JWST Is On Its Way!

It’s really happening. After all the years of delays, reschedulings, budget shortfalls, and even more delays, the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) launched on December 25 and is now successfully on its way to is destination at the second LaGrange point (L2), about 1.5 million km (1 million miles) from Earth.

If you celebrate Christmas and are astronomically inclined, the launch feels like a true Christmas miracle.

The footage of JWST’s separation from the Ariane 5 rocket, as seen from a camera on the rocket’s second stage is just absolutely stunning.

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This Video of Comet Leonard (with Venus and Mercury) will Blow Your Mind

Since early this year, skywatchers on Earth have been tracking Comet Leonard, a kilometer-wide dirty snowball made of ice, rock and dust. Now, as it heads towards a close encounter with the Sun on January 3, 2022, several spacecraft – with the distinct advantage of having an unobstructed front-row seat to the action – have been keeping an eye on how the comet is changing and evolving as it heats up.

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Webb Telescope Officially Cleared for Launch on December 25

Illustration of NASA's James Webb Space Telescope. Credits: NASA

UPDATE: Shortly after publication of this article, Arianespace announced the launch for JWST has been delayed until December 25:

“Due to adverse weather conditions at Europe’s Spaceport in French Guiana, the flight #VA256 to launch the James Webb Space Telescope –initially scheduled for December 24– is being postponed,” Arianespace said via Twitter. “Tomorrow evening, local time, another weather forecast will be issued in order to confirm the date of December 25. The #Ariane5 launch vehicle and Webb are in stable and safe conditions in the Final Assembly Building.”

Earlier today, NASA and ESA announced that the James Webb Space Telescope has cleared one of the final hurdles before launch. The telescope passed the final launch readiness review, meaning that all the hardware and software for the spacecraft and the Ariane 5 rocket are ready for flight. This officially greenlights the liftoff.

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Now We Know Why Pluto has These Strange Features on its Surface

After New Horizons made its close flyby of Pluto in July of 2015, scientists were astounded at the incredible closeup views of Pluto’s surface. One of the most intriguing and mysterious features was a bright plain inside the prominent heart-shaped feature on Pluto, called “Tombaugh Regio” (Tombaugh Region) named after Clyde Tombaugh, who discovered Pluto in 1930.

The region is composed of a broken surface of irregularly-shaped segments that appear to be geologically young because no impact craters are part of the terrain.

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With 17 Flights Completed, Ingenuity has Spent 30 Minutes Aloft on Mars

December 17 is an historic day for flying machines, so it wouldn’t be surprising if we hear the Ingenuity Mars Helicopter makes an attempt at its 18th flight sometime today. In case you need a little reminder, on this day in 1903, the Wright Brothers had their first successful flight, flying their plane for exactly 120 feet over 12 seconds.

Ingenuity’s most recent flight came on December 5, 2021, its 17th.  The fact that Ingenuity has this many flights under its wings, er… rotors…. is nothing short of amazing. The tiny helicopter was only designed for five flights on the Red Planet but now, with 17 successful liftoffs and landings, it has accumulated over 30 minutes of flying time on Mars.

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Parker Solar Probe Flies Through the Sun’s Outer Atmosphere for the First Time

For the first time ever, a spacecraft has flown through the Sun’s outer atmosphere. The Parker Solar Probe passed through the out portion of the Sun’s corona in April of 2021, passing directly through streamers of solar plasma.

And by the way …. there’s video of what the spacecraft “saw.”

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The Recent Killer Tornado’s Track is Visible From Space

During the night of December 10, 2021, severe weather tore through several US states, Arkansas, Illinois, Kentucky, Mississippi, Missouri and Tennessee. At least 70 tornado-like events were reported, and one storm cell was tracked on radar for approximately four hours as it traveled for more than 400 km (250 miles.)

While the destruction these storms left behind is visible even from space, the heartbreaking devastation on the ground is sobering; over 100 people killed, with hundreds more injured.

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This Incredible Photo of the Sun is Made up of 150,000 Individual Photographs

You’re looking at a 300-megapixel photo of our Sun. Astrophotographer Andrew McCarthy used a specially modified telescope, taking over 150,000 individual photos and combing them into this magnificent image.

“It took about 10 hours to stack all the data, and another 3-4 hours to get it from a raw stack to the final image,” McCarthy said via email.

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NASA Launches a New X-ray Observatory

A new mission has launched to study some the most intriguing secrets of the universe. No, not THAT spacecraft (JWST is scheduled for launch on December 22). Another new and exciting mission is called Imaging X-ray Polarimetry Explorer (IXPE) and it will allow scientists to explore the hidden details of some of the most extreme and high-energy objects in the cosmos, such as black holes, neutron stars, pulsars and dozens of other objects.

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