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4 recent space events that are out of this world!

 

Image courtesy of NASA/JPL-Caltech

Space — it’s a big place and there’s a lot going on. You probably know about important moments like Neil Armstrong landing on the moon or Chris Hadfield being the first Canadian to command a mission on the International Space Station (ISS for short). But did you know scientists and researchers are finding out new things about our galaxy and universe all the time? Blast off with our list of some of the biggest moments in recent years.

1. A Bunch of Earths

Seven planets orbiting dwarf star outside our galaxy called TRAPPIST-1.
This artist's concept shows what the TRAPPIST-1 planetary system may look like, based on available data about the planets' diameters, masses and distances from the host star. Image courtesy of NASA/JPL-Caltech

In February, 2017, NASA announced they’d found seven planets around the same size as Earth. These planets are orbiting a dwarf star outside our galaxy called TRAPPIST-1. There’s one big reason why this discovery is so exciting. Scientists think there may be water on at least three of the planets, and possibly all of them. If a planet has water and the right conditions, it can support life. That’s right! This discovery could help answer some big questions: Are we alone in the universe? Is there another planet humans could live on way into the future? NASA plans on launching a new telescope in 2018 to get the scoop on these planets.


2. Ice on Mars

The texture of Mars that indicates that ices was found buried beneath the surface.
This view shows the scalloped depressions in Mars' Utopia Planitia region, one of the area's distinctive textures that made researchers look for underground ice. Image courtesy of NASA/JPL-Caltech/Univ. of Arizona

Researchers already knew there was ice on Mars, but towards the end of 2016, a huge amount of ice was found buried beneath the surface. There’s as much water frozen in that spot as there is in Lake Superior! Lake Superior is the largest great lake — it’s so big, it could hold the water of all the other great lakes and more. So we’re talking about a lot of water. Another reason this discovery is so important is that the ice is buried in a place where it can be reached. There are plans to send astronauts to explore Mars in the future. When they get there, this discovery could provide them with a source of water. Cool!


Want to know more about space? Check out 4 fun facts on space travel!


3. Welcome to Jupiter

Artist's interpretation of
Artist concept of Juno. Image courtesy of NASA/JPL-Caltech

Fancy taking a five-year flight? Probably not. But that’s exactly what NASA’s spacecraft called Juno did. It launched on August 5, 2011, and arrived at Jupiter on July 4, 2016. Its sole mission is to find out more about Jupiter — the biggest planet in our solar system. It was very difficult to get Juno into Jupiter’s orbit, with NASA scientists saying it was one of the hardest things they’ve ever done. But now that the spacecraft is there, it has started sending information, including amazing photos, about Jupiter. That’s not all — apart from being the first spacecraft to reach Jupiter’s orbit, Juno broke another record by becoming the farthest-travelling solar-powered spacecraft ever. Let’s hear it for Juno!


4. New Moon

Camera taking pictures of nearby dwarf planet called Makemake.
This Hubble image reveals the first moon ever discovered around the dwarf planet Makemake. The tiny satellite, located just above Makemake in this image, is barely visible because it is almost lost in the glare of the very bright dwarf planet. Hubble’s sharp-eyed WFC3 made the observation in April 2015. Image courtesy of NASA, ESA, and A. Parker and M. Buie (SwRI)

You’ve probably heard of the Hubble Telescope. It’s been in space for over 25 years and has helped scientists make some amazing discoveries. In April 2016, NASA announced that one of Hubble’s cameras had picked up on something far away in the Kuiper Belt. (The Kuiper Belt is a patch of space beyond Neptune with loads of icy bodies and comets.) The camera had taken images of an object near a dwarf planet called Makemake (say “MAH-kay MAH-kay”). The object turned out to be a moon! This discovery means scientists can now use good ol’ Hubble to find out more about the moon’s orbit. With this information, they’ll able to learn how Makemake was formed, what it’s made of, and all sorts of new things. Wow — time to upgrade my camera!