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Friday, 30 October 2015

Russia to go back to the Moon? Update: First new data from Cassini, Planetary Society interviews Andy Weir, amazing views of Pluto, and Yutu rover becomes a record breaker..

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Following a daring flyby of Enceladus, Saturn's ocean bearing moon, which took it to within 30km of the surface and right through the geysers themselves, the Cassini spacecraft has begun returning images and data. For more information on the flyby follow the title link

Above: A super-duper close up of the region the geysers come from - this close they're just a haze over the shot. Image courtesy of NASA

Above: A  distant shot of Enceladus, geysers in full blast. Courtesy of NASA
A chat with the Andy Weir, author of 'The Martian' 

The story behind the writing of The Martian - starting as a self published book and becoming one of this year's best reviewed films - is one of triumph over adversity, although not so much as the story itself (Sorry Mr Weir, kudos for the book and film but you didn't escape from Mars!). Planetary radio, always a good place to look for something interesting, has an interview with Andy Weir and it's well worth following the link to check out

Above: Publicity shot for 'The Martian'. It's clear to me why he got lost - his suit's orange, on a yellow/orange planet. Surely that was a bad fashion choice? Courtesy of Entertainment weekly.

Amazing photo of a crescent Pluto from New Horizons

This photograph was taken by the New Horizons spaceship fifteen minutes after it passed Pluto, I recommend you follow the link and get the expandable version - from the haze in the atmosphere to the mountains with sunlight hitting their tops, it really gives you a feeling for Pluto as  a world....

Above: The dwarf planet Pluto. Courtesy of NASA.

... what's more, some folk have already begun analysing the dark side of Pluto in this picture, and found that it's giving us hints of the terrain where New Horizons wasn't able to image....

Above: Pluto's dark side shows some mountainous terrain. Courtesy of Gladstoner on and NASA.

International Space Station to get 'hardware store'

The excitement over 3D printing in space continues to mount. The ability to produce tools and even working machines, using a 3D printer and some simple raw materials, is one that could transform how we work and explore in space, so it's not hard to see why - it could make any mission much more self sufficient, or even see simple spacecraft manufactured on orbit. As a next step in exploring the technologies potential the ISS will get their first zero gravity commercial 3D printer in 2016 - the space station has already tested a prototype and used it to make simple tools

Above: ISS crew members.

Above: The prototype 3D printer, being tested on Earth. Courtesy of NASA.

How SETI are trying to spot planets around Alpha Centauri

Alpha Centauri is the closest star system to Earth - a triple system made of two roughly Sun-like stars and one dwarf star (proxima centauri) SETI is attempting to develop a mission that could actually take a picture of a planet orbiting one of these stars. It's a full length talk so put a cup of (insert favourite beverage here) on!

Above: A talk by SETI on how they hope to image planets around the nearest stars. Courtesy of SETI.

Russia aims to land a man on the moon by 2029 

There's a lot of talk in space exploration - agencies often have big dreams but political realities often mean that the budget to make them happen often never shows. However that doesn't mean big dreams are a bad thing, and Russia seems determined to keep making it's mark on the solar system: They want to put a human back on the Moon by 2029, possibly involving a collaboration with ESA or China. While talk is cheap this has come from the mouth of Vladimir Solntsev, head of the Russian national space agency, who said: “A manned flight to the moon and lunar landing is planned for 2029.”

Above: The Russian Soyuz space capsules, still used to travel to the ISS today, were originally designed with Moon missions in mind.

Rosetta finds a 4 billion year old mystery on comet 67-P 

Oxygen is a common enough gas here on Earth, but that's because Earth is full of life forms that produce it: Oxygen is actually very reactive, and throughout the rest of the universe it quickly combines with other things and can only be found chemically bound to them. So it's kind of a mystery why ESA's Rosetta mission has found that comet 67-P is giving off quite a lot of the stuff - not bound with other things but oxygen all by itself. Since comets are thought to be frozen relics from four billion years ago, when our solar system was formed, this seems to be telling us something - no one knows what yet - about the ancient past. Rosetta is still investigating...

Above: An info graphic from ESA, describing the discovery of molecular oxygen on comet 67-P.

...and there might even still be a chance to wake up Philae. The Rosetta space probe will be moving closer to the surface of the comet in coming weeks, which boosts the chances for it to find the lost lander craft, Philae.

Yutu, the little chinese robot that landed on the Moon and then became stuck due to a mechanical malfunction, is still alive on the surface and has become the longest lived rover to ever visit the Moon. The little robot is still functioning, despite being unable to move and subjected to the harsh cold of the Lunar nights.
"Human history is relatively short, and people are brimming over with curiosity about the universe," said Ye Peijian, chief scientist with China's Chang'e-3 program. "We have to explore more by going out."

Above: Artists impression of the Yutu rover as the sun rises. Courtesy of Don Davis.

Gigantic explosion on the far side of the Sun

The Solar Dynamics Observatory and Solar and Heliospheric Observatory (SOHO) space craft have seen signs of a huge eruption on the far side of the Sun. The blast was so big that Earth is  being hit by the resulting particle storm over the Halloween weekend (which would cause aurora's and elevated radiation levels at high altitude), even though the explosion happened on the far side.
Above: The mysterious blast, as seen by the Solar Dynamics Observatory. The dots and lines aren't stars, they're high energy protons from the explosiion smashing into the space craft's detector.

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