A little over a year ago we watched with baited breath as the Mars Science Laboratory performed its amazing landing on the red planet. Since then we’ve followed the Curiosity rover as it has traveled Gale Crater. It is easy to forget that there is a lot of really great science going on focused on other parts of the solar system.
Just the other day the Lunar Atmosphere and Dust Environment Explorer (LADEE) fired it engines slowing the spacecraft enough to be captured by the Moon’s gravity and bringing the craft into orbit on October 6th. LADEE will eventually fly in a low 50 kilometer (31 mi) orbit collecting detailed information about the ultra thin lunar atmosphere, lunar dust and conditions near the surface.
Yes, you did read that right the Moon does have an atmosphere… it is just really really thin.
Today, October 9th, the Juno spacecraft will be passing by Earth to perform a critical gravity assist maneuver on its way to rendezvous with Jupiter in 2016. That’s right the wonders of orbital mechanics mean that in order to send the ship to Jupiter it actually has to come back to Earth. Juno’s will be at its closest to the Earth at 3:21 EDT, passing over South Africa at an altitude of about 500 kilometers (350 mi). This maneuver will accelerate Juno’s velocity by 16,330 mph.
And as for Curiosity, yeah she’s still trucking along towards Mt Sharp.
You can find out more about this and other interesting space science at Universe Today or your science blog of choice.