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Frans von der Dunk
International satellite law can best be described as that subset of international space law that addresses the operations of satellites in orbit around the Earth. Excluding, therefore, topics such as manned space flight, suborbital space operations, and any activities beyond Earth orbits, this means addressing the use of satellites for telecommunications purposes, for Earth observation and remote sensing, and for positioning, timing, and navigation.
These three major sectors of space activities are, in addition to jointly being subject to the body of international space law, each subject to their specific dedicated legal regime—international satellite communications law, international satellite remote sensing law, and international satellite navigation law.
This is an advance summary of a forthcoming article in the Oxford Research Encyclopedia of Planetary Science. Please check back later for the full article.
International space law is a branch of international law, which regulates the conduct of space activities. Its core instruments include five space-specific international treaties, which were adopted under the auspices of the United Nations. The first and the underlying one—the Treaty on Principles Governing the Activities of States in the Exploration and Use of Outer Space, including the Moon and Other Celestial Bodies (the 1967 Outer Space Treaty)—establishes that outer space is free for exploration and use by all states. Such fundamental freedom is exercised by a number of space applications that have become integral parts of modern human life, of which satellite telecommunications remains among the most widespread, essential, and advanced.
Indeed, since 1957 when the Soviet Union launched Sputnik 1, the first artificial satellite merely capable of continuous beeping during its 21-day trip around the globe, space technologies have progressed in leaps and bounds. Cutting-edge satellite telecommunications ensures instant delivery of huge amounts of data, relay of real-time voice and video, broadcasting of radio and television, and Internet access worldwide. It is telecommunications satellites that, by transmitting signals over a distance, connect locations on the surface of the Earth.
A telecommunications satellite’s lifetime, starting from the launch and ending at de-orbiting, is governed by international space law. The latter considers satellites as “space objects” and regulates ownership, jurisdiction and control, registration, liability, debris mitigation, and more. Therefore, four out of five United Nations space treaties, specifically, the 1967 Outer Space Treaty; the 1968 Agreement on the Rescue of Astronauts, the Return of Astronauts and the Return of Objects Launched into Outer Space; the 1972 Convention on International Liability for Damage Caused by Space Objects; and the 1976 Convention on Registration of Objects Launched into Outer Space, as well as the United Nations General Assembly’s resolutions, compose a large group of international law rules that apply to satellite telecommunications.
To carry out a communication function, satellites need to be placed in a certain orbit and use the radio-frequency spectrum, both being limited natural resources. Access to such increasingly sought-for parts of outer space, which are not subject to national appropriation and require rational, efficient, and economical uses in an interference-free environment, is managed by the International Telecommunication Union (ITU)—the United Nations’ specialized agency for information and communication technologies. The ITU’s core regulatory documents are its constitution, convention, and the radio regulations, which collectively make up another group of international law rules relevant to satellite telecommunications.
Both groups of international law rules constitute the international legal regime of satellite telecommunications and face the challenge of keeping pace with the times, triggered by a growing number of states and nonstate actors, which place priority on satellite telecommunications and a continuous application of the latest technical advances. These tangible changes need to be addressed in the regulatory framework that cannot but serve as a driver for further development of satellite telecommunications.
Timothy E. Dowling
Jet streams, “jets” for short, are remarkably coherent streams of air found in every major atmosphere. They have a profound effect on a planet’s global circulation and have been an enigma since the belts and zones of Jupiter were discovered in the 1600s. Collaborations between observers, experimentalists, computer modelers, and applied mathematicians seek to understand what processes affect jet size, strength, direction, shear stability, and predictability. Key challenges include nonlinearity, nonintuitive wave physics, nonconstant-coefficient differential equations, and the many nondimensional numbers that arise from the competing physical processes that affect jets, including gravity, pressure gradients, Coriolis accelerations, and turbulence. Fortunately, the solar system provides many examples of jets, and both laboratory and computer simulations allow for carefully controlled experiments. Jet research is multidisciplinary but is united by a common language, the conservation of potential vorticity (PV), which is an all-in-one conservation law that combines the conservation laws of mass, momentum, and thermal energy into a single expression. The leading theories of how jets emerge out of turbulence, and why they are invariably zonal (east-west orientated), reveal the importance of vorticity waves that owe their existence to conservation of PV.
Jets are observed to naturally group into equatorial, midlatitude, and polar types. Earth and Uranus have weakly retrograde equatorial jets, but most planets exhibit strongly prograde (superrotating) equatorial jets, which require eddies to transport momentum up-gradient in a manner that is not obvious but is beginning to be understood. Jupiter and Saturn exhibit multiple alternating jets spanning their midlatitudes, with deep roots that connect to their interior circulations. Polar jets universally exhibit an impressive inhibition of meridional (north-south) mixing, and the seasonal nature of the polar jets on Earth, Mars, and Titan contrasts with the permanence of those on the giant planets, including Saturn’s beautiful north-polar hexagon. Intriguingly, jets in atmospheres have strong analogies with jets in nonneutral plasmas, with practical benefits to both disciplines.
This is an advance summary of a forthcoming article in the Oxford Encyclopedia of Planetary Science. Please check back later for the full article.
