They say space is the place – and all sorts of things happen there. Here’s what you may have missed in space this week.
Wild animals on Mars?
Early this week, the internet was ablaze over an image from NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter that bears a striking resemblance to a bear.
The image, originally taken in December, shows a slice of the Martian landscape outlined by what NASA calls a “circular fracture pattern,” with two craters for eyes and what appears to be a volcanic formation for a nose and mouth.
Now some have been quick to attribute this to a phenomenon known as “pareidolia,” the tendency for humans to derive meaningful images from random patterns. These bummers claim that in a topography as vast and varied as Mars, there are bound to be things that look like other things – and of course they can. technically I’m right – but it really does look like a bear.
Do not to look up
On Wednesday evening, a bright green comet known as “C/2022 E3 (ZTF)” or “The Green Comet” for short, made its closest approach to Earth in 50,000 years, making its first comet since the Stone Age. If you missed it, you might still have a chance between now and about February 10.
Astronomers say the comet is best seen on the northern horizon between about 10 p.m. ET and just before sunrise. But if you live in a city with tall buildings and severe light pollution, you might be out of luck.
Do planets get lunar envy?
The International Astronomical Union’s Minor Planet Center, a Smithsonian Institute organization that tracks 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 the most moons in our solar system, beating Saturn’s previous record of 83.
For those playing at home: Earth still only has one moon.
On Thursday, NASA astronaut Nicole “Duke” Mann and Koichi Wakata of Japan’s JAXA space program took part in a seven-hour spacewalk to prepare for the installation of a new solar array on the International Space Station. Upon completion, NASA estimates that the new solar array will increase power onboard the ISS by up to 30%.
SpaceX is still doing their thing
Back on Earth, SpaceX launched its 200th Falcon 9 rocket on Thursday, carrying another set of Starlink satellites into orbit. The Elon Musk-led space company has deployed nearly 4,000 satellites for its fledgling Starlink Internet service, which provides high-speed connections in 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 launch is scheduled for Sunday, February 5.
Veteran Astronauts Honored
Vice President Kamala Harris presented the Congressional Space Medal of Honor to former astronauts Douglas Hurley and Robert Behnken, who co-piloted the first crewed SpaceX mission to the ISS in 2020 with NASA. The launch of “Dragon Endeavor” also marked the first US-led human spaceflight since NASA’s space shuttle program was shut down in 2011.
“Bob and Doug and the team at SpaceX have spent years designing a new crew capsule, aptly named the ‘Crew Dragon,'” Harris said at the ceremony on Tuesday. “They understood the commitment of their work to our nation, to our world, and most importantly to the astronauts who would one day entrust their lives to the Dragon capsule.”
Memory of Colombia
Finally, this week marked the 20th anniversary of the Columbia Space Shuttle disaster. During reentry into Earth’s atmosphere, Columbia broke apart, killing all seven astronauts on board. In addition to the tragic loss of the crew, the investigation that followed revealed a major flaw in the shuttle’s heat protection, marking the beginning of the end for the space shuttle program eight years later.