Spectacular meteor light show
A heavenly display from the skies over Adelaide and Victoria.
These companies are partners with NASA through the agency’s Commercial Lunar Payload Services (CLPS) initiative. CLPS is the first phase of NASA ’s The goal is to send instruments and science experiments to the surface of the Moon using commercial landers that are developed and operated
The moon landers that three commercial teams are developing to ferry astronauts to and from the lunar surface for NASA are a diverse bunch. (Starship will be able to haul 100 tons of payload to the lunar surface .) This SpaceX concept shows the company 's massive Starship vehicle on the
© Image: NASA An artistic rendering of a robotic lander on the Moon’s surface.
Today, NASA announced that it has selected three commercial companies to send the first round of robotic landers to the Moon as part of the agency’s overall goal of returning humans to the lunar surface. The three US companies — Astrobotic, Orbit Beyond, and Intuitive Machines — are tasked with developing small spacecraft that can safely carry NASA payloads and instruments to the lunar surface and study the Moon in more detail. Their landers are expected to fly in 2020 and 2021.
These companies are partners with NASA through the agency’s Commercial Lunar Payload Services (CLPS) initiative. CLPS is the first phase of NASA’s Artemis program, the agency’s initiative to send the first woman and the next man to the Moon. But CLPS is focused on robotic vehicles and science, rather than human spaceflight. The goal is to send instruments and science experiments to the surface of the Moon using commercial landers that are developed and operated by private companies.
He wanted to fly around the moon. He ended up in court instead.
A billionaire trader and a Northern Virginia-based space travel company settled a lawsuit after two years.
A look at the three commercial spacecraft that will carry NASA payloads to the lunar surface in NASA on Friday (May 31) announced that private lunar landers built by the American companies These robotic vanguard missions are key early steps in NASA 's ambitious Artemis program, which
Today NASA has announced three commercial Moon landing service providers that will deliver science and technology payloads for its upcoming "Next year, our initial science and technology research will be on the lunar surface , which will help support sending the first woman and the next man to the
“These companies are prime examples of American ingenuity, vision, and know-how.”
“These companies are prime examples of American ingenuity, vision, and know-how,” NASA administrator Jim Bridenstine said during an announcement of today’s selection. “Because of these landers and the instruments they deliver, the science technology and research that will be done in the immediate future will prepare the way for humanity’s return to the Moon by 2024.”
Though no people will be riding on these landers, the CLPS spacecraft will aid the overall Artemis project by helping NASA learn a few more details about the lunar surface before people get there. For one, scientists and engineers alike are eager to figure out just how much water ice might by lurking on the Moon’s surface. NASA spacecraft above the Moon have detected water, but scientists still don’t know how much is there and what form it’s in. If there’s a lot, future explorers could potentially use this water for drinking or irrigation in a lunar base or the ice could be broken apart and turned into fuel for rockets.
Jupiter’s Great Red Spot is lashing out as it dies
Jupiter’s Great Red Spot is lashing out as it dies
NASA has picked SpaceX, Blue Origin and three other companies to join its private moon lander The five companies can now vie to deliver robotic payloads to the lunar surface for NASA "Expanding the group of companies who are eligible to bid on sending payloads to the moon 's
Handing out its first Moon -bound contracts in half a century, NASA has contracted three companies to build lunar landers as it settles down to beat the The mission, dubbed Project Artemis, seeks to study the region near the Moon ’s south pole in the hope of setting up a permanent base there.
© Image: NASA / Orbit Beyond / Intuitive Machines / Astrobotic
On these first CLPS missions, NASA will study how lunar landings affect the Moon environment and how they kick up dust on the surface. There are plenty of other science objectives NASA has with CLPS, which is why the program is being run through the agency’s Science Mission Directorate. For instance, there are opportunities to study the radiation environment of the Moon and its magnetic field with these landers. The spacecraft will also carry payloads to study the composition of the rocks on the Moon’s surface.
In November, NASA selected nine companies to participate in the CLPS program, creating a pool of organizations the agency could choose from to do robotic missions to the Moon. At the time, NASA claimed that contracts for these missions could equal a combined $2.6 billion over the next 10 years. The three companies announced today are just the first ones to be selected by NASA, but the other six companies could still have opportunities to do missions for the agency in the future.
The Moon That Got Away
For the first time, astronomers thought they’d discovered a moon in another solar system. But others weren’t sure it actually existed.
Both companies agreed upon accepting the contracts to carry NASA payloads to the lunar surface in the Related: Here's where commercial landers will land on the moon for NASA Updates: The Of the 13 payloads NASA is building for the flights, three are experiencing no or minimal impact from the
Nasa has asked three private companies to start making their lunar landers – with the winner taking the first humans to the Moon in decades. The space agency has chosen three companies to develop their spacecraft, as part of its plan to send astronauts to the Moon in 2024, and use that as a base to
These three companies are poised to be the first to safely land commercial landers on the surface of the Moon — a feat that still hasn’t been accomplished. Up until now, only government superpowers have ever pulled off Moon landings. In April, an Israeli nonprofit called SpaceIL attempted to land the first privately funded spacecraft on the Moon, but the vehicle ultimately crashed into the lunar surface due to a failure during the landing process.
Related Slideshow: Provided by Photo Services
In this image made from video provided by NASA, Expedition 59 Commander Oleg Kononenko, center, participates in a spacewalk outside the International Space Station with Flight Engineer Alexey Ovchinin, obscured, on May 29.
The two cosmonauts opened the hatch to the Pirs docking compartment to begin the spacewalk at 11:42 a.m. EDT. They re-entered the airlock and closed the hatch at 5:43 p.m.
During the spacewalk, the duo completed the planned tasks, including installing a handrail on the Russian segment of the complex, retrieving science experiments from the Poisk module’s hull; removing and jettisoning the plasma wave experiment hardware; and conducting maintenance work on the orbiting laboratory, such as cleaning the window of the Poisk hatch.
NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope takes another step towards completion
NASA's James Webb Space Telescope is late to its own party, and it's not just a little bit late.
Nasa has chosen the companies that will develop landers to send astronauts to the Moon 's surface in the 2020s. The White House wants to send the next The winning lander concepts take different approaches to the challenge of setting humans down on the lunar surface . Blue Origin, founded by
NASA has awarded nearly million to student teams looking to deploy robots , towers and other technologies alongside moon -roaming astronauts. The agency's Artemis program plans to return humans to the lunar surface in 2024 supported by a suite of robotic helpers, many of which will be
The spacewalk was the 217th in support of station assembly, maintenance and upgrades and the fourth outside the station this year.
