Planetary scientists at the German Aerospace Center (Deutsches Zentrum für Luft- und Raumfahrt; DLR) may find a thick ice crust with an ocean underneath when the NASA Dawn spacecraft arrives at Ceres in March 2015. Even now, from a distance of 383,000 kilometres, the first surface features are visible.
It follows an elliptical orbit around Mars, undisturbed, almost lonely – the orbiter Mars Express. For 11 years now – to be precise since Christmas Eve 2003 – the first and, for some time now, European Space Agency longest-serving interplanetary mission has been travelling around our planetary neighbour.
With a diameter of nearly 1000 kilometres, it was the largest known asteroid – and yet Ceres, which was 'promoted' from asteroid to dwarf planet in 2006, is just nine pixels wide in the image acquired by the Dawn spacecraft on 1 December 2014.
Philae landed on a comet just three weeks ago; now, another German Aerospace Center (Deutsches Zentrum für Luft- und Raumfahrt; DLR) lander mission has been launched – the Mobile Asteroid Surface Scout (MASCOT) is already on its way to Asteroid 1999 JU3.
Originally scheduled for launch at 05:24 CET on 30 November 2014, the MASCOT asteroid lander will now set off from Tanegashima Space Center on board the Japanese Space Agency (JAXA) orbiter Hayabusa 2 no earlier than 1 December, destined for asteroid 1999 JU3.
These images, acquired by the High Resolution Stereo Camera (HRSC) on board ESA's Mars Express spacecraft, show a part of the Hellas Planitia impact basin illuminated in warm bronze and golden hues. The camera is operated by DLR and is being used to systematically image the surface of the Red Planet in 3D and in colour for the first time.
Shelves of ice, hundreds of metres thick, breaking into thousands of small icebergs that melt away in just a few days. This is not a scene from a disaster movie, but actually happened in the Antarctic in 1995 and 2002.
Just three kilometres from Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko, the ROsetta Lander Imaging System (ROLIS) acquired images of the 'head' and underlying 'body' of Comet 67P. Immediately below is the planned landing site, Agilkia; in the top right of the field of view, one of the landing gear feet can be seen as the camera on the underside of the lander approaches the comet's surface at walking pace.
The MUPUS instrument, one of 10 experiments on the Philae lander that touched down on comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko encountered very hard material with a temperature of about minus 170 degrees Celsius – probably rich in ice.
How long does it take for a star to be born? To date, only this much has been clear: longer than there have been humans on Earth with the technology to observe it. But the precise age of a star-forming cloud has now been determined by a team under the leadership of scientists at the University of Cologne using the GREAT spectrometer on board the SOFIA airborne observatory.
Before going into hibernation at 01:36 CET on 15 November 2014, the Philae lander was able to conduct some work using power supplied by its primary battery. With its 10 instruments, the mini laboratory sniffed the atmosphere, drilled, hammered and studied Comet 67P/ Churyumov-Gerasimenko while over 500 million kilometres from Earth.
Update – the Philae lander entered sleep mode at 01:36 CET on 15 November 2014.
The Philae lander performed about 56 hours of continuous scientific measurements on the surface of Comet 67P, but by 01:15 CET on 15 November the energy state of the lander became so low that the engineers assumed that Philae would go into sleep mode during the night.
Rosetta's lander Philae is safely on the surface of Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko, as these first two CIVA images confirm.
The image shows comet 67P/CG acquired by the ROLIS instrument on the Philae lander during descent on Nov 12, 2014 14:38:41 UT from a distance of approximately 3 km from the surface.
On 12 November 2014, the Philae lander touched down on the surface of Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko. This is the first time a man-made device has landed on a comet and collected data directly from the surface.
In 1969, Svetlana Gerasimenko and Klim Churyumov discovered the comet that the Philae lander will descend to on 12 November 2014.
German ESA astronaut Alexander Gerst is back on Earth after spending five and a half months in space. The 38-year-old geophysicist and flight engineer landed in the steppes of Kazakhstan roughly 100 kilometres from the city of Arkalyk at 04:58 CET (09:58 local time) on 10 November 2014 after a three and a half hour return journey on board a Russian Soyuz spacecraft.
The Philae lander on board the Rosetta spacecraft has been en route to its destination, Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko, since 2 March 2004. On 12 November 2014, it will be released from its mother craft at an altitude of 22.5 kilometres above the comet and – if everything goes according to plan – will touch down on the surface of the comet about seven hours later.
Egyptian history has been explored, new words invented and appropriate comparisons sought for; a total of about 8300 suggestions for Philae’s landing site on Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko were received at the German Aerospace Center (Deutsches Zentrum für Luft- und Raumfahrt; DLR), the French Space Agency (Centre National d'Etudes Spatiales; CNES) the Italian Space Agency (Agenzia Spaziale Italiana; ASI) and the European Space Agency (ESA).
Comet Siding Spring came extraordinarily close to Mars on 19 October 2014. The celestial body - a mere 500 metres in diameter - passed the Red Planet at a distance of just 137,000 kilometres, where it was observed by several spacecraft in orbit around Mars.