NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft, launched in 2006 with a primary mission to perform the first-ever flyby of Pluto, has provided researchers with invaluable information about the dwarf planet. Now, the space probe has made more history with its January 1, 2019 flyby of distant world 2014 MU69. The close rendezvous with the icy rock, located four billion miles from Earth in the Kuiper Belt, is not only humanity’s furthest encounter with a distant object, but also the most primitive one ever visited by a spacecraft.
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Though we are treated to several meteor showers throughout the year, most pale in comparison to the grand finale – the Geminids. Expected to be at their peak on Thursday and Friday night (Dec. 13-14, 2018), the dependable meteors rank high in both quantity and quality. Nicknamed the “900-pound gorilla of meteor showers” by NASA, they outweigh other dust streams by factors of between 5 to 500! The shooting stars are also easier to spot because they streak through the skies at a noticeably slower pace, encountering Earth at about 22 miles (35 kilometers) per second, or about half the speed of the Perseids meteors’ 37 miles (60 kilometers) per second.
On November 26, 2018, scientists at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena, California held their breath as the InSight spacecraft attempted the most challenging part of its 300 million-mile-long journey to Mars – landing. At 2:53 p.m. EST, following a few nail-biting moments, the room erupted in joy at the sound of the official “beep,” and the grainy photo of the Red Planet which confirmed that the lander had not only touched down but was functioning as expected.
Over the last couple of decades, astronomers have identified thousands of planets outside our solar system. However, they have been unable to find confirmation of a moon revolving around any of the distant worlds, mainly because the generally smaller satellites are harder to spot. Now, some researchers from Columbia University believe they have found evidence of an alien moon orbiting a gaseous exoplanet, which lies almost 8,000 light years away.
It’s creepy, spooky, and scheduled to rendezvous with Earth shortly after Halloween, on November 11, 2018. Before you get your hopes up, we are not talking about an alien, but asteroid 2015 TB145, a skull-shaped space rock nicknamed ”Death Comet.” This is the second appearance of the eerie-looking asteroid that was first observed by the University of Hawaii's Pan-STARRS-1 (Panoramic Survey Telescope and Rapid Response System) telescope on October 10, 2015.
A rocket malfunction that forces astronauts to evacuate after its launched may sound like a plot straight out of a Hollywood movie. However, that is precisely what happened to Russian cosmonaut Alexey Ovchinin and American astronaut Nick Hague on October 11, 2018. Fortunately, the “movie” had a happy ending with both scientists returning to Earth safely.
The Japanese Aerospace Exploration Agency, or JAXA, made history on September 21, 2018, when its unmanned probe Hayabusa2 successfully landed two moving robots, collectively called MINERVA-II1, on asteroid Ryugu’s surface. A few weeks later, on October 2, the spacecraft repeated the feat by deploying a third, slightly bigger, rover called the Mobile Asteroid Surface Scout (MASCOT). The information collected from the primitive asteroid could help shed light on the origins of our solar system and how the first life forms arose on Earth.
While the volcanoes on Earth eject fiery lava, ash, and smoke, those on Ceres, a dwarf planet that orbits between Mars and Jupiter, have been spewing out ice throughout its history. The chain of events leading to the discovery began in 2015 when NASA’s spacecraft Dawn, sent to explore the asteroid belt where Ceres resides, captured some high-resolution images of its icy, rocky terrain. On the dwarf planet’s crater-covered surface, was a solitary 4km (13,000 feet ) tall mountain.