Curiosity's Three-Frame Mosaic of Clouds
NASA's Curiosity Mars rover imaged these drifting clouds on May 17, 2019, the 2,410th Martian day, or sol, of the mission, using its black-and-white Navigation Cameras (Navcams).
These are likely water-ice clouds about 19 miles (31 kilometers) above the surface. They are also "noctilucent" clouds, meaning they are so high that they are still illuminated by the Sun, even when it's night at Mars' surface. Scientists can watch when light leaves the clouds and use this information to infer their altitude.
Binary Stars Ejected from Fornax Cluster
This image from NASA's Chandra X-ray Observatory shows the region around NGC 1399 and NGC 1404, two of the largest galaxies in the Fornax galaxy cluster. Located at a distance of about 60 million light years, Fornax is one of the closest galaxy clusters to Earth. This relative proximity allows astronomers to study the Fornax cluster in greater detail than most other galaxy clusters. A new study is an example of what can be achieved when telescopes like Chandra study the Fornax cluster for long periods of time. By combining 15 days' worth of Chandra observing of Fornax spread out between 1999 and 2015, astronomers discovered that pairs of stars had been expelled the galaxies in the cluster.
New telescope to investigate mysterious light flashes on the moon
The weird lunar lights have baffled astronomers and even astronauts for decades.
In addition to these banished X-ray binaries, the researchers found about 150 other sources located outside the boundaries of the galaxies observed by Chandra. One possible explanation for these sources is that they reside in the halos, or far outer reaches, of the Fornax cluster’s central galaxy, where they were formed. Another option is that they are X-ray binaries that were pulled away from a galaxy by the gravitational force of a nearby galaxy during a flyby, or X-ray binaries left behind as part of the remnants of a galaxy stripped of most of its stars by a galactic collision. Such interactions are expected to be relatively common in a crowded region like the one in the Fornax cluster.
NASA's Curiosity Mars rover took this selfie on May 12, 2019 (the 2,405th Martian day, or sol, of the mission). To the lower-left of the rover are its two recent drill holes, at targets called "Aberlady" and "Kilmarie."
These are Curiosity's 20th and 21st drill sites.
The selfie is composed of 57 individual images taken by the rover's Mars Hand Lens Imager (MAHLI), a camera on the end of the rover's robotic arm. The images are stitched together into a panorama, and the robotic arm is digitally removed. MAHLI was built by Malin Space Science Systems in San Diego.
Mars Sample Return
Artist's impression of ESA's Earth Return Orbiter.
Bringing samples from Mars is the logical next step for robotic exploration and it will require multiple missions that will be more challenging and more advanced than any robotic missions before. Accomplishments in robotic exploration in recent years have increased confidence in success – multiple launches will be necessary to deliver samples from Mars.
Why Does The Moon Flash?
A new experiment will attempt to explain the strange flashes that appear on the Moon’s surface. Transient lunar phenomena are brief flashes of light and colour on the surface of the Moon. Just this year, we reported that a bright, hot flash of light appeared during a lunar eclipse; in this case, it was caused by a meteorite impact. Researchers at Julius-Maximilians-Universität Würzburg (JMU) in Germany hope to better understand these phenomena with a new experimental setup. Amateur and professional astronomers have reported seeing these events for a millennium.
ESA is working with NASA to explore mission concepts for an international Mars Sample Return campaign between 2020 and 2030. Three launches will be necessary to accomplish landing, collecting, storing and finding samples and delivering them to Earth. NASA’s Mars 2020 mission will explore the surface and rigorously document and store a set of samples in canisters in strategic areas to be retrieved later for flight to Earth.
How to Travel at (Nearly) the Speed of Light
One hundred years ago, on May 29, 1919, measurements of a solar eclipse offered proof for Einstein’s theory of general relativity. Even before that, Einstein had developed the theory of special relativity, which revolutionized the way we understand light. To this day, it provides guidance on understanding how particles move through space — a key area of research to keep spacecraft and astronauts safe from radiation.
The theory of special relativity showed that particles of light, photons, travel through a vacuum at a constant pace of 670,616,629 miles per hour — a speed that’s immensely difficult to achieve and impossible to surpass in that environment. Yet all across space, from black holes to our near-Earth environment, particles are, in fact, being accelerated to incredible speeds, some even reaching 99.9% the speed of light.
Scientists suspect magnetic reconnection is one way that particles are accelerated to nearly light speed. This illustration depicts the magnetic fields around Earth, which snap and realign, causing charged particles to be flung away at high speeds.
With ESA's Space19+ Ministerial Council meeting set for November, a new satellite mission called TRUTHS will be added to the list to be financed in the Earth Observation Earth Watch program.
The TRUTHS mission aims to establish an SI-traceable space-based climate and calibration observing system to improve confidence in climate-change forecasts – a kind of ‘standards laboratory in space’. It would carry a hyperspectral imager to provide benchmark measurements of both incoming solar radiation and outgoing reflected radiation with an unprecedented accuracy.
You'll Be Able to See Jupiter's Moons With a Pair of Binoculars Next Week
The best time to see Jupiter in 2019 is early next week—that's when when the gas giant comes closest to Earth and appears its brightest in the night sky.
Captured on April 14 2018 by the Copernicus Sentinel-2A satellite, this image shows western Pakistan and an important wetland area. The Indus Delta consists of creeks, swamps, marshes and the seventh largest mangrove forest in the world. However, owing to major irrigation works and dams built on the river, as well as low rainfall, the amount of silt discharged into the sea has reduced, affecting the mangrove and local community significantly.
Two Merging Black Holes
Black holes are among the most fascinating objects in the Universe. Enclosing huge amounts of matter in relatively small regions, these compact objects have enormous densities that give rise to some of the strongest gravitational fields in the cosmos, so strong that nothing can escape – not even light.
This artistic impression shows two black holes that are spiralling toward each other and will eventually coalesce. A black hole merger was first detected in 2015 by LIGO, the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory, which detected the gravitational waves – fluctuations in the fabric of spacetime – created by the giant collision.
On the Verge
NGC 4485 has been involved in a dramatic gravitational interplay with its larger galactic neighbour NGC 4490 — out of frame to the bottom right in this image. This ruined the original, ordered spiral structure of the galaxy and transformed it into an irregular one. The interaction also created a stream of material about 25 000 light-years long, connecting the two galaxies.
The stream, visible to the right of the galaxy is made up of bright knots and huge pockets of gassy regions, as well as enormous regions of star formation in which young, massive, blue stars are born. Below NGC 4485 one can see a bright, orange background galaxy: CXOU J123033.6+414057.
