The heliosphere is the bubble-like region of space dominated by the Sun, which extends far beyond the orbit of Pluto. Plasma “blown” out from the Sun, known as the solar wind, creates and maintains this bubble against the outside pressure of the interstellar medium, the hydrogen and helium gas that permeates the Milky Way Galaxy. The solar wind flows outward from the Sun until encountering the termination shock, where motion slows abruptly. The Voyager spacecraft have explored the outer reaches of the heliosphere, passing through the shock and entering the heliosheath, a transitional region which is in turn bounded by the outermost edge of the heliosphere, called the heliopause.
The shape of the heliosphere is controlled by the interstellar medium
through which it is traveling, as well as the Sun and is not perfectly
spherical. The limited data available and unexplored nature of these structures have resulted in many theories. The word “heliosphere” is said to have been coined by Alexander J. Dessler, who is credited with first use of the word in the scientific literature.
On September 12, 2013, NASA announced that Voyager 1 left the heliopause on August 25, 2012, when it measured a sudden increase in plasma density of about forty times. Because the heliopause marks one boundary
between the Sun’s solar wind and the rest of the galaxy, a spacecraft
such as Voyager 1 which has departed the heliosphere, can be said to
have reached interstellar space. source
On this day in 1977 was launched the space probe Voyager 1.
Voyager 1 is a space probe launched by NASA on September 5, 1977. Part of the Voyager program to study the outer Solar System, Voyager 1 launched 16 days after its twin, Voyager 2. Having operated for 41 years as of September 5, 2018, the spacecraft still communicates with the Deep Space Network to receive routine commands and return data. At a distance of 142.31 astronomical units from the Sun as of June 4, 2018, it is the most distant man-made object from Earth.
The probe’s objectives included flybys of Jupiter, Saturn, and Saturn’s largest moon, Titan. While the spacecraft’s course could have been altered to include a Pluto encounter by forgoing the Titan flyby, exploration of the moon, which was known to have a substantial atmosphere, took priority. It studied the weather, magnetic fields and rings of the two planets and was the first probe to provide detailed images of their moons. (read more)
On August 8, 1978, the Pioneer Venus Multiprobe spacecraft launched to study Venus, a planet that has an atmosphere 100 times denser than Earth’s atmosphere and is hotter than the melting point of zinc and lead. Pioneer Venus Multiprobe was composed of five components: the main spacecraft, the large probe and three identical small probes named North, Day and Night. Built by the Hughes Company in El Segundo, California, and launched on an Atlas-Centaur rocket from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida, the Pioneer Venus Multiprobe project was managed by NASA’s Ames Research Center in California’s Silicon Valley.
Carrying seven experiments and fitted with a parachute to slow its descent into the atmosphere, the large probe studied the composition of Venus’ atmosphere and clouds. In addition, the large probe measured the distribution of infrared and solar radiation. The three small probes were designed without parachutes, each carrying six experiments. Each probe targeted different parts of Venus. North entered Venus at the high northern latitudes, Night targeted the night side at mid-southern latitudes, and Day targeted the day side at mid-southern latitudes. The main spacecraft carried an additional two experiments designed to study Venus’ upper atmosphere. The five probes collected detailed information about atmospheric composition, circulation and energy balance.
The large probe separated from the main spacecraft 123 days after launch, on November 16, followed by the small probes on November 20, reaching and entering Venus’ atmosphere December 9. While not expected to survive their fiery descent into the dense Venusian atmosphere, all four of the probes transmitted data down to the surface with the Day probe transmitting from the surface for over an hour.
This image shows the recent observations of the planets Mars and Saturn made with the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope. The observations of both objects were made in June and July 2018 and show the planets close to their opposition.
A ground-penetrating radar aboard the European Space Agency’s Mars Express satellite has found evidence for a pool of liquid water, a potentially habitable environment, buried under layers of ice and dust at the red planet’s south pole.
“This subsurface anomaly on Mars has radar properties matching water or water-rich sediments,” said Roberto Orosei, principal investigator of the Mars Advanced Radar for Subsurface and Ionosphere Sounding instrument, or MARSIS, lead author of a paper in the journal Science describing the discovery.
The conclusion is based on observations of a relatively small area of Mars, but “it is an exciting prospect to think there could be more of these underground pockets of water elsewhere, yet to be discovered,” added Orosei.
Scientists have long theorised the presence of subsurface pools under the martian poles where the melting point of water could be decreased due to the weight of overlying layers of ice. The presence of salts in the Martian soil also would act to reduce the melting point and, perhaps, keep water liquid even at sub-freezing temperatures.
Earlier observations by MARSIS were inconclusive, but researchers developed new techniques to improve resolution and accuracy.
“We’d seen hints of interesting subsurface features for years but we couldn’t reproduce the result from orbit to orbit, because the sampling rates and resolution of our data was previously too low,” said Andrea Cicchetti, MARSIS operations manager.
“We had to come up with a new operating mode to bypass some onboard processing and trigger a higher sampling rate and thus improve the resolution of the footprint of our dataset. Now we see things that simply were not possible before.”
MARSIS works by firing penetrating radar beams at the surface of Mars and then measuring the strength of the signals as they are reflected back to the spacecraft.
The data indicating water came from a 200-kilometre-wide (124-mile-wide) area that shows the south polar region features multiple layers of ice and dust down to a depth of about 1.5 kilometres (0.9 miles). A particularly bright reflection below the layered deposits can be seen in a zone measuring about 20 kilometres (12 miles) across.
Orosei’s team interprets the bright reflection as the interface between overlying ice and a pool or pond of liquid water. The pool must be at least several centimetres thick for the MARSIS instrument to detect it.
“The long duration of Mars Express, and the exhausting effort made by the radar team to overcome many analytical challenges, enabled this much-awaited result, demonstrating that the mission and its payload still have a great science potential,” says Dmitri Titov, ESA’s Mars Express project scientist.
The discovery is significant because it raises the possibility, at least, of potentially habitable sub-surface environments.
“Some forms of microbial life are known to thrive in Earth’s subglacial environments, but could underground pockets of salty, sediment-rich liquid water on Mars also provide a suitable habitat, either now or in the past?” ESA asked in a statement. “Whether life has ever existed on Mars remains an open question.”
This image of the planet Neptune was obtained during the testing of the Narrow-Field adaptive optics mode of the MUSE/GALACSI instrument on ESO’s Very Large Telescope. The corrected image is sharper than a comparable image from the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope.