Greenbelt, MD – As the search for life on distant planets heats up, NASA’s Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS) is bringing this hunt closer to home. Launching in 2017-2018, TESS will identify planets orbiting the brightest stars just outside our solar system using what’s known as the transit method.
When a planet passes in front of, or transits, its parent star, it blocks some of the star’s light. TESS searches for these telltale dips in brightness, which can reveal the planet’s presence and provide additional information about it.
Written by Sarah Schlieder
Greenbelt, MD – NASA’s OSIRIS-REx spacecraft will launch September 2016 and travel to a near-Earth asteroid known as Bennu to harvest a sample of surface material and return it to Earth for study. The science team will be looking for something special. Ideally, the sample will come from a region in which the building blocks of life may be found.
To identify these regions on Bennu, the Origins, Spectral Interpretation, Resource Identification, Security-Regolith Explorer (OSIRIS-REx) team equipped the spacecraft with an instrument that will measure the spectral signatures of Bennu’s mineralogical and molecular components.
Washington, D.C. – July is always a good time to assess where U.S. human space exploration has been and where it’s going. This year, July 20th marks the 40th anniversary of Viking, which in 1976 became the first spacecraft to land on Mars.
And just seven years — to the day — before Viking’s amazing feat, humans first set foot on another world, when Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin set the Apollo 11 lunar module Eagle down in the moon’s Sea of Tranquility on July 20th, 1969.
Washington, D.C. – It takes a little imagination to wish some favorite fictional universes into existence. But, for legions of “Star Trek” fans, they don’t have to wish: one star system really exists in our Milky Way galaxy.
In Star Trek lore, Vulcan is the home of logic, learning and the deeply beloved first officer Mr. Spock. While Vulcan is fictional, the star system it belongs to–40 Eridani–is very real. It’s located only 16.5 light-years away from Earth and its primary star can be spotted with the naked eye.
Written by Guy Webster
Pasadena, CA – NASA’s Mars rover Curiosity is now selecting rock targets for its laser spectrometer — the first time autonomous target selection is available for an instrument of this kind on any robotic planetary mission.
Using software developed at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, California, Curiosity is now frequently choosing multiple targets per week for a laser and a telescopic camera that are parts of the rover’s Chemistry and Camera (ChemCam) instrument. Most ChemCam targets are still selected by scientists discussing rocks or soil seen in images the rover has sent to Earth, but the autonomous targeting adds a new capability.
Written by Elizabeth Landau
Pasadena, CA – An international team of astronomers has discovered and confirmed a treasure trove of new worlds using NASA’s Kepler spacecraft on its K2 mission. Out of 197 initial planet candidates, scientists have confirmed 104 planets outside our solar system. Among the confirmed is a planetary system comprising four promising planets that could be rocky.
These four planets, all between 20 and 50 percent larger than Earth by diameter, are orbiting the M dwarf star K2-72, found 181 light-years away in the direction of the Aquarius constellation. The host star is less than half the size of the sun and less bright.
Written by Felicia Chou
Washington, D.C. – NASA’s Juno is now poised to shine a spotlight on the origins and interior structure of the largest planet in our solar system.
As we wait for Juno’s first close-up images of Jupiter (to be taken August 27th during the spacecraft’s next pass by the planet), NASA continues to explore our solar system to help answer fundamental questions about how we came to be, where we are going and whether we are alone in the universe.
Written by Guy Webster
Pasadena, CA – After an extensive review process and passing a major development milestone, NASA is ready to proceed with final design and construction of its next Mars rover, currently targeted to launch in summer of 2020 and arrive on the Red Planet in February 2021.
The Mars 2020 rover will investigate a region of Mars where the ancient environment may have been favorable for microbial life, probing the Martian rocks for evidence of past life. Throughout its investigation, it will collect samples of soil and rock, and cache them on the surface for potential return to Earth by a future mission.
Washington, D.C. – Where were you at 7:49am Eastern Time on July 14th, 2015?
Three billion miles from Earth, NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft, moving at speeds that would get it from New York to Los Angeles in about four minutes, was pointing cameras, spectrometers, and other sensors at Pluto and its moons – distant worlds that humankind had never seen up close – recording hundreds of pictures and other data that would forever change our view of the outer solar system.
Written by Karen O’Flaherty
Pasadena, CA – The European Space Agency’s orbiting X-ray observatory, XMM-Newton, has proved the existence of a “gravitational vortex” around a black hole. The discovery, aided by NASA’s Nuclear Spectroscopic Telescope Array (NuSTAR) mission, solves a mystery that has eluded astronomers for more than 30 years, and will allow them to map the behavior of matter very close to black holes. It could also open the door to future investigations of Albert Einstein’s general relativity.
Matter falling into a black hole heats up as it plunges to its doom. Before it passes into the black hole and is lost from view forever, it can reach millions of degrees. At that temperature it shines X-rays into space.
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