Strings by Starlight
In a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, staff at ESO’s Paranal Observatory were treated to a unique performance by the world-renowned cellist Yo-Yo Ma. On 1 May 2019, the celebrated musician visited Paranal to see the astronomical centre, home of the Very Large Telescope (VLT), and experience its dazzling skies first-hand. To the delight of the staff, he gave a special concert for which he requested completely dark skies. He is pictured here during the starlit performance, with the majestic band of the Milky Way and the Magellanic clouds overhead, making for a uniquely atmospheric setting.
From Day Into Night
NASA astronaut Christina Hammock Koch @AstroChristina posted this image of Earth taken from aboard the International Space Station. She said: "A couple times a year, theInternational Space Stationorbit happens to align over the day/night shadow line on Earth. We are continuously in sunlight, never passing into Earth’s shadow from the Sun, and the Earth below us is always in dawn or dusk. Beautiful time to cloud watch. #nofilter"
Crater Dunes - False Color
Today's false color image shows an unnamed crater in Acidalia Planitia. The dark blue feature on the crater floor is a mound of sand. The sand is tall enough to cast a shadow, with the sun is coming from the left (west). The texture on the surface of the sand are dune features created by wind action. The THEMIS VIS camera contains 5 filters. The data from different filters can be combined in multiple ways to create a false color image. These false color images may reveal subtle variations of the surface not easily identified in a single band image.
Curiosity's Proposed Path Up Mount Sharp
This animation shows a proposed route for NASA's Curiosity rover, which is climbing lower Mount Sharp on Mars. The annotated version of the map labels different regions that scientists working with the rover would like to explore in coming years. A flyover video explains them in more detail.
Data used in creating this map came from several instruments on NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO), including the High Resolution Imaging Science Experiment (HiRISE), Compact Reconnaissance Imaging Spectrometer for Mars (CRISM) and the Context Camera (CTX). The High Resolution Stereo Camera (HRSC) instrument on the European Space Agency's Mars Express also contributed data.
Settling Into Old Age
NGC 3384, visible in this image, has many of the features characteristic of so-called elliptical galaxies. Such galaxies glow diffusely, are rounded in shape, display few visible features, and rarely show signs of recent star formation. Instead, they are dominated by old, ageing, and red-hued stars. This stands in contrast to the sprightliness of spiral galaxies such as our home galaxy, the Milky Way, which possess significant populations of young, blue stars in spiral arms swirling around a bright core.
However, NGC 3384 also displays a hint of disc-like structure towards its centre, in the form of a central ‘bar’ of stars cutting through its centre. NGC 3384 is located approximately 35 million light-years away in the constellation of Leo (The Lion). This image was taken using the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope’s Advanced Camera for Surveys.
Time to Launch
The Indian Space Research Organisation's Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle (PSLV-C46) launches on board India's radar imaging earth observation satellite RISAT-2B from Satish Dhawan Space Centre, in Andhra Pradesh, India on May 22.
Jupiter's Magnetic Field
This animation illustrates Jupiter's magnetic field at a single moment in time. The Great Blue Spot, an-invisible-to-the-eye concentration of magnetic field near the equator, stands out as a particularly strong feature. The gray lines (called field lines) show the field's direction in space, and the deepness of the color corresponds to the strength of the magnetic field (with dark red and dark blue for regions with strongly positive and strongly negative fields, respectively).
Ponds resulting from thawing permafrost in the Yamal Peninsula in northwest Siberia captured by the Copernicus Sentinel-2 mission on 27 August 2018. In Earth’s cold regions, much of the sub-surface ground is frozen. Permafrost is frozen soil, rock or sediment – sometimes hundreds of metres thick. To be classified as permafrost, the ground has to have been frozen for at least two years, but much of the sub-surface ground in the polar regions has been frozen since the last ice age. Permafrost holds carbon-based remains of vegetation and animals that froze before they could decompose.
Focusing on New Technology
Each day, weather satellites take hundreds of thousands of atmospheric soundings to gather data for forecasting. The groundbreaking idea of using this method dates to the late 1950's, when Earth-observing satellites were a brand-new technology.
Scientist Lewis Kaplan, who worked at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland and Jet Propulsion Laboratory in California, developed a way to calculate temperature in the atmosphere for weather forecasting: by measuring the vibration of molecules at different altitudes.
Fast forward 60 years, and the ideas that Kaplan laid out in his landmark 1959 paper entitled, “Inference of Atmospheric Structure from Remote Radiation Measurements," remain at the heart of atmospheric sounding, the process by which instruments called sounders probe the sky vertically for details on temperature, moisture and water vapor, revealing subtle changes in the Earth’s atmosphere. NASA and NOAA have led the way in developing the technology for the sounders.
This image is an artist's rendering of NASA's Nimbus-3 spacecraft. Launched in 1969, it was the third in a series of meteorological satellites. the image updated in May 2019.
Young Star Cluster
Why does star cluster Trumpler 14 have so many bright stars? Because it is so young. Many cluster stars have formed only in the past 5 million years and are so hot they emit detectable X-rays. In older star clusters, most stars this young have already died -- typically exploding in a supernova -- leaving behind stars that are fainter and redder.
Trumpler 14 spans about 40 light years and lies about 9,000 light years away on the edge of the famous Carina Nebula. A discerning eye can spot two unusual objects in this detailed 2006 image of Trumpler 14 by the Hubble Space Telescope. First, a dark cloud just left of center may be a planetary system trying to form before being destroyed by the energetic winds of Trumpler 14's massive stars. Second is the arc at the bottom left, which one hypothesis holds is the supersonic shock wave of a fast star ejected 100,000 years ago from a completely different star cluster.
Moon Above Earth's Limb
The International Space Station crew photographed the waxing crescent moon just above Earth's limb and the bluish hue of the atmosphere at the beginning of an orbital sunrise. A portion of one of the Space Station's solar arrays is seen in the left foreground as the orbital complex flew 256 miles above the Sea of Japan.
The Changing Surface of Mars
HiRISE commonly takes images of recent craters on Mars, which are usually found by the MRO Context Camera where they disturb surface dust. An impact site in this area was first imaged in December 2017. A year and a half later, the scene looks totally different! Dust has eroded from the surface, probably due to the planet-encircling dust storm from 2018. The dark spots around the fresh craters have vanished because they only affected the dust that has since disappeared. See if you can find the craters in the new image by comparing with the old one.
The Earth's Limb During a Starry Night Pass
An Expedition 47 crewmember photographed the Earth’s limb during a starry night pass. One of the International Space Station’s solar arrays is seen in the right foreground as the orbital complex flew 258 miles above the Indian Ocean in between Indonesia and Australia.
