In this decade and the next, some very impressive missions will take place. For instance, NASA will send its robotic Europa Clipper orbiter investigate Jupiter’s icy moon Europa for the first time. The orbiter will launch sometime in the middle of the decade (likely 2024) and arrive in the Jovian sytem in the 2030s to look for possible signs of life.
In preparation for this momentous event, NASA recently released a stunning new mission poster. As you can see, the poster features the orbiter looking down on Europa’s icy surface with Jupiter hanging in the background. The orbiter itself is in shadow so as to draw attention to the landscape beneath it.
In an expected move, the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) has announced a mission extension for their Hayabusa2 spacecraft. Hayabusa2 will be sent to rendezvous with another asteroid in a few years time.
It’s target is 1998 KY26, a near-Earth object (NEO) less than a kilometer in diameter. But it’ll take a while and some maneuvering around other objects in the Solar System to reach its goal. JAXA says the spacecraft will arrive at the asteroid in July 2031.
When astronauts have to go, NASA wants them to boldly go.
A new space toilet is heading to the International Space Station, with official name “Universal Waste Management System” (UWMS). (If it’s NASA, there has to be an acronym). The new toilet is smaller than the current toilets aboard the station, is more user-friendly, and includes 3-D printed titanium parts.
In April 2019, the Event Horizon Telescope (EHT) released the first direct image of a black hole. It was a radio image of the supermassive black hole in the galaxy M87. Much of the image resulted from radio light gravitationally focused toward us, but there was also some light emitted by gas and dust near the black hole. By itself, the image is a somewhat unimpressive blurry ring, but the data behind the image tells a more detailed story.
Most everybody knows that the dinosaurs perished rapidly in a tumultuous extinction, caused by an asteroid strike about 66 million years ago. But it looks like another extinction prior to the appearance of the dinosaurs paved the way for their long reign. That extinction took place about 233 million years ago.
Most massive planet in the solar system – twice that of all the other planets combined. This giant world formed from the same cloud of dust and gas that became our Sun and the rest of the planets. But Jupiter was the first-born of our planetary family. As the first planet, Jupiter’s massive gravitational field likely shaped the rest of the entire solar system. Jupiter could’ve played a role in where all the planets aligned in their orbits around the Sun…or didn’t as the asteroid belt is a vast region which could’ve been occupied by another planet were it not for Jupiter’s gravity. Gas giants like Jupiter can also hurl entire planets out of their solar systems, or themselves spiral into their stars. Saturn’s formation several million years later probably spared Jupiter this fate. Jupiter may also act as a “comet catcher.” Comets and asteroids which could otherwise fall toward the inner solar system and strike the rocky worlds like Earth are captured by Jupiter’s gravitational field instead and ultimately plunge into Jupiter’s clouds. But at other times in Earth’s history, Jupiter may have had the opposite effect, hurling asteroids in our direction – typically a bad thing but may have also resulted in water-rich rocks coming to Earth that led to the blue planet we know of today.
On February 18th, 2021, NASA’s Perseverance rover will reach Mars, make a harrowing descent through the planet’s atmosphere, and put down in the Jezero Crater. Like it’s sister-rover, Curiosity, this robotic explorer will explore a region that once supported flowing water and poke around with an advanced suite of scientific instruments for signs of microscopic life that may have existed there billions of years ago.
This is no small feat, which is why the rover will be bringing along its Planetary Instrument for X-ray Lithochemistry (PIXL). This precision instrument is located at the end of its 2-meter (7 foot) long arm and is powered by artificial intelligence (AI). The PIXL will play a pivotal role in Perseverance‘s mission, using a coring drill to obtain samples that will be cached on the surface that will be returned to Earth by a future mission.
Terry Virts, one of only four astronauts in history to have piloted a Space Shuttle, flown a Russian Soyuz spacecraft, performed space walks, and commanded the ISS. He’s written HOW TO ASTRONAUT: An Insider’s Guide to Leaving Planet Earth, the book for everyone who wants to know what space travel is really like.
The ESA’s Rosetta mission to Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko ended four years ago. On September 30th 2016 the spacecraft was directed into a controlled impact with the comet, putting an end to its 12.5 year mission. Scientists are still working with all its data and making new discoveries.
A new study based on Rosetta data shows that Comet 67P has its own aurora.