The end is near. On September 15, 2017, NASA’s Cassini spacecraft will end its mission as well as its very existence with a plunge into the atmosphere of the very planet it has been orbiting since June 2004. It’s a maneuver intended to protect the pristine environments of Saturn’s icy moons, some of which harbor hidden reserves of liquid water, from potential impact contamination by an incapacitated spacecraft at some distant time in the future. But even though the reasons are noble, there’s no doubt that the final flight of Cassini and its inevitable loss will be a sad event for all those — myself very much included — who have followed along on its journey of discovery all these years. (Literally my first feature post here was a picture from Cassini.)
The video above, released today by NASA, is a poignant look both back at Cassini’s voyages and ahead at its Grand Finale, the last and most daring part of its mission at Saturn. These last few months will be bittersweet for Cassini fans, as every week will bring us closer to the end but also new and breathtaking views of Saturn…up to and including one last “family portrait” of the planet, its beautiful rings, and family of amazing moons.
Must be dusty in here, there’s something in my eye…
The end phase of the mission begins April 22. Follow along with the Grand Finale here.
The first mission to successfully* send a rover to Mars, NASA’s Mars Pathfinder, launched on Dec. 4, 1996. It was a “budget” Discovery mission designed to demonstrate a low-cost method for delivering a set of science instruments to Mars and sent the first remote-controlled vehicle to be used on another planet. Solar-powered and only a foot in height, the little six-wheeled Sojourner was the foundation for all future Mars rovers…and, along with the Carl Sagan Memorial Station, gave us our best views of the Martian surface since the Viking 1 and 2 landers.
Happy New Year! Just four days into 2017 NASA announced its pick for two new Discovery missions to explore our solar system: one to investigate a few of the “Trojan” asteroids that Jupiter has gathered into its orbit with its mighty gravity, and another to visit the remains of an ancient planet’s metallic core!
“These are true missions of discovery that integrate into NASA’s larger strategy of investigating how the solar system formed and evolved,” says Jim Green, NASA’s Planetary Science Director. “We’ve explored terrestrial planets, gas giants, and a range of other bodies orbiting the sun… These additional pieces of the puzzle will help us understand how the sun and its family of planets formed, changed over time, and became places where life could develop and be sustained – and what the future may hold.”
Find out these new missions’ names, launch dates, and more below:
Turns out there is something new under the Sun, at least to us; on Tuesday, April 26 scientists announced the discovery of a new moon in the Solar System—but it’s not around Earth, or Jupiter, or Saturn, or any of the planets that you’ve long been familiar with. This new moon is orbiting a distant world even farther away and smaller than Pluto: the dwarf planet Makemake (pronounced mah-kay mah-kay), located deep in the Kuiper Belt and currently over 52 times farther away from the Sun than we are.
In what has truly turned out to be a momentous occasion in astrophysics, today scientists announced the first-ever direct observation of gravitational waves by the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-wave Observatory (LIGO) experiment, which consists of two enormous detector facilities located in Louisiana and Washington state and an international consortium of thousands of researchers.
First predicted by Albert Einstein in 1915, gravitational waves are the “ripples” in the fabric of space-time created by exceptionally turbulent and powerful cosmic events. Physicists have accepted their existence for decades and in recent years have even observed their effects, but only with the incredible sensitivity of the NSF-funded advanced LIGO instrument has their direct detection been made possible.
“This was truly a scientific moon shot, and we did it. We landed on the moon.”
– David Reitze, Executive Director of LIGO