The Moon's Mare Frigoris
New surface features of the Moon have been discovered in a region called Mare Frigoris, outlined here in teal. This image is a mosaic composed of many images taken by NASA's Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO).
Three Views of Phobos
These are three different views of the Martian moon Phobos, as seen by NASA's 2001 Mars Odyssey orbiter using its infrared camera, Thermal Emission Imaging System (THEMIS). Each color represents a different temperature range. The annotated version of this image labels each of these views with the dates when they were imaged by THEMIS. The two views on the left were taken while Phobos was in a half-moon phase, which is better for studying surface textures. The third, on the far-right, was taken in a full-moon phase, which is better for studying material composition.
A scale bar on the annotated image ranges from 150 to 300 degrees Kelvin, or -190 degrees Fahrenheit (-123 degrees Celsius) to 80 degrees Fahrenheit (27 degrees Celsius). NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, manages the 2001 Mars Odyssey mission for NASA's Science Mission Directorate in Washington.
Earth's Evil Twin
Appearances can be deceiving. This thick, cloud-rich atmosphere rains sulphuric acid and below lie not oceans but a baked and barren lava-strewn surface. Welcome to Venus. The second planet from the Sun is often coined Earth’s ‘evil twin’ on account of it being almost the same size but instead plagued with a poisonous atmosphere of carbon dioxide and a sweltering 470ºC surface. Its high pressure and temperature is hot enough to melt lead and destroy the spacecraft that dare to land on it.
Thanks to its dense atmosphere, it is even hotter than planet Mercury, which orbits closer to the Sun. ESA’s Venus Express studied the planet from orbit between 2006 and 2014, providing the most in-depth studies of its atmospheric circulation to date. This false-colour image was taken in ultraviolet light with the Venus Monitoring Camera on 23 July 2007. It shows a view of the southern hemisphere from equator (right) to the pole (left) from a distance of 35 000 km from the surface of the planet. Scientists think that Venus once looked a lot like Earth, but underwent an irreversible climate change that is often used as an extreme example of what happens in a runaway greenhouse effect.
Dust Devil Frenzy
This remarkable image was taken in the Terra Sabaea region of Mars, west of Augakuh Vallis, by the Color and Stereo Surface Imaging System (CaSSIS) onboard the ESA-Roscosmos ExoMars Trace Gas Orbiter. This mysterious pattern sits on the crest of a ridge, and is thought to be the result of dust devil activity – essentially the convergence of hundreds or maybe even thousands of smaller martian tornadoes.
This image is a color-composite representation where features that are bluer compared to the average color of Mars are shown in bright blue hues. In actual color, the streaks would appear dark red. Dust devils churn up the surface material, exposing fresher material below. The reason why the streaks are so concentrated on the ridges is not known at present, but a relationship to orographic lift as masses of carbon dioxide air flow uphill and converge with other air masses is one possibility. The image was taken on 8 February 2019 and is centred at 26.36ºN/56.96ºE. North is up.
Milky Way, Launch and Landing
The Milky Way doesn't look quite this colorful and bright to the eye, but a rocket launch does. So a separate deep exposure with a sensitive digital camera was used in this composite skyscape to bring out our galaxy's central crowded starfields and cosmic dust clouds. In the scene from Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge, a nine minute long exposure begun about 20 minutes after the Miky Way image recorded a rocket launch and landing.
The Falcon 9 rocket, named for the Millennium Falcon of Star Wars fame, appropriately launched a Dragon resupply ship to the International Space Station in the early morning hours of May the 4th. The plume and flare at the peak of the launch arc mark the rocket's first stage boost back burn. Two shorter diagonal streaks are the rocket engines bringing the Falcon 9 stage back to an offshore landing on autonomous drone ship Of course I Still Love You.
Anemic Spiral Galaxy
How far away is spiral galaxy NGC 4921? It's surpringly important to know. Although presently estimated to be about 300 million light years distant, a more precise determination could be coupled with its known recession speed to help humanity better calibrate the expansion rate of the entire visible universe. Toward this goal, several images were taken by the Hubble Space Telescope in order to help identify key stellar distance markers known as Cepheid variable stars.
Since NGC 4921 is a member of the Coma Cluster of Galaxies, refining its distance would also allow a better distance determination to one of the largest nearby clusters in the local universe. The magnificent spiral NGC 4921 has been informally dubbed anemic because of its low rate of star formation and low surface brightness. Visible in the featured image are, from the center, a bright nucleus, a bright central bar, a prominent ring of dark dust, blue clusters of recently formed stars, several smaller companion galaxies, unrelated galaxies in the far distant universe, and unrelated stars in our Milky Way Galaxy.
This image is of Jezero Crater on Mars, the landing site for NASA's Mars 2020 mission. It was taken by instruments on NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO), which regularly takes images of potential landing sites for future missions. On ancient Mars, water carved channels and transported sediments to form fans and deltas within lake basins. Examination of spectral data acquired from orbit show that some of these sediments have minerals that indicate chemical alteration by water. Here in Jezero Crater delta, sediments contain clays and carbonates.
Distant and Ancient
Dotted across the sky in the constellation of Pictor (The Painter’s Easel) is the galaxy cluster highlighted here by the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope: SPT-CL J0615-5746, or SPT0615 for short. First discovered by the South Pole Telescope less than a decade ago, SPT0615 is exceptional among the myriad clusters so far catalogued in our map of the Universe — it is the highest-redshift cluster for which a full, strong lens model is published. SPT0615 is a massive cluster of galaxies, one of the farthest observed to cause gravitational lensing.
Gravitational lensing occurs when light from a background object is deflected around mass between the object and the observer. Among the identified background objects, there is SPT0615-JD, a galaxy that is thought to have emerged just 500 million years after the Big Bang. This puts it among the very earliest structures to form in the Universe. It is also the farthest galaxy ever imaged by means of gravitational lensing.
Birth of the Hunter
The constellation of Orion (The Hunter) is one of the most recognizable collections of stars in the night sky. We have noted Orion’s prominent stars for tens of thousands of years at least, and likely far longer. Chinese astronomers called it 参宿 or Shēn, literally “three stars”, for its three bright dots (which form the Hunter’s belt). The ancient Egyptians regarded it as the gods Sah and Sopdet, manifestations of Osiris and Isis, respectively, whereas Greek astronomers saw a brave hunter — the eponymous Orion — with his sword above his head, ready to strike. Mythology aside, Orion is a fascinating patch of sky.
