"Any questions, Neil Armstrong?" – as he says these words, NASA astronaut Mark Watney senses for the first time that he might have only a very small chance of getting out of his predicament alive. Watney is 'The Martian' in the film of the same name (release date in Germany: 8 October) who, in a not too distant future, finds himself stranded on the Red Planet.
This week, scientists at the European Planetary Science Conference (EPSC) in Nantes, France are busy with the mysterious crater structures and fascinating views of the multifaceted dwarf planet Ceres. The German Aerospace Center (Deutsches Zentrum für Luft- und Raumfahrt; DLR) is involved in the NASA Dawn mission and, among other things, is responsible for the mapping and naming of regions and striking surface features, in collaboration with the International Astronomical Union (IAU).
Shaped like a rubber duck – this was the talk upon the discovery of Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko's surprising shape in July 2014. Scientists were amazed at the celestial body's extraordinary shape, which was revealed by the European Rosetta spacecraft.
Gas and dust streams from the ‘neck’ of Comet 67P/ Churyumov-Gerasimenko
Since its arrival at the comet, Rosetta has observed jets of gas and dust. Numerous gas eruptions have been observed originating from the ‘neck’ of the comet. Using the measurements performed by the VIRTIS spectrometer, it has been possible to recognise a day/night cycle of cometary activity and identify the mechanism responsible.
From 9 September 2015, test flights are taking place on three consecutive days in a simulated disaster scenario as part of the EU's 'Driving Innovations in Crisis Management for European Resilience' (DRIVER) project. Harrowing scenes are being simulated in Braunschweig on those days. A major flood has covered a wide area around the Tankumsee, a lake near Gifhorn; surrounding roads are also affected and people are stranded in the water.
The primary task of the German Aerospace Center (Deutsches Zentrum für Luft- und Raumfahrt; DLR) High Resolution Stereo Camera (HRSC) on board ESA's Mars Express spacecraft is to acquire high-resolution image data for the mapping of Mars. For this purpose, the optical system is normally directed perpendicular to the surface of the planet.
The north face of the Eiger in the Bernese Alps is legendary; mountaineers consider the steep walls of the 1800-metre drop to be a difficult and challenging climb. But 326 million kilometres from Earth, the sheer cliffs of the Eiger find their match on the dwarf planet Ceres, where at some points, the wall of the Occator crater towers precipitously at a height of almost 2000 metres.
Nine seconds is not a lot – those who are nine seconds late for an appointment are, so to speak, on time. But when it comes to the rotation of a planet around its own axis, nine seconds is not insignificant. On Mercury, this means that a spot at the equator would, in four years, not be where one would expect it to be; it would have shifted by 700 metres.
The lower the Dawn space probe flies over the dwarf planet Ceres with its on-board camera, the more puzzling – and exciting – the celestial body appears. “Some of the things we are seeing have never been seen anywhere else in the Solar System,” says Ralf Jaumann from the German Aerospace Center (DLR). “Except for on Earth.” Dawn is now looking down onto the surface of Ceres from an altitude of just 1470 kilometres. The first images acquired from its High Altitude Mapping Orbit (HAMO) show a ‘pyramid’ with unusual landslides, unstable crater walls and chains of mountains. “We can only speculate about these things at the moment.” Where the bright stripes along the pyramid-shaped mountain come from and whether the surface of the dwarf planet is comprised of different materials are questions that the planetary researchers are still trying to answer.
For weeks, comet Churyumov-Gerasimenko has been active, hurling dust and gas into space – but it will not reach the closest point to the Sun in its orbit, the perihelion, until 13 August 2015 at exactly 4:03 CEST. It will take another six-and-a-half years to get this close to the Sun once again.