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DECADE IN REVIEW: The top 10 Space stories of the past 10 years – Yahoo News Canada

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DECADE IN REVIEW: The top 10 Space stories of the past 10 years
DECADE IN REVIEW: The top 10 Space stories of the past 10 yearsDECADE IN REVIEW: The top 10 Space stories of the past 10 years

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DECADE IN REVIEW: The top 10 Space stories of the past 10 years

The turn of the decade is upon us, and looking back of the past 10 years, there have been so many amazing achievements in space exploration and so many incredible astronomical events.

Actually ranking these on any sort of scale, to find out which is the best of all, would be difficult, to say the least. Instead, here are the top 10 space stories of the past decade, in chronological order.

<h3 class="canvas-atom canvas-text Mb(1.0em) Mb(0)–sm Mt(0.8em)–sm" type="text" content="NASA LANDS A NUCLEAR-POWERED ROBOT ON MARS” data-reactid=”53″>NASA LANDS A NUCLEAR-POWERED ROBOT ON MARS

On the night of August 5-6, 2012, we all watched as a few dozen NASA scientists and engineers jumped up and down, high-fived, cheered and hugged, as their latest Mars rover, Curiosity (aka the Mars Science Laboratory), confirmed that it had successfully set down on the surface of the Red Planet.

Curiosity-first-selfie-Sept-2012-NASA-JPL-CaltechCuriosity-first-selfie-Sept-2012-NASA-JPL-Caltech

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<p class="canvas-atom canvas-text Mb(1.0em) Mb(0)–sm Mt(0.8em)–sm" type="text" content="This very first ‘selfie’ image by Curiosity was taken on September 7, 2012, a month after the rover touched down on Mars. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech” data-reactid=”75″>This very first ‘selfie’ image by Curiosity was taken on September 7, 2012, a month after the rover touched down on Mars. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

NASA had tried some gutsy landings on Mars before, from the powered descents of the Viking and Phoenix landers, to the air-bag-assisted bounce-and-roll touchdowns of Pathfinder and the Opportunity and Spirit rovers.

By comparison, Curiosity’s landing was over the top, though! Due to the mass of this car-sized rover, it required a brand new, never-before-tried method of touchdown. The absolute perfect timing and coordination of this landing – which the computer had to perform all on its own, with no guidance at all from Earth during the whole process – had the entire NASA team, as well as everyone watching, on the edge of their seats.

This nail-biting maneuver was nicknamed Curiosity’s “Seven Minutes of Terror”.

Not only did this landing succeed, but it only took Curiosity roughly seven months to complete its primary mission on Mars! In March of 2013, NASA scientists reported that the rover had discovered evidence in clay samples that the planet once had conditions that could have supported microbial life!

Curiosity-rover-Glen-Etive-pia23378-16-NASACuriosity-rover-Glen-Etive-pia23378-16-NASA

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<p class="canvas-atom canvas-text Mb(1.0em) Mb(0)–sm Mt(0.8em)–sm" type="text" content="Curiosity snapped this full-rover selfie panorama on October 11, 2019, at the location on the slopes of Mt Sharp nicknamed "Glen Etive." Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS” data-reactid=”104″>Curiosity snapped this full-rover selfie panorama on October 11, 2019, at the location on the slopes of Mt Sharp nicknamed “Glen Etive.” Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

<p class="canvas-atom canvas-text Mb(1.0em) Mb(0)–sm Mt(0.8em)–sm" type="text" content="Curiosity continues to explore Gale Crater, to this day, making the slow climb towards the summit of Mount Sharp in its quest for more scientific discoveries!” data-reactid=”105″>Curiosity continues to explore Gale Crater, to this day, making the slow climb towards the summit of Mount Sharp in its quest for more scientific discoveries!

<h3 class="canvas-atom canvas-text Mb(1.0em) Mb(0)–sm Mt(0.8em)–sm" type="text" content="HUMANITY’S FIRST INTERSTELLAR SPACECRAFT” data-reactid=”106″>HUMANITY’S FIRST INTERSTELLAR SPACECRAFT

Humans have launched plenty of spacecraft, sending them to explore planets, moons, comets and asteroids… even the Sun! Until August 25, 2012, though, every one of those spacecraft had only been in interplanetary space, inside the sphere of influence of our Sun.

On that date, the Voyager 1 probe, after flying away from the Sun for nearly 35 years, became the very first spacecraft to leave the heliosphere, and enter interstellar space!

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<p class="canvas-atom canvas-text Mb(1.0em) Mb(0)–sm Mt(0.8em)–sm" type="text" content="This artist rendition of the Voyager 1 spacecraft shows it entering the interstellar medium. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech” data-reactid=”129″>This artist rendition of the Voyager 1 spacecraft shows it entering the interstellar medium. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Even after 40 years now in space, Voyager 1 is still sending back data, telling us what it’s like beyond the heliosphere, and it was joined there by its twin, Voyager 2, as of November 5, 2018.

<h3 class="canvas-atom canvas-text Mb(1.0em) Mb(0)–sm Mt(0.8em)–sm" type="text" content="FIRST LANDING ON A COMET” data-reactid=”131″>FIRST LANDING ON A COMET

NASA is not the only space agency trying for gutsy landings over the past decade. Back in November of 2014, the European Space Agency’s Rosetta spacecraft released its tiny lander, named Philae, for the very first landing attempt on the surface of a comet!

Comet 7Jul2015 NavCam 800x600Comet 7Jul2015 NavCam 800x600

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Comet 7Jul2015 NavCam 800×600

<p class="canvas-atom canvas-text Mb(1.0em) Mb(0)–sm Mt(0.8em)–sm" type="text" content="Comet 67P/Churyumov–Gerasimenko as imaged by the ESA’s Rosetta spacecraft on July 7, 2015. Credit: ESA/Rosetta/NAVCAM” data-reactid=”153″>Comet 67P/Churyumov–Gerasimenko as imaged by the ESA’s Rosetta spacecraft on July 7, 2015. Credit: ESA/Rosetta/NAVCAM

Now, everything did not go entirely according to plan on this attempt. As Philae touched down, it was supposed to fire a pair of harpoons from its underside, which were to embed into the icy surface to secure the lander in place. Unfortunately, the harpoons did not deploy properly, and Philae ended up bouncing across the surface for several kilometres, coming to rest in a dark crevase.

<p class="canvas-atom canvas-text Mb(1.0em) Mb(0)–sm Mt(0.8em)–sm" type="text" content="While the mission team got three days of data out of Philae, which allowed them to perform some of the tests the lander was responsible for, the lack of sunlight at its location resulted in it shutting down. It took nearly two years for them to track down Philae’s final resting place in Rosetta’s surface imagery.” data-reactid=”155″>While the mission team got three days of data out of Philae, which allowed them to perform some of the tests the lander was responsible for, the lack of sunlight at its location resulted in it shutting down. It took nearly two years for them to track down Philae’s final resting place in Rosetta’s surface imagery.

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Philae found pillars

<p class="canvas-atom canvas-text Mb(1.0em) Mb(0)–sm Mt(0.8em)–sm" type="text" content="Philae’s location is shown in these three images. The left image shows the craggly terrain the lander became stuck in, with the small inset to the lower right showing a close-up of Philae. To the upper right, the red dot indicates where on Comet 67P this is. Credits: Main image and lander inset: ESA/Rosetta/MPS for OSIRIS Team MPS/UPD/LAM/IAA/SSO/INTA/UPM/DASP/IDA; context: ESA/Rosetta/NavCam” data-reactid=”176″>Philae’s location is shown in these three images. The left image shows the craggly terrain the lander became stuck in, with the small inset to the lower right showing a close-up of Philae. To the upper right, the red dot indicates where on Comet 67P this is. Credits: Main image and lander inset: ESA/Rosetta/MPS for OSIRIS Team MPS/UPD/LAM/IAA/SSO/INTA/UPM/DASP/IDA; context: ESA/Rosetta/NavCam

<h3 class="canvas-atom canvas-text Mb(1.0em) Mb(0)–sm Mt(0.8em)–sm" type="text" content="FINALLY SEEING PLUTO” data-reactid=”177″>FINALLY SEEING PLUTO

Pluto was first discovered in 1930, when astronomer Clyde Tombaugh spotted it as a tiny moving dot using the telescope at the Lowell Observatory. It took until 1996, with the launch of the Hubble Space Telescope, for us to get a better look at this distant world, but even that only showed us a small blurry circle.

