Space News & Blog Articles

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The best Star Wars Lego sets of 2021: Great deals and more

Here's a look at the best Lego Star Wars sets for 2021, some old, many new and all overflowing with the Force.

Ingenuity is now Mapping the Terrain Around Perseverance

Having eyes in the sky is useful for a variety of activities.  Everything from farming to military operations has benefited from the boom in drone usage, as the small aircraft track the progress of crop disease, enemy movements, or how awesome a professor skier looks going down a mountain.  Now the benefits of aerial surveillance has spread to other worlds as Perseverance is starting to map out its path with help from Ingenuity.

It has always been difficult to guide rovers over the Martian surface from over 200 million miles away.  NASA, and now China, have done surprisingly well so far by not having their rovers being stuck for any significant amount of time during their normal mission operation time.  However, campaigns such as “Free Spirit” show the devastating effect terrain can have on a rover.  So it is all the more important for rover handlers to know what they are driving over and how it might affect the rover itself.

The last image from Spirit before it lost contact with Earth.
Credit – Marco Di Lorenzo, Kenneth Kremer, NASA / JPL / Cornell

Normally this is done by very careful pathfinding.  There is an entire team at NASA that is dedicated solely to finding the best path forward for Perseverance and Curiosity.  In the past, such as with Spirit and Opportunity, rover navigators had to rely on space based images such as those provided by HiRISE and other orbiting satellites.  While useful, the resolution was less than desired, as they were only able to capture features measured about a meter.  Even smaller obstructions could prove fatal to the rovers, so drivers had to also rely on the cameras on the rovers themselves to ensure they weren’t falling into any sand pits or similar hazards.

That resolution problem has now been solved with Ingenuity. After it’s successful first few flights, which were focused on proving the idea of a helicopter working on another planet, the miniature aircraft switched roles to try to prove its usefulness as a scout for its larger rover companion.  

Ingenuity’s view of the Séítah dune field on it’s ninth flight. Part of the helicopter’s landing gear can be seen on the left side of the screen.
Credit – NASA / JPL – Caltech

On its ninth flight, Ingenuity successfully transmitted back some images of the tracks Perseverance had already made, as well as some new areas the rover is approaching.  Some of those areas will actually be inaccessible to the rover, making Ingenuity likely the only close up viewpoint that we will ever get of them.  A dune field, nicknamed Séítah, for example, is too difficult to traverse with the rover, but captured beautifully as Ingenuity flew right over it.

Ingenuity's view of the Séítah dune field on it's ninth flight. Part of the helicopter's landing gear can be seen on the left side of the screen.
Image of the Raised Ridges that Ingenuity captured on its ninth flight.
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NASA revives ailing Hubble Space Telescope with switch to backup computer

The Hubble Space Telescope has powered on once again! NASA was able to turn the telescope back on after successfully switching to a backup computer on the telescope following weeks of computer problems.

NASA celebrates New Horizons' historic Pluto flyby in 2015 with awesome new videos

NASA has released new visualisations of the dwarf planet Pluto and its largest moon Charon to commemorate the first-ever up close exploration of the distant worlds.

Rescuing Integral: No thrust? No problem

A year ago tomorrow, a failure on the Integral spacecraft meant it fired its thrusters for likely the last time. In the days since, the spacecraft in Earth orbit has continued to shed light on the violent gamma ray Universe, and it should soon be working even more efficiently than before, as mission control teams implement an ingenious new way to control the 18-year-old spacecraft.

Satellites map floods in western Europe

Image: Record rainfall has caused swollen rivers to burst their banks and wash away homes and other buildings in western Europe. Data from the Copernicus Sentinel-1 mission are being used to map flooded areas to help relief efforts.

Cosmic fireworks in nearby galaxies shine light on star formation

The brilliant fireworks of 90 nearby galaxies shine new light on how stars are born.

'Alien burp' may have been detected on Mars by NASA's Curiosity rover

Methane tends to only be made by biological life, so scientists are wondering if the source is from alien microbes.

