CPS News

Strong 'electric wind' strips planets of oceans and atmospheres

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Venus' electric wind (credit: Dr Glyn Collinson)

Venus has an ‘electric wind’ strong enough to remove the components of water from its upper atmosphere, which may have played a significant role in stripping the planet of its oceans, according to a new study by NASA and UCL researchers.

Liftoff to Mars!

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TGO liftoff

On 14 March, the first mission of the ESA-Russia ExoMars programme began its journey to Mars from the Baikonur cosmodrome. Soaring over the steppes of Kazakhstan, the Proton rocket and Briz upper stage both performed flawlessly, putting the first of the two ExoMars missions on course for Mars with arrival in October 2016. This opens a new era of European-Russian Mars exploration – with UCL-MSSL and UCL's Centre for Planetary Sciences (CPS) playing key roles.

Solar storms trigger Jupiter's 'Northern Light'

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Artistic rendering of Jupiter's magnetosphere (credit: JAXA)

Solar storms trigger Jupiter’s intense ‘Northern Lights’ by generating a new X-ray aurora that is eight times brighter than normal and hundreds of times more energetic than Earth’s aurora borealis, finds new UCL-led research using NASA’s Chandra X-Ray Observatory.

Giotto at Halley: 30 years ago!

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Artist's Impression of Giotto and Comet Halley (source: ESA)

It was the year of the tragic Challenger disaster – but UCL-MSSL was making good news in space and making history too. The Giotto spacecraft carried 10 instruments, including one led by UCL-MSSL just 596 km (MSSL to ESOC distance!) from comet Halley on the night of 13th/14th March, with some spectacular results.

First detection of gases in super-Earth atmosphere

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55 Cancri e

CPS members led by UCL PhD student Angelos Tsiaras have made the first successful detection of gases in the atmosphere of a super-Earth,  revealing the presence of hydrogen and helium, but no water vapour.

Saturn and Enceladus produce the same amount of plasma

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Saturn

The first evidence that Saturn’s upper atmosphere may, when buffeted by the solar wind, emit the same total amount of mass per second into its magnetosphere as its moon, Enceladus, has been found by UCL scientists working on the Cassini mission.

Professor Hilary Downes elected to the Presidency of the Mineralogical Society

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Prof. Hilary Downes

Congratulations to CPS member Professor Hilary Downes on her recent election to the role of President of the Mineralogical Society of Great Britain and Ireland. A full report can be found in the news article from Birkbeck's Department of Earth and Planetary Sciences.

UCL's ExoMars PanCam kit one step closer to Mars

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ExoMars Rover (courtesy of ESA)

The UCL-made ‘structural-thermal model’ of the ExoMars PanCam instrument for the joint ESA-Roscosmos (Russian space agency) 2018 rover mission leaves UCL Mullard Space Science Laboratory (MSSL) today for Airbus UK in Stevenage. This is the first of several steps on the way to Mars - in 2016, UCL will deliver engineering- and flight models. The flight model will be the actual instrument which travels to Mars where it will identify promising targets for the mission.

Cassini mission provides insight into Saturn

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An artist's rendition of the Cassini spacecraft approaching the planet Saturn. Image credit: NASA/JPL

Scientists have found the first direct evidence for explosive releases of energy in Saturn's magnetic bubble using data from the Cassini spacecraft, a joint mission between NASA, the European Space Agency, and the Italian Space Agency. The research is reported in the journal Nature Physics.

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.

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