5 Things that Happened in Outer Space this Year You Should Know About

1. Curiosity, our rover on Mars, has a boo-boo

curiosity

Our little guy on Mars seems to be experiencing periodic short circuits in the robotic arm that is responsible for hammering. However, NASA scientists are saying that the mission isn’t quite imperiled yet and that they probably could get by without the hammer, since the rocks they’ve encountered thus far are pretty soft.

2. The Fastest Star We’ve Ever Seen has Just “Peaced Out” 

“US708”, the fastest star scientists have seen to date, has just left the Milk Way! So, how fast is this star moving exactly? 746 miles per second. At that speed, it would only take 5 minutes to get to the moon! The reason why it’s moving so fast is because it was essentially slung away from a supernova explosion (which can actually fling away material at up to 30,000 km/s). Although US708 is not the first star to be leaving our galaxy, it is the first star to apparently have done so via the “supernova slingshot” method.

3. Spacecraft “Dawn” became the first craft to orbit a dwarf plant

Dawn has recently become the first spacecraft to ever orbit a dwarf planet. The planet it’s orbiting is known as Ceres, and is found in the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter. Even more impressive, this little guy is also the first spacecraft to ever orbit two different celestial objects, or what I like to call, “glorified rocks”. In 2011-2012 Dawn had also entered into the orbit of a giant asteroid named Vesta.

4. Einstein’s Theory of General Relativity is being proven by a galaxy far, far away…

Originally spotted late last year, scientists reported in Science last Thursday that they have witnessed a “multiply lensed supernova”. In English, this translates to “scientists are watching a star explode, but are seeing 4 simultaneous versions of it because there’s a galaxy in between us and the explosion”. What happened was, as Einstein predicted years ago, the gravitational pull of the galaxy sitting between us and the exploding star is warping space-time kind of like how a camera lens can warp an image. The result is that we see 4 different projections of the star exploding. Interestingly, these images are arranged into a formation, scientists have dubbed the “Einstein Cross”. Even cooler, because the light producing these images took different paths through space to reach us, they’re also playing out at different speeds.

5. NASA calculated that Mars had more water than the Arctic Ocean at one point

According to NASA scientists, Mars had enough water at one point to cover its entire surface with a 450-foot layer of liquid (more likely though, they say it was contained within a very deep ocean across half the northern hemisphere). The researchers came to this conclusion based on data collected from their “Very Large Telescope” (no seriously, that’s its actual name!), in Chile. Specifically, they measured the ratio of two naturally-occurring chemical forms of waters in samples taken from a previously-dated meteorite from Mars, and compared it to the ratio found in land samples recently obtained by the Curiosity rover.

(all images are from NASA)

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