Pluto’s ‘unprecedented’ ice provinces, ‘Super Spiral’ galaxies and ChipSats

new-horizons-psychedelic-pluto.jpgPluto’s ‘unprecedented’ ice provinces and other surprises from NASA’s New Horizons

Pluto, known for more than eight decades as just a faint, fuzzy and faraway point of light, is shaping up to be one of the most complex and diverse worlds in the solar system.

Pluto’s frigid surface varies tremendously from place to place, featuring provinces dominated by different types of ices — methane in one place, nitrogen in another and water in yet another, newly analyzed photos and measurements from NASA’s New Horizons mission reveal.

That’s just one of the new Pluto results, which are presented in a set of five New Horizons papers published online today (March 17) in the journal Science. Taken together, the five studies paint the Pluto system in sharp detail, shedding new light on the dwarf planet’s composition, geology and evolution over the past 4.6 billion years.

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Astronomers discover colossal ‘Super Spiral’ galaxies

A strange new kind of galactic beast has been spotted in the cosmic wilderness. Dubbed “super spirals,” these unprecedented galaxies dwarf our own spiral galaxy, the Milky Way, and compete in size and brightness with the largest galaxies in the universe.

Super spirals have long hidden in plain sight by mimicking the appearance of typical spiral galaxies. A new study using archived NASA data reveals these seemingly nearby objects are in fact distant, behemoth versions of everyday spirals. Rare, super spiral galaxies present researchers with the major mystery of how such giants could have arisen.

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Tiny satellite that spews out tinier sensors onto moon’s surface

untitled-1In the late 2020s, NASA plans to send a probe to Jupiter’s moon Europa to determine if there’s oceanic life beneath its crust. Before then, Draper Laboratory hopes that its novel sensor system of CubeSats, satellites smaller than a shoebox, and postage-stamp size sensors, called ChipSats, could be the basis of a complementary $10 million mission to inform the big 2020 effort, expected to cost $2 billion.

Draper’s idea is that CubeSats could be delivered to Europa’s orbit to identify areas on the moon with the thinnest ice. As data comes in about what’s below, the CubeSats would then dump hundreds of the tiny ChipSats onto the moon’s surface. Those ChipSats would then identify the best location for the later NASA probe to penetrate the surface.

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A job opening for a Computer Vision Engineer, Guidance Navigation and Control, Wing X/Google (USA). Project Wing is working on self-flying vehicles that could open up entirely new approaches to delivering goods and services—including options that are cheaper, faster, less wasteful and more environmentally sensitive than what’s possible today. Your primary responsibility includes developing the navigation and perception solutions that enable safe and reliable operation of self-flying aircraft in close proximity to people, terrain, buildings, and other ground obstructions. More information


Do you want to directly contribute to space exploration? With the Astronaut Selection Test, the European Space Agency (ESA), Swedish Defence Research Agency FOI and NLR are collaborating to give you the opportunity to test for yourself if you have the right stuff to be an astronaut. The test is open for everyone to participate. ESA’s Head of Astronaut Training, Rüdiger Seine, explains: “By ‘playing’ with the test online you will help the team validate it, essentially making sure it works. For us, the more people who participate, the better.” More information

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