This image, from ESO's Very Large Telescope, shows a reflection nebula nestled at the heart of the constellation — NGC 2023. Located close to the well-known Horsehead and Flame Nebulae, NGC 2023 lurks about 1500 light-years away from Earth, and is one of the largest reflection nebulae in the sky. Reflection nebulae are clouds of interstellar dust that reflect the light from nearby or internal sources, like fog around a car headlight. NGC 2023 is illuminated by a massive young star named HD 37903. The star is extremely hot — several times hotter than the Sun — and its bright blue-white light causes NGC 2023’s milky glow.
This series of images shows carbon dioxide ice sublimating (going directly from a solid to a gas) inside a pit at Mars' south pole. As ice is lost from the steep walls of pits like this, it reforms on nearby flat surfaces. Each frame of the animation was taken by the High Resolution Imaging Science Experiment camera (HiRISE) on NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter. The images used in this animation were taken between 2007 and 2013. The walls of the pit are about 656 feet (200 meters) across.
The University of Arizona in Tucson operates HiRISE, which was built by Ball Aerospace & Technologies Corp., in Boulder, Colorado. NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, a division of Caltech in Pasadena, California, manages the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter Project for NASA's Science Mission Directorate, Washington.
A Field of Galaxies
This deep-field view of the sky, taken by NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope, is dominated by galaxies - including some very faint, very distant ones - circled in red. The bottom right inset shows one of those distant galaxies, made visible thanks to a long-duration observation by Spitzer. The wide-field view also includes data from NASA's Hubble Space Telescope.
Storm in the Teacup Quasar
This image shows a quasar nicknamed the Teacup due to its shape. A quasar is an active galaxy that is powered by material falling into its central supermassive black hole. They are extremely luminous objects located at great distances from Earth. The Teacup is 1.1 billion light years away and was thought to be a dying quasar until recent X-ray observations shed new light on it.
Dragon Takes Off
A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket takes off loaded with a Dragon cargo craft during a resupply mission to the International Space Station from Cape Canaveral, Florida, on May 4.
A SpaceX shipment arrives at the International Space Station on May 6. The Dragon capsule reached the orbiting complex delivering 5,500 pounds (2,500 kilograms) of equipment and experiments.
Stunning Spiral Galaxy
Few of the universe’s residents are as iconic as the spiral galaxy. These limelight-hogging celestial objects combine whirling, pinwheeling arms with scatterings of sparkling stars, glowing bursts of gas, and dark, weaving lanes of cosmic dust, creating truly awesome scenes — especially when viewed through a telescope such as the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope. In fact, this image from Hubble frames a perfect spiral specimen: the stunning NGC 2903.
NGC 2903 is located about 30 million light-years away in the constellation of Leo (the Lion), and was studied as part of a Hubble survey of the central regions of roughly 145 nearby disk galaxies. This study aimed to help astronomers better understand the relationship between the black holes that lurk at the cores of galaxies like these, and the rugby-ball-shaped bulge of stars, gas and dust at the galaxy’s center — such as that seen in this image.
Surveying the Sky
Gaia, operated by the European Space Agency (ESA), surveys the sky from Earth orbit to create the largest, most precise, three-dimensional map of our Galaxy. One year ago, the Gaia mission produced its much-awaited second data release, which included high-precision measurements — positions, distance and proper motions — of more than one billion stars in our Milky Way galaxy. This catalogue has enabled transformational studies in many fields of astronomy, addressing the structure, origin and evolution the Milky Way and generating more than 1700 scientific publications since its launch in 2013.
This image shows an artist's impression of the Gaia spacecraft, with the Milky Way in the background.
This May 1 photo provided by NASA shows a satellite view of Cyclone Fani moving through the Bay of Bengal.
Sunset on Mars
NASA's InSight lander used the Instrument Deployment Camera (IDC) on the end of its robotic arm to image this sunset on Mars on April 25, the 145th Martian day, or sol, of the mission. Viking 1 lander became the first mission to send back such images when it captured a sunset on Aug. 21, 1976; Viking 2 captured a sunrise on June 14, 1978. Since then, both sunrises and sunsets have been recorded by the Spirit, Opportunity and Curiosity rovers, among other missions.
This sparkling burst of stars is Messier 75. It is a globular cluster: a spherical collection of stars bound together by gravity. Clusters like this orbit around galaxies and typically reside in their outer and less-crowded areas, gathering to form dense communities in the galactic suburbs. Messier 75 lies in the constellation of Sagittarius (The Archer), around 67,000 light-years away from Earth.
While scanning the sky to chart a billion stars in our Milky Way galaxy, ESA’s Gaia satellite is also sensitive to celestial bodies closer to home, and regularly observes asteroids in our Solar System. This view shows the orbits of more than 14,000 known asteroids (with the Sun at the centre of the image) based on information from Gaia’s second data release, which was made public in 2018.
The Copernicus Sentinel-2 mission takes us over Australia’s northeast state of Queensland, where a large amount of sediment is visible gushing into the Coral Sea, close to the Great Barrier Reef lagoon. In early 2019, many areas in Queensland received more than their annual rainfall in less than a week. The downpour led to millions of dollars’ worth of damage, including homes being destroyed and the loss of almost 500,000 cattle. This image was captured a few days after the torrential rain, and shows the muddy waters flowing from the Burdekin River into the Coral Sea.
Frozen Southern Tip of Hudson Bay
The crew aboard the International Space Station snapped this image of the Hudson Bay's frozen southern tip, which lies in between Ontario and Quebec, as the Space Station orbited 258 miles above Canada.
Opportunity's Final Route
This final traverse map for NASA's Opportunity rover shows where the rover was located within Perseverance Valley on June 10, 2018, the last date it made contact with its engineering team. Visible in this map is a yellow traverse route beginning at Opportunity's landing site, Eagle Crater, and ranging 28.06 miles (45.16 kilometers) to its final resting spot on the rim of Endeavour Crater. The rover was descending down into the crater in Perseverance Valley when the dust storm ended its mission
Southern Crab Nebula
This incredible image of the hourglass-shaped Southern Crab Nebula was taken to mark the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope’s 29th anniversary in space. The nebula, created by a binary star system, is one of the many objects that Hubble has demystified throughout its productive life.
Seen from afar, Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko is usually likened to a duck in shape, but in this enchanting close-up view its profile resembles that of a cat’s face seen side-on.
The two ‘ears’ of the cat make up the twin peaks either side of the ‘C. Alexander Gate’ – named for US Rosetta Project Scientist Claudia Alexander who passed away in July 2015. These impressive cliffs lie at the border between the Serqet and Anuket regions on the comet’s head. The image was taken on 6 October 2014.
The Copernicus Sentinel-2 mission takes us over one of the most remote islands in the world: Easter Island, famed for its monolithic stone statues.