Space debris has grown to be a significant problem for outer space activities. The remnants of human activities in space are very diverse; they can be tiny paint flakes, all sorts of fragments, or entirely intact—but otherwise nonfunctional spacecraft and rocket bodies. The amount of debris is increasing at a growing pace, thus raising the risk of collision with operational satellites. Due to the relative high velocities involved in on-orbit collisions, their consequences are severe; collisions lead to significant damage or the complete destruction of the affected spacecraft. Protective measures and collision avoidance have thus become a major concern for spacecraft operators. The pollution of space with debris must, however, not only be seen as an unfavorable circumstance that accompanies space activities and increases the costs and complexity of outer space activities. Beyond this rather technical perspective, the presence of man-made, nonfunctional objects in space represents a global environmental concern. Similar to the patterns of other environmental problems on Earth, debris generation appears to have surpassed the absorption capacity of the space environment. Studies indicate that the evolution of the space object environment has crossed the tipping point to a runaway situation in which an increasing number of collisions―mostly among debris―leads to an uncontrolled population growth. It is thus in the interest of all mankind to address the debris problem in order to preserve the space environment for future generations.
International space law protects the space environment. Article IX of the Outer Space Treaty obligates States to avoid the harmful contamination of outer space. The provision corresponds to the obligation to protect the environment in areas beyond national jurisdiction under the customary “no harm” rule of general environmental law. These norms are applicable to space debris and establish the duty not to pollute outer space by limiting the generation of debris. They become all the more effective when the principles of sustainable development are taken into account, which infuse considerations of intra- as well as inter-generational justice into international law. In view of the growing debris pollution and its related detrimental effects, it is obvious that questions of liability and responsibility will become increasingly relevant. The Liability Convention offers a remedy for victims having suffered damage caused by space debris. The launching State liability that it establishes is even absolute for damage occurring on the surface of the Earth. The secondary rules of international responsibility law go beyond mere compensation: States can also be held accountable for the environmental pollution event itself, entailing a number of consequential obligations, among them―under certain circumstances―a duty to active debris removal. While international law is, therefore, generally effective in addressing the debris problem, growing use and growing risks necessitate the establishment of a comprehensive traffic management regime for outer space. It would strengthen the rule of law in outer space and ensure the sustainability of space utilization.
Alexander T. Basilevsky
Lunar and planetary geology can be described using examples such as the geology of Earth (as the reference case) and geologies of the Earth’s satellite the Moon; the planets Mercury, Mars and Venus; the satellite of Saturn Enceladus; the small stony asteroid Eros; and the nucleus of the comet 67P Churyumov-Gerasimenko. Each body considered is illustrated by its global view, with information given as to its position in the solar system, size, surface, environment including gravity acceleration and properties of its atmosphere if it is present, typical landforms and processes forming them, materials composing these landforms, information on internal structure of the body, stages of its geologic evolution in the form of stratigraphic scale, and estimates of the absolute ages of the stratigraphic units. Information about one body may be applied to another body and this, in particular, has led to the discovery of the existence of heavy “meteoritic” bombardment in the early history of the solar system, which should also significantly affect Earth. It has been shown that volcanism and large-scale tectonics may have not only been an internal source of energy in the form of radiogenic decay of potassium, uranium and thorium, but also an external source in the form of gravity tugging caused by attractions of the neighboring bodies. The knowledge gained by lunar and planetary geology is important for planning and managing space missions and for the practical exploration of other bodies of the solar system and establishing manned outposts on them.
This is an advance summary of a forthcoming article in the Oxford Research Encyclopedia of Planetary Science. Please check back later for the full article.
Saturn’s magnetosphere is the region of space surrounding Saturn that is controlled by the planetary magnetic field. Saturn’s magnetic field is aligned to within 1 degree of the rotation axis and rotates with a period of ~10.7 h. The magnetosphere is compressed on the dayside by the impinging solar wind, and stretched into a long magnetotail on the nightside. Its surface, the magnetopause, is located where the internal and external plasma and magnetic pressures balance. As a result of the pressure distributions, the magnetopause has a bimodal distribution of standoff distance at the sub-solar point and is flattened over the poles relative to the equator.
Radiation belts composed of trapped energetic electrons and protons are present in the inner magnetosphere. Their intensity is limited by the moons and rings that can absorb the energetic particles. The icy moons and rings, particularly the cryovolcanic moon Enceladus, are the main sources of mass in the form of water. When the water molecules are ionized they are confined to the equatorial plane by the rapidly rotating magnetic field. This mass-loading acts to distend the magnetic field lines from a dipolar configuration into a radially stretched magnetodisk, with an associated eastward-directed current. In situ measurements of plasma velocity indicate it generally lags behind the planetary rotation, introducing an azimuthal component of the magnetic field. Despite the alignment of the magnetic and rotation axes, so-called planetary period oscillations are ubiquitous in field and plasma measurements in the magnetosphere.
Radial transport of plasma involves the centrifugal interchange instability in the inner magnetosphere and magnetic reconnection in the middle and outer magnetosphere. This allows mass from the moons and rings to be lost from the system. The outermost regions of the magnetosphere are also influenced by the surrounding solar wind through magnetic reconnection and viscous interactions. Acceleration via reconnection or other processes, or scattering of plasma into the atmosphere leads to auroral emissions detected at radio, infrared, visible, and ultraviolet wavelengths.
