This striking view of Jupiter’s Great Red Spot and turbulent southern hemisphere was captured by NASA’s Juno spacecraft as it performed a close pass of the gas giant planet.
The Great Red Spot, a storm larger than the Earth and powerful enough to tear apart smaller storms that get drawn into it, is one of the most recognizable features in Jupiter’s atmosphere and the entire solar system. The counterclockwise-moving storm, an anticyclone, boasts wind speeds as high as 300 miles per hour. This prominent feature, observed since 1830, and possibly as far back as the 1660s, has long been a source of great fascination and scientific study.
Just as dust gathers in corners and along bookshelves in our homes, dust piles up in space too. But when the dust settles in the solar system, it’s often in rings. Several dust rings circle the Sun. The rings trace the orbits of planets, whose gravity tugs dust into place around the Sun, as it drifts by on its way to the center of the solar system.
The outer region of the solar system may be the least explored, but scientists have managed to unravel several of its mysteries in recent weeks. On New Year’s Day, the NASA spacecraft New Horizons encountered the icy object Ultima Thule for the first time, shedding light on how it formed. Astronomers have also just discovered a previously unknown moon orbiting Neptune, which has been dubbed “Hippocamp”.
In the coming decades, a number of missions are planned for Mars, which include proposals to send astronauts there for the first time. This presents numerous logistical and technical challenges, ranging from the sheer distance to the need for increased protection against radiation. At the same time, there is also the difficulty of landing on the Red Planet, or what is referred to as the “Mars Curse“.
Two tough, resilient, NASA spacecraft have been orbiting Earth for the past six and a half years, flying repeatedly through a hazardous zone of charged particles around our planet called the Van Allen radiation belts. The twin Van Allen Probes, launched in August 2012, have confirmed scientific theories and revealed new structures and processes at work in these dynamic regions. Now, they're starting a new and final phase in their exploration.
For some small minority of humans, Death By Asteroid is a desirable fate. The idea probably satisfies their wonky Doomsday thinking. But for the rest of us, going out the same way the dinosaurs did would just be embarrassing. Thankfully, the ESA’s Hera mission will visit the smallest spacerock ever, and will help us avoid going the way of the dinosaurs.
Some very clever people have figured out how to use MSL Curiosity’s navigation sensors to measure the gravity of a Martian mountain. What they’ve found contradicts previous thinking about Aeolis Mons, aka Mt. Sharp. Aeolis Mons is a mountain in the center of Gale Crater, Curiosity’s landing site in 2012.
Saturn’s moon Titan is a very strange place. It’s surrounded by a dense, opaque atmosphere, the only moon in the solar system with an atmosphere to speak of. It has lakes of liquid methane on its surface, maybe some cryovolcanoes, and some scientists speculate that it could support a form of life. Very weird life.