NASA's InSight lander took this series of images on Wednesday, March 6, 2019, capturing the moment when Phobos, one of Mars' moons, crossed in front of the Sun and darkened the ground around the lander. These images were taken by InSight's Instrument Context Camera (ICC), located under the lander's deck.
An image of a cluster of ALMA antennas on remote Chajnantor Plateau in the Chilean Atacama Desert. Although each dish may appear to be a separate telescope, in fact they work together as one large instrument through a technique known as interferometry. This creates a virtual telescope far larger than would be possible to construct as a single dish. Like a powerful set of binoculars ALMA allows researchers to probe the cool universe, from the most distant galaxies to the building blocks of life.
Landslides in Mars' Cerberus Fossae
Cerberus Fossae is a steep-sided set of troughs cutting volcanic plains to the east of Elysium Mons. Steep slopes on Mars have active landslides (also called "mass wasting"), and here we see evidence for two types of activity.
First, the light bluish boulders on the slope appear to originate at a layer of bedrock (also light blue) near the top of the section. Second, the dark thin lines are recurring slope lineae, probably also due to mass wasting, but composed of finer-grained materials.
This image was captured by the HiRISE camera on the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter.
Behold the Southern Lights!
As the International Space Station orbited 265 miles above the southern Indian Ocean about halfway between Madagascar and Antarctica, the crew snapped this image of the Aurora Australis, also known as the Southern Lights.
The four Unit Telescopes (UT) of ESO's Very Large Telescope (VLT) are pictured in this fisheye lens photo of the Paranal observatory. Paranal has about 300 clear nights per year, offering excellent viewing conditions for astronomers to study the sky.
Testing Satellite Marker Designs
Akin to landing lights for aircraft, ESA is developing infrared and phosphorescent markers for satellites, to help future space servicing vehicles rendezvous and dock with their targets.
Developed by Hungarian company Admatis as part of an ESA Clean Space project, these markers would offer robotic space servicing vehicles a steady target to home in on, providing critical information on the line of sight, distance and pointing direction of their target satellite.
Comet or Cluster?
Most globular clusters are almost perfectly spherical collections of stars — but Messier 62 breaks the mould. The 12-billion-year-old cluster is distorted, and stretches out on one side to form a comet-like shape with a bright head and extended tail. As one of the closest globular clusters to the centre of our galaxy, Messier 62 is likely affected by strong tidal forces that displace many of its stars, resulting in this unusual shape.
Mars 2020 Components in High Bay
This image shows major components of NASA's Mars 2020 mission in the High Bay 1 clean room in JPL's Spacecraft Assembly Facility. In the center of Figure 1 is the Mars 2020 spacecraft stack attached to the Spacecraft Assembly Rotation Fixture (SCARF).
The Antares rocket lifts off from the NASA Wallops Flight Facility in Wallops Island, Va., on April 17. The rocket has cargo for the International Space Station.
Comet C/2018 Y1 Iwamoto
Comet C/2018 Y1 Iwamoto as imaged in multiple exposures of infrared light by the NEOWISE space telescope. The infrared images were taken on Feb. 25, 2019, when the comet was about 56 million miles, or 90 million kilometers, from Earth. C/2018 Y1 Iwamoto is a long-period comet originally from the Oort Cloud and coming in near the Sun for the first time in over 1,000 years.
Appearing as a string of red dots, this comet can be seen in a series of exposures captured by the spacecraft. Infrared light detected by the 3.4-micron channel is mapped to blue and green, while light from the 4.6-micron channel is mapped to red. In this image, stars show up as blue because they are hotter, whereas the cooler dust around the comet - with a temperature near the freezing point of water - glows red.
Understanding the Egg Nebula
The Egg Nebula is a preplanetary nebula, created by a dying star in the process of becoming a planetary nebula. Planetary nebulas have nothing to do with planets – the name arose when 18th century astronomers spotted them in their telescopes and thought they looked like planets. Instead, they are the remnants of material expelled by Sun-like stars in the later stages of their lives.
The Copernicus Sentinel-1 mission takes us over the busy maritime traffic passing through the English Channel. The two identical Copernicus Sentinel-1 satellites carry radar instruments, which can see through clouds and rain, and in the dark, to image Earth’s surface below. Here, hundreds of radar images spanning 2016 to 2018 over the same area have been, compressed into a single image.
The sea surface reflects the radar signal away from the satellite, making water appear dark in the image. This contrasts metal objects, in this case ships, which appear as bright dots in the dark water. Boats that passed the English Channel in 2016 appear in blue, those from 2017 appear in green, and those from 2018 appear in red. Owing to its narrowness, as well as its strategic connection of the Atlantic Ocean and the North Sea, the Channel is very busy with east-west ship traffic. Because of the volume of vessels passing through daily, a two-lane scheme is used, in order to avoid collisions. The two lanes can easily be detected in the image.
Many vessels crossing at the narrowest part of the English Channel can be seen in the far right of the image. Connecting Dover in England to Calais in northern France, the Strait of Dover is another major route, with over 400 vessels crossing every day. The shortest distance across the Channel is just 33 km, making it possible to see the opposite coastline on a clear day. The cities of London and Paris, other towns and buildings and even wind turbines in the English Channel are visible in white owing to the strong reflection of the radar signal.
People watch as the SpaceX Falcon Heavy rocket lifts off from launch pad 39A at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center on April 11, in Titusville, Florida. The rocket is carrying a communications satellite built by Lockheed Martin into orbit.
Curiosity's First Clay Unit Drill Hole
The Mast Camera, or Mastcam, on NASA's Curiosity Mars rover captured this set of images before and after it drilled a rock nicknamed "Aberlady," on Saturday, April 6, 2019 (the 2,370th Martian day, or sol, of the mission). The rock and others nearby appear to have moved when the drill was retracted. This was the first time Curiosity has drilled in the long-awaited "clay-bearing unit."
The scene is presented with a color adjustment that approximates white balancing to resemble how the rocks and sand would appear under daytime lighting conditions on Earth.
Containing an incredible half a million stars, the eight-billion-year-old Messier 3 is one of the largest and brightest globular clusters ever discovered. However, what makes Messier 3 extra special is its unusually large population of variable stars — stars that fluctuate in brightness over time. New variable stars continue to be discovered in this sparkling stellar nest to this day, but so far we know of 274, the highest number found in any globular cluster by far. At least 170 of these are of a special variety called RR Lyrae variables, which pulse with a period directly related to their intrinsic brightness.
