NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft is way, way past Pluto now and still nearly a year away from its next encounter with an object in the Kuiper Belt, but that doesn’t mean it hasn’t been busy. In fact, the probe just broke the record for the farthest images from Earth ever taken by a spacecraft, with new images of a field of stars and two other Kuiper Belt objects. The new images break the record formerly held by the Voyager 1 spacecraft in 1990.
Thousands of exoplanets have been discovered so far, of many different types, but they all share one thing in common: they have all been found in our own galaxy. This is not surprising however, since of course they would be easier to detect than ones even farther away. But now, astronomers have reported the discovery of the first possible exoplanets in another galaxy, an incredible accomplishment, especially considering that the galaxy is 3.8 billion light-years away!
As we enter 2018, NASA’s Curiosity rover continues to be busy exploring on top of Vera Rubin Ridge, on the lower flanks of Mount Sharp. The rover is gradually making its way farther up the flanks, closing in the picturesque foothills in front of it. As it does so, Curiosity has made two new interesting discoveries, which may have implications for the possibility of life.
Happy New Year! As well as simply the start of a new year, today also marks another significant date – exactly one year from now, the New Horizons spacecraft will encounter its next target deep in the Kuiper Belt, much farther out than Pluto. On Jan. 1, 2019, New Horizons will fly past another Kuiper Belt Object (KBO) called 2014 MU69. This will be the most distant object to ever be visited by a spacecraft in our Solar System so far.
Wednesday was an exciting day for space exploration enthusiasts, as NASA announced the two finalist missions selected as part of its New Frontiers Program – a new robotic mission to be launched in the mid-2020s. The two winners are a sample return mission from a comet and a drone-like rotorcraft to further explore Saturn’s moon Titan. Other mission proposals which didn’t make the cut included a sample return mission from the Moon’s south pole, a new Venus lander, a Saturn atmospheric probe and a new Enceladus mission. However, two of those missions, for Enceladus and Venus, were selected for further technology development.