Today in pretty space pics, Cassini proves once again that it’s the spacecraft that just keeps on giving. Its mission was supposed to end in 2008 but has twice been extended, most recently out to 2017. That’s fine with us, since it keeps sending back pics like these from its wide orbit around arguably the solar system’s second-coolest planet. Represented here: Saturn’s signature rings and five of its more than 60 natural satellites--Janus, Pandora, Enceladus, Mimas and Rhea (from left to right).
A new satellite defense technology is about to get its first real-world test in orbit, and while we naturally don't get to know much about it just yet, the Air Force has confirmed that a classified satellite launching sometime in the near future will carry the awkwardly named Self-Awareness Space Situational Awareness system, or SASSA.
Likely prompted in no small part by last month's Progress cargo ship crash in Russia, NASA has announced a $1.6 billion contract running through 2014 to develop complete end-to-end cargo and crew transportation between Earth and the International Space Station.
According to some tricky calculations from Guillaume Robuchon and Francis Nimmo at the University of California, Santa Cruz, Pluto may actually have a liquid ocean underneath its frigid, -230 °C exterior. It's mostly speculation, but the reasoning is pretty sound: if Pluto's rocky core has a certain level of potassium, "its decay could produce enough heat to melt some of the overlaying ice," says New Scientist. The assumption is that Pluto does, since the Earth has 10 times that amount despite being closer to the sun and therefore likely having much less potassium in its core than Pluto. We just hope having an ocean makes Pluto feel better about not being a planet anymore. [New Scientist]
The Russian Soyuz TMA-21 spacecraft, carrying three astronauts (Commander Andrei Borisenko and Alexander Samokutyayev, both Russian, and American Ron Garan) safely landed this morning in Kazakhstan, bringing them home after five months on the International Space Station. The landing, about 94 miles southeast of the smallish Kazakh city Zhezkazgan, wasn't entirely flawless--mission control lost contact with the capsule briefly--but the landing itself was very smooth.
By John Mahoney and Katie PeekPosted 09.15.2011 at 2:00 pm 21 Comments
A mournful French horn blows. An angsty Luke Skywalker stomps out of his aunt and uncle's sand hut and peers up at Tatooine's double sunset, his hair blowing in the breeze. It's a memorable scene from Star Wars—but now, a precedent for such a sky with two suns has been found in our universe.
Using data from the Kepler space observatory, scientists at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics and SETI have discovered for the first time a planet orbiting a binary star system, passing in front of both its parent stars along its orbit.
The National Maritime Museum's Royal Observatory in Greenwich England has announced the 2011 winners of its Astronomy Photographer of the Year contest, across categories from “Our Solar System” and “Deep Space” to “Best Newcomer” and “Young Astronomy Photographer.” For the first time, this year the Observatory added a special category for photos taken with a robotic scope.
Today, NASA officially announced the design of its forthcoming Space Launch System--a heavy-lift rocket capable of taking humans into deep space. It will be the primary vehicle to replace the Space Shuttle, but with significantly more power—enough to reach Mars.
When light from an exploding star in the Large Magellanic Cloud reached Earth in 1987, it was the closest supernova explosion astronomers had witnessed in centuries. Now Supernova 1987a is making history again, this time as the youngest supernova remnant that can be seen from Earth.
As NASA promised last week, and only slightly delayed by weather, the GRAIL mission to the moon has launched. The twin probes will arrive just as 2012 dawns, and map the gravitational field and the interior characteristics of our nearest neighbor.
Read our full coverage of the mission here.