Where in the Solar System Are We Today?

 

New Horizons sets off for Pluto.

New Horizons sets off for Pluto.

We’ve looked at the first scientist on the Moon, as well as at spaceports where the next step toward manned space flight is being prepared.

Meanwhile, in space…where are our unmanned Solar System exploration craft today?

Just about everywhere, it turns out.

The Planetary Society has the best one-stop website on space missions that I’ve found – you could get lost for hours there, checking it all out.

Below is an outline based on the Society’s information.

At the bottom of each section I have also posted the question that I’m most curious about. Over coming weeks, I’ll fill this outline out with posts on each Solar System member (as you’ll see, a few have already been covered).

The Sun
 

Here is our post about the Sun.

Planetary Society: Missions to study the sun

Ongoing missions:

  • Advanced Composition Explorer (ACE)
  • Global Geospace Geoscience (GGS) WIND
  • Hinode (Sunrise)
  • PICARD
  • Reuven Ramaty High Energy Solar Spectroscopic Imager (RHESSI)
  • Solar and Heliospheric Observatory (SOHO)
  • Solar Dynamics Observatory (SDO)
  • Solar Terrestrial Relations Observatory (STEREO)
  • Solar Monitoring Observatory (SOLAR/SMO)

Notable previous missions: Ulysses

Biggest question about the Sun: Is it going to fry us?

Mercury
 

We’ve already taken a brief look at the planet Mercury.

Planetary Society: Missions to Venus and Mercury

Ongoing missions: MESSENGER

Notable previous missions: Mariner 10

Biggest question about Mercury: Why is such a tiny planet so dense?

Venus
 

Stay tuned for a post about Venus.

Planetary Society: Missions to Venus and Mercury

Ongoing missions:

  • Venus Express
  • Akatsuki (Planet-C)

Notable previous missions:

  • Cassini-Huygens
  • Magellan
  • Galileo
  • Vega 1 and 2
  • Venera missions: Numbers 4-16
  • Pioneer Venus missions: Numbers 1-2
  • Mariner missions: Numbers 2, 5

Biggest question about Venus: Why is it so similar to Earth and yet with such different conditions?

The Moon
 

Stay tuned for a post about the Moon.

Planetary Society: Missions to the Moon

Ongoing missions:

  • Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter
  • Chang’e 2 and 3
  • LADEE

Notable recent (since 1990) past missions:

  • Hiten (MUSES A)
  • Clementine
  • Lunar Prospector
  • SMART-1
  • Kaguya (SELENE)
  • Chang’e 1
  • Chandrayaan-1
  • LCROSS
  • GRAIL

Biggest question about the Moon: When are we going back?

Mars
 

Stay tuned for a post about Mars.

We’ve looked at the MAVEN and Mars Orbiter missions recently.

Planetary Society: Missions to Mars

Ongoing missions:

  • MAVEN
  • Mars Orbiter Mission
  • Curiosity
  • Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (HiRISE)
  • Mars Exploration Rover Opportunity
  • Mars Express
  • 2001 Mars Odyssey

Notable past missions:

  • Mars Exploration Rover Spirit
  • Phoenix
  • Pathfinder and Sojurner
  • Mars Global Surveyor
  • Viking missions: 1-2
  • Mars missions: 2-6 (somewhat successful)
  • Mariner missions: 4, 6-7, 9

Biggest question about Mars: Can we live there?

Asteroids
 

We’ve looked at asteroids here recently.

Planetary Society: Missions beyond Mars

Ongoing missions: Dawn

Notable past missions:

  • Near Earth Asteroid Rendezvous (NEAR)
  • Galileo

Biggest question about asteroids: Are they good (mining) or bad (impacts) for us?

Jupiter
 

Stay tuned for a post about Jupiter.

Planetary Society: Missions beyond Mars

En route to Jupiter: Juno (arrival in 2016)

Notable previous missions:

  • Galileo
  • Voyagers 1, 2
  • Cassini-Huygen
  • New Horizons
  • Ulysses
  • Pioneer 10-11

Biggest question about Jupiter: What’s under the clouds?

Saturn
 

Stay tuned for a post about Saturn.

Planetary Society: Missions beyond Mars

Ongoing missions: Cassini-Huygens

Notable previous missions:

  • Voyagers 1, 2
  • Pioneer 10

Biggest question about Saturn: Is there life on Titan?

Uranus

Stay tuned for a post about Uranus.

Planetary Society: Missions beyond Mars

Ongoing missions:
 

Notable past missions: Voyager 2
 

Biggest question about Uranus: Why does it lie on its side?

Neptune

Stay tuned for a post about Neptune.

Planetary Society: Missions beyond Mars

Ongoing missions:
 

Notable past missions: Voyager 2
 

Biggest question about Neptune: What about its orbit and how its arrival has affected the Solar System

Pluto and the Kuiper Belt
 

We have looked at Pluto here recently, and also at the New Horizons mission.

Planetary Society: Missions beyond Mars

En route: New Horizons (due to arrive in 2015)

Biggest question about Pluto: Do Pluto and its moon Charon form a binary system?

The Oort cloud of comets
 

The Oort cloud is so far away, not even Voyager 1 has gotten there yet. Fortunately, some of the icy debris that orbits there is occasionally sent zinging sunward due to gravity perturbations from nearby stars. These are the comets, which we have looked at here. We are also following the Rosetta mission, which will attempt a landing (via the Philae lander) on comet 67P (Churyumov–Gerasimenko) next month.

Planetary Society: Missions beyond Mars

Ongoing missions: Rosetta and Philae

Notable previous missions:

  • Deep Impact
  • Hayabusa (MUSES-C)
  • Stardust
  • Deep Space 1
  • Giotto
  • International Sun-Earth Explorer (ISEE-3), International Cometary Explorer (ICE)
  • Suisei
  • Sakigake
  • Vega 1 and Vega 2

Biggest question about comets: Can we predict their approach towards Earth and somehow prevent an impact with one?
 
 


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