Xin Cao and Carol Paty
This is an advance summary of a forthcoming article in the Oxford Research Encyclopedia of Planetary Science. Please check back later for the full article.
A magnetosphere is formed by the interaction between the magnetic field of a planet and the high-speed solar wind. Those planets with a magnetosphere have an intrinsic magnetic field such as Earth, Jupiter, and Saturn. Mars, especially, has no global magnetosphere, but evidence shows that a paleo-magnetosphere existed billions of years ago and was dampened then due to some reasons such as the change of internal activity. A magnetosphere is very important for the habitable environment of a planet because it provides the foremost and only protection for the planet from the energetic solar wind radiation.
The majority of planets with a magnetosphere in our solar system have been studied for decades except for Uranus and Neptune, which are known as ice giant planets. This is because they are too far away from us (about 19 AU from the Sun), which means they are very difficult to directly detect. Compared to many other space detections to other planets, for example, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn and some of their moons, the only single fly-by measurement was made by the Voyager 2 spacecraft in the 1980s. The data it sent back to us showed that Uranus has a very unusual magnetosphere, which indicated that Uranus has a very large obliquity, which means its rotational axis is about 97.9° away from the north direction, with a relative rapid (17.24 hours) daily rotation. Besides, the magnetic axis is tilted 59° away from its rotational axis, and the magnetic dipole of the planet is off center, shifting 1/3 radii of Uranus toward its geometric south pole. Due to these special geometric and magnetic structures, Uranus has an extremely dynamic and asymmetric magnetosphere.
Some remote observations revealed that the aurora emission from the surface of Uranus distributed at low latitude locations, which has rarely happened on other planets. Meanwhile, it indicated that solar wind plays a significant impact on the surface of Uranus even if the distance from the Sun is much farther than that of many other planets. A recent study, using numerical simulation, showed that Uranus has a “Switch-like” magnetosphere that allows its global magnetosphere to open and close periodically with the planetary rotation.
In this article, we will review the historic studies of Uranus’s magnetosphere and then summarize the current progress in this field. Specifically, we will discuss the Voyager 2 spacecraft measurement, the ground-based and space-based observations such as Hubble Space Telescope, and the cutting-edge numerical simulations on it. We believe that the current progress provides important scientific context to boost future ice giant detection.
The Martian ionosphere is a plasma embedded within the neutral upper atmosphere of the planet. Its main source is the ionization of the CO2-dominated Martian mesosphere and thermosphere by the energetic EUV solar radiation. The ionosphere of Mars is subject to an important variability induced by changes in its forcing mechanisms (e.g., the UV solar flux) and by variations in the neutral atmosphere (e.g., the presence of global dust storms, atmospheric waves and tides, changes in atmospheric composition, etc.). Its vertical structure is dominated by a maximum in the electron concentration placed at about 120–140 km of altitude, coincident with the peak of the ionization rate. Below, a secondary peak produced by solar X-rays and photoelectron-impact ionization is observed. A sporadic third layer, possibly of meteoric origin, has been also detected below. The most abundant ion in the Martian ionosphere is O2 +, although O+ can become more abundant in the upper ionospheric layers. While below about 180–200 km the Martian ionosphere is dominated by photochemical processes, above those altitudes the dynamics of the plasma become more important. The ionosphere is also an important source of escaping particles via processes such as dissociative recombination of ions or ion pickup. So, characterization of the ionosphere provides or can provide information about such disparate systems and processes as the solar radiation getting to the planet, the neutral atmosphere, the meteoric influx, the atmospheric escape to space, or the interaction of the planet with the solar wind.
It is thus not surprising that the interest about this region dates from the beginning of the space era. From the first measurements provided by the Mariner 4 mission in the 1960s to the contemporaneous observations, still ongoing, by the Mars Express and MAVEN orbiters, our current knowledge of this atmospheric region is the consequence of the accumulation of more than 50 years of discontinuous measurements by different space missions. Numerical simulations by computational models able to simulate the processes that shape the ionosphere have also been commonly employed to obtain information about this region, to provide an interpretation of the observations and to fill their gaps. As a result, the Martian ionosphere is today the best known one after that of the Earth. However, there are still areas for which our knowledge is far from being complete. Examples are the details and balance of the mechanisms populating the nightside ionosphere, or a good understanding of the meteoric ionospheric layer and its variability.
Kun Wang and Randy Korotev
For thousands of years, people living in Egypt, China, Greece, Rome, and other parts of the world have been fascinated by shooting stars, which are the light and sound phenomena commonly associated with meteorite impacts. The earliest written record of a meteorite fall is logged by Chinese chroniclers in 687
After 200 years, meteoritics (the science of meteorites) has grown out of its infancy and become a vibrant area of research today. The general directions of meteoritic studies are: (1) mineralogy, identifying new minerals or mineral phases that rarely or seldom found on the Earth; (2) petrology, studying the igneous and aqueous textures that give meteorites unique appearances, and providing information about geologic processes on the bodies upon which the meteorites originates; (3) geochemistry, characterizing their major, trace elemental, and isotopic compositions, and conducting interplanetary comparisons; and (4) chronology, dating the ages of the initial crystallization and later on impacting disturbances. Meteorites are the only extraterrestrial samples other than Apollo lunar rocks and Hayabusa asteroid samples that we can directly analyze in laboratories. Through the studies of meteorites, we have quested a vast amount of knowledge about the origin of the Solar System, the nature of the molecular cloud, the solar nebula, the nascent Sun and its planetary bodies including the Earth and its Moon, Mars, and many asteroids. In fact, the 4.6-billion-year age of the whole Solar System is solely defined by the oldest age dated in meteorites, which marked the beginning of everything we appreciate today.
