Jason Davis • November 15, 2019
NASA/SDO, HMI, and AIA science teams
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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asteroid 162173 Ryugu,
Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter,
486958 Arrokoth (2014 MU69),
Curiosity (Mars Science Laboratory),
transit of Mercury,
International Space Station,
Editorial Director for The Planetary SocietyRead more articles by Jason Davis
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