The Downlink: Kuiper Belt World Named Gonggong, New InSight Results
Alex H. Parker
This artist's concept shows Gonggong, a Kuiper Belt object slightly bigger than Pluto's moon Charon. Gonggong was formerly named 2007 OR10. The Planetary Society helped Gonggong’s discoverers ask the public to vote on a name to be submitted to the International Astronomical Union in 2019.
Welcome to The Downlink, a planetary exploration news roundup from The Planetary Society! Here's everything that crossed our radar this week.
NASA quietly acknowledged that the inaugural flight of the Space Launch System will not occur until 2021. The flight, which will send an Orion crew capsule to lunar orbit and back, was previously scheduled for this year but widely assumed to be delayed. NASA still says it will be able to land humans on the Moon by the end of 2024 as part of the agency’s Artemis program.
China’s Yutu-2 Moon rover has successfully used its ground-penetrating radar to map different layers beneath the lunar surface, as deep as 40 meters under the rover. The results were summarized in a recent article in Science Advances. The rover radar revealed finer-grained regolith near the surface, with increasingly large boulders further underground. A similar instrument on the first Yutu rover, which landed on the nearside, could only penetrate to about 10 meters depth. Learn more about the Chang’e-4 mission here. China plans to fly another incarnation of the instrument on its Mars mission, planned for launch this summer.
NASA’s Juno mission has achieved one of its major goals: to estimate the amount of water in Jupiter’s atmosphere. Scientists said water makes up 0.25% of Jupiter’s atmosphere, about 3 times more than what the Galileo probe detected as it plunged into the planet in 1995. It was long suspected that the probe entered an unusually dry spot in Jupiter's atmosphere. The water abundance will help scientists pin down how close to the Sun Jupiter was when it formed. This will, in turn, feed into formation models of other planetary systems, and help scientists determine how common it may be for other star systems to have water-rich, rocky planets like Earth.
The first science instrument has been delivered for installation aboard JUICE, the European Space Agency’s Jupiter Icy Moons Explorer. JUICE is scheduled to launch in 2022 and arrive at Jupiter in 2029 to perform detailed observations of Jupiter and 3 of its moons: Ganymede, Callisto and Europa. The instrument is an ultraviolet spectrograph that will learn about the moons’ compositions. It may also be able to image aurorae on Jupiter and Ganymede.
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