Since the space race, NASA’s discoveries go unreported in traditional media. Space shuttle launches are no longer new and interesting enough for the front page of the paper, but when Chris Hadfield’s viral guitar song from the space station came out everyone started to pay more attention to NASA once again. 2013 saw many discoveries from outer space and more are being uncovered weekly. New planets are being uncovered as well as new potential for foreign life forms.
In June 2009, NASA launched the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO) and the moon probe has returned lots of valuable data since it began its mission. One of the biggest discoveries is that there is water on the moon locked away in ice and rocks across the moon’s surface. Other discoveries include two holes in the moon’s surface where a subterranean lava tube collapsed and that the dark side of the moon should simply be called the other side of the moon because it gets just as much light as the surface we can see from earth.
Recently some interesting discoveries have come from space, including a bus sized asteroid that passed in between the moon and the Earth, but didn’t pose a threat to our planet. It was about 25 feet in diameter and at its closest was over 186,000 miles from Earth, while the moon is usually 238,855 miles away. Discoveries made from space can have an impact on our planet and be important in the future as well as being just plain cool. Everything seems small in comparison to the vast depths of outer space.
10. Meteor Smoke Clouds
Scientists have discovered a telecommunications link between the north and south poles. The weather in one area of the world can alter the weather at the opposite end of the planet. The link is made from clouds of ice water in the mesosphere that collect dust from meteors as they speed past the planet. These clouds made of water and meteor dust act as a regulator between the weather in the two hemispheres and is the reason why the polar vortex in North America in January caused a reduction in clouds in Antarctica a few weeks later, making it warmer and drier. This shows how the Earth is far more connected than previously thought. The clouds are the ones that glow a bright blue high in the night sky.
9. Magnetic Space Bubbles
Two of NASA’s voyager probes found magnetic bubbles in the section of space called the Heliosheath, a section of our solar system over 9 billion miles from Earth. In the 1950’s, scientists believed this section of space to be smooth but when Voyager probes arrived in 2007 and 2008 they detected turbulence caused by magnetic bubbles up to one million miles wide. These were generated from the suns magnetic field as it combines with material made from other stars in the galaxy. Scientists say if the bubbles were visible they would resemble giant sausages.
8. Mira A’s Tail
Mira A is another red giant star that was examined in 2007 by the Galaxy Evolution Explorer as part of an ongoing task of scanning the sky with ultraviolet light. Scientists were surprised to find a 13 light year long tail, similar to that of a comet trailing behind the red giant star. This is huge considering one light year is nearly 6 trillion miles. Before the discovery, it was believed stars couldn’t have tails. Mira A is traveling through the universe exceptionally fast at a speed of 291,000 miles per hour.
In 2005, Eris was discovered and started a debate on whether it constituted as a planet. It was originally considered the tenth planet, further out than Pluto. Eris and other asteroid belt like objects were given the new classification of dwarf planets. This is what led to Pluto’s demotion from planet status. Eris is roughly the same size as Pluto and was originally believed to be larger of the two and has a single moon named Dysnomia. Eris and it’s moon are the furthest natural objects in our solar system. After the discovery, the requirements to be classified as planets include: The object must orbit around a star (the sun), it must have enough mass and gravity to be a sphere and it must be large enough to dominate its orbit and able to clear objects out of its path. It was the last regulation that was pluto’s downfall.
6. Water Flow Patterns on Mars
In 2011, NASA released photos and a statement claiming there was evidence to believe there was flowing water on Mars. A time-lapse shot appears to show liquid running down the rocky landscape and scientists believe it to be salt water that warms up enough in the summer months to slosh around. Evidence Mars once contained water has come up before, but this is the first discovery that showed some water may still exist on the planet and that it is changing over time.
5. A Supermassive Black Hole
Scientists tracked a lone star called S2 since 1995 because it was traveling a super fast orbit around what they then believed to be a super compact, massive object that couldn’t be seen. In 2008, it was confirmed the invisible mass was in fact a supermassive black hole named Sagittarius A. The black hole is at the center of our galaxy and is the mass of 4.3 million suns. Sagittarius A is about 26,000 light-years from Earth and has started a theory that supermassive black holes might be in the middle of every galaxy.
4. Big Bang Echo
In 2001, scientists began trying to map the echo left behind from the big bang by mapping the cosmic microwave background. Radiation is left over from the big bang and hangs in the air like static in the form of microwaves. By mapping changes in radiation, scientists were able to determine the exact age of the universe and determined 96% of it is made up of mass not visible to the eye. Only a small fraction of the universe’s mass is from the stars and galaxies, the rest comes from dark energy and dark matter. The universe was determined to be 13.73 billion years old.
3. Titan Explored
In early 2005, the European Space Agency’s huygens probe entered Titans atmosphere after traveling seven years attached to NASA’s Cassini spacecraft. Huygens weren’t made to last long on the foreign territory, but did send back surprising data. Scientists didn’t know much about Titan or even whether huygens would land in an ocean or on rocky terrain. It turns out Titan’s thick atmosphere resembles a young Earth. It has sand dunes and lakes and the world is covered with organic molecules that could support life. Titan’s atmosphere is made up of nitrogen, methane clouds and ethane and is 50% thicker than on Earth.
2. Enceladus Moon Ocean
Saturn’s moon, Enceladus, has and contains an underground ocean. The 2014 finding now explains why water sprays out of strips along the moon’s south pole. The water was first discovered by Cassini’s cameras in 2005. The moon is only 500 kilometers in diameter and one of 53 known moons orbiting Saturn. The moon is covered in clean white ice that makes it bright in the nights sky. The newly discovered ocean is about 30 to 40 kilometers below the icy surface and is around the size of Lake Superior. Scientists expect it extends from the south pole to at least the moon’s center and that it might be able to support microbial life. Jonathan Lunine, from Cornell University, said it makes the interior of Enceladus a very attractive place to look for life.
In April 2014, scientists discovered an Earth cousin planet in a different solar system. The planet called Kepler-186f was found by the Kepler space telescope orbiting a dim red dwarf star about 490 light years away from Earth. The planet is at the edge of the habitable zone of its star, and the position of the planet and its size indicates it has water on the surface. Kepler-186f is slightly bigger than Earth and would be a slightly colder planet because it’s star is much dimmer than our sun. The newfound planet is the first one to be discovered in the habitable zone of its star that is around the same size as Earth.