Hey, everyone. Thanks, as always, for taking the time to check in. Here we are, today, on the 55th anniversary of Cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin (in the photo below), aboard the Vostok 1 spacecraft, becoming the first person in space, and to orbit the Earth. On top of that, it’s the 35th anniversary of the first time a Space Shuttle lept from pad 39-A at Cape Canaveral. Apollo 16 veteran John Young and rookie Astronaut Robert Crippen flew the untested Columbia on a two-day trip to low-Earth orbit. Also 46 years ago yesterday, the successful failure of Apollo 13 headed on its way to the Moon. So, here are a couple of other space travel-related things that I’ve been scrawling on Post-Its and sticking to my notebook over couple of weeks. In no particular order:
1) After falling into emergency mode last week, the Kepler observatory, which stares at the sky from a point in the Earth’s orbit 75 million miles away, looking for exoplanets — planets orbiting stars other than the Sun — has been revived. This was the first time since Kepler was launched in 2009 that it entered emergency mode. It’s really incredible work from the people on this project to be able to fix it from that far away. So far, it’s discovered over 1000 confirmed exoplanets.
2) NASA’s Jupiter-bound Juno probe, which has been on its way since 2011 is now about 400 million miles from home. It recently adjusted its trajectory a bit so that it can enter a polar orbit that’ll bring it within about 3000 miles of Jupiter’s cloud tops starting on July 4 of this year. It’s now the farthest solar-powered object from Earth. Juno will orbit Jupiter 33 times looking for all kinds of exciting clues about its formation, structure, and maybe even if there’s water there. You might remember that Europa, Ganymede, and Callisto, three of Jupiter’s four biggest moons (Io is the fourth) are thought to have water on them. So, it would seem to be reasonable that there’d be water on the planet itself, too. There’s plans in the works now for another mission to those moons to possibly search for signs of life.
3) It’s been a while since we’ve checked in with our tiny, plutonium-powered (1.21 jigawatts!), piano-sized camera holder, the New Horizons probe, which zoomed through the Pluto system last July. Every time I read some news from it, my jaw drops a little bit more. Just last week, it was reported that the data that it sent back shows that there may be ammonia-heavy liquid water below the surface of most everyone’s favorite dwarf planet (Quaoar-lovers to the left). It’s amazing how much water seems to be all over the solar system. Lately, it’s everywhere we look. If you’re keeping score at home, New Horizons is now over 3.25 billion miles from Earth, on its way deeper into the Kuiper Belt. That’s so far that it takes almost five hours for radio signals, which travel at the speed of light, almost five hours to reach it. That’s ten hours round trip!