“Attempt no landings there?” Ok, FINE. We’ll just fly a spacecraft through Europa’s newly-discovered plumes and get a taste of its underground ocean that way!
Because it has them, and so we could.
This was the big news from NASA, ESA, and Hubble researchers today: Jupiter’s ice-covered moon Europa (yes, the one from 2010) has Enceladus-like plumes of water vapor near its south pole. What’s more, these plumes appear to vary depending on the moon’s distance from Jupiter; the giant planet’s gravity is “squeezing” Europa, causing the plumes to shut off when it’s closer and turn on when farther away. Now I’m no scientist, but I’d call that pretty solid evidence for a subsurface ocean… and darn good reason to scramble some exploration missions out to Europa tout de suite!
It’s been 15 years since the first piece of what we now know as the International Space Station left the surface of our planet. It was Russia’s Zarya module, launched aboard a Proton rocket on Nov. 20, 1998, and the U.S. followed suit two weeks later with the Unity module sent aboard the shuttle Endeavour. Since then, in what is truly an international effort, the Station was assembled piece by piece until its ultimate ‘official’ completion in 2011 (more research instruments and upgrades have been added since then, of course.)
Orbiting the planet 16 times every day and consistently occupied since 2000, the ISS is not only an invaluable space research lab but also a testament to what we humans can do when we cooperate successfully and focus our energies and abilities toward a common goal, overcoming the challenges of national politics, economic difficulties, and even the barriers of language and culture. It is a lofty achievement, but the work that is done there each day is for the benefit of everyone.
And don’t forget about the view! Our planet is quite beautiful from 260 miles up — and the video above, assembled from time-lapse photos taken from the ISS and edited by David Peterson, shows that wonderfully. See a collection of photos taken from the Space Station here.
“Station is truly an engineering marvel and a testament to what we can accomplish when we all work together. I think one of the most enduring legacies will be the international cooperation we have achieved in building and operating it. It has provided us the framework for how we will move forward as we explore beyond our home planet, not as explorers from any one country, but as explorers from planet Earth.”
– Kennedy Space Center Director Bob Cabana
Read more about the 15th anniversary of ISS here, and check out a cool infographic of Station facts and figures below:
Although similar in size to Earth, the planet-next-door Venus is typically perceived as a hellish inferno of caustic clouds, crushing pressures and kiln-like temperatures. And while those are indeed all very much the case, Venus has recently been found to have a cooler side too… although it’s 125 km (77 miles) up in its atmosphere.
A Soyuz TMA-03M capsule descended to the steppes of Kazakhstan this morning at 4:14 a.m., returning Expedition 31 crew members Oleg Kononenko, Don Pettit and André Kuipers to Earth after 193 days working aboard the Space Station.
The dramatic photo above was captured by NASA photographer Bill Ingalls, showing the Soyuz vehicle as it parachuted down through the clouds.
More photos below…
The end is definitely near… for comet Lovejoy, at least. The bright sungrazing comet was discovered on December 2, 2011, by Australian amateur astronomer Terry Lovejoy using a ground-based telescope. It was quickly seen that the comet was on a doomsday dive toward the Sun and will not likely survive its close pass of our home star during the next several hours.
UPDATE: Lovejoy Lives! The comet re-emerged from the other side of the Sun after passing behind it tonight… this is one tough little traveler! See its revival here.
ESA’s Mars Express orbiter has imaged yet more evidence of a watery past on Mars with what appears to be the remains of a river delta, seen here, located just within the 40-mile (65-km) -wide Eberswalde Crater.
Formed over 3.7 billion years ago, Eberswalde Crater was in the top 4 list of possible landing sites for the Mars Science Laboratory, slated to launch this November. In the end Gale Crater was selected, but Eberswalde is still a fascinating place to study from orbit since it’s been suspected that the crater was once filled with liquid water. The discovery of this delta sure helps to confirm that theory! Read the rest of this entry
Deep gashes – called grabens – slice across the surface in the Nili Fossae region of Mars, seen above in an image from the Mars Express orbiter taken in February 2008.
A German word meaning “ditch”, a graben is a downthrust strip of land bordered by scarps on either side. They are typically caused by extension of the surface, and in the case of Nili Fossae may be the result of the impact that created the huge Isidis impact basin where they are found…formed as the Martian crust sagged beneath the weight of the lava flows that covered the area after the impact.