Hayabusa2 mission here.

Arrokoth The distant world NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft flew past on 1 January 2019 officially has a name: Arrokoth. The reddish Kuiper Belt Object is named after a Native American term that means "sky" in the Powhatan/Algonquian language. Learn more about the New Horizons mission here.

Mars NASA’s Mars Curiosity rover has detected seasonal changes in oxygen levels that scientists can’t explain. The findings may be related to a similar ongoing mystery over fluctuating methane levels. There’s a chance the changes could be linked to underground life, though a non-biological explanation is more likely. 

Moon The team behind NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter believes they have found the impact site of China’s Longjiang-2 spacecraft. The small probe hitched a ride to the Moon with China’s Queqiao satellite, which relays signals to Earth from the Chang’e-4 lander on the Moon’s far side. Longjiang-2 was purposely crashed into the Moon on 31 July 2019

Moon India’s space agency ISRO released new imagery from a terrain mapping camera on the Chandrayaan-2 spacecraft orbiting the Moon. The camera simultaneously captures forward, nadir, and aft views of the surface to produce 3D digital elevation models. Learn more about the Chandrayaan-2 mission here.

Earth SpaceX successfully tested the escape engines on its Crew Dragon capsule ahead of an in-flight abort test scheduled for December. The test is a significant milestone following an explosion caused by the escape system in April. Crew Dragon could be used to fly astronauts to the International Space Station as soon as next year.

Moon NASA and Boeing engineers installed the fourth and final engine on the first Space Launch System (SLS) rocket at the Michoud Assembly Facility in Louisiana. Meanwhile, the Orion crew capsule for that rocket will soon be shipped to NASA’s Plum Brook Station in Ohio for environmental testing. The two vehicles will launch as early as 2020 on a lunar test flight in support of NASA’s back-to-the-Moon Artemis program.

We heard you: Thanks for your feedback requesting an email version of The Downlink! You will find it in our redesigned Planetary Society newsletter in early 2020. Be among the first to receive it by subscribing to our email list today!

Read more: asteroid 162173 Ryugu, Hayabusa2, Mercury, Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter, New Horizons KBO target, Chang'e 4, Curiosity (Mars Science Laboratory), The Downlink, Chandrayaan-2, eclipses and transits, the Moon, International Space Station, Mars

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Jason Davis

Editorial Director for The Planetary Society
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