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,

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

Read More Weee! Parker Solar Probe Completes First Trip Around the Sun

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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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.

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

Rain on Saturn’s Moon Titan Could Make this World the Life of the Party

Evidence of rain has been spotted near the north pole of Titan, the largest moon of Saturn, for the first time ever, Since the arrival of the Cassini spacecraft at Saturn in 2004, astronomers have been expecting to see this phenomenon, which they expected to occur in 2016 or 2017. Titan is the second-largest moon in the Solar System, and is the only one known to possess a thick atmosphere, along with vast lakes and seas of liquid methane and ethane. These conditions make it one of the most-likely places to find life in our solar system. Currently, NASA is considering sending a drone, called Dragonfly, to the moon, to be launched in the year 2025.

Read More Rain on Saturn’s Moon Titan Could Make this World the Life of the Party

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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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