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Celebrating the last 10 years

Celebrating the last 10 years
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A lot has happened since we put the first humans on the Moon almost 51 years ago, and things are picking up as we look ahead to sending people to Mars. It’s hard to choose just a handful of accomplishments but below, we give it a whirl.

Comet marvels

Comet marvels
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The Deep Impact spacecraft was sent out to visit Comet Tempel 1, which it reached in 2005. As a bonus, NASA discovered it still had fuel enough to chase down another comet almost three billion miles away: the icy Comet Hartley 2. Deep Impact flew by it in 2010 at a range of 700 kilometres, managing to snap a bunch of photos that helped scientists, for the very first time, match individual jets of gas and dust emanating off it “to their sources on the nucleus,” according to Sky and Telescope.

Read on for some amazing facts you didn’t know about NASA.

Amazing arrivals

Amazing arrivals
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NASA pulled off two cool arrivals in 2011. The spacecraft Messenger entered Mercury’s orbit and made history as the first artificial satellite to do so; and the spacecraft Dawn, which entered the asteroid belt that lies between Jupiter and Mars. Then, both crafts got down to business. Messenger instantly began to collect data ‘on the planet’s geology, composition, and thin atmosphere,’ reports Space.com. While Dawn, sent to observe a space rock called Vesta, discovered that it “had a battered surface, sporting mountain ranges and deep craters,” which advanced our understanding of asteroid composition. Proving, yet again, that there’s so much still to learn about our universe.

Check out these audio tracks we’ve sent into deep space.

Gravitational waves

Gravitational waves
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Scientists have long postulated that when objects collide, they make a ‘wrinkling of space-time,’ called gravitational waves, according to Space.com. In 2016, physicists discovered physical proof of this, using an instrument called the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory. What’s better than discovering one instance of gravitational waves? Discovering two, both triggered by the collisions of black holes millions of years prior that echoed across the universe,’ as Space.com reports.

Voyage of a Voyager

Voyage of a Voyager
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Along with its sister spacecraft Voyager 2, Voyager 1 launched in 1977 and had a primary mission to explore Jupiter and Saturn. It accomplished so much more before it became the first spacecraft to reach interstellar space in 2012 – enough to fill its own textbook. But remarkably, it’s still sending back data from this entirely uncharted region of the universe. Now 21.2 billion kilometres away from Earth, it’s ‘showing that cosmic radiation is very intense, and demonstrating how charged particles from the sun interact with those of other stars,’ according to Space.com. ‘The most exciting thing [Voyager finds] in the next five years is likely to be something that we didn’t know was out there to be discovered.’

Read on for everything you need to know about space probes.

Windows onto Mars

Windows onto Mars
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The year 2012 was the beginning of newfound love and amazement for the red planet Mars. That’s when the Curiosity rover landed on its surface and started sending back data that astounded scientists: evidence that there’d once been water there, the discovery of organic molecules that may actually ‘be related to life’ according to Smithsonian Magazine, and the suggestion of “dynