They say space is place, and there’s a lot going on out there. Here’s what you may have missed this week in outer space.
Wildlife on Mars?
Earlier in the week, the internet caught fire over an image captured by NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter that bears a striking resemblance to a bear.
The image, which was originally captured in December, shows a part of the Martian landscape, outlined by what NASA calls a “circular fracture pattern,” with two craters instead of eyes and what appears to be a volcanic formation instead of nose and mouth.
Now some have been quick to attribute this to a phenomenon known as “pareidolia,” the tendency of humans to derive meaningful images from random patterns. These killjoys argue that in a topography as vast and varied as that of Mars, there are likely to be things that look like other things, and of course it is possible that they are. technically be right, but it really does look like a bear.
No look for
On Wednesday night, a bright green comet known as “C/2022 E3 (ZTF)” or simply “The Green Comet,” reached its closest point to Earth in 50,000 years, temporarily becoming visible to the naked eye for first time since the stone age. In case you missed it, you may still have a chance between now and February 10.
Astronomers say the comet is best seen on the northern horizon between 10 pm ET and just before sunrise. Although if you live in a city with tall buildings and severe light pollution, you may be out of luck.
Do the planets envy the moon?
The International Astronomical Union’s Center for Minor Planets, an organization operating out of the Smithsonian Institution that keeps track of this sort of thing, has listed 12 newly discovered moons orbiting Jupiter, bringing the gas giant’s total to a whopping 92 natural satellites. Jupiter now officially holds the title for most moons in our solar system, surpassing Saturn’s previous record of 83.
For those playing at home: Earth still has only one moon.
On Thursday, NASA astronaut Nicole “Duke” Mann and Koichi Wakata of Japan’s JAXA space program participated in a seven-hour spacewalk to help prepare for the installation of a new solar array on the International Space Station. Once completed, NASA estimates that the new solar array will increase the power supply aboard the ISS by up to 30%.
SpaceX keeps doing its thing
Back on Earth, SpaceX launched its 200th Falcon 9 rocket, carrying another batch of Starlink satellites into orbit, on Thursday. The Elon Musk-led space corporation has deployed nearly 4,000 satellites in its fledgling Starlink internet service, which offers high-speed connections to remote parts of the world, from war-torn Ukraine to luxury yachts. SpaceX plans to add thousands more satellites to its network in the coming years. The next release is scheduled for Sunday, February 5.
Veteran Astronauts Honored
Vice President Kamala Harris awarded the Congressional Space Medal of Honor to former astronauts Douglas Hurley and Robert Behnken, who piloted SpaceX’s first crewed mission with NASA to the ISS in 2020. The launch of “Dragon Endeavour” also marked the first human spaceflight since NASA’s space shuttle program withdrew in 2011.
“Bob and Doug and the team at SpaceX worked for years to design a new crew capsule, aptly named ‘Crew Dragon,'” Harris said at Tuesday’s ceremony. “They understood what is at stake in their work for our nation, for our world, and most importantly for the astronauts who would one day entrust their lives to the Dragon capsule.”
Finally, this week marked the 20th anniversary of the space shuttle Columbia disaster. During re-entry into Earth’s atmosphere, Columbia broke up, killing all seven astronauts on board. In addition to the tragic loss of the crew, the investigation that followed exposed a major failure in the shuttle’s heat shield, marking the beginning of the end for the space shuttle program eight years later.