Today’s Deep Space Extra

January 4th, 2019

In Today’s Deep Space Extra… 2019’s first week features a pair of space firsts, China became the first to land a spacecraft, Chang’e 4 on the Moon’s far side. The U.S./NASA New Horizon’s mission spacecraft flew by Ultima Thule, the most distant object ever visited by a spacecraft. A U.S. government shutdown that includes NASA and NOAA continues, even with the swearing in Thursday of a new Congress.

Space Science

China’s Yutu 2 rover is driving on the far side of the Moon (1/3): China’s Chang’e 4 mission scored a first earlier this week as the lander/rover combination became the first spacecraft to touchdown softly on the Moon’s far side. On Thursday, the rover, Yutu 2, begin operations at the landing site, von Karmen Crater at the South Pole/Aitken Basin. The spacecraft duo is communicating with its control center in China over a Chinese lunar communications satellite.

First photo of Chinese Yutu-2 rover exploring far side of the Moon

New Scientist (1/3): China’s Chang’e 4 Moon lander has transmitted an image of its Yutu 2 rover moving off to explore the mission’s landing site at the South Pole Aitken Basin. Chang’e 4 became the first spacecraft to soft land on the Moon’s far side late Wednesday, U.S. time.

New Horizons probe delivers 3-D views of cosmic snowman, plus mysteries to solve (1/3): NASA’s New Horizons mission science team unveiled early three dimensional imagery of distant Ultima Thule, a two lobed Kuiper Belt Object and at 4.1 billion miles from the sun, the most distant object ever visited by a human spacecraft. The New Horizons probe sped by at a distance of 2,200 miles early on New Year’s Day. In a briefing Thursday, scientists said they are sifting thru pre and post flyby imagery in search of a moon, or moons, that may help to explain the two lobed, or snowman like appearance.

What we’ve learned about Ultima Thule from NASA’s New Horizons mission

New York Times (1/3): NASA New Horizons mission scientists on Thursday wrapped up a third and final briefing planned for this week on the spacecraft’s New Year’s Day flyby of the distant Kuiper Belt Object Ultima Thule. They are quite pleased with the performance of the spacecraft, which was launched in January 2006 and is now more than 4 billion miles from Earth, as well as the science that is beginning to emerge from the early imagery and data making its way to Earth. No human spacecraft has reached an object so far away. Ultima Thule shows all the signs of being a well preserved, early building block of the solar system’s planets.

Juno saw one of Io’s volcanoes erupting during its recent flyby

Universe Today (1/3): NASA’s Jupiter orbiting Juno mission spacecraft has captured what appears to be an image of a volcanic eruption on the surface of the moon Io. Juno, only the second spacecraft to circle the solar system’s largest planet, maneuvered into orbit on July 5, 2016. Thanks to an extended mission, Juno’s cameras captured signs of the eruption on December 21 as it circled for a 16th time. Scott Bolton, Juno’s principal investigator from the Southwest Research Institute, termed the spacecraft’s ability to witness the eruption, not only evidence of an active geology on Juno but a surprise.

Confused about the ‘super blood wolf Moon eclipse’ that’s coming soon? Here’s your guide

USA Today (1/3): Coming late this month, Sunday, January 20, is an opportunity to view a much enhanced total eclipse of the Moon. The eclipse will occur with the Moon at its closest point to the Earth, making it appear larger than usual. The Moon will also sport a reddish cast.


Other News

New Congress convenes as shutdown nears two week mark (1/3): As scheduled, a new Congress, with members elected during the November mid-terms, were sworn in Thursday. New House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, a Democrat, led passage of two bills that could have opened part of the federal government that has been shut down since December 22, including NASA and NOAA. However, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, a Republican, would not bring up either, claiming there was no chance of passage and signature by President Trump. The White House issued a statement noting that the two measures do not address his border security expectations, including funds for a wall. Trump is to meet with congressional leaders again on Friday to discuss the matter.

Government shutdown delays commercial launch (1/3): The U.S. government shutdown after a failure by the White House and congressional lawmakers to reach agreement on a 2019 spending plan could delay commercial launch plans, including those underway by NASA’s Commercial Crew Program for a test flight of SpaceX’s Dragon 2 and Falcon 9 to the International Space Station (ISS). The FAA, part of the Department of Transportation (DOT), is also hindered during the shutdown on matters involving launch license modifications.

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