Anthropologists distinguish the U.S. State of California as a primary zone of prehistoric and tribal North America—it was one of the most linguistically and cultural diverse regions on earth. The original population of Native California and traditional cultures were decimated by the Spanish, the Mexicans, and the Anglos, who successively settled California and transformed it. For that reason, knowledge of the character and function of astronomy in what is now California prior to European contact in the 16th century is incomplete and fragmented. Traditional astronomical lore is preserved in a few ethnohistoric commentaries, in some archaeological remains, and in ethnographic research conducted primarily in the early 20th century, when elements of indigenous knowledge still survived.
Throughout Native California, the moon’s conspicuous brightness, movement, and systematically changing appearance prompted its affiliation with seasonal change, the passage of time, and cyclical renewal, and most California tribes monitored and counted lunations in one way or another, but not necessarily throughout the entire year. In some cases, individual lunations were affiliated with and named for seasonal circumstances.
There is little evidence, however, for even minimal interest in or recognition of the planets visible to the unaided eye, with the exception of Venus as the “Morning Star” or “Evening Star.” Venus, like the moon and other celestial objects, was personified and regarded as a fundamental and active agent of the cosmos. There is no evidence, however, for detailed monitoring of Venus and quantitative knowledge of its synodic behavior.
Although the second most abundant element in the cosmos is helium, noble gases are also called rare gases. The reason is that they are not abundant on terrestrial planets like the Earth, which is characterized by orders of magnitude depletion of—particularly light—noble gases when compared to the cosmic element abundance pattern. Indeed, geochemical depletion and enrichment processes mean that noble gases are highly versatile tracers of planetary formation and evolution. When our solar system formed—or even before—small grains and first condensates incorporated small amounts of noble gases from the surrounding gas of solar composition, resulting in depletion of light He and Ne relative to heavy Ar, Kr, and Xe, leading to the “planetary type” abundance pattern. Further noble gas depletion occurred during flash heating of mm- to cm-sized objects (chondrules and calcium, aluminum-rich inclusions), and subsequently during heating—and occasionally differentiation—on small planetesimals, which were precursors of planets. Some of these objects are present today in the asteroid belt and are the source of many meteorites. Many primitive meteorites contain very small (micron to sub-micron size) rare grains that are older than our Solar System and condensed billions of years ago in in the atmospheres of different stars, for example, Red Giant stars. These grains are characterized by nucleosynthetic anomalies, in particular the noble gases, such as so-called s-process xenon.
While planetesimals acquired a depleted noble gas component strongly fractionated in favor of heavy noble gases, the Sun and also gas giants like Jupiter attracted a much larger amount of gas from the protosolar nebula by gravitational capture. This resulted in a cosmic or “solar type” abundance pattern, containing the full complement of light noble gases. In contrast, terrestrial planets accreted from planetesimals with only minor contributions from the gaseous component of the protosolar nebula, which accounts for their high degree of depletion and essentially “planetary” elemental abundance pattern. The strong depletion in noble gases facilitates their application as noble gas geo- and cosmochronometers; chronological applications are based on being able to determine noble gas isotopes formed by radioactive decay processes, for example, 40Ar by 40K decay, 129Xe by 129I decay, or fission Xe from 238U or 244Pu decay. Particularly ingrowth of radiogenic xenon is only possible due to the depletion of primordial nuclides, which allows insight into the chronology of fractionation of lithophile parent nuclides and atmophile noble gas daughters. Applied to large-scale planetary reservoirs, this helps to elucidate the timing of mantle degassing and evolution of planetary atmospheres. Applied to individual rocks and minerals, it allows radioisotope chronology using short-lived (e.g., 129I–129Xe) or long-lived (e.g., 40K–40Ar) systems.
The dominance of 40Ar in the terrestrial atmosphere allowed von Weizsäcker to conclude that most of the terrestrial atmosphere originated by degassing of the solid Earth, which is an ongoing process today at mid-ocean ridges, as indicated by outgassing of primordial helium from newly forming ocean crust. Mantle degassing was much more massive in the past, with most of the terrestrial atmosphere probably formed during the first few 100 million years of Earth’s history, in response to major evolutionary processes of accretion, terrestrial core formation, and the terminal accretion stage of a giant impact that formed our Moon. During accretion, solar noble gases were added to the mantle, presumably by solar wind irradiation of the small planetesimals and dust accreting to form the Earth. While the Moon-forming impact likely dissipated a major fraction of the primordial atmosphere, today’s atmosphere originated by addition of a late veneer of asteroidal and possibly cometary material combined with a decreasing rate of mantle degassing over time. As other atmophile elements behave similarly to noble gases, they also trace the origin of major volatiles on Earth, for example, water, nitrogen, and carbon.
