January 3rd, 2014

me: abby

Topic Meme: Day 14

[personal profile] majoline asked: Space! Any really interesting projects or phenomena happening right now?

Ha, now this is a broad topic. I'm going to choose three things to witter about that are close to my heart because I'm personally involved with them.

  1. On 20 January 2014, the Rosetta spacecraft is going to be switched on after 2.5 years of hibernation. This is going to be quite an event. Rosetta has been traveling towards its rendezvous with a comet since its launch in 2004. The comet has the exciting name 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko, or "Chury Gery" for short. It needed to hibernate in order to use as little power as possible for the last stage of its journey. Assuming it comes back on as planned, Rosetta will go into orbit around the comet whilst its accompanying lander, Philae, drops onto the comet's surface and probes its composition. Since comets are thought to be some of the last remnants of early solar system, we hope Rosetta's exploration will teach us something about the way ours formed.

    Here is a short YouTube video (2 minutes 29 seconds) that shows how Rosetta will wake up.

  2. You can follow Rosetta's progress towards wake-up on Facebook.

  3. There is a massive hexagonal hurricane at Saturn's North Pole.

    The Cassini spacecraft discovered this feature on Saturn a few years into the mission, because the poles were dark when it first arrived at the planet in 2004. Hurricanes on Earth tend to migrate north, but this one is as far north as it can get. The storm is effectively stuck at the pole. The eye of the storm is about 50 times bigger than your average Earth hurricane.

    There's a short article on the hurricane here.

    For me, this discovery highlights the importance of keeping missions to the outer planets going for as long as possible. It takes years to get a craft to them (7 years in the case of Cassini traveling from Earth to Saturn) and it doesn't happen very frequently. No space agency has a mission to Saturn currently in the works. The time from planning to launch is usually a decade, minimum, for outer planetary missions. Cassini is therefore likely to maintain its position as the first and the only spacecraft to orbit Saturn for at least a couple of decades if not longer.

  4. BRB, going to Ganymede. Okay, maybe not exactly "BRB". The JUpiter ICy moons Explorer (JUICE) spacecraft is not scheduled for launch until 2022. But it is now over a year and a half since the mission was selected to be the first L-class, or large, mission launched as part of the European Space Agency's Cosmic Vision programme. It will study Jupiter's icy Galilean moons - Europa, Callisto and most particularly Ganymede, which it will orbit. It will attempt to discern, among other things, the extent and depth of the subsurface oceans on these moons. The oceans are thought to be one of the most likely places for life to have potentially developed elsewhere in our solar system.

    It's over a year since our lab was selected to build the magnetometer, which will measure the magnetic field to an absolute accuracy of 0.1 nT. To give you an idea of how small a tenth of a nanoTesla is, the Earth's magnetic field is, on average, 45 microTesla. Hence, what we experience every day is over a hundred thousand times bigger than what the JUICE magnetometer will be trying to measure.

    There isn't much in the public domain about the mission development that I can link you to now. Suffice it to say that even though press coverage is light, there is a hell of a lot of work going on behind the scenes. As I have signed an NDA (non-disclosure agreement) with respect to the instrument and spacecraft development, that's about as specific as I can get. Any disappearance on my part from social media for the next eight years can probably be attributed to intensive work on JUICE.

    A description of the JUICE payload can be found here.

Finally, this post allows me to showcase my exciting new icon by [personal profile] itsamellama, featuring me cosplaying Abby Sciuto from NCIS. \o/

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