On July 14, 2015, however, NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft, after a ten-year journey into the outer solar system, finally gave us a close-up look at this distant world!

NewHorizons-Pluto-Charon-NASA-JHUAPL-SwRINewHorizons-Pluto-Charon-NASA-JHUAPL-SwRI

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<p class="canvas-atom canvas-text Mb(1.0em) Mb(0)–sm Mt(0.8em)–sm" type="text" content="Images of Pluto (lower right) and its largest moon Charon (upper left) taken by NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft on July 14, 2015. In these enhanced colour photographs, Pluto and Charon are shown with approximately correct relative sizes, but their true separation is not to scale. Credits: NASA/JHUAPL/SwRI” data-reactid=”200″>Images of Pluto (lower right) and its largest moon Charon (upper left) taken by NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft on July 14, 2015. In these enhanced colour photographs, Pluto and Charon are shown with approximately correct relative sizes, but their true separation is not to scale. Credits: NASA/JHUAPL/SwRI

The encounter was a brief one, due New Horizon’s incredible speed making it impossible to slow down and fall into an orbit around the Pluto-Charon system. The number of images snapped of both objects, and the other four tiny moons in the system, scientists will still be studying them all for years to come. There has even been talk, recently, of sending a new mission that would actually stop and explore there, further!

New-Horizons-Blue-Skies-on-PlutoNew-Horizons-Blue-Skies-on-Pluto

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<p class="canvas-atom canvas-text Mb(1.0em) Mb(0)–sm Mt(0.8em)–sm" type="text" content="Post flyby, New Horizons turned around and pointed its cameras at the dark side of Pluto, capturing its back-lit atmosphere. Credits: NASA/JHUAPL/SwRI” data-reactid=”222″>Post flyby, New Horizons turned around and pointed its cameras at the dark side of Pluto, capturing its back-lit atmosphere. Credits: NASA/JHUAPL/SwRI

<h3 class="canvas-atom canvas-text Mb(1.0em) Mb(0)–sm Mt(0.8em)–sm" type="text" content="AN OCEAN UNDER ENCELADUS’ ICY CRUST” data-reactid=”223″>AN OCEAN UNDER ENCELADUS’ ICY CRUST

NASA’s Cassini spacecraft spent 13 years at Saturn, snapping images of the planet, its rings and its numerous moons. On September 15, 2015, roughly two years before the end of its mission, NASA made a remarkable announcement.

Based on the data and pictures Cassini had sent back to Earth, scientists had determined that there was a global ocean on Saturn’s moon Enceladus, trapped under a kilometres-thick crust of ice.

Cassini-Enceladus-global-subsurface-ocean-NASA-JPL-Caltech-PIA19656-16Cassini-Enceladus-global-subsurface-ocean-NASA-JPL-Caltech-PIA19656-16

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<p class="canvas-atom canvas-text Mb(1.0em) Mb(0)–sm Mt(0.8em)–sm" type="text" content="Illustration of the interior of Saturn’s moon Enceladus showing a global liquid water ocean between its rocky core and icy crust. Thickness of layers shown here is not to scale. Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech” data-reactid=”246″>Illustration of the interior of Saturn’s moon Enceladus showing a global liquid water ocean between its rocky core and icy crust. Thickness of layers shown here is not to scale. Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Why is this so important?

If there’s a global ocean of liquid water under the surface of Enceladus, it is likely kept warm due to ‘tidal heating’ of the moon, as Saturn’s gravity causes the rocky core to squeeze and stretch on each orbit. Plus, Cassini flew straight through the plumes of water vapour that are ejected from Enceladus’ south pole, and it detected organic molecules.

That doesn’t necessarily mean there’s life there – ‘organic’ molecules are simply ones that contain carbon atoms – but subsequent studies found that there could be enough nutrients and energy in Enceladus’ ocean to support life.

That potentially makes this icy Saturnian moon one of the most likely places for us to find alien life!

<h3 class="canvas-atom canvas-text Mb(1.0em) Mb(0)–sm Mt(0.8em)–sm" type="text" content="THE AGE OF REUSABLE ROCKETS BEGINS!” data-reactid=”251″>THE AGE OF REUSABLE ROCKETS BEGINS!