Stanley Miller demonstrated in 1953 that it was possible to form amino acids from methane, ammonia, and hydrogen in water, thus launching the ambitious hope that chemists would be able to shed light on the origins of life by recreating a simple life form in a test tube. However, it must be acknowledged that the dream has not yet been accomplished, despite the great volume of effort and innovation put forward by the scientific community. A minima, primitive life can be defined as an open chemical system, fed with matter and energy, capable of self-reproduction (i.e., making more of itself by itself), and also capable of evolving. The concept of evolution implies that chemical systems would transfer their information fairly faithfully but make some random errors.
If we compared the components of primitive life to parts of a chemical automaton, we could conceive that, by chance, some parts self-assembled to generate an automaton capable of assembling other parts to produce a true copy. Sometimes, minor errors in the building generated a more efficient automaton, which then became the dominant species. Quite different scenarios and routes have been followed and tested in the laboratory to explain the origin of life.
There are two schools of thought in proposing the prebiotic supply of organics. The proponents of a metabolism-first call for the spontaneous formation of simple molecules from carbon dioxide and water to rapidly generate life. In a second hypothesis, the primeval soup scenario, it is proposed that rather complex organic molecules accumulated in a warm little pond prior to the emergence of life. The proponents of the primeval soup or replication first approach are by far the more active. They succeeded in reconstructing small-scale versions of proteins, membranes, and RNA. Quite different scenarios have been proposed for the inception of life: the RNA world, an origin within droplets, self-organization counteracting entropy, or a stochastic approach merging chemistry and geology. Understanding the emergence of a critical feature of life, its one-handedness, is a shared preoccupation in all these approaches.
Christopher Daniel Johnson
Negotiated at the United Nations and in force since 1967, the Outer Space Treaty has been ratified by over 100 countries and is the most important and foundational source of space law. The treaty, whose full title is “Treaty on Principles Governing the Activities of States in the Exploration and Use of Outer Space, Including the Moon and Other Celestial Bodies,” governs all of humankind’s activities in outer space, including activities on other celestial bodies and many activities on Earth related to outer space. All space exploration and human spaceflight, planetary sciences, and commercial uses of space—such as the global telecommunications industry and the use of space technologies such as position, navigation, and timing (PNT), take place against the backdrop of the general regulatory framework established in the Outer Space Treaty.
A treaty is an international legal instrument which balances rights and obligations between states, and exists as a kind of mutual contract of shared understandings, rights, and responsibilities between them. Negotiated and drafted during the Cold War era of heightened political tensions, the Outer Space Treaty is largely the product of efforts by the United States and the USSR to agree on certain minimum standards and obligations to govern their competition in “conquering” space. Additionally, the Outer Space Treaty is similar to other treaties, including treaties governing the high seas, international airspace, and the Antarctic, all of which govern the behavior of states outside of their national borders. The treaty is brief in nature and only contains 17 articles, and is not comprehensive in addressing and regulating every possible scenario. The negotiating states knew that the Outer Space Treaty could only establish certain foundational concepts such as freedom of access, state responsibility and liability, non-weaponization of space, the treatment of astronauts in distress, and the prohibition of non-appropriation of celestial bodies. Subsequent treaties were to refine these concepts, and national space legislation was to incorporate the treaty’s rights and obligations at the national level.
While the treaty is the cornerstone in the regulation of activities in outer space, today the emergence of new issues that were not contemplated at the time of its creation, such as small satellites and megaconstellations, satellite servicing missions, the problem of space debris and the possibility of space debris removal, and the use of lunar and asteroid resources, all stretch the coherence and continuing adequacy of the treaty, and may occasion the need for new governance frameworks.
Shoshana Z. Weider
Although having knowledge of a terrestrial planet’s chemistry is fundamental to understanding the origin and composition of its rocks, until recently, the geochemistry of Mercury—the Solar System’s innermost planet—was largely unconstrained. Without the availability of geological specimens from Mercury, studying the planet’s surface and bulk composition relies on remote sensing techniques. Moreover, Mercury’s proximity to the Sun makes it difficult to study with Earth/space-based telescopes, or with planetary probes. Indeed, to date, only NASA’s Mariner 10 and MESSENGER missions have been sent to Mercury. The former made three “flyby” encounters of Mercury between 1974 and 1975, but did not carry any instrument to make geochemical or mineralogical measurements of the surface. Until the MESSENGER flyby and orbital campaigns (2008–2015), therefore, knowledge of Mercury’s chemical composition was severely limited and consisted of only a few facts. For example, it has long been known that Mercury has the highest uncompressed density of all the terrestrial planets (and thus a disproportionately large iron core). In addition, Earth-based spectral reflectance observations indicated a dark surface, largely devoid of iron within silicate minerals.
