solar mission


Scientists at the Wageningen University in the Netherlands were to successfully grow edible vegetables in soil similar to that found on Mars. Tests done on the harvest showed that the plants contained ‘no dangerous levels’ of heavy metals and researchers declared the results promising. Although the experiment did not take place in actual Martian soil, scientists did use dirt from Earth to create a mix that was as close as possible to soil found on the surface of Mars. The experiment found that radishes, peas, tomatoes, cress, rocket and rye all flourished in Martian soil. The original experiment took place in April 2015, with the final harvest finished in October 2015. Inside a glass house, the plants were cultivated under constant temperature, humidity and light conditions and under Earth atmosphere. 'This is because we expect that first crop growth on Mars and moon will take place in underground rooms to protect the plants from the hostile environment including cosmic radiation’, said lead researcher Dr Wamelink. This experiment is in an important step in the journey of humans to Mars as soils from Mars are known to contain toxic heavy metals such as lead, arsenic and mercury. If future colonists were to ingest these metals while eating Martian crops, it would be devastating for their health and for the colony.

Read more about this fascinating story on:

“May well have been one small step for Neil, but it’s a heck of a big leap for me!” - Bruce McCandless

On February 7th, 1984 – the fourth day of STS 41-B – astronauts Bruce McCandless and Robert Stewart performed the first untethered spacewalks, operating the Manned Maneuvering Unit (MMU) for the first time. McCandless, the first human Earth-orbiting satellite, ventured out 320 feet (98 m) from the orbiter, while Stewart tested the “work station” foot restraint at the end of the Remote Manipulator System. On the seventh day of the mission, both astronauts performed an EVA to practice capture procedures for the Solar Maximum Mission satellite retrieval and repair operation, which was planned for the next mission, STS-41-C.

20 Years of the Solar and Heliospheric Observatory

The Solar and Heliospheric Observatory, SOHO for short, has captured the imagination of scientists and the public alike for two decades now. We teamed up with the European Space Agency (ESA) on SOHO, which observes the sun from space. It was launched 20 years ago this week, on Dec. 2, 1995, with the mission to study the internal structure of our neighborhood star, its atmosphere and the origin of the solar wind. SOHO sends spectacular data daily, and has led scientists to a wealth of understanding.

Here are the top 5 things you need to know about SOHO, the sun and other solar observation missions:

1. SOHO Set Out for Space with an Ambitious Mission

SOHO was designed to answer three fundamental scientific questions about the sun: What are the structure and dynamics of the solar interior? Why does the solar corona exist and how is it heated to such an extremely high temperature? Where is the solar wind produced and how is it accelerated? Clues about the solar interior come from studying seismic waves that appear as ripples on the sun’s surface, a technique called helioseismology.

2. SOHO Enjoys a Great View

SOHO commands an uninterrupted view of the sun, while always staying within easy communication range of controllers at home. The space-based observatory moves around the sun in step with the Earth, by slowly orbiting around a unique point in space called the First Lagrangian Point (L1). There, the combined gravity of the Earth and sun keep SOHO in a position that’s always between the sun and the Earth. The L1 point is about 1 million miles (about 1.5 million kilometers) away from Earth (about four times the distance to the Moon).

3. Bonus Discoveries: Lots of Comets

Besides watching the sun, SOHO has become the most prolific discoverer of comets in astronomical history. In September 2015, SOHO found its 3000th comet. Sometimes the spacecraft’s instruments capture comets plunging to their death as they collide with the sun.

4. Extra Innings

SOHO was meant to operate until 1998, but it was so successful that ESA and NASA decided to prolong its life several times and endorsed several mission extensions. Because of this, the mission has been able to observe an entire 11-year solar cycle and much of the next.

5. Keep Your Eye (Safely) on the Sun

You can see what SOHO sees, almost in real time. The latest images from the spacecraft, updated several times daily, are available online. Take a look HERE

Also, make sure to follow us on Tumblr for your regular dose of space:


As comets near the Sun, they start to change.

The light materials they’re made of, things like ammonia and water ice, start to undergo changes due to the heat of the Sun and the presence of the solar wind.

The Rosetta mission, currently in orbit around Comet 67P (and on 67P) have been taking close ups of the comet as it changes. You can see streamers beginning to form on the comet’s surface. Also of note is that there are several potential fractures appearing on the comet.

It will be exciting to watch 67P’s cometary tails form.

(Image credit: ESA)

Solar System: Things to Know This Week

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

1. Science at the Edge

As the New Horizons spacecraft speeds away at more than 31,000 miles per hour (14 km/s) it continues to explore the Kuiper Belt, the region of icy bodies beyond Neptune. New Horizons has now twice observed 1994 JR1, a 90-mile-wide object orbiting more than 3 billion miles from the sun.

