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Solar System: 5 Things to Know This Week

Solar System: 5 Things to Know This Week

The solar system is huge, so let us break it down for you. Here are 5 things you should know this week:

1. Mini-Moons

Solar System: 5 Things to Know This Week

This week, the robotic spacecraft Cassini will pass a pair of tiny Saturnian moons. Daphnis, only 5.7 miles (9.2 km) across, orbits within the Keeler Gap in Saturn’s outer A ring. Daphnis’ slight gravity maintains that gap. Cassini will then swing by Telesto, a small moon that shares its orbit with Tethys. Cassini’s cameras should get some good pictures of these tiny worlds.

2. Stardust Memories

Solar System: 5 Things to Know This Week

Jan. 15 is the 10th anniversary of the day the Stardust capsule returned to Earth, carrying pieces of a comet. The Stardust spacecraft passed right through the gas and dust surrounding the icy nucleus of Wild 2 (pronounced “Vilt-2”) in January 2004, then sent the samples it collected home for laboratory analysis.

3. Sun Surfing in the 70s

Solar System: 5 Things to Know This Week

Jan. 15 is the 40th anniversary of the launch of Helios 2, the second of a pair of spacecraft launched by NASA and built by Germany to investigate the sun. Helios 2 flew to within about 27 million miles (44 million km) of the sun’s surface in 1976. The spacecraft provided important information on solar plasma, the solar wind, cosmic rays, and cosmic dust, and also performed magnetic field and electrical field experiments. A NASA mission set to launch in 2018 will dare an even closer approach.

4. To Space, to Watch the Seas

Solar System: 5 Things to Know This Week

Jason 3, an international mission to continue U.S.- European satellite measurements of the topography of the ocean surface, is scheduled to launch on Jan. 17. The mission will make highly detailed measurements of sea-level on Earth to gain insight into ocean circulation and climate change.

5. Getting Serious About Ceres

Solar System: 5 Things to Know This Week

This is getting good. Over the past few weeks, the Dawn mission has been tantalizing us with ever-closer images of the dwarf planet Ceres, the largest object in the main asteroid belt and a small world in its own right. Now, the robotic spacecraft has used its ion engines to ease down into its lowest mapping orbit in order to scrutinize Ceres up close, and already the pictures are spectacular. Odd mountains, deep craters and fissures—not to mention those famous bright spots—will all be coming into sharper focus during the coming days.

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