Classic 1950s sci-fi movies had some laughable plots and special effects compared to what we see now, but they certainly got one thing right! In the future, we would have rockets that could blast off, make a vertical landing back on Earth, and then be able to take off again for the next mission.

Elon Musk’s SpaceX made this a reality on December 21, 2015, when their Falcon 9 booster rocket made a successful vertical landing at Cape Canaveral, after lifting nearly a dozen satellites into orbit.

That particular rocket booster has not made another trip into space, as it currently adorns the front lot of SpaceX headquarters in Hawthorne, Calif., but several Falcon 9 rocket boosters have now made multiple trips to space and back. Currently, SpaceX has four Falcon 9s that have launched and landed three times, so far (one of which is waiting for its fourth mission, scheduled in January of 2020). Another booster has already made its fourth successful trip to orbit and back, on November 11, 2019, and presumably will be capable of more.

All of this reusability is bringing down the cost of launching missions into space. It will still be some time before the costs come down enough for anyone to make the trip, but we are definitely on the way.

<h3 class="canvas-atom canvas-text Mb(1.0em) Mb(0)–sm Mt(0.8em)–sm" type="text" content="RIPPLES IN THE FABRIC OF SPACETIME” data-reactid=”257″>RIPPLES IN THE FABRIC OF SPACETIME

For years, scientists and engineers have been trying to open up a new branch of astronomy, one that would detect some of the most extreme events in our universe.

<p class="canvas-atom canvas-text Mb(1.0em) Mb(0)–sm Mt(0.8em)–sm" type="text" content="On February 11, 2016, astronomers working with two special observatories here on Earth reported that they had finally made their very first detection of gravitational waves.” data-reactid=”259″>On February 11, 2016, astronomers working with two special observatories here on Earth reported that they had finally made their very first detection of gravitational waves.

Very similar to how ripples move along the surface of a pond after a pebble is dropped into the water, gravitational waves are ripples in the very fabric of spacetime. Since you can’t simply ‘drop’ something into space, though, these spacetime ripples form during extreme events, such as when black holes and neutron stars merge with each other.

It was nearly five months earlier, on September 14, 2015, that the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory (LIGO) in the United States and the Virgo gravitational wave interferometer in Italy, actually detected the spacetime ripples as they swept past Earth. It took those five months to actually confirm that what the astronomers saw was an actual real signal of gravitational waves, and to trace the ripples back to their source.

They determined that the event that caused the ripples was two massive black holes spiraling in towards each other and then finally merging.

It is estimated that these two black holes, which measured as 35 and 30 times the mass of the Sun, respectively, merged around 1.4 billion light years away from us (in another galaxy).

<p class="canvas-atom canvas-text Mb(1.0em) Mb(0)–sm Mt(0.8em)–sm" type="text" content="Since that first detection, LIGO and Virgo have picked up 10 more gravitational wave events (including the amazing Kilonova event in 2017), and there is a longer list of candidates that astronomers are working to confirm!” data-reactid=”265″>Since that first detection, LIGO and Virgo have picked up 10 more gravitational wave events (including the amazing Kilonova event in 2017), and there is a longer list of candidates that astronomers are working to confirm!

<h3 class="canvas-atom canvas-text Mb(1.0em) Mb(0)–sm Mt(0.8em)–sm" type="text" content="THE BEST SOLAR ECLIPSE” data-reactid=”266″>THE BEST SOLAR ECLIPSE

On August 21, 2017, we witnessed the best solar eclipse of the decade, as the Moon’s shadow passed directly over North America.

GreatAmericanSolarEclipse2017-NASAGreatAmericanSolarEclipse2017-NASA

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<p class="canvas-atom canvas-text Mb(1.0em) Mb(0)–sm Mt(0.8em)–sm" type="text" content="A map of the August 21, 2017 total solar eclipse path of totality, across the United States. The various crescents represent how much of the eclipse was seen from different locations away from the path of totality. Credit: NASA GSVS” data-reactid=”288″>A map of the August 21, 2017 total solar eclipse path of totality, across the United States. The various crescents represent how much of the eclipse was seen from different locations away from the path of totality. Credit: NASA GSVS

The views from the eclipse’s ‘path of totality’ were absolutely breathtaking.

Another solar eclipse this good, at least for those of us in Canada and the United States, won’t happen until April 8, 2024, with an annular eclipse passing over the US Southwest in October of 2023.

