NASA’s Messenger probe ended its decade-long mission by crashing into the surface of Mercury. It had been orbiting Mercury for about four years and had spent that time studying various properties of the planet. Apparently, in recent months, the Messenger team had positioned the probe to bring its orbit very close to the surface. Doing this requires fuel, and the probe finally ran out of fuel, forcing it to crash into the surface.
You can now vote on various proposed names for features on Pluto that will be found by the New Horizons spacecraft. No, you can’t name anything after yourself. Current proposed names are focused on mythology and exploration in fiction and real life. Voting ends on April 7th, so you have about 2 weeks to check it out.
The Dawn space probe, which was launched by NASA in 2007, reached the dwarf planet Ceres and started orbiting it earlier today. According to the press release, Dawn is the first spacecraft to be placed into orbit around a dwarf planet. Ceres is located in an orbit between those of Mars and Jupiter, so it isn’t that far away by astronomical scales. One of the reasons why it took so long for the probe to get there is that it already flew by Vesta, another dwarf planet. While in orbit, Dawn will study Ceres with a number of instruments, including a radiation detector, a light spectrometer, and a camera operating at visible wavelengths. The scientific payload was produced by various agencies in the US and Europe. Scientists working on the mission hope to learn about things like the dwarf planet’s interior composition, surface composition, and gravitational fields.
It’s being reported that the MAVEN spacecraft has now arrived at Mars. Apparently the University of Colorado is one of the main contributors to the mission. Unlike the Mars rovers that have been famously operating for the past decade or so, this spacecraft will orbit the planet and measure the properties of its atmosphere.
It was reported a few days ago that the NASA Mars Rover Curiosity has finally arrived at one of its main destinations, the bottom of a mountain. Curiosity has been exploring Mars since 2012. News reports say that the main science goal at this site is to study Martian geology by looking at different layers of rock. The Mars rover program of the last 10 years has been incredibly successful and hopefully Curiosity will continue to generate science data for years to come.
NASA announced earlier today that the New Horizons spacecraft has crossed Neptune’s orbit. New Horizons is on its way toward Pluto. It will perform detailed studies of Pluto when it flies by in July next year and then hopefully continue on to study some Kuiper Belt objects.