The Chang-e 4 spacecraft touched down on the far side of the Moon on January 3rd, marking the first time the distant half of the lunar surface has been visited by a robotic explorer. The Chinese spacecraft arrived with a rover, the Yutu 2, which was successfully released to explore the alien landscape. Also on-board is a miniature biosphere, containing four species of plants, yeast, and fruit flies. Mission planners hope to use the system to grow flowers on the Moon, an experiment which could lead the way to growing food for the future human colonization of the Solar System.Read More Growing Flowers on the Lunar Surface? China Lands Chang-e 4 Rover on the Far Side of the Moon
The first lunar eclipse of 2019 will happen on the night of January 20th, peaking at around 9:30pm eastern time, 7:30 in Arizona and Mountain time, 6:30 Pacific. This will also coincide with a supermoon, when the Earth is closest to Earth. To view the phenomenon, just find a spot with a good view of the Moon that night. The entire event will take several hours to unfold.Read More The First Lunar Eclipse of 2019 — It’s Going to be a Supermoon (and Time)
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.Read More New Horizons Races Toward Encounter with Ultima Thule — Most Distant World Ever Studied
The rings of Saturn are disappearing, new research has determined. Particles of rock and ice which make up this magnificent system of rings are falling into the atmosphere of the planet, draining the system of material. Astronomers estimate the rings will be completely gone in just 100 million years, so see them before they disappear forever!Read More Saturn is Losing its Rings – See them Before They’re Gone!
Astronomers have found the most distant dwarf planet in our Solar System yet discovered. Known as VG18, this distant world is being called Farout by astronomers, due to it great distance from the Sun, roughly 120 times further away from our parent star as the Earth. Observations reveal this body, roughly 500 kilometers (or 300 miles) in diameter, has a pink surface, suggesting the world is covered in ice. Astronomers in Hawaii discovered the world while searching for a ninth planet, which some astronomers believe waits to be found in the far reaches of the Solar System.Read More Farout! Most Distant Dwarf Planet in Solar System Found – and it’s Pink!
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
The Geminid Meteor shower is peaking on the nights of December 13th and 14th, delighting viewers on Earth with between 50 and 120 shooting stars every hour. This annual event is sometimes known as “Nature’s Holiday Light Show,” lighting up the skies with bright green streaks. To view the display, head outside after 10 pm, and look to the east. If you are viewing just before dawn, the shooting stars will be seen in the south. Accompanying this display will be a small green comet, known as 46P/Wirtanen. Both the meteor shower and the comet are visible without telescopes or binoculars.Read More Geminid Meteor Shower Peaking Now – View Nature’s Holiday Light Show (and a Green Comet as Well)!
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.Read More Voyager 2 Heads Out of the Solar System – What’s Next for this Intrepid Robotic Explorer?
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
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.Read More OSIRIS-REx Arrives at the Asteroid Bennu – Tucson and the World Celebrates