William ‘Captain Kirk’ Shatner spotted a strange “shiny bluish light” in an image captured by the NASA InSight Rover on Mars, and then promptly shared his discovery with the world on Twitter. Before things got out of hand, the space agency Tweeted back: “Just a bit of lens flare as the sun dips low on the horizon. Both photos were taken shortly before sunset. No cause for alarm, Captain!” For those don’t know about the mission, InSight’s objectives are to basically place a seismometer, called SEIS, on the surface of the red planet to measure seismic activity and provide accurate 3D models of the planet’s interior; and measure internal heat flow using a heat probe called HP3 to study Mars’ early geological evolution. Read more for the original Tweet from William Shatner, a video about the InSight and additional information.
NASA’s Juno space probe recently captured an incredible image of two powerful storms brewing near Jupiter’s iconic Red Spot during a recent flyby in late December. It was approximately 23,000 to 34,000 miles from the top of the planet’s clouds at the time. “Two massive storms in Jupiter’s turbulent southern hemisphere appear in this new image captured during my latest flyby of the planet. The storm reached its current size when three smaller spots collided and merged in the year 2000. The Great Red Spot, which is about twice as wide as Oval BA, may have formed from the same process centuries ago,” said NASA. Read more for a video and additional information.
Ever wonder what it would be like to stand on Saturn’s ring system? If so, this video should provide some insight, thanks to data gathered by the Cassini-Huygens mission. For those who don’t know, this mission was a collaboration between NASA, the European Space Agency (ESA), and the Italian Space Agency (ASI) to send a probe to study the planet Saturn and its system, including its rings and natural satellites. It’s been active in space for nearly 20-years, with 13-years spent orbiting Saturn, studying the planet and its system after entering orbit on July 1, 2004. Read more for another video and additional information.
NASA’s Space Launch System rocket has gone vertical at the Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama, and this 200-foot-tall liquid hydrogen tank stores cryogenic liquid hydrogen and liquid oxygen that will feed the vehicle’s four RS-25 engines. This test system is nearly identical to the flight version of the tank that consists of two-thirds of the final SLS core stage. This SLS vehicle, named Block 1, can transport more than 57,000 pounds to orbits beyond the Moon. The next iteration, called the Block 1B crew vehicle, uses a more powerful Exploration Upper Stage (EUS) for carrying the Orion crew vehicle along with exploration systems like a deep space habitat module beyond Earth orbit. Read more for a video tour of the Orion spacecraft, additional pictures and information.
NASA says Bennu, nicknamed the ‘apocalypse asteroid’, could wreak havoc on Earth, as there is a 1-in-2700 chance of it colliding with the planet. Should that happen, the gigantic asteroid would release 80,000 times more energy than the Hiroshima atomic bomb. The OSIRIS-Rex space probe is currently orbiting it on an observatory mission, and will eventually land on its surface some time in 2020 tocollect samples of the rock before returning to Earth. Read more for another video and additional information.
While solar panels can provide the electricity a space probe needs, it requires a propellant to actually move, and ultra-efficient ion engines aren’t the answer since they need expensive Xenon gas. Meet the World is Not Enough (WINE) experiment by the University of Central Florida and Honeybee Robotics. This steam-powered spacecraft is designed to fly to an asteroid, conduct research and mine for water at the same time. Once refueled, it can move onto its next objective or asteroid. Read more to see a prototype in-action and for additional information.
Citizen scientists have used data from NASA’s Kepler spacecraft to detect a planet roughly twice the size of Earth located within its star’s habitable zone, or the range of orbital distances where liquid water may exist on the planet’s surface. Called “K2-288Bb” and located 226 light-years away, the star could either be a rocky world like Earth or a gas-rich planet like Neptune. “It’s a very exciting discovery due to how it was found [and] its temperate orbit and because planets of this size seem to be relatively uncommon,” said Adina Feinstein, a University of Chicago graduate student and lead author of the study. Read more for another video and additional information.
Photo credit: Hubble Site
NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope has captured the most detailed image of the Triangulum galaxy (M33) yet, and it’s composed of 54 Hubble fields of view stitched together, revealing nearly 25 million individually resolved stars. “The borders of individual Hubble images trace the jagged edge of the mosaic, which spans 19,400 light-years across. Striking areas of star birth glow bright blue throughout the galaxy, particularly in beautiful nebulas of hot, ionized hydrogen gas like star-forming region NGC 604 in the upper left,” said NASA. Read more to see the full image, another video and for additional information.
NASA’s OSIRIS-REx asteroid probe has entered the orbit of the 101955 Bennu asteroid after arriving at the large space rock in early December. This event marks the first spacecraft to orbit a space object as small as the asteroid, which measures 1,600 feet in diameter. Its main objective now is to collect material from the asteroid and successfully transport the samples back to Earth, but it has around two years to continue its orbit, though, so it won’t begin gathering samples until 2020. Read more for another video and additional information.
NASA has given the Sierra Nevada Corporation the green light to manufacture the “Dream Chaser” spacecraft after a series of tests, and it will deliver cargo to the International Space Station beginning in ‘late 2020’. It launches vertically on an Atlas V, Ariane 5 or Falcon Heavy rocket, and autonomously land horizontally on conventional runways. In the near future, there could be a crewed version, called the Dream Chaser Space System, which would be capable of carrying up to seven people to and from low Earth orbit. Read more for another video, additional pictures and information.