Solar System: Things to Know This Week

Our solar system is huge, let us break it down for you. Here are a few things you should know this week: 

1. Closeup of a King

For the first time since it entered orbit around Jupiter in July, our Juno spacecraft has flown close to the king of planets—this time with its eyes wide open. During the long, initial orbit, Juno mission managers spent time checking out the spacecraft “from stem to stern,” but the science instruments were turned off as a precaution. During this latest pass, Juno’s camera and other instruments were collecting data the whole time. Initial reports show that all went well, and the team has released a new close-up view that Juno captured of Jupiter’s north polar region. We can expect to see more close-up pictures of Jupiter and other data this week.

+Check in with Juno

2. Getting Ready to Rocket

Our OSIRIS-REx mission leaves Earth next week, the first leg of a journey that will take it out to an asteroid called Bennu. The mission will map the asteroid, study its properties in detail, then collect a physical sample to send back home to Earth. The ambitious endeavor is slated to start off on Sept. 8.

+See what it takes to prep for a deep space launch

3. New Moon Rising

The Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO) has already mapped the entire surface of Earth’s moon in brilliant detail, but the mission isn’t over yet. Lunar explorers still have questions, and LRO is poised to help answer them.

+See what’s next for the mission

4. A Mock-Eclipse Now

We don’t have to wait until next year to see the moon cross in front of the sun. From its vantage point in deep space, our Solar Dynamics Observatory (SDO) sometimes sees just that. Such an event is expected on Sept. 1.

+See the latest sun pictures from SDO

5. Jupiter’s Cousins

Our galaxy is home to a bewildering variety of Jupiter-like worlds: hot ones, cold ones, giant versions of our own giant, pint-sized pretenders only half as big around. Astronomers say that in our galaxy alone, a billion or more such Jupiter-like worlds could be orbiting stars other than our sun. And we can use them to gain a better understanding of our solar system and our galactic environment, including the prospects for finding life.

Want to learn more? Read our full list of the 10 things to know this week about the solar system HERE

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Mock Mars Mission: A success!

Recently the team of notional explorers emerged from the dome they’d been locked inside for a year. It was a NASA-funded experiment run by the University of Hawaii.

The reason? To test the human capacity for exploration. Any possible missions to Mars will have incredible constraints on things like personal space, diversity of food, and privacy. In other words, any person on such a journey would have their capacity for dealing with such a lifestyle tested.

…and tested it was.

The crew consisted of a soil scientist, a medical doctor (and journalist), a physicist, an engineer, a biologist and an architect.

Together they just emerged from their “Mars base” in Hawaii.

Although there were of course difficult times, the crew is unanimous in their opinion that a long duration space expedition faces no unreasonable problems in terms of the human psychological impact.

So for all you biologists, pre meds, engineers, physicists, doctors and soil science students… buckle up - you might be going to Mars one day.

(Image credit: AFP)