To improve understanding of Mercury’s geochemistry, the MESSENGER payload included a suite of geochemical sensing instruments: namely the X-Ray Spectrometer, Gamma-Ray Spectrometer, and Neutron Spectrometer. Indeed, the datasets obtained from these instruments (as well as from other complementary instruments) during MESSENGER’s 3.5-year orbital mission allow a much more complete picture of Mercury’s geochemistry to be drawn, and quantitative abundance estimates for several major rock-forming elements in Mercury’s crust are now available. Overall, the MESSENGER data reveal a surface that is rich in Mg, but poor in Al and Ca, compared with typical terrestrial and lunar crustal materials. Mercury’s surface also contains high concentrations of the volatile elements Na, S, K, and Cl. Furthermore, the total surface Fe abundance is now known to be <2 wt%, and the planet’s low reflectance is thought to be primarily caused by the presence of C (in graphite) at a level of >1 wt%. Such data are key to constraining models for Mercury’s formation and early evolution. Large-scale spatial variations in the MESSENGER geochemical datasets have also led to the designation of several geochemical “terrains” across Mercury’s surface, which do not always align to otherwise mapped geological regions.
Based on the MESSENGER geochemical results, several recent petrological experiments and calculations have been, and continue to be, performed to study Mercury’s surface mineralogy. The results show that there are substantial differences in the precise mineral compositions and abundances among the different terrains, but Mercury’s surface appears to be dominated by Mg-rich olivines and pyroxenes, as well as plagioclase and sulphide phases. Depending on the classification scheme used, Mercury’s ultramafic surface rocks can thus be described as similar in nature to terrestrial boninites, andesites, norites, or gabbros.
Ulrich R. Christensen
This is an advance summary of a forthcoming article in the Oxford Encyclopedia of Planetary Science. Please check back later for the full article.
The Earth’s magnetic field has been known for centuries. Since the mid-20th century space missions carrying vector magnetometers showed that most, but not all, solar system planets have a global magnetic field of internal origin. They also revealed a surprising diversity in terms of field strength and morphology. While Jupiter’s field, like that of Earth, is dominated by a dipole moderately tilted relative to the planet’s spin axis, with multipole components being subordinate but not negligible, the fields of Uranus and Neptune are multipole-dominated, whereas those of Saturn und Mercury are highly symmetric relative to the rotation axis. Planetary magnetism originates from a dynamo process, which requires a fluid and electrically conducting region in the interior with sufficiently rapid and complex flow. The magnetic fields are of interest for three reasons: (1) They provide ground truth for dynamo theory, which is a fundamental and not completely solved physical problem; (2) the magnetic field controls how the planet interacts with its space environment, for example, the solar wind; and (3) the existence (or nonexistence) and the properties of the field allow us to draw inferences on the constitution, dynamics, and thermal evolution of the planet’s interior. For example, the lack of global magnetic fields at Mars and Venus can be explained if their iron cores, although liquid, are stably stratified.
Numerical simulations of the geodynamo—in which convective flow in a rapidly rotating spherical shell representing the outer liquid iron core of the Earth leads to induction of electric currents and the associated magnetic field—have successfully reproduced many observed properties of the geomagnetic field. They have also provided guidelines on the factors controlling magnetic field strength and, tentatively, their morphology. For numerical reasons the simulations must employ viscosities far greater than those inside planets, and it is debatable whether they truly capture the correct physics of planetary dynamo processes. Nonetheless, such models have been adapted to test concepts for explaining magnetic field properties of other planets. For example, they show that a stable stratified conducting layer above the dynamo region is a plausible cause for the strongly axisymmetric magnetic fields of Mercury or Saturn.
Modern observational techniques are still not powerful enough to directly view planet formation, and so it is necessary to rely on theory. However, observations do give two important clues to the formation process. The first is that the most primitive form of material in interstellar space exists as a dilute gas. Some of this gas is unstable against gravitational collapse, and begins to contract. Because the angular momentum of the gas is not zero, it contracts along the spin axis, but remains extended in the plane perpendicular to that axis, so that a disk is formed. Viscous processes in the disk carry most of the mass into the center where a star eventually forms. In the process, almost as a by-product, a planetary system is formed as well.
The second clue is the time required. Young stars are indeed observed to have gas disks, composed mostly of hydrogen and helium, surrounding them, and observations tell us that these disks dissipate after about 5 to 10 million years. If planets like Jupiter and Saturn, which are very rich in hydrogen and helium, are to form in such a disk, they must accrete their gas within 5 million years of the time of the formation of the disk. Any formation scenario one proposes must produce Jupiter in that time, although the terrestrial planets, which don’t contain significant amounts of hydrogen and helium, could have taken longer to build. Modern estimates for the formation time of the Earth are of the order of 100 million years.
To date there are two main candidate theories for producing Jupiter-like planets. The core accretion (CA) scenario supposes that any solid materials in the disk slowly coagulate into protoplanetary cores with progressively larger masses. If the core remains small enough it won’t have a strong enough gravitational force to attract gas from the surrounding disk, and the result will be a terrestrial planet. If the core grows large enough (of the order of ten Earth masses), and the disk has not yet dissipated, then the planetary embryo can attract gas from the surrounding disk and grow to be a gas giant. If the disk dissipates before the process is complete, the result will be an object like Uranus or Neptune, which has a small, but significant, complement of hydrogen and helium. The main question is whether the protoplanetary core can grow large enough before the disk dissipates.
