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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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.

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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.

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Parker Solar Probe Flies Faster and Closer to the Sun than Any Previous Mission

The Parker Solar Probe became the fastest spacecraft in history on October 29, as it came closer to the Sun than any other vehicle. The spacecraft reached speeds of nearly 247,000 kilometers per hour, or more than 153,000 miles per hour, faster than any other man-made object. Parker also came within 42.7 million kilometers or 26.6 million miles, of our stellar companion. The spacecraft was launched on August 12th 2018.

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Goblin the Dwarf Planet Discovered at the Edge of the Solar System

Astronomers have discovered a previously-unknown dwarf planet, nicknamed Goblin, orbiting beyond the orbit of Neptune. This tiny world takes 40,000 years to travel once around the Sun, and it never comes closer than 65 times the distance between the Earth and our parent star. Computer simulations show the orbit of this world may be influenced by a distant, larger body astronomers are dubbing Planet X.

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