Department of Climate and Space Sciences and Engineering in the College of Engineering at the University of Michigan


Climate & Space plays a role in the top 10 space moments of 2015

Posted: December 7, 2015

Climate & Space plays a role in the top 10 space moments of 2015 Artist's concept of the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter. Image credit: NASA/JPL

Climate & Space and SPRL are involved with four of the top 10 space moments of 2015 reported by TIME magazine. The moments they are involved with are numbers 7,6,5 and four.

Moment number 7 is: “Deep Space Climate Observer (DSCOVR) goes online.”

DSCOVR is a NOAA satellite that was launched in February 2015 to monitor solar wind and forecast space weather at Earth. According to TIME, “DSCOVR monitors climate, but it also regularly beams back stunning glossies of our home planet, reminding us of what’s at stake if we don’t take care of the one world we’ve got.”

Associate Professor Justin Kasper is the instrument lead on DSCOVR’s Faraday cup, which will measure the velocity and direction of positively-charged particles in solar wind.

Moment number 6 is: “Cassini Saturn probe swoops through an Enceladus plume.”

NASA’s Cassini-Huygens spacecraft (comprised of the Cassini orbiter and the Huygens probe) reached its target, Saturn, in July 2004 after launching in October 1997. Its goal is to learn more about Saturn’s rings, the magnetosphere, the atmosphere of Saturn and more.

Enceladus is the sixth largest moon of Saturn. According to the article, “There are no existing spacecraft capable of landing on Enceladus, but in late October, the Cassini probe—which has been orbiting Saturn since 2004—did the next best thing, sweeping through one of the geyser plumes to sample the water. The results are not yet known, but the search—as always—is for signs of biology. Whatever the results, the maneuver itself was as nifty a piece of cosmic flying as you’re ever going to see.”

Professor Tamas Gombosi is Cassini’s interdisciplinary scientist for magnetosphere and plasma science, Professor Sushil Atreya is a member of the Cassini-Huygens Atmospheres Working Group and Professor Emeritus Andrew Nagy is a member of the radio science investigation. The spacecraft carries two instruments built by SPRL: the Gas Chromatograph Mass Spectrometer (GCMS), built jointly with the Goddard Space Flight Center, and the Ion and Neutral Mass Spectrometer (INMS), built with JPL.

Moment number 5 is: “Rosetta orbiter finds molecular oxygen on comet 67P”

The European Space Agency (ESA) leads the Rosetta mission, which is performing a detailed study of comet 67P/Churyumov–Gerasimenko. In November 2014 Rosetta made history when it’s lander module, Philae, successfully landed on comet 67P.

Rosetta made history again this October when it made the first in situ detection of oxygen molecules outgassing from a comet, a surprising observation that suggests they were incorporated into the comet during its formation.

The findings were reported in a paper written by Research Fellow Andre Bieler for the journal Nature. Professors Mike Combi, Tamas Gombosi and K.C. Hansen were co-authors on the paper. Combi is a co-investigator on two of the Rosetta spacecraft instruments (the VIRTIS visible and infrared spectrometer and the ROSINA mass spectrometer.) Gombosi and Hansen are also co-investigators on ROSINA. Parts of ROSINA and the Double Focusing Mass Spectrometer (DFMS) were designed and built by SPRL engineers.

Moment number four is “Flowing water is found on Mars.”

This discovery was made in September by NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO), which launched in 2005 on a search for evidence that water persisted on the surface of Mars for a long period of time.

“A study released in September…revealed that flowing water exists on Mars today. There’s not much of it, certainly—just some trickles that run along the ground during the Martian summer when frozen, underground deposits thaw and bubble to the surface. But when it comes to biology, a damp Mars is a vastly more hospitable place than an entirely dry Mars,” the article states.

Professor Stephen Bougher served as an accelerometer facility team member on MRO from 2002 to 2009. It is worth noting that Professor Nilton Renno is also involved with several Mars missions, and has theorized for years that liquid water exists on Mars.

To read the full list, please visit

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