Category Archives: Planetary science

Ultima Thule

The end of 2018 and new year was full of space research news. In a very short time the Japanese Hayabusa2 touched an asteroid, the New Horizons spacecraft reached the Kuiper belt object Ultima Thule, and the Chinese probe Chang’e landed the Jade Rabbit 2 rover in the far side of the moon. The flyby of Ultima Thule is particularly interesting considering the distance of 6500 millions of km (equivalent to a radio attenuation of 303 dB at 7 GHz) and the fact that it was reached with about 35% of the remaining hydrazine fuel. New Horizons is expected to head towards another Kuiper object in the next years.

Two NASA images of Ultima-Thule taking in January 2019.
The Chinese lander on the far side of the moon.


The European (ESA-Roscosmos) ExoMars Trace Gas Orbiter finished aerobraking dives and started taking data last April, 28. The Orbiter will specially check methane composition to discern if the  gas originated from geological or possible biological sources. The probe includes several ultraviolet and infrared spectrometers. The combination of mid-, near- and far-infrared spectra will provide identification of several atmospheric gases (H2O, O2, CO2, SO2, HF, HCl, etc).

In the picture below the Korolev crater, one of the first images from the orbiter.

Mars panorama

Following a five-year work of data collection the Mars rover “Curiosity” has produced an impressive panorama of the Gale impact crater that it has been exploring. The rover includes several spectroscopic experiments, including a LIBS (laser induced breakdown spectroscopy) instrument, capable to probe atomic composition at distances up to 7 m wit a 1064 nm IR laser. Other experiments include Raman spectroscopy (532 nm), Time-Resolved Fluorescence (TRF) spectroscopy and Visible and InfraRed (VISIR) reflectance spectroscopy (400 – 900 nm, 1.3 – 2.6 µm).

In the picture below the first LIBS spectrum on the “coronation” rock (August 2012).