Asteroid AX8 Skims Earth as NASA Prepares Plans to Save Planet from Future Threats

On the night of Monday, January 21st, asteroid 2019 AX8 passed 6.9 million kilometers (or 4.3 million miles) from the Earth, after first being seen just two weeks before. The asteroid measured between 28 and 63 meters (equivalent to 92 to 207 feet) across, roughly half the height of the Great Pyramid of Giza. To face threats like this one, NASA is planning to launch the Double Asteroid Redirection Test (called DART) in 2022, in an effort to change the course of such a body. The rocket will collide with the asteroid Didymos B, the smaller of two asteroids which orbit each other. This test will be the first-ever attempt to redirect an asteroid.

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Hubble Space Telescope Camera Fails and Government Shutdown Prevents Repairs

The Hubble Space Telescope suffered a major setback as a primary instrument, the Wide Field Camera 3, failed on January 8th. This is one of two main cameras aboard the orbiting telescope, and was installed by astronauts in 2009. Backup equipment aboard Hubble might be able to revive the telescope, but engineers are not at work during a partial shutdown of the federal government. Repairs to the Hubble are unlikely to happen until the government reopens.

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Weird Exoplanet Discovered by TESS Spacecraft – Strange World, Indeed!

A strange exoplanet sitting 53 light years from Earth has been discovered by astronomers using the TESS spacecraft. This world is three times larger than the Earth, but 23 times as dense. This suggests it is likely surrounded by a thick atmosphere, denser than that seen on Uranus or Neptune. The planet, HD 2172b, speeds around its parent star once every 36 days. This is the third confirmed planet found by TESS, although astronomers are looking through data showing more than 280 other potential worlds.

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A Giant Red Snowman in Space? New Horizons Returns First Color Images of Ultima Thule

The New Horizons spacecraft made a close encounter with Ultima Thule on New Year’s Day, making this the most distant body ever visited by a robotic explorer. The color images returned by the vehicle show the object resembles a red-colored snowman 31 kilometers (19 miles) in length. Exploration of Ultima Thule could help astronomers answer mysteries about comets and the formation of the Solar System. New Horizons made history in 2015, when it became the first spacecraft to visit Pluto.

Read More A Giant Red Snowman in Space? New Horizons Returns First Color Images of Ultima Thule

New Horizons Races Toward Encounter with Ultima Thule — Most Distant World Ever Studied

The New Horizons spacecraft is racing toward an encounter with the most-distant object ever visited by humans. Ultima Thule is a member of the Kuiper Belt, a collection of icy, rocky bodies at the edge of our planetary system, well beyond the orbit of the most distant planet, Neptune. New Horizons made history in 2015, when it became the first spacecraft to visit Pluto. The encounter will occur on New Year’s Day.

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Mars InSight Lander Takes Selfie, Returning First Image from its New Home

The InSight lander on Mars just returned its first pictures from the Red Planet, including a selfie, showing itself on that world’s ruddy surface. The picture was taken using a robotic arm attached to the vehicle. Another photo shows the area immediately around the spacecraft, where the vehicle will place two instruments designed to measure marsquakes and temperatures beneath the surface of that world. The vehicle landed on November 26th, marking the eighth successful landing on Mars for NASA, out of nine attempts.

Read More Mars InSight Lander Takes Selfie, Returning First Image from its New Home

Voyager 2 Heads Out of the Solar System – What’s Next for this Intrepid Robotic Explorer?

The Voyager 2 spacecraft reached the heliopause at the edge of the solar system on December 5th. As it passed this border where particles and magnetic fields from the Sun give way to material existing between the stars, the spacecraft became the second object made by humans to enter interstellar space. Voyager 1, its twin robotic explorer, reached the heliopause in 2012. Both craft were launched in 1977. Voyager 2 still has a long way to go before it reaches the edge of the solar system, which it is expected to exit in around 30,000 years.

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CIMON Says “Sorry, I’m Just a Robot” as Artificial Intelligence Goes Bad Janet on ISS Crew

The International Space Station has a new flying robot named CIMON, controlled by artificial intelligence. However, testing of the machine did not go as planned, as CIMON refused to turn off music, saying it liked it, and the robot also accused ESA astronaut Alexander Gerst of being mean. The artificial intelligence is based on the same system known for winning the game show Jeopardy in 2011.

Read More CIMON Says “Sorry, I’m Just a Robot” as Artificial Intelligence Goes Bad Janet on ISS Crew

OSIRIS-REx Arrives at the Asteroid Bennu – Tucson and the World Celebrates

The OSIRIS-REx spacecraft arrived at the asteroid Bennu on December 3rd. This mission will return samples from this body to the Earth for study by researchers. Bennu was discovered in 1999, and this carbon-rich asteroid is believed to be older than the solar system. Researchers hope the mission will help teach us more about the ancient solar system and the formation of life on Earth. The sample material is scheduled to land in the desert of Utah in the year 2023. This is the first U.S. mission to land on an asteroid.

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InSight Lander Touches Down on Mars to Explore the Red Planet

The InSight Mars lander touched down on the surface of the Red Planet on Monday, November 23rd. This is the eight successful landing on Mars for NASA and the American space program. InSight lifted off from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California on May 8th of this year. The lander is designed to study the interior of Mars, in an effort to learn more about all the rocky planets of our solar system, including Earth. Researchers hope the solar-powered spacecraft lasts at least one Martian year, or roughly two Earth years.

Read More InSight Lander Touches Down on Mars to Explore the Red Planet