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Solar System: 2016 Preview

Solar System: 2016 Preview

What do we have planned for 2016? A return to the king of planets. A survey of mysterious Ceres. More postcards from Pluto. Anyone who follows solar system exploration in 2016 is in for quite a ride. Last year was one for the record books – and now here are 10 things to look forward to in the new year. See also: what we have planned agency wide for 2016.

Juno Arrives at Jupiter

Solar System: 2016 Preview

July 4, 2016 is arrival day for the Juno mission, the first sent expressly to study the largest planet in the solar system since our Galileo mission in the 1990s. Humans have been studying Jupiter for hundreds of years, yet many basic questions about the gas world remain: How did it form? What is its internal structure? Exactly how does it generate its vast magnetic field? What can it tell us about the formation of other planets inside and outside our solar system? Beginning in July, we’ll be a little closer to the answers.

OSIRIS-REx Takes Flight

Solar System: 2016 Preview

The OSIRIS-REx mission, short for Origins-Spectral Interpretation-Resource Identification-Security-Regolith Explorer, sets sail for an asteroid in September. The spacecraft will use a robotic arm to pluck samples from the asteroid Bennu to help better explain our solar system’s formation and even find clues to how life began.

Dawn Sees Ceres Up Close

Solar System: 2016 Preview

After an odyssey of many years and millions of miles, in December the Dawn spacecraft entered its final, lowest mapping orbit around the dwarf planet Ceres. The intriguing world’s odd mountains, craters and salty deposits are ready for their close-ups. We can expect new images of the starkly beautiful surface for months.

Cassini Commences Its Grand Finale

Solar System: 2016 Preview

In late 2016, the Cassini spacecraft will begin a daring set of orbits called the Grand Finale, which will be in some ways like a whole new mission. Beginning this year and extending into next, the spacecraft will repeatedly climb high above Saturn’s poles, flying just outside its narrow F ring 20 times. After a last targeted Titan flyby, the spacecraft will then dive between Saturn’s uppermost atmosphere and its innermost ring 22 times. As Cassini plunges past Saturn, the spacecraft will collect rich and valuable information far beyond the mission’s original plan.

New Horizons Sends More Postcards from Pluto

Solar System: 2016 Preview

We have stared slack-jawed at the images and discoveries from last year’s Pluto flyby, but the fact is that most of the data that New Horizons collected remains on board the spacecraft. In 2016, we’ll see a steady release of new pictures — and very likely some expanded answers to longstanding questions.

Mars Missions March Forward

Solar System: 2016 Preview

With five of our missions continuing their Martian quests, 2016 should be a good year for discoveries on the Red Planet.

  • Mars Odyssey
  • Mars Opportunity
  • Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter
  • Mars Curiosity
  • MAVEN

Mercury Transits the Sun

Solar System: 2016 Preview

A transit is a very rare astronomical event in which a planet passes across the face of the sun. In May, Mercury will transit the sun, on of only thirteen Mercury transits each century on average.

LRO Keeps an Eagle Eye On the Moon

Solar System: 2016 Preview

The Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO) will extend its run in 2016, scanning the moon’s surface with its sharp-eyed instruments, investigating everything from lava tube skylights to changes at the Apollo landing sites.

Spacecraft Fly Under Many Flags

Solar System: 2016 Preview

Our partner agencies around the world will be flying several new or continuing planetary missions to destinations across the solar system:

  • Akatsuki at Venus
  • ExoMars
  • Mars Express
  • Mars Orbiter Mission
  • Rosetta at Comet 67/P

Technology Demonstration Missions Push the Envelope

Solar System: 2016 Preview

We’re always looking for new frontiers on distant worlds, as well as the technology that will take us there. This year, several missions are planned to take new ideas for a spin in space:

  • Deep Space Atomic Clock
  • NODES
  • LDSD

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