Astronauts are growing chile peppers in space in spicy first

Chile peppers are growing on the International Space Station as part of a new experiment that aims to expand the range of space-grown foods ahead of a possible future mission to Mars.

Can we solve the black hole information paradox with 'photon spheres'?

Theories that attempt to resolve the so-called black hole information paradox predict that black holes are much more complicated than general relativity suggests.

Space weather is difficult to predict — with only an hour to prevent disasters on Earth

Recent developments at the forefront of astronomy allow us to observe that planets orbiting other stars have weather.

ERS: 30 years of outstanding achievements

ESA’s first Earth observation mission dedicated to understanding our planet, the European Remote Sensing satellite (ERS-1), was launched into orbit on 17 July 1991 – almost 30 years ago today. At the time of its launch, the ERS satellite was one of the most sophisticated spacecraft ever developed and launched by Europe, paving the way for satellite technology in the areas of atmosphere, land, ocean and ice monitoring. Today, we look back at some of the mission’s key accomplishments.

Marvel streaming guide: Where to watch the Marvel movies and TV shows online

Venus shines in the western twilight as Mars sinks away. Jupiter and Saturn rise in late dusk. And after dark, Scorpius shows off at its very best in the south.

The post This Week's Sky at a Glance, July 16 – 24 appeared first on Sky & Telescope.

Getting Started in Deep-Sky Astrophotography

Lima, the capital and largest city of Peru, is featured in this Copernicus Sentinel-2 image.

Beating the Heat in Astrophotography

Keeping your camera cool is an essential element to obtaining good clean images in astrophotography.

The post Beating the Heat in Astrophotography appeared first on Sky & Telescope.

New SpaceX drone ship arrives at Port Canaveral

A new SpaceX drone ship named “A Shortfall of Gravitas” was towed into Port Canaveral Thursday, completing a shuffling of SpaceX’s rocket landing platforms to support upcoming launches from Florida and California.

“A Shortfall of Gravitas” was towed from a construction facility in Louisiana after completing an initial series of sea trials. SpaceX teams at Port Canaveral will finish readying the drone ship for offshore landings of Falcon rocket boosters.

The name of the new landing platform is a nod to “Experiencing A Significant Gravitas Shortfall,” a starship featured in the “Culture” science fiction novel series by the late Scottish author Iain M. Banks.

SpaceX’s two other drone ships are also named for sentient, planet-sized ships in Banks’ novels: “Just Read the Instructions” and “Of Course I Still Love You.”

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Blue Origin reveals fourth crew member for Bezos spaceflight


Oliver Daemen, an 18-year-old Dutch student, will become the youngest person to fly in space. Credit: Blue Origin

An 18-year-old Dutch student will joint Jeff Bezos, his brother Mark and aviation pioneer Wally Funk next Tuesday when they blast off aboard the Amazon founder’s New Shepard rocket for its first sub-orbital flight to space with passengers on board.

The launching will come just nine days after Richard Branson flew to space aboard his own sub-orbital rocketplane, highlighting the billionaire battle to turn the dream of regularly scheduled commercial passenger flights to space into a profit-making reality.

The still-anonymous winner of an auction who paid $28 million to join Bezos and company next week was forced to pass up the opportunity because of schedule conflicts and plans to fly on a downstream mission, Blue Origin said in a statement Thursday.

Taking his place will be Oliver Daemen, who participated in the auction with his father and secured a seat on the New Shepard’s second commercial flight. When the auction winner pulled out, Blue Origin offered the seat to Daemen, who will be “the first paying customer” to fly aboard a New Shepard spacecraft.

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Why so much solar activity? Sun may be outpacing predictions.

Astronomers investigate the spiral arms of a young star's disk and find evidence of a disk so massive that it could collapse to form planets.

The post Gravitationally Unstable Disk May Collapse to Form Planets appeared first on Sky & Telescope.

NASA astronaut comes home to Houston after record-setting 355-day space mission

China's Zhurong Mars rover has given us nice, up-close looks at some of the hardware that helped it land safely on the Red Planet two months ago.