First Image of a Black Hole
The Event Horizon Telescope (EHT) -- a planet-scale array of eight ground-based radio telescopes forged through international collaboration -- was designed to capture images of a black hole. On April 10, 2019, in coordinated press conferences across the globe, EHT researchers revealed that they have succeeded, unveiling the first direct visual evidence of a supermassive black hole and its shadow. This breakthrough was announced in a series of six papers published in a special issue of The Astrophysical Journal Letters. The image reveals the black hole at the center of Messier 87, a massive galaxy in the nearby Virgo galaxy cluster. This black hole resides 55 million light-years from Earth and has a mass 6.5 billion times that of the Sun.
A sun halo shines from the sky above ESO's Paranal Observatory. In the lower right corner the light is reflected from one of the four Unit Telescopes of the Very Large Telescope (VLT), ESO's flagship telescope. The VLT is the world's most advanced optical instrument, and the world's most productive ground-based facility, enabling it to take advantage of the 300 clear nights Paranal has per year. As demonstrated in this photograph, however, breathtaking phenomena are not only visible during the night.
Photon Paths Around a Black Hole
This artist’s impression depicts the paths of photons in the vicinity of a black hole. The gravitational bending and capture of light by the event horizon is the cause of the shadow captured by the Event Horizon Telescope.
Anatomy of a Black Hole
This artist’s impression depicts a rapidly spinning supermassive black hole surrounded by an accretion disc. This thin disc of rotating material consists of the leftovers of a Sun-like star which was ripped apart by the tidal forces of the black hole. The black hole is labelled, showing the anatomy of this fascinating object.
Largest of Its Kind
Star clusters are commonly featured in cosmic photoshoots, and are also well-loved by the keen eye of the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope. These large gatherings of celestial gems are striking sights — and the subject of this Picture of the Week, Messier 2, is certainly no exception. Messier 2 is located in the constellation of Aquarius (The Water-Bearer), about 55 000 light-years away. It is a globular cluster, a spherical group of stars all tightly bound together by gravity. With a diameter of roughly 175 light-years, a population of 150,000 stars, and an age of 13 billion years, Messier 2 is one of the largest clusters of its kind and one of the oldest associated with the Milky Way.
Weather Drama in Portugal and Spain
ESA astronaut Alexander Gerst took this picture of Portugal and Spain from the International Space Station on 6 August 2018. Alexander commented on the photo: "Dramatic weather pattern over Portugal today. Looks like a mixture of dust, sand and smoke." The trio’s landing in the Kazakh steppe marked the successful conclusion of over six months in space during which Alexander conducted over 60 European experiments, became the second ever European commander of the International Space Station, welcomed six resupply vehicles, installed the first commercial facility for research in the Columbus laboratory, delivered an important message on climate change for leaders at the COP24 climate change conference, captured real-time footage of a Soyuz launch abort and much, much more. Horizons was Alexander’s second mission to the International Space Station – the first was Blue Dot in 2014.
Black Hole Activity
The core of massive galaxy M87 as viewed in X-rays by ESA’s XMM-Newton space observatory. A giant elliptical galaxy, M87 is home to several trillion stars, making it one of the most massive galaxies in the local Universe. About 52 million light years away, it is located at the centre of the Virgo cluster, the nearest cluster of galaxies to the Local Group, to which our own Milky Way galaxy belongs. A supermassive black hole as massive as billions of stars like our Sun sits at the core of M87, accreting material from its surroundings at an extremely intense rate. The black hole’s accretion produces powerful jets that launch energetic particles close to the speed of light outwards into the surrounding cluster environment, as well as inflating giant bubbles that lift cooler gas from the cluster center and form the filamentary structures visible in this image.
Jupiter Poles: Hot From Solar Wind
Sensitive to Jupiter's stratospheric temperatures, these infrared images were recorded by the Cooled Mid-Infrared Camera and Spectrograph (COMICS) at the Subaru Telescope on the summit of Mauna Kea, Hawaii. Scientists used red, blue and yellow to infuse this infrared image; regions of the atmosphere that are more yellow and red indicate the hotter areas. This highlights the auroral heating that occurs at Jupiter's poles, where energy from the solar wind and magnetosphere are deposited. This image was captured on Jan. 12, 2017. This work was supported by a NASA Keck PI Data Award, administered by the NASA Exoplanet Science Institute.
High on the Chajnantor plateau in the Chilean Andes, the European Southern Observatory (ESO), together with its international partners, is operating the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA) — a state-of-the-art telescope to study light from some of the coldest objects in the Universe. This light has wavelengths of around a millimetre, between infrared light and radio waves, and is therefore known as millimetre and submillimetre radiation. ALMA comprises 66 high-precision antennas, spread over distances of up to 16 kilometres, and is the largest ground-based astronomical project in existence. This panorama shows ALMA antennas underneath the arching Milky Way. ALMA plays a key role in the Event Horizon Telescope, a planet-scale array of eight ground-based telescopes designed to capture images of a black hole.
Wisps Surrounding the Horsehead Nebula
The famous Horsehead Nebula in Orion is not alone. A deep exposure shows that the dark familiar shaped indentation, visible just below center, is part of a vast complex of absorbing dust and glowing gas. To bring out details of the Horsehead's pasture, an amateur astronomer used a backyard telescope in Austria to accumulate and artistically combine 7.5 hours of images in the light of Hydrogen (red), Oxygen (green), and Sulfur (blue). The resulting spectacular picture details an intricate tapestry of gaseous wisps and dust-laden filaments that were created and sculpted over eons by stellar winds and ancient supernovas. The Flame Nebula is visible just to the left of the Horsehead, while the bright star on the upper left is Alnilam, the central star in Orion's Belt. The Horsehead Nebula lies 1,500 light years distant towards the constellation of Orion.
Asteroid 6478 Gault
The asteroid 6478 Gault is seen with the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope, showing two narrow, comet-like tails of debris that tell us that the asteroid is slowly undergoing self-destruction. The bright streaks surrounding the asteroid are background stars. The Gault asteroid is located 214 million miles from the Sun, between the orbits of Mars and Jupiter.
Nick Hague Completes 215th Spacewalk
Astronaut Nick Hague performs a spacewalk on March 29, 2019.
What looks like a red butterfly in space is in reality a nursery for hundreds of baby stars, revealed in this infrared image from NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope. Officially named W40, the butterfly is a nebula - a giant cloud of gas and dust in space where new stars may form. The butterfly's two "wings" are giant bubbles of hot, interstellar gas blowing from the hottest, most massive stars in this region. The material that forms W40's wings was ejected from a dense cluster of stars that lies between the wings in the image.
