NASA Readies Europa Clipper for First In-Depth Study of Jupiter’s Water Moon Europa

NASA is readying a new spacecraft, the Europa Clipper, for a journey to explore the giant water moon of Jupiter. Europa is believed to have oceans of liquid water deeper than any found on Earth, which are heated by bending and flexing as it orbits its massive companion. The spacecraft, due for launch in 2023, will carry instruments to measure the composition and condition of the oceans of Europa, as well as that world’s atmosphere, surface, and magnetic field. Astronomers believe that Europs may be one of the most likely places in the solar system to find alien life,

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Weee! Parker Solar Probe Completes First Trip Around the Sun

The Parker Solar Probe has just completed its first orbit of the Sun, as it studies the surface and atmosphere of our parent star. This mission was launched in August 2018, as the most ambitious mission ever to study the Sun. The spacecraft will help answer questions about solar science, including the mysteries of why the atmosphere of the Sun is hotter than its surface, and the origin of the solar wind. The mission is scheduled to last seven years, during which time the vehicle will also make seven close passes of the planet Venus.

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A Eulogy for the (Likely) Lost Opportunity Rover

After nearly 15 years exploring the surface of Mars, the Opportunity rover may be dead. Despite over 600 attempts, communication still has not been restored with the vehicle, following a loss of power caused by a sandstorm which engulfed the spacecraft last spring. Since 2004, Opportunity traveled 45 kilometers, or 28 miles, exploring the geology and climate of the Red Planet. The golf-cart-sized rover found some of the best evidence yet seen that Mars once had seas of liquid water. It survived an earlier sandstorm in 2014, but has been silent since June 10th.

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Earth’s Oldest Rock Found – It was Hiding on the Moon!

The oldest rock from Earth ever found was recently discovered hiding on the Moon. The four-billion-year-old rock was found among the samples returned from the Moon by the astronauts of Apollo 14. Analysis shows this rock formed on Earth, was blasted into space when an asteroid hit our planet four billion years ago, ejecting the rock onto the surface of the Moon. Once there, the area was hit by an asteroid, burying big Bertha, before another impact raised it, once again, to the surface. It was returned to Earth in 1971 by astronauts Alan Shepard and Edgar Mitchell.

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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

Growing Flowers on the Lunar Surface? China Lands Chang-e 4 Rover on the Far Side of the Moon

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.

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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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Farout! Most Distant Dwarf Planet in Solar System Found – and it’s Pink!

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.

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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