Exploring the Early Solar System

Numerous spacecraft are exploring the solar system looking at conditions and processes that existed at the formation of the solar system that may give us clues to the development of life on earth.


New Horizon Mission to Pluto – July 15, 2015

New Horizons launched on Jan. 19, 2006. it swung past Jupiter for a gravity boost and scientific studies in February 2007, and is conducting a six-month-long reconnaissance flyby study of Pluto and its moons that started in early 2015. Pluto closest approach occurred on July 14, 2015. NASA is ex­tending mission to head farther into the Kuiper Belt to examine one or two of the ancient, icy mini-worlds in that vast region, at least a billion miles beyond Neptune’s orbit.


Curiosity detects water and methane on Mars – December 16, 2014 

NASA’s Curiosity rover drilled into a piece of Martian rock called Cumberland and found some ancient water hidden within it. Researchers were then able to test a key ratio in the water with Curiosity’s onboard instruments to gather more data about when Mars started to lose its water,  Curiosity also detected methane, a possible signature for early life on the planet. NASA Launched November 26, 2011 – Landed August 6, 2012


ESA Rossetta mission – December 10, 2014

Rosetta launched in 2004 and arrived at Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko on 6 August 2014. It is the first mission in history to rendezvous with a comet, escort it as it orbits the Sun, and deploy a lander to its surface. It has found the water vapour from its target comet to be significantly different to that found on Earth. The discovery fuels the debate on the origin of our planet’s oceans. The Philae lander touched down on November 12, 2014.


Hayabusa2 to bring back samples from C-type asteroid – December 3, 2014

Hayabusa2 was launched on December 3, 2014. It should arrive at the C-type asteroid in mid 2018, staying around there for one and half years before leaving the asteroid at the end of 2019 and returning to Earth around the end of 2020 to help clarify the origin and evolution of the solar system and the origin of life on earth. A C-type asteroid, which is a target of Hayabusa2, is a more primordial body than Itokawa, which is an S-type asteroid, and is considered to contain more organic or hydrated minerals — although both S- and C- types have lithologic characteristics. Minerals and seawater which form the Earth as well as materials for life are believed to be strongly connected in the primitive solar nebula in the early solar system, thus we expect to clarify the origin of life by analyzing samples acquired from a primordial celestial body such as a C-type asteroid to study organic matter and water in the solar system and how they coexist while affecting each other.


Dawn investigates asteroids from early in the formation of the Solar System – November 17, 2014

During the earliest epochs of our solar system, the materials in the solar nebula varied with their distance from the sun. As this distance increased, the temperature dropped, with terrestrial bodies forming closer to the sun, and icy bodies forming farther away. The asteroid Vesta and the recently categorized dwarf planet Ceres have conditions and processes that existed early in the formation of the solar system, they developed into two different kinds of bodies. Vesta is a dry, differentiated object with a surface that shows signs of resurfacing. It resembles the rocky bodies of the inner solar system, including Earth. Ceres, by contrast, has a primitive surface containing water-bearing minerals, and may possess a weak atmosphere. It appears to have many similarities to the large icy moons of the outer solar system. NASA Launched September 27, 2007


Hayabusa returned samples from asteroid in 2010

HAYABUSA, which was launched on May 9, 2003,achieved its goal of arriving at the Itokawa asteroid and performing scientific observations. The HAYABUSA returned to Earth on June 13, 2010, dropped its onboard capsule in Australia, and completed its operation.