Mysterious Europa Gets an Extreme Closeup From NASA’s Juno Probe

Juno's view of Europa
The ridges and troughs on Europa stand out in an image from NASA's Juno orbiter. (NASA / JPL-Caltech / SwRI / MSSS / Björn Jónsson)

Over the course of a brief two-hour opportunity, NASA’s Juno spacecraft captured a rare close look at Europa, an ice-covered moon of Jupiter that’s thought to harbor a hidden ocean — and perhaps an extraterrestrial strain of marine life.

Juno has been orbiting Jupiter since 2016, but this week brought the best opportunity to look at Europa, which is the prime target for investigation by NASA’s Europa Clipper probe in the 2030s. On Sept. 29, the orbiter buzzed over the moon’s surface at a velocity in excess of 52,000 mph (23.6 km per second), and at an altitude of 352 kilometers (219 miles).

That’s as close as any spacecraft has come to Europa since the Galileo orbiter’s 218-mile flyby in 2000.

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NASA and SpaceX Will Study Low-Cost Plan to Give Hubble a Boost

Hubble Space Telescope
NASA's Hubble Space Telescope flies with Earth in the background after a 2002 servicing mission. (NASA Photo)

NASA and SpaceX say they’ll conduct a feasibility study into a plan to reboost the 32-year-old Hubble Space Telescope to a more sustainable orbit, potentially at little or no cost to NASA.

The plan could follow the model set by last year’s Inspiration4 mission, an orbital trip that was facilitated by SpaceX and paid for by tech billionaire Jared Isaacman as a philanthropic venture. Isaacman, who is now spearheading a privately funded space program called Polaris in cooperation with SpaceX, says he’ll participate in the feasibility study.

“We could be taking advantage of everything that’s been developed within the commercial space industry to execute on a mission, should the study warrant it, with little or no potential cost to the government,” Isaacman said at a news briefing.

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Axiom’s Next Trip to the ISS Will Carry the First Saudi Woman in Space

Illustration: SpaceX Crew Dragon at ISS
An illustration shows SpaceX's Crew Dragon capsule approaching the International Space Station. (Credit: SpaceX)

Axiom Space says it’s working with the Saudi Space Commission to send two spacefliers from the Arab kingdom, including the first Saudi woman to go into orbit, to the International Space Station as early as next year.

The inclusion of a female astronaut is particularly notable for Saudi Arabia — where women were forbidden to drive motor vehicles until 2018, and where the status of women is still a controversial subject.

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Neptune and Its Rings Glow in Webb Telescope’s Portrait

JWST view of Neptune and rings
An infrared image from NASA's James Webb Space Telescope shows Neptune and its rings. Credit: NASA / ESA / CSA / STScI / Joseph DePasquale

The first picture of Neptune to be taken by NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope reveals the latest, greatest details of the ice giant’s atmosphere, moons and rings in infrared wavelengths.

Some of those details — for example, faint bands of dust that encircle Neptune — haven’t been brought to light since the Voyager 2 probe zoomed past in 1989.

“It has been three decades since we last saw those faint, dusty bands, and this is the first time we’ve seen them in the infrared,” astronomer Heidi Hammel, an interdisciplinary scientist on the JWST team who specializes in Neptune, said today in a news release. Neptune’s brighter rings stand out even more clearly.

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DNA From Star Trek’s Original Doctor Will Ride to the Final Frontier

Star Trek actors at Enterprise rollout
In 1976, the crew of the original "Star Trek" TV show attended the rollout of the prototype space shuttle Enterprise in California. In the front row, from left: NASA Administrator James Fletcher, DeForest Kelley ("Bones"), George Takei ("Sulu"), Nichelle Nichols ("Uhura"), Leonard Nimoy ("Spock"), series creator Gene Roddenberry and Walter Koenig ("Chekov"). Photo Credit: NASA

A memorial spaceflight paying tribute to the cast and crew of the original “Star Trek” TV show has just added another star to the passenger list.

DeForest Kelley — who played Leonard “Bones” McCoy, the Starship Enterprise’s physician — will be represented by a thimble-sized sample of DNA on next year’s “Enterprise Flight.” Kelley passed away in 1999 at the age of 79, but the DNA was extracted from a hair sample that was preserved after his death.

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Godspeed, Uhura: A Bit of Star Trek’s Nichelle Nichols Will Go to Space

Nichelle Nichols at NASA Mission Control
Star Trek's Nichelle Nichols visited NASA in 1977 to support an astronaut recruitment campaign. (NASA Photo)

Nichelle Nichols, who blazed a trail for Black actors as Lieutenant Uhura on the original “Star Trek,” never got to go to space while she was alive — but her ashes and her DNA are due to reach the final frontier as early as this year.

