CPS News

Ions from Comet 67P – early Rosetta results and increasing activity

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Comet 67P and Lithium release comparison. From Coates et al. (2015)

As a comet nears the Sun, its icy nucleus heats, and neutral water and other gas molecules sublime, carrying ice and dust grains away also. The gas ionizes in sunlight, producing pickup ions. In a new paper, Andrew Coates and colleagues look at the early pickup process at 67P using data from the Rosetta Plasma Consortium (RPC) particle instruments. They compare the results to what was learned with the AMPTE and Giotto missions 30 years ago. The trajectory of Rosetta, the first spacecraft to fly with a comet at different distances to the Sun, is ideal for this. They discuss an elegant momentum balance seen between the new-born pickup ions and the solar wind.

Europlanet 2020 Research Infrastructure launches new era of planetary collaboration in Europe

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Mars (credit: NASA, ESA)

A €9.95 million project to integrate and support planetary science activities across Europe has been launched. 

Planetary group student organises Sample Space Science Week at MSSL for sixth formers

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MSSL has just finished its second annual work experience week for sixth formers. Adi Ramani, one of the sixth formers taking part, explains enthusiastically: “It was an amazing week. I don’t think anything was lacking. It is the perfect experience for anyone wanting to pursue Physics or Engineering.”

ARIEL mission to reveal 'Brave New Worlds' among exoplanets

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Concept view of the ARIEL spacecraft. Credit: ESA

An ambitious European mission is being planned to answer fundamental questions about how planetary systems form and evolve. ARIEL will investigate the atmospheres of several hundreds planets orbiting distant stars. It is one of three candidate missions selected last month by the European Space Agency (ESA) for its next medium class science mission, due for launch in 2026.  The ARIEL mission concept has been developed by a consortium of more than 50 institutes from 12 countries, including UK, France, Italy, Germany, the Netherlands, Poland, Spain, Belgium, Austria, Denmark, Ireland, Portugal.  The mission will be presented today at the Pathways 2015 conference in Bern, Switzerland, by ARIEL’s Principal Investigator, Prof Giovanna Tinetti of UCL. 

Dr. Geraint Jones: Pluto’s moons in sharper focus

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Dr. Geraint Jones

Dr. Geraint Jones, Reader in Planetary Science at UCL, highlights Pluto's moons in his recent article for The Conversation: "New Horizons brings Pluto’s mysterious moons into sharper focus".

Pluto and Charon - A Planetary Waltz, in celebration of NASA's New Horizon Mission

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Original plates from Clyde Tombaugh's discovery of Pluto (apparent magnitude +15.1). Credit: Lowell Observatory Archives via Wikipedia

On July 14, 2015, NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft made its closest approach to the dwarf planet Pluto, the outermost body in the Solar we have visited. A hundred years previously, Gustav Holst had been composing his Planet Suite, ignorant of Pluto’s existence.

Prof. Andrew Coates: There is still lots more solar system exploration to do... 

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Prof. Andrew Coates

In his recent article for The Conversation: "Fly-by missions: what is the point when we have the technology to go into orbit?", Prof. Andrew Coates, Head of Planetary Science at the Mullard Space Science Laboratory at UCL, discusses the significance of fly-by missions, including the recently successful NASA New Horizons mission to Pluto, and the importance of continued solar system exploration.

Titan's atmosphere even more Earth-like than previously thought

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Scientists at UCL have observed how a widespread polar wind is driving gas from the atmosphere of Saturn’s moon Titan. The team analysed data gathered over seven years by the NASA/ESA Cassini probe, and found that the interactions between Titan’s atmosphere, and the solar magnetic field and radiation, create a wind of hydrocarbons and nitriles being blown away from the top of its atmosphere into space. This is very similar to the wind observed coming from the Earth’s polar regions.

Prof. Ian Crawford awarded Leverhulme Trust research grant to study what the Moon may tell us about the history of the Milky Way

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Close-up of the lunar regolith with astronaut’s boot for scale (credit: NASA)

The new grant, entitled Assessing the potential of lunar geology as a window into galactic history, was awarded to Professor Crawford and colleagues Dr Pieter Vermeesch (UCL) and Dr Katherine Joy (University of Manchester). Dr Louise Alexander, who obtained both her B.Sc. and Ph.D degrees in planetary science from Birkbeck, will be employed as researcher on the project.

Venus is slowly losing its atmosphere

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Artist's impression of the interaction between Venus and the solar wind. Copyright: ESA (Image by C. Carreau)

New research on ionospheric photoelectrons in the tail of Venus, led by CPS members at UCL's Mullard Space Science Laboratory (MSSL), shows that the planet is losing 300kg of its atmosphere per day. The research, from two papers published in the journal Planetary and Space Science, is based on data from the ASPERA-4 electron spectrometer on ESA's Venus Express spacecraft.

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