As things here on Earth become increasingly more Theatre of the Absurd, NASA's Cassini spacecraft whizzes millions of kilometres away, unaffected by our intra-human squabbling. After 20 years of heading toward and exploring the Saturn system, on September 15, Cassini will plunge itself into the planet's atmosphere, broadcasting the whole thing like a tearfully beautiful sequel to The Iron Giant.
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Two years ago, NASA's New Horizons spacecraft flew by Pluto, capturing never-before-seen views of the dwarf planet and its icy heart. Since then, the intrepid spacecraft has been speeding toward a reddish object in the Kuiper Belt known as MU69 (nice). It's set to rendezvous with its next target in less than two years. But new observations from the New Horizons team show that the spacecraft may be in for more than it bargained for.
Image cache: NASA's "Images of Change" features a bunch of interactive before-and-after images of locations on our humble and incredible home planet, showing change over time periods ranging from centuries to days.
The changes shown in these images are from a range of reasons - climate change, urbanisation, fires and floods.
Sometimes, NASA gets to have a bit of fun — with asteroids. This fall, the agency will have a grand ol' time with one such object called 2012 TC4, which will whizz past us at a comfortable distance of about 4,200 miles (6,800 kilometers) at its absolute closest. Since the asteroid is pretty small — only about 30 to 100 feet (roughly nine to 30 meters) across — this is the perfect chance for NASA's Planetary Defence Coordination Office to test out its techniques.
It's been a bad couple of weeks for priceless artefacts from NASA history. First, a moon-dusted sample bag from Apollo 11 was privately auctioned, and now a solid gold moon lander replica that was gifted to Neil Armstrong in 1969 has been stolen from his museum. On Sunday, a NASA investigator worried that the thieves don't even know what they have on their hands.
The ending of NASA's Cassini mission is a truly intoxicating cocktail of emotions; on one hand, the data from this 20-year-long mission will fuel scientific research for years to come. On the other hand, where are we going to get our regular updates on everyone's favourite gas giant? What about the photos? Seriously, our Saturn-induced FOMO is about to skyrocket.
Thanks largely to NASA's Kepler space telescope, astronomers have found thousands of exoplanets lurking outside our solar system. Finding what creeps around those planets, however, has proven itself to be incredibly challenging. While scientists have had a few close calls with exomoons over the years, so far, no discovery's been legit. But a group of astronomers at Columbia University now think they have found an exomoon for real, roughly 4000 lightyears away.
Video: Pluto is the unquestionably the most goth (dwarf) planet in the solar system. Its cold, icy heart and underworld-themed moons are absolutely spooktacular, and yet none of us will ever get to see them in person. Thankfully, new video from NASA gives us an up close and personal tour of our favourite (former) planet. It's almost as metal as the real deal.
Jupiter is the biggest, angriest cup of coffee in the solar system. In snapshots from NASA's Juno spacecraft, Jupiter's swirling clouds look divinely creamy — but the planet is anything but placid. Jovian storms, chaotic and spectacular as they are, offer a stark reminder of how awesome and terrifying the universe really is. Goddamn are they both.
A mission to demonstrate an asteroid deflection technique just got a NASA promotion to the design phase. Called DART, the plan would see a refrigerator-sized spacecraft smash into a non-threatening asteroid, causing it to move ever so slightly from its original orbital path. The project is seen as an important first step in developing a planetary shield against incoming asteroids.
Four years ago, an asteroid the size of a city bus screamed across the skies of Chelyabinsk, Russia, shattering glass around a 100km perimeter and sending 1200 people to hospitals with related injuries. In an effort to learn more about these rare but dangerous encounters with objects from space, NASA has used a supercomputer to recreate the moment an asteroid of comparable size hits the atmosphere.
There's a crapload of debris orbiting our planet and potentially posing a hazard to our astronauts and our satellites. One estimate says there are 21,000 pieces of space junk larger than 10 centimeters, that could collide with other objects at velocities ten times faster than a bullet. How do we get it down? You can't just grab any old space debris with claws, and even if you could, grippers can be unwieldily. So a team of scientists thought, what about sticky stuff?
Uranus is the loneliest thing in the solar system. It hasn't had contact with anyone in over 30 years, since NASA's Voyager 2 spacecraft whizzed by it on 24 January 1986. Thankfully, some good folks at NASA and elsewhere are advocating for missions to Uranus and its Ice Giant companion, Neptune, which could take place at some point in the next few decades.