The symbolic samples are scheduled to fly beyond the moon, along with the ashes of other dearly departed Star Trek pioneers such as James Doohan (“Scotty”); Majel Barrett Roddenberry (“Nurse Chapel”); the TV series’ creator, Gene Roddenberry; and visual-effects wizard Douglas Trumbull.

To top it all off, Nichols’ memorial journey will begin with the launch of a Vulcan rocket. “I’m sure she would have much preferred to go on the shuttle,” said her son, Kyle Johnson, “but this was a pretty close second.”

The “Enterprise” memorial mission is being organized by Houston-based Celestis, which has been making arrangements to fly its customers’ cremated remains for a quarter-century. A gram of Nichols’ ashes, plus DNA samples taken from her and from Johnson, will be among the secondary payloads for United Launch Alliance’s first Vulcan Centaur mission, set for no earlier than December.

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Webb Telescope Sees Jupiter and Its Auroras in a New Light

JWST view of Jupiter
The James Webb Space Telescope's NIRCam imager produced this composite image of the Jupiter system using orange and cyan filters. The image shows Jupiter's auroras as bright rims at the poles. The planet's rings and two of its moons, Amalthea and Adrastea, are also visible. Credit: NASA, ESA, CSA, Jupiter ERS Team; image processing by Ricardo Hueso (UPV/EHU) and Judy Schmidt.

NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope is designed to probe the farthest frontiers of the universe, but newly released images of Jupiter prove that the observatory can also bring fresh perspectives to more familiar celestial sights.

The infrared images reveal Jupiter’s polar auroras and its faint rings as well as two of its moons — plus some galaxies in the far background. The planet’s Great Red Spot is there as well, but because it’s seen through three of JWST’s specialized filters, it looks white rather than red.

JWST’s new perspective should give scientists a better sense of how the complex Jupiter system is put together.

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LHC Scientists Find Three Exotic Particles — and Start Hunting for More

Pentaquark structure
The new pentaquark, illustrated here as a pair of standard hadrons loosely bound in a molecule-like structure, is made up of a charm quark and a charm antiquark and an up, a down and a strange quark (CERN Illustration)

Physicists say they’ve found evidence in data from Europe’s Large Hadron Collider for three never-before-seen combinations of quarks, just as the world’s largest particle-smasher is beginning a new round of high-energy experiments.

The three exotic types of particles — which include two four-quark combinations, known as tetraquarks, plus a five-quark unit called a pentaquark — are totally consistent with the Standard Model, the decades-old theory that describes the structure of atoms.

In contrast, scientists hope that the LHC’s current run will turn up evidence of physics that goes beyond the Standard Model to explain the nature of mysterious phenomena such as dark matter. Such evidence could point to new arrays of subatomic particles, or even extra dimensions in our universe.

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NASA Says It’s Satisfied With Rehearsal for SLS Moon Rocket Launch

SLS and Orion at launch pad
A full Moon looms over NASA's Space Launch System and its Orion capsule containing yeast cells bound for an epic trip. (NASA Photo / Ben Smegelsky)

NASA says it’s finished with having to do full-scale dress rehearsals for the first liftoff of its moon-bound Space Launch System rocket. But it’s not finished with having to make fixes.

“At this point we’ve determined that we’ve successfully completed the evaluations and the work that we intended to complete for the dress rehearsal,” Thomas Whitmeyer, NASA’s deputy associate administrator for common exploration systems development, told reporters today.

NASA’s assessment came after a dress rehearsal that reached its climax on June 20 with the loading of the 322-foot-tall rocket’s supercooled propellant tanks. The rehearsal, which followed some less-than-fully-successful trial runs in April, marked a milestone for launch preparations because it was the first time that the team at Kennedy Space Center in Florida had fully loaded all of the tanks and proceeded into the terminal launch countdown.

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Will Earth’s Follies Take Root on Mars? Black Comedy Explores the Frontier

Domed city on Mars
"Maurice on Mars" takes place in a domed city - which takes care of a lot of the logistical issues for living on Mars. (Cartuna / Comedy Central via Tim Barnes)

The world’s richest human wants to build a city on Mars: Fifty years ago, Elon Musk’s vision of our future on the Red Planet might have sounded like science fiction — but today, Musk is actually serious about the idea of using billions of dollars from ventures like SpaceX’s Starlink broadband network to finance the move to Mars.

“In looking in the long term, and saying what’s needed to create a city on Mars, well, one thing’s for sure: a lot of money,” Musk said back in 2015. “So we need things that will generate a lot of money.”

What kind of city would Musk want to see on Mars? His vision calls for a place that offers “everything from iron foundries to pizza joints to nightclubs” while getting rid of “special interests and coercion of politicians.” But what if cities on Mars turn out to be like cities on Earth, complete with wealth disparity, racism — and ambitious billionaires?

That’s the premise for “Maurice on Mars,” a darkly funny series of animated shorts created and written by comedian and TV writer Tim Barnes for Comedy Central’s Animated YouTube channel.

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