A second scenario is the disk instability (DI) scenario. This scenario posits that the disk itself is unstable and tends to develop regions of higher than normal density. Such regions collapse under their own gravity to form Jupiter-mass protoplanets. In the DI scenario a Jupiter-mass clump of gas can form—in several hundred years which will eventually contract into a gas giant planet. The difficulty here is to bring the disk to a condition where such instabilities will form. Now that we have discovered nearly 3000 planetary systems, there will be numerous examples against which to test these scenarios.
Duane W. Hamacher and Kirsten Banks
Studies in Australian Indigenous astronomical knowledge reveal few accounts of the visible planets in the sky. However, what information we do have tells us that Aboriginal people are close observers of planets and their motions and properties. Indigenous Australians discerned between planets and stars by their placement in the sky and their general lack of scintillation. Traditions generally describe the ecliptic and zodiac as a pathway of sky ancestors represented by the sun, moon, and planets. This included observing the occasional backwards motion of sky ancestors as they communicate with each other during their journey across the sky, representing an explanation of retrograde motion. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people note the relative brightness of the planets over time and information about the roles they play in their traditions around Australia. Knowledge systems outline the importance placed on Venus as the morning and evening star, making connections to the object as it transitions form one to the other through observations and calculation of the planet’s synodic period. Traditions note the relative positions of the planets to the moon, sun, and background stars, as well as inter planetary dust through zodiacal light, which is perceived as a celestial rope connecting Venus to the sun.
The relative dearth of descriptions of planets in Aboriginal traditions may be due to the gross incompleteness of recorded astronomical traditions and of ethnographic bias and misidentification in the anthropological record. Ethnographic fieldwork with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities is revealing new, previously unrecorded knowledge about the planets and their related phenomena.
Inuit are an indigenous people traditionally inhabiting the Arctic and sub-Arctic regions of Greenland, Canada, Alaska, and parts of Russia’s Chukchi Peninsula. Across this vast region, Inuit society, while not entirely homogeneous either culturally or linguistically, nevertheless shares a fundamental cosmology, in part based on a common understanding of the sky and its contents. Traditionally, Inuit used prominent celestial objects—the sun, moon, and major circumpolar asterisms—as markers for estimating the passage of time, as wayfinding and directional aids, and, importantly, as the basis of several of the foundational myths and legends underpinning their society’s social order and mores.
Random inquiries on Inuit astronomy made by European visitors after initial contact through the mid-18th and early 20th centuries were characteristically haphazard and usually peripheral to some other line of ethnological enquiry, such as folklore or mythology. In addition, the early accounts of Inuit star lore were often prone to misrepresentation due to several factors, including European cultural bias, translation inadequacies, a deficiency of general astronomical knowledge on the part of most commentators, and, most significantly, a failure—sometimes due to lack of opportunity—to conduct systematic observations of the sky in the presence of Inuit knowledge holders. Early accounts therefore tended to diminish the cultural significance of Inuit astronomy, almost to the point of insignificance. Unfortunately, by the time systematic fieldwork began on the topic, in the mid-1980s, unalloyed information on Inuit astronomical knowledge was already elusive, more and more compromised by European acculturation and substitution and, notably, by light pollution—a consequence of the increasing urbanization of Inuit communities beginning in the late 1950s. For the residents of most Arctic settlements, street lights reflecting off the snow have virtually eliminated the evocative phenomenon of the “polar night.”
For several reasons, the role of planets in Inuit astronomy is difficult to determine, due, in part, to the characteristics of the planets themselves. Naked-eye differentiation between the major visible planets is by no means straightforward, and for observers living north of the Arctic Circle, the continuous or semicontinuous periods of daylight/twilight obtaining throughout the late spring, summer, and early fall effectively prevent year-round viewing of the night sky, making much planetary movement unobservable, far less an appreciation of the planets’ predictable synodic and sidereal periods. Mitigating against the significant use of planets in Inuit culture is also the principle that their applied astronomy, along with its cosmology and mythologies depend principally on—apart from the sun and the moon—the predictability of the “fixed stars.”
Inuit of course did see the major planets and took note of them when they moved through their familiar asterisms or appeared, irregularly, as markers of solstice, or harbingers of daylight after winter’s dark. Generally, however, planets seem to have been little regarded until after the introduction of Christianity, when, in parts of the Canadian eastern Arctic, Venus, in particular, became associated with Christmas. While there are anecdotal accounts that some of the planets, again especially Venus, may have had a place in Greenlandic mythology, this assertion is far from certain. Furthermore, reports from Alaska and Greenland suggesting that the appearance of Venus was a regular marker of the new year, or a predictor of sun’s return, need qualification, given the apparent irregularity of Venus’s appearances above the horizon.
A survey of relevant literature, including oral history, pertaining either directly or peripherally to Inuit astronomical traditions, reveals few bona fide mention of planets. References to planets in Inuit mythology and astronomy are usually speculative, typically lacking supportive or corroborative information. It can therefore be reasonably inferred that, with the qualified exception of Venus, planets played little part in Inuit astronomy and cosmology despite their being, on occasion, the brightest objects in the Northern celestial sphere. This being the case, there is a certain irony in NASA’s recently bestowing Inuit mythological names on a group of Saturn’s moons—Saturn being a planet the Inuit themselves, as far as can be determined, did not note or recognize.
