Solar System: Things to Know This Week

Learn about the science of photonics to create space communications, get updates on Juno, mining data from Voyager for new discoveries and more.

1. Carried on a Beam of Light

One of our major priorities  is to make space communications more efficient. While our communications systems have matured over the decades, they still use the same radio-frequency system developed in the earliest days of the agency. After more than 50 years, we’re investing in new ways to increase data rates while also finding more efficient communications systems. Photonics–generating, detecting and manipulating particles of light–may provide the solution.

+ See how it works

2. It’s No Joke: Two New Moons for the Seventh Planet

Voyager 2 spacecraft flew by Uranus 30 years ago, but researchers are still making discoveries using the data it gathered. A new study led by University of Idaho researchers suggests there could be two tiny, previously undiscovered moonlets orbiting near two of the planet’s rings.

+ Find out how they were discovered

3. Vortex of Mystery

As southern winter solstice approaches in the Saturn system, our Cassini spacecraft has revealed dramatic seasonal changes in the atmospheric temperature and composition of Saturn’s largest moon, Titan. Winter is taking a grip on Titan’s southern hemisphere, and a strong, whirling vortex has intensified in the upper atmosphere over the south pole.

+See more

4. The Spiders of Mars

Ten thousand volunteers viewing images of Martian south polar regions have helped identify targets for closer inspection, yielding new insights about seasonal slabs of frozen carbon dioxide and erosional features known as “spiders.” From the comfort of home, the volunteers have been exploring the surface of Mars by reviewing images from the Context Camera on our Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter and identifying certain types of seasonal terrains near Mars’ south pole.

+ Learn more and see how you can join in

5. Better Safe Than Sorry

On Oct. 18, when Juno’s onboard computer entered safe mode, early indications were a software performance monitor induced a reboot of the spacecraft’s onboard computer, turning off instruments and a few non-critical spacecraft components, and it confirmed the spacecraft was pointed toward the sun to ensure the solar arrays received power. On Oct. 24, the spacecraft   left safe mode and has successfully completed a minor burn of its thruster engines in preparation for its next close flyby of Jupiter. The team is still investigating the cause of the reboot and assessing two main engine check valves. The burn, which lasted just over 31 minutes, changed Juno’s orbital velocity by about 5.8 mph (2.6 meters per second) and consumed about 8 pounds (3.6 kilograms) of propellant. Juno will perform its next science flyby of Jupiter on Dec. 11, with time of closest approach to the gas giant occurring at 12:03 p.m. EDT. The complete suite of Juno’s science instruments, as well as the JunoCam imager, will be collecting data during the upcoming flyby.

+ Get the details

Discover the full list of 10 things to know about our solar system this week HERE.

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Join us in a celebration today (you may need a pick me up).

It’s Carl Sagan’s birthday, and in remembrance of him, let me tell you a bit about the Golden Record…

The “Golden Record” is attached to both Voyager 1 & 2. It is a time capsule of sorts, intended to communicate the story of our species and our home planet to extraterrestrials. A similar plaque was attached to Voyager’s predecessors, Pioneer 10 and 11, but the golden record contains a much more whole and ambitious theme. The Voyager message is carried by a phonograph record; a 12-inch gold-plated copper disk containing sounds and images selected to portray the diversity of life and culture on Earth.

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Glancing up, he caught sight of the heart I had traced on the windowpane, black against the misted glass, and smiled.

“What’s that?”

“Just silliness,” I said.

He reached up and took my right hand, the ball of his thumb caressing the small scar at the base of my own thumb, the letter “J” he had made with the point of his knife, just before I left him, before Culloden.

“I didna ask,” he said, “whether ye wished to come with me. I could leave ye here; Jared would have ye stay wi’ him and welcome, here or in Paris. Or ye could go back to Lallybroch, if ye wished.”

“No, you didn’t ask,” I said. “Because you knew bloody well what the answer would be.”

We looked at each other and smiled. The lines of heartsickness and weariness had lifted from his face. The candlelight glowed softly on the burnished crown of his head as he bent and gently kissed the palm of my hand.

The wind still whistled in the chimney, and the rain ran down the glass like tears outside, but it no longer mattered. Now I could sleep.

   ~ Voyager

“Is it Bree’s daddy?” he asked softly.

I jerked my head up and stared at him. 

“How the hell did you know that?” I said. He smiled slightly. 

“I’ve known Bree how long? Ten years, at least.” He shook his head. “She’s got a lot of you in her, L. J., but I’ve never seen anything of Frank. Daddy’s got red hair, huh?” he asked. “And he’s one big son of a bitch, or everything I learned in Genetics 101 was a damn lie.” 

 “Yes,” I said, and felt a kind of delirious excitement at that simple admission. Until I had told Bree herself and Roger about Jamie, I had said nothing about him for twenty years. The joy of suddenly being able to talk freely about him was intoxicating. 

 “Yes, he’s big and red-haired, and he’s Scottish,” I said, making Joe’s eyes go round once more.


Two Become One

The pressure of his fingers on mine increased. I had the impression that we were holding each other up; if either of us let go or looked away, we would both fall down. Oddly, the feeling was mildly reassuring. Whatever we were in for, at least there were two of us.

A Marriage Takes Place, Outlander.

Gently, he turned me away from him and fitted himself to my back so we lay nested together. His hand cupped my breast, not in invitation or demand, but because it seemed to belong there.

“Don’t be afraid,” he whispered into my hair. “There’s the two of us now.”

Revelations Of The Bridal Chamber, Outlander.

I reached up and drew my hand gently down his temple, his ear, the cheek and jaw that I could see. My hand went to the nape of his neck, under the clubbed bronze hair, and he raised his head at last, and cupped my face between his hands, love glowing strong in the dark blue eyes.

“Dinna be afraid,” he said softly. “There’s the two of us now.”

A. Malcolm, Printer, Voyager.