2. A Spaceship, Refined

This artist’s rendering shows our Europa mission spacecraft, which is being developed for a launch sometime in the 2020s. The mission will place a spacecraft in orbit around Jupiter to explore the giant planet’s moon Europa. This updated concept image shows tow large solar arrays extending from the sides of the spacecraft, to which the mission’s ice-penetrating radar antennas are attached. A saucer-shaped high-gain antenna is also side mounted with a magnetometer boom placed next to it. Find out more about the spacecraft HERE.

3. Sojourn at Saturn

The Cassini spacecraft is hard at work this week, orbiting Saturn to study the planet and its rings. The recent pictures are spectacular, take a look at them HERE.

4. Talking Juno

Our Juno mission arrives at Jupiter on July 4, and that presents a unique opportunity for educators, science communicators and anyone interested in space exploration. We are providing a growing set of Juno-related information resources. Take a look at them HERE.

5. Now THAT’S a Long Distance Call

How do explorers on Earth talk to astronauts and robotic spacecraft flung across the far reaches of space? They use the remarkable technology deployed by our Space Communications and Navigation (SCaN) Program Office. This month, SCaN is celebrating its 10th anniversary of managing the ultimate network. Find out how it works HERE.

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

Make sure to follow us on Tumblr for your regular dose of space:

Since November 2000, people have been living continuously on the International Space Station. To celebrate humanity’s 15th anniversary off planet Earth, consider this snapshot from space of our galaxy and our home world posing together beyond the orbital outpost. The Milky Way stretches below the curve of Earth’s limb in the scene that also records a faint red, extended airglow. The galaxy’s central bulge appears with starfields cut by dark rifts of obscuring interstellar dust. The picture was taken by Astronaut Scott Kelly on August 9, 2015, the 135th day of his one-year mission in space.

Image Credit: NASA, Scott Kelly

ESA Rosetta has just released this marvelous video clip of 3 images,18 minutes apart, of a spectacular outburst on Comet 67P. This is what happens when comets, in their orbits around the Sun, start getting close enough for the ices they are made of to warm, turn to vapor, and erupt from below the dark, encrusted surface to form a jet, often entraining icy and rocky particles in the process.

It is the growing number and strength of such jets that form as the comet nears the Sun that produce the magnificent tails that can stretch long and mythical across the night skies of Earth.

And here, you are witnessing the process from its beginnings.

Hosanna to Comet 67P!

ESA: Outburst in action


L-26 hours (9:00AM EDT, May 19, 2015)

The United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket carrying the AFSPC-5 mission rolled to SLC-41 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station earlier this morning. The rocket will launch the fourth X-37B/Orbital Test Vehicle mission for the U.S. Air Force.

A fleet of 11 cube sats will be deployed as secondary payloads following the mini space shuttle’s deployment into orbit, including The Planetary Society’s LightSail spacecraft, a solar sail demonstration mission.

Pluto’s Wright Mons in Color

Scientists with NASA’s New Horizons mission have assembled this highest-resolution color view of one of two potential cryovolcanoes spotted on the surface of Pluto by the New Horizons spacecraft in July 2015.

This feature, known as Wright Mons, was informally named by the New Horizons team in honor of the Wright brothers. At about 90 miles (150 kilometers) across and 2.5 miles (4 kilometers) high, this feature is enormous. If it is in fact an ice volcano, as suspected, it would be the largest such feature discovered in the outer solar system.

Mission scientists are intrigued by the sparse distribution of red material in the image and wonder why it is not more widespread. Also perplexing is that there is only one identified impact crater on Wright Mons itself, telling scientists that the surface (as well as some of the crust underneath) was created relatively recently. This is turn may indicate that Wright Mons was volcanically active late in Pluto’s history.

This composite image includes pictures taken by the New Horizons spacecraft’s Long Range Reconnaissance Imager (LORRI) on July 14, 2015, from a range of about 30,000 miles (48,000 kilometers), showing features as small as 1,500 feet (450 meters) across. Sprinkled across the LORRI mosaic is enhanced color data from the Ralph/Multispectral Visible Imaging Camera (MVIC) gathered about 20 minutes after the LORRI snapshots were taken, from a range of 21,000 miles (34,000 kilometers) and at a resolution of about 2,100 feet (650 meters) per pixel. The entire scene is 140 miles (230 kilometers) across.

Image Credit: NASA/JHUAPL/SwRI