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.
Continue reading “NASA Releases a New Poster for the Europa Clipper Mission”
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.
Continue reading “Hayabusa2’s Mission isn’t Over. It has a New Asteroid Target to Visit: 1998 KY26”
Gravity is good for a lot of things. It brings objects closer together. Occasionally they crash into each other. But sometimes two objects get locked in a unique gravitational dance that pairs them together. That dance can be short-lived, or it can last for billions of years. In some cases the objects are large (i.e. planets and moons), but they can also be quite small.
These small dancing objects are called binary asteroids, and we know very little about them, despite making up approximately 15% of all asteroids in the solar system. That is until a newly greenlighted NASA mission, called Janus, will arrive at two different binary asteroids around 2026.
Continue reading “NASA’s Janus Mission is Going to Visit Two Binary Asteroids”
People have been speculating about the possibility of life on Mars for centuries. But it’s only since the 1970s and the Viking 1 and 2 missions that we have been able to search for it. After many decades, evidence has mounted that Mars may have once supported life (like the existence of flowing water and organic molecules), but evidence of present-day life has remained elusive.
Unfortunately, according to a recent study by an international team of scientists led by the Spanish Astrobiology Center (CSIC-INTA), it’s possible that the surface of Mars was bathed in acid and alkaline fluids that destroyed all evidence of past life. These findings could have serious implications for upcoming missions to Mars, which includes NASA’s Perseverance and the ESA’s Rosalind Franklin rover.
Continue reading “The Surface of Mars Might Have Gotten an Acid Bath, Obscuring Evidence of Past Life”
The discovery of phosphine in the upper clouds in Venus’ atmosphere has generated a lot of excitement. On Earth, phosphine is produced biologically, so it’s a sign of life. If it’s not produced by life, it takes an enormous amount of energy to be created abiologically.
On other planets like Jupiter, there’s enough energy to produce phosphine, so finding it there isn’t surprising. But on a small rocky world like Venus, where there’s no powerful source of energy, its existence is surprising.
This discovery clearly needs some more investigating.
Continue reading “Missions Are Already Being Planned to Figure Out What’s Creating the Biosignature on Venus”
In August 2014, the ESA’s Rosetta spacecraft arrived at its destination, Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko, after a 10 year journey. Rosetta carried a small companion, the Philae Lander. On November 12th, Philae was sent to the surface of Comet 67P. Unfortunately, things didn’t go exactly as planned, and the lander’s mission lasted only 63 hours.
During that time, it gathered what data it could. But mission scientists weren’t certain of its precise location, meaning its data was difficult to interpret accurately. Only when scientists knew precisely where Philae was located on the comet, could they make best use of all of its data.
Continue reading “Rosetta’s Philae Lander Was Alive on the Surface of 67P for 63 Hours, Trying to Communicate”
On October 19th, 2017, astronomers were astounded to learn that an interstellar object (named ‘Oumuamua) flew by Earth on its way out of the Solar System. Years later, astronomers are still debating what this object was – a comet fragment, a hydrogen iceberg, or an extraterrestrial solar sail? What’s more, the arrival of 2I/Borisov two years later showed how interstellar objects (ISOs) regularly enter our Solar System (some even stay!)
It’s little wonder then why proposals are in place to design missions that could rendezvous with an interstellar object the next time one passes by. One such mission is Project Lyra, a concept proposed by researchers from the Initiative for Interstellar Studies (i4is). Recently, an international team led from the I4IS drafted a White Paper that was submitted to the 2023-2032 Planetary Science and Astrobiology Decadal Survey.
Continue reading “We Have the Technology to Retrieve a Sample From an Interstellar Object Like Oumuamua”
The InSight lander is making progress on Mars. After many months of struggle and careful adaptation, the InSight lander’s ‘Mole’ is finally into the ground. There’s still more delicate work to be done, and they’re not at operating depth yet. But after such a long, arduous affair, this feels like a victory.
Continue reading “InSight’s Mole Is In!”
There’s a surprising phenomenon taking place in Mars’ atmosphere: during the spring and fall seasons on the Red Planet, large areas of the sky pulse in ultraviolet light, exactly three times every night.
Continue reading “The Martian Sky Pulses in Ultraviolet Every Night”
In May of 2020, NASA made the decision to give the next-generation Wide Field Infrared Space Telescope (WFIRST) a proper name. Henceforth, it would be known as the Nancy Grace Roman Space Telescope (or Roman Space Telescope) in honor of NASA’s first Chief Astronomer and a woman’s who tireless work in the field of STEMs research led to the creation of the Hubble Space Telescope – hence her nickname, the “mother of Hubble”).
However, in recent months, the budget environment has not been too favorable to the Roman Space Telescope (RST), as well as education-related programs. But thanks to a recent bill considered by the House Appropriations Commitee, funding has been restored to five NASA science missions and projects – including the RST – that the administration’s budget proposal sought to cancel for the coming year.
Continue reading “Roman Space Telescope and SOFIA Get Their Funding Restored… Again”