<h3 class="canvas-atom canvas-text Mb(1.0em) Mb(0)–sm Mt(0.8em)–sm" type="text" content="FIRST VISITOR FROM INTERSTELLAR SPACE” data-reactid=”291″>FIRST VISITOR FROM INTERSTELLAR SPACE

Scientists have speculated for years that objects from beyond our solar system could be flying right past us, all the time, and we just didn’t have the technology to see them.

<p class="canvas-atom canvas-text Mb(1.0em) Mb(0)–sm Mt(0.8em)–sm" type="text" content="That changed on October 26, 2017, when telescopes spotted object 2017 U1, which appeared to be an asteroid travelling so fast through our solar system that there's no way that it could be from around here. It was the very first detected interstellar object – an asteroid or comet that originated in an alien solar system and was somehow ejected out into the galaxy, millions of years ago.” data-reactid=”293″>That changed on October 26, 2017, when telescopes spotted object 2017 U1, which appeared to be an asteroid travelling so fast through our solar system that there’s no way that it could be from around here. It was the very first detected interstellar object – an asteroid or comet that originated in an alien solar system and was somehow ejected out into the galaxy, millions of years ago.

Renamed 1I/2017 U1, to designate it as the first interstellar object, it was also given a nickname – ʻOumuamua, which roughly translates to “first distant messenger” from the Hawaiian language.

Interstellar-asteroid-Oumuamua-eso1737aInterstellar-asteroid-Oumuamua-eso1737a

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<p class="canvas-atom canvas-text Mb(1.0em) Mb(0)–sm Mt(0.8em)–sm" type="text" content="Interstellar asteroid(?) ‘Oumuamua is pictured here in this artist’s impression. It was found to be long, thin and probably flat, with a similar shape to a skipping stone. Credit: ESO/M. Kornmesser” data-reactid=”315″>Interstellar asteroid(?) ‘Oumuamua is pictured here in this artist’s impression. It was found to be long, thin and probably flat, with a similar shape to a skipping stone. Credit: ESO/M. Kornmesser

Searching for its point of origin, astronomers showed that, most likely, ‘Oumuamua had traversed a good portion of the galaxy to reach us, and possibly even circled the galaxy a few times in the process.

<p class="canvas-atom canvas-text Mb(1.0em) Mb(0)–sm Mt(0.8em)–sm" type="text" content="'Oumuamua was weird, too! Based on the reflected sunlight astronomers picked up from it, the best fit for ‘Oumuamua’s shape seemed to be that of a flat disk, kind of like a rough-edged skipping stone. Who knows what interactions it went through, during its formation or on its long journey to meet us, to produce that shape? It also was observed to change speed and direction, ever so slightly, as it was heading away from the Sun! Comets are known to do this, due to gases ejected from the nucleus, but no such activity was observed from ‘Oumuamua. This fact had one astronomer speculating that it may not have been a natural object, but instead it could have been an alien solar sail!” data-reactid=”317″>’Oumuamua was weird, too! Based on the reflected sunlight astronomers picked up from it, the best fit for ‘Oumuamua’s shape seemed to be that of a flat disk, kind of like a rough-edged skipping stone. Who knows what interactions it went through, during its formation or on its long journey to meet us, to produce that shape? It also was observed to change speed and direction, ever so slightly, as it was heading away from the Sun! Comets are known to do this, due to gases ejected from the nucleus, but no such activity was observed from ‘Oumuamua. This fact had one astronomer speculating that it may not have been a natural object, but instead it could have been an alien solar sail!

<p class="canvas-atom canvas-text Mb(1.0em) Mb(0)–sm Mt(0.8em)–sm" type="text" content="Unfortunately, we'll never know exactly what 'Oumuamua was, or exactly where it originated. Since its discovery, though, astronomers have also spotted a second interstellar object, and this one is obviously a comet!” data-reactid=”318″>Unfortunately, we’ll never know exactly what ‘Oumuamua was, or exactly where it originated. Since its discovery, though, astronomers have also spotted a second interstellar object, and this one is obviously a comet!