Pluto orbits the Sun at a mean distance of 39 AU, with an orbital period of 248 Earth years. Its orbit is just eccentric enough to cross that of Neptune. They never collide thanks to a 2:3 mean-motion resonance: Pluto completes two orbits of the Sun for every three by Neptune. The Pluto system consists of Pluto and its large satellite Charon, plus four small satellites: Styx, Nix, Kerberos, and Hydra. Pluto and Charon are spherical bodies, with diameters of 2377 and 1212 km, respectively. They are tidally locked to one another such that each spins about its axis with the same 6.39 day period as their mutual orbit about their common barycenter. Pluto’s surface is dominated by frozen volatiles nitrogen, methane, and carbon monoxide. Their vapor pressure supports an atmosphere with multiple layers of photochemical hazes. Pluto’s equator is marked by a belt of dark red maculae, where the photochemical haze has accumulated over time. Some regions are ancient and cratered, while others are geologically active via processes including sublimation and condensation, glaciation, and eruption of material from the subsurface. The surfaces of the satellites are dominated by water ice. Charon has dark red polar stains produced from chemistry fed by Pluto’s escaping atmosphere.
The existence of a planet beyond Neptune had been postulated by Percival Lowell and William Pickering in the early 20th century, to account for supposed clustering in comet aphelia and perturbations of the orbit of Uranus. Both lines of evidence turned out to be spurious, but they motivated a series of searches that culminated in Clyde Tombaugh’s discovery of Pluto in 1930, at the observatory Lowell had founded in Arizona. Over subsequent decades, basic facts about Pluto were hard-won through application of technological advances in astronomical instrumentation. The progression from photographic plates, through photoelectric photometers, to digital array detectors, space-based telescopes, and ultimately, direct exploration by robotic spacecraft each revealed more about Pluto. A key breakthrough came in 1978 with the discovery of Charon by Christy and Harrington. Charon’s orbit revealed the mass of the system. Observations of stellar occultations constrained the sizes of Pluto and Charon, and enabled the detection of Pluto’s atmosphere in 1988. Spectroscopic instruments revealed Pluto’s volatile ices. In a series of mutual events from 1985 through 1990, Pluto and Charon alternated in passing in front of the other as seen from Earth. Observations of these events provided additional constraints on their sizes and albedo patterns and revealed their distinct compositions. Hubble Space Telescope’s vantage above Earth’s atmosphere enabled further mapping of Pluto’s albedo patterns and the discovery of the small satellites. NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft flew through the system in 2015. Its instruments mapped the diversity and compositions of geological features on Pluto and Charon and provided detailed information on Pluto’s atmosphere and its interaction with the solar wind.
Anja Nakarada Pečujlić
The adoption and entering into force of the 1975 Convention on Registration of Objects Launched into Outer Space (Registration Convention) was an achievement in expanding and strengthening corpus iuris spatialis. It was the fourth treaty negotiated by the member states of the United Nations Committee for Peaceful Uses of Outer Space (UN COPUOS), and it represents lex specialis of the Outer Space Treaty (OST), elaborating further Article VIII OST. Article VIII OST had already implied registration, and consequences thereof for exercising jurisdiction and control over a registered space object. However, it was the Registration Convention that specified the necessary practical steps to register such objects.
The Registration Convention contributes to the promotion of the exploration and use of outer space for peaceful purposes as it reduces the possibility of the existence of unidentified space objects and lowers the risk of putting weapons of mass destruction secretly into orbit. Notwithstanding the prevailing purposes of the Registration Convention, the negotiation history of the Convention and its “medium-high” number of ratifications testify to the numerous challenges that surround registration. The mandatory marking of space objects was one of the most heated points of debate between member states during the drafting of the Convention in the 1970s. Member states had conflicting views, depending on if they were launching states or were states that were potential victims of launches. Questions regarding whether there should be one central or several registers and whether the type of information to be registered should be obligatory or optional were also pivotal to the discussion. It took five years of negotiation for member states to reach compromises and to adopt the Registration Convention, containing 12 articles. The articles covered issues ranging from registration procedure and different registries to amendments and withdrawal from the Convention. In addition, the following novelties were introduced: the term state of registry was used; the “Moscow formula” was abandoned, as the depositary to the UN was moved, thereby diminishing the veto power of the governments of depositary; and the “in five years review” clause found in Article X underlined the significance of technological development to the provisions.
Despite the Convention’s novelties and its objective to protect the attribution of jurisdiction on the basis of a registry, as well as to ensure the rights provided in the Liability Convention and the Rescue and Return Agreement by offering means to identify space objects, the articles dealing with joint launch registration and registration by intergovernmental organizations (IGOs) are seen as undermining jurisdiction and control. Because the elements of jurisdiction and control can be freely separated from registration between joint launching states and because, in the case of an IGO, the IGO does not have the sovereign authority to exercise jurisdiction and control, the Convention leaves important areas unregulated. There have been proposals to expand the Registration Convention to encompass other subject matters such as financial interests of assets in outer space; however, as of the early 21st century, these issues remain regulated only by the UNIDROIT Space Assets Protocol.