A newly-discovered object in the solar system may be a comet with an interstellar future, SpaceX’s Starship prototype explodes after successfully landing during a high-altitude test and astronomers pay close attention to a large asteroid that passed by Earth this week. These are some of the top stories this week from Space.com.
Starship SN10 aces landing, but then blew up.
SpaceX performed the third high-altitude test of its Starship vehicle on Wednesday (March 3), achieving its first successful landing of this rocket’s prototype. However the spacecraft ultimately blew up in a massive explosion minutes after touchdown. SpaceX is testing Starship so that it can someday carry human passengers on interplanetary journeys.
Astronomers study asteroid Apophis during Friday’s flyby.
The safe, but close, encounter by asteroid Apophis on Friday (March 5) allowed astronomers to learn more about the space rock that will return in the future. This week Apophis passed by Earth at about 44 times the distance from the moon, and the asteroid will make another safe, but even closer, approach to Earth in the year 2029. The asteroid is roughly 1,000 feet (300 meters) across, and researchers used this flyby to refine its orbital model and to test out planetary defense models.
Expedition 64 astronauts perform a 7-hour spacewalk.
NASA astronauts Kate Rubins and Victor Glover spent more than seven hours on a spacewalk this week. The goal of the Feb. 28 extravehicular activity, or EVA, was to install modification kits for new solar arrays on the International Space Station. The new solar panels are an upgrade to the current space-station system, which has panels dating back to the year 2000.
Space traveler journeys to the deepest part of the ocean.
Explorer Richard Garriott has flown into space and traversed both poles, and recently he completed another extreme trip. Garriott descended to the lowest point in the ocean, the Challenger Deep, on Monday (March 1) by traveling aboard the ”Limiting Factor” submersible. The Challenger Deep is located on the southern end of the Mariana Trench in the western Pacific Ocean.
Perseverance unfurls its robotic arm for the first time on Mars.
NASA’s Mars Perseverance rover has successfully moved its robotic arm for the first time in its new planetary home. The robotic mission arrived at the Red Planet on Feb. 18, 2021 to look for traces of ancient life. The rover’s arm carries many instruments and unfurled to a total length of 7 feet (2.1 meters).
One year later, Betelgeuse’s faint spell is still a mystery.
Orion the Hunter is perhaps one of the best-known constellations in the night sky. The bright red star within this hero’s shape, Betelgeuse, was noticeably dimmer last year and scientists still do not have an explanation for the strange phenomenon. Scientists hope that new observations of Betelgeuse this year will put last year’s dimness into context; they wonder if the faint period was a once-in-a-lifetime occurrence, or if it will happen again.
Fascinating new discovery may become a future interstellar comet.
A possible comet currently trapped by Jupiter’s gravitational pull could shoot off into interstellar space in a few years’ time. The object-in-question spews gas, and researchers say it is temporarily circling the sun within a group of ancient asteroids called Trojans. Simulations suggest the comet originated in the icy region beyond Neptune’s orbit, flew towards the sun, and may be shot out away from the sun by Jupiter’s influence in a couple of years.
Meteorite that formed part of a November fireball was recovered from a Swedish village.
A bread loaf-sized meteorite weighing 31 lbs (14 kg) was found in Uppsala, Sweden. The space rock landed on Earth on Nov. 7, 2020 and was once part of a larger meteor that probably weighed more than 9 tons (8.1 metric tons). The meteorite is covered in circular depressions, which formed when the rock partially melted as it careened into Earth’s atmosphere.
Newly-spotted exoplanet described as a ‘Rosetta Stone.’
A newfound exoplanet roughly the size of Earth, called Gliese 486 b, may be cool enough to have an atmosphere, but also warm enough that scientists can study its atmosphere. This planet may help scientists decipher observations from other exoplanets, and they’ve therefore described Gliese 486 b as a “Rosetta Stone.” Gliese 486 b orbits a dim red dwarf star just 26 light-years from Earth.
Satellites show Arecibo Observatory cleanup.
Satellite images taken on Feb. 23, 2021 show work crews removing part of the structure of the Arecibo Observatory in Puerto Rico. The National Science Foundation, which has run the massive dish telescope since the 1970s, decommissioned the telescope in November 2020 following structural damage that was deemed too severe for repairs. Part of the telescope’s damage occurred shortly after it was decommissioned, when its suspended platform crashed onto the dish.