GRAVITY Instrument Breaks New Ground
The GRAVITY instrument on ESO’s Very Large Telescope Interferometer (VLTI) has made the first direct observation of an exoplanet using optical interferometry. This method revealed a complex exoplanetary atmosphere with clouds of iron and silicates swirling in a planet-wide storm. The technique presents unique possibilities for characterising many of the exoplanets known today. This artist’s impression shows the observed exoplanet, which goes by the name HR8799e.
Lunar Flashlight from Above (Artist's Concept)
This artist's concept shows a view from above the Lunar Flashlight spacecraft, a six-unit CubeSat designed to search for ice on the Moon's surface using special lasers. The spacecraft uses its near-infrared lasers to shine light into shaded polar regions on the Moon, while an on-board reflectometer measures surface reflection and composition.
Bennu in Stereo
This set of stereoscopic images provides a 3D view of the large, 170-foot (52-meter) boulder that juts from asteroid Bennu’s southern hemisphere and the rocky slopes that surround it. The stereo pair was created by stereo image processing scientists Dr. Brian May, who is also the lead guitarist for the rock band Queen, and Claudia Manzoni. In January, May and Manzoni formally joined NASA’s OSIRIS-REx mission science team as collaborators to create stereoscopic data products, which will be used by the team while selecting a sample collection site on B
Nick Hague Completes Spacewalk
NASA astronaut Nick Hague completed the first spacewalk of his career on Friday, March 22, 2019. He and fellow astronaut Anne McClain worked on a set of battery upgrades for six hours and 39 minutes, on the International Space Station’s starboard truss.
Soho’s Equinox Sun
Last Wednesday, all locations on our planet enjoyed roughly the same number of hours of day and night. This event, called an equinox, takes place twice a year – around 20 March and then again around 23 September. On these two occasions along Earth’s yearly orbit around the Sun, sunlight shines directly overhead at the equator. The March equinox marks the beginning of spring in the northern hemisphere and of autumn in the southern one, and vice versa for the September equinox. The ESA/NASA SOHO solar observatory enjoys an alternative view of our parent star, staring at the Sun since 1995 from a vantage position – orbiting the first Lagrange point (L1) some 1.5 million kilometres from Earth towards the Sun.
This astonishing image clearly illustrates why astronomical observatories are usually built in remote, and often inhospitable, places. At ESO’s La Silla Observatory in Chile, the sky is so clear and untroubled by man-made sources of light that it appears as if a brightly-coloured celestial firework display is in progress! This photograph, taken by ESO Photo Ambassador Petr Horálek, has been digitally projected to show as much of the sky as possible. This is why the roads leading to ESO’s 3.58-metre New Technology Telescope (left) and 3.6-metre telescope (right) appear distorted, and the bright river of light that is the Milky Way seems to curve across the sky, stretching from horizon to horizon.
Vega Lifts Off
On March 21, 2019, Vega flight VV14 lifted off from Europe’s Spaceport in French Guiana to deliver the Italian Space Agency's Earth observation satellite Prisma into orbit.
A static hot-fire test of the Orion spacecraft's Launch Abort System Attitude Control Motor to help qualify the motor for human spaceflight, to help ensure Orion is ready from liftoff to splashdown for missions to the Moon.
Water on Space Station
ESA astronaut Samanth Cristoforetti with water on the International Space Station during her Futura mission.
Waxing Gibbous Moon
A waxing gibbous Moon is seen above Earth's limb as the International Space Station was orbiting 266 miles above the South Atlantic Ocean.
Speaking of the Moon, from Earth on the night of March 20, the last supermoon of 2019 will be visible in the night sky, coinciding with the spring equinox. What's so special about a supermoon? Indeed, what is a supermoon?
The term “supermoon” was coined in 1979 and is used to describe what astronomers would call a perigean (pear-ih-jee-un) full moon: a full Moon occurring near or at the time when the Moon is at its closest point in its orbit around Earth.
Learn more about supermoons.
However, NASA has high hopes for its CLPS partners. “My confidence is high that these three companies here will succeed,” Steven Clark, the deputy associate administrator for exploration at NASA, said during a press conference, citing their credible technical plans, schedules, and cost. It’s a more optimistic view than NASA had in November when Bridenstine said that success wasn’t a guarantee.
Right now, Orbit Beyond claims to be leading the pack. With a contract of $97 million from NASA, the company says it will launch its lander — temporarily named Z01 — on top of a SpaceX Falcon 9 as early as September 2020. The company plans to send the lander, with up to four payloads in tow, to a lava plain on the Moon called Mare Imbrium. (Before that happens, the company will have a naming contest to give the spacecraft a better title.)
The others, Astrobotic and Intuitive Machines, say they’ll be launching in June and July 2021, respectively. Intuitive Machines was awarded $77 million from NASA and will send its lander, equipped with up to five payloads, to a dark spot on the Moon called Oceanus Procellarum. The company says it will also launch its lander, named Nova-C, on a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket. Astrobotic received $79.5 million from NASA and its Peregrine lander will carry up to 14 payloads to a large crater on the Moon called Lacus Mortis. Although Astrobotic previously said it was working with the United Launch Alliance to fly the Peregrine on an Atlas V rocket, the company now says it’s assessing launch options for the upcoming mission. © Photo by Bill Ingalls / NASA via Getty Images GRACE-FO Launch
None of these landers are heading to the south pole of the Moon where NASA plans to land humans. Despite that, NASA argues that these first missions will still help the Artemis mission. “We learn a lot everywhere we go on the Moon that will help for the future human landings,” Chris Culbert, the CLPS program manager at NASA Johnson Space Center, said during the press conference. “And the demonstration of technologies like descent and landing capabilities are largely the same anywhere on the Moon.”
Future CLPS contracts may specify landing spots, but the ultimate goal of these first missions is to start small. “We haven’t landed on the surface of the Moon as a nation in 46 years,” John Thornton, CEO of Astrobotic, said during the press conference. “So we need to go back, and we need to start small and then go bigger and bigger.”
All three companies are responsible for their missions from top to bottom. While NASA will provide the payloads, the companies must build their landers, attach the instruments, get the vehicles launched on rockets, operate the spacecraft in space, and deliver the hardware to the Moon in one piece. It’s a way of doing business similar to NASA’s Commercial Crew Program, which gives private companies much more control over their missions and spacecraft.
“This is a new way of doing research of our Moon and a way that can scale to other places as well,” Thomas Zurbuchen, the associate administrator for the Science Mission Directorate at NASA, said during today’s announcement. “We’re opening up doors that were never opened to humanity before.”
You'll Be Able to See Jupiter's Moons With a Pair of Binoculars Next Week.
The best time to see Jupiter in 2019 is early next week—that's when when the gas giant comes closest to Earth and appears its brightest in the night sky.