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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Didd you know that there is a satellite that orbits our planet and is set to crash-land on Earth in 8 million years? Its mission may surprise you. 

NASA has created satellites called LAGEOS, which are basically scientific satellites that study our planet. The LAGEOS satellite orbits our planet so that it can be seen from several ground stations around the world. LAGEOS design is beautiful, it is composed of an aluminum-covered brass sphere, the satellite is covered with 426 cube-corner retroreflectors which makes the Satellite look literally like a giant golf ball. Its primary mission isn’t that of carrying a message to the future inhabitants of our planet, but rather studying and monitoring its development. The main goal of the satellites is to accurately measure Earth’s shape and study the tectonic movements which are associated with continental drift.

So what makes this satellite so important? Well, the satellite is set to crash-land on our planet in 8 million years, carrying a special message to anyone that will inhabit our planet in the distant future. The message carried by LAGEOS are three different maps of Earth: One that is 268 million years old, one showing how Earth looks today and another map will show how the planet will look in the future. But who will inhabit our planet in 8 million years? Humans? Aliens? Or will life cease to exist on planet Earth?

Imagine that life “reboots” on our planet as it is believed to have happened millions of years ago. Primitive humans are inhabiting the planet and a weird sphere crash-lands on the planet. What would these “future” beings think the device is? Would they associate the LAGEOS satellite to celestial deities and gods? Perhaps like our ancestors did thousands of years ago?. If we have placed such a device into orbit around our planet, would it be weird if another species had done the same? And is it possible that there is written evidence of such devices in ancient texts and depictions found around the world. The LAGEOS satellite immediately makes me think of the famous black knight satellite!!!

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)

The star closest to the Sun has a planet similar to the Earth. As announced a couple of days ago, recent observations confirmed that this planet not only exists but inhabits a zone where its surface temperature could allow liquid water, a key ingredient for life on Earth. It is not yet known if this planet, Proxima b, has any life. Even if not, its potential ability to sustain liquid water might make it a good first hop for humanity’s future trips out into the Milky Way Galaxy. Although the planet’s parent star, Proxima Centauri, is cooler and redder than our Sun, one of the other two stars in the Alpha Centauri star system is very similar to our Sun. The featured image shows the sky location of Proxima Centauri in southern skies behind the telescope that made many of the discovery observations: ESO’s 3.6-meter telescope in La Silla, Chile. The discovered planet orbits close in – so close one year there takes only 11 days on Earth. The planet was discovered by the ESO’s Pale Red Dot collaboration. Although seemingly unlikely, if Proxima b does have intelligent life, at 4.25 light years distance it is close enough to Earth for two-way communication.

Object Names: Proxima B

Image Type: Astronomical

Credit: Y. Beletsky (LCO), ESO, Red Dot Team

Time And Space