2011, a flurry of planetary exploration

2011, a flurry of planetary exploration

2010 marked many astounding astronomical ventures that led a way to explore solar system. The action began on October 2010 with a visit to Comet Hartley 2. On October 20, Hartley 2 had a close encounter with Earth; it was clearly visible to the naked eye and became a splendid target for backyard telescopes. Amateur astronomers witnessed the comet as NASA’s Deep Impact/EPOXI spacecraft dived into its vast green atmosphere and plunged towards the icy core.

The Deep Impact spacecraft, which studied periodic comet 9P/Tempel 1 in 2005, examined 103P/Hartley 2 in 2010, as part of the EPOXI (Extrasolar Planet Observation and Deep Impact Extended Investigation) mission. The closest approach occurred on November 4, when the minimum distance to the comet was around 620 miles.

The spacecraft used two telescopes with digital color cameras and an infrared spectrometer. The latter instrument determined the chemical composition of outbursts of gas from the comet’s nucleus.

These two ventures led a way to initiate planeraty exploration in 2010. On December 7, 2010, Japan’s Akatsuki (Venus Climate Orbiter) spacecraft grabbed the spotlight when entered the orbit around Venus. The mission aimed to understand how a planet so similar to Earth in size and orbit went so appallingly wrong.

Venus is bone-dry, shrouded by acid clouds, and beset by a case of global warming hot enough to melt lead. Instruments on Akatsuki probed Venus from the top of its super-cloudy atmosphere all the way to the volcano-pocked surface below, providing the kind of detailed information researchers need for comparative planetary.

Over the next 23 months of the Year of the Solar System you will be able to explore how the solar system formed, how different objects in the solar system are from each other, how alike they are, and how we know what we know about the solar system. NASA continues to explore and learn about the many mysteries of the solar system during missions like Deep Impact-EPOXI.

This mission will rendezvous with Comet Hartley 2 next month to help us better understand the conditions in the early solar system.

Planetary exploration is shifting into high gear with an unprecedented tripling of flybys, orbital insertions, and launches to destinations around the Solar System. To commemorate the increase, NASA has declared the year ahead The Year of the Solar System.

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