<h3 class="canvas-atom canvas-text Mb(1.0em) Mb(0)–sm Mt(0.8em)–sm" type="text" content="FIRST IMAGE OF A BLACK HOLE” data-reactid=”319″>FIRST IMAGE OF A BLACK HOLE

When the most massive stars in the universe reach the end of their ‘lifespan’, they die rather spectacularly. Their outer layers are blown off in an explosion known as a ‘supernova’, leaving behind a dense core of matter that crushes down from the width of our Sun to a single point in space, all within the blink of an eye. The gravity near this stellar remnant is so strong that once you get close enough – the object’s ‘event horizon’ – there is no escape. Not even light can travel fast enough to break away (and that’s the fastest speed in the universe).

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<p class="canvas-atom canvas-text Mb(1.0em) Mb(0)–sm Mt(0.8em)–sm" type="text" content="This artist’s impression depicts a rapidly spinning supermassive black hole surrounded by an accretion disc. Credit: ESO, ESA/Hubble, M. Kornmesser/N. Bartmann” data-reactid=”341″>This artist’s impression depicts a rapidly spinning supermassive black hole surrounded by an accretion disc. Credit: ESO, ESA/Hubble, M. Kornmesser/N. Bartmann

So, with light unable to escape, it’s understandably difficult to actually see a black hole. Up until 2019, astronomers could only ‘see’ them indirectly. They could detect radiation emitted by matter spiralling around the black hole, or they could see how the black hole’s gravity affected objects around it (such as other stars).

<p class="canvas-atom canvas-text Mb(1.0em) Mb(0)–sm Mt(0.8em)–sm" type="text" content="On April 10, 2019, though, astronomers working with the Event Horizon Telescope project gave us what amounts to the closest we'll ever get to actually seeing a black hole.” data-reactid=”343″>On April 10, 2019, though, astronomers working with the Event Horizon Telescope project gave us what amounts to the closest we’ll ever get to actually seeing a black hole.

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<p class="canvas-atom canvas-text Mb(1.0em) Mb(0)–sm Mt(0.8em)–sm" type="text" content="This first-ever image of a black hole, captured using the Event Horizon Telescope, shows the supermassive black hole that lies at the centre of the galaxy M87. Credit: Event Horizon Telescope Collaboration” data-reactid=”364″>This first-ever image of a black hole, captured using the Event Horizon Telescope, shows the supermassive black hole that lies at the centre of the galaxy M87. Credit: Event Horizon Telescope Collaboration

What we’re seeing in the above image is the glowing disk of plasma that is spiralling around the supermassive black hole that lies at the heart of galaxy M87, located around 53 million light years away in the constellation Virgo. The dark region in the middle is the shadow cast on that plasma by the black hole’s event horizon. The event horizon, itself, is roughly 2.5 times smaller, located in the core of that shadow.

One of the most amazing things about this discovery? Astronomers had to essentially use a radio telescope as big as the Earth, to accomplish it!

<h3 class="canvas-atom canvas-text Mb(1.0em) Mb(0)–sm Mt(0.8em)–sm" type="text" content="RELATED: JUST HOW BIG IS A BLACK HOLE?” data-reactid=”367″>RELATED: JUST HOW BIG IS A BLACK HOLE?

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Artemis 1 moon mission could launch as soon as late August – Space.com

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NASA officials have declared the Artemis 1 moon rocket’s most recent “wet dress rehearsal” a success and are hopeful the mission can get off the ground as soon as late August.

The Artemis 1 stack — a Space Launch System (SLS) rocket topped by an Orion capsule — is scheduled to roll back to the Vehicle Assembly Building (VAB) at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center (KSC) in Florida on July 1, where the massive vehicle will undergo repairs and preparations for its coming launch. 

Artemis 1, the first launch for the SLS, will send an uncrewed Orion on a roughly month-long mission around the moon. The mission has experienced several delays, and most recently the rocket’s certification to fly has been held up by incomplete fueling tests — a key part of the wet dress rehearsal, a three-day series of trials designed to gauge a new vehicle’s readiness for flight. 

Related: NASA’s Artemis 1 moon mission explained in photos 

The Artemis 1 stack first rolled from the VAB to KSC’s Pad 39B in mid-March, to prep for a wet dress rehearsal that began on April 1. But three separate attempts to fill the SLS with cryogenic propellants during that effort failed, sending the stack back to the VAB for repairs on April 25. The most recent wet dress try, which wrapped up on Monday (June 20), didn’t go perfectly, but NASA has deemed it good enough to proceed with preparations for launch.

Operators were able to fully fuel SLS for the first time, bringing the launch simulation much further along than any of the attempts in April. A leak from the core stage’s engine cooling system “umbilical” line was detected during Monday’s fueling test, but mission managers determined that the deviation didn’t pose a safety risk and continued with the simulation’s terminal count. That ended up being the right decision, Artemis 1 team members said.  

Mission operators were able to run a “mask” for the leak in the ground launch sequencer software, which permitted computers in mission control to acknowledge the malfunction without flagging it as a reason to halt the countdown, according to Phil Weber, senior technical integration manager at KSC. Weber joined other agency officials on a press call Friday (June 24) to discuss the plans for Artemis 1 now that the wet dress is in the rear view mirror.

The software mask allowed the count to continue through to the handoff from the mission control computers to the automated launch sequencer (ALS) aboard the SLS at T-33 seconds, which ultimately terminated the count at T-29 seconds. 

“[ALS] was really the prize for us for the day,” Weber said during Friday’s call. “We expected … it was going to break us out [of the countdown] because the ALS looks for that same measurement, and we don’t have the capability to mask it onboard.” 

It was unclear immediately following the recent wet dress if another one would be required, but mission team members later put that question to rest.

“At this point, we’ve determined that we have successfully completed the evaluations and required work we intended to complete for the dress rehearsal,” Tom Whitmeyer, deputy associate administrator for Common Exploration Systems at NASA headquarters, said on Friday’s call. He added that NASA teams now have the “go ahead to proceed” with preparations for Artemis 1’s launch.

Before it can be rolled back to the VAB, however, the stack will undergo further maintenance at Pad 39B, including repairs to the quick-disconnect component on the aft SLS umbilical, which was responsible for Monday’s hydrogen leak. 

There’s also one more test technicians need to perform at the pad. Hot-firing the hydraulic power units (HBUs), part of the SLS’ solid rocket boosters, was originally part of the wet dress countdown but was omitted when the countdown was aborted. Those tests will be completed by Saturday (June 25), according to Lanham. Following the hot-fire tests, operators will then spend the weekend offloading the HBUs’ hydrazine fuel.

Once back in the VAB, NASA officials estimate it’ll take six to eight weeks of work to get Artemis 1 ready to roll back to Pad 39B for an actual liftoff. Cliff Lanham, senior vehicle operations manager at KSC, outlined some of the planned maintenance on Friday’s call. 

Related: NASA’s Artemis program of lunar exploration

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Among other tasks, technicians will perform standard vehicle inspections, hydrogen leak repairs, “late-stow” for the payloads flying on Orion, and software loads to the SLS core stage and upper stage. They will also install flight batteries.

“Ultimately, we want to get to our flight termination system testing,” Lanham said. “Once that’s complete, we’ll be able to perform our final inspections in all the volumes of the vehicle and do our closeouts.”

After that work is complete, the Artemis 1 stack will roll out from the VAB once again, making the eight to 11-hour crawl back to Pad 39B on July 1. Whitmeyer said on Friday that the late-August launch window for Artemis 1, which opens on Aug. 23 and lasts for one week, is “still on the table.”

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Mars Express Is Getting a Long-Overdue Software Upgrade – PCMag

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The European Space Agency (ESA) is updating the software on a critical part of the Mars Express spacecraft for the first time since it was deployed to the Red Planet in 2003.

ESA says(Opens in a new window) the Mars Advanced Radar for Subsurface and Ionospheric Sounding (MARSIS) instrument “is receiving a major software upgrade that will allow it to see beneath the surfaces of Mars and its moon Phobos in more detail than ever before.” And that is no small feat.

“We faced a number of challenges to improve the performance of MARSIS,” Enginium’s Carlo Nenna said in a statement. “Not least because the MARSIS software was originally designed over 20 years ago, using a development environment based on Microsoft Windows 98!”

But Enginium and the Italian National Institute for Astrophysics, which operates MARSIS, overcame those challenges. ESA says that it’s now implementing the updated MARSIS software on Mars Express to help it search for signs of liquid water deep beneath the planet’s surface.

“The new software will help us more quickly and extensively study these regions in high resolution and confirm whether they are home to new sources of water on Mars,” ESA Mars Express scientist Colin Wilson said in a statement. “It really is like having a brand new instrument on board Mars Express almost 20 years after launch.”

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All of which means that new software is being deployed to a nearly 20-year-old instrument, which was originally developed on Windows 98, on a planet that is typically about 140 million miles away. Keep that in mind the next time you’re prompted to install an update for your device.

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5 planets align in night sky for first time in years – CTV News

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A rare, five-planet alignment will peak on June 24, allowing a spectacular viewing of Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter and Saturn as they line up in planetary order.

The event began at the beginning of June and has continued to get brighter and easier to see as the month has progressed, according to Diana Hannikainen, observing editor of Sky & Telescope.

A waning crescent moon will be joining the party between Venus and Mars on Friday, adding another celestial object to the lineup. The moon will represent the Earth’s relative position in the alignment, meaning this is where our planet will appear in the planetary order.

This rare phenomenon has not occurred since December 2004, and this year, the distance between Mercury and Saturn will be smaller, according to Sky & Telescope.

HOW TO VIEW THE ALIGNMENT

Stargazers will need to have a clear view of the eastern horizon to spot the incredible phenomenon, Hannikainen said. Humans can view the planetary show with the naked eye, but binoculars are recommended for an optimal viewing experience, she added.

The best time to view the five planets is in the one hour before sunrise, she said. The night before you plan to view the alignment, check when the sun will rise in your area.

Some stargazers are especially excited for the celestial event, including Hannikainen. She flew from her home west of Boston to a beachside town along the Atlantic Ocean to secure an optimal view of the alignment.

“I’ll be out there with my binoculars, looking towards the east and southeast and crossing all my fingers and toes that it is going to be clear,” Hannikainen said.

You don’t have to travel to catch a glimpse of the action because it will be visible to people around the globe.

Stargazers in the Northern Hemisphere can see the planets from the eastern to southeastern horizon while those in the Southern Hemisphere should look along the eastern to northeastern horizon. The only requirement is a clear sky in the direction of the alignment.

By the next day, the moon will have continued its orbit around the Earth, moving it out of alignment with the planets, she said.

If you miss the five-planet alignment in sequential order, the next one will happen in 2040, according to Sky & Telescope.

There will be seven more full moons in 2022, according to The Old Farmers’ Almanac:

  • June 14: Strawberry moon
  • July 13: Buck moon
  • Aug. 11: Sturgeon moon
  • Sept. 10: Harvest moon
  • Oct. 9: Hunter’s moon
  • Nov. 8: Beaver moon
  • Dec. 7: Cold moon

These are the popularized names associated with the monthly full moons, but the significance of each one may vary across Native American tribes.

LUNAR AND SOLAR ECLIPSES

There will be one more total lunar eclipse and a partial solar eclipse in 2022, according to The Old Farmer’s Almanac.

Partial solar eclipses occur when the moon passes in front of the sun but only blocks some of its light. Be sure to wear proper eclipse glasses to safely view solar eclipses, as the sun’s light can be damaging to the eye.

A partial solar eclipse on Oct. 25 will be visible to those in Greenland, Iceland, Europe, northeastern Africa, the Middle East, western Asia, India and western China. Neither of the partial solar eclipses will be visible from North America.

A total lunar eclipse will also be on display for those in Asia, Australia, the Pacific, South America and North America on Nov. 8 between 3:01 a.m. ET and 8:58 a.m. ET — but the moon will be setting for those in eastern regions of North America.

METEOR SHOWERS

Check out the remaining 11 showers that will peak in 2022:

  • Southern delta Aquariids: July 29-30
  • Alpha Capricornids: July 30-31
  • Perseids: Aug. 11-12
  • Orionids: Oct. 20-21
  • Southern Taurids: Nov. 4-5
  • Northern Taurids: Nov. 11-12
  • Leonids: Nov. 17-18
  • Geminids: Dec. 13-14
  • Ursids: Dec. 21-22

If you live in an urban area, you may want to drive to a place that isn’t littered with city lights to get the best view.

Find an open area with a wide view of the sky. Make sure you have a chair or blanket so you can look straight up. And give your eyes about 20 to 30 minutes — without looking at your phone or other electronics — to adjust to the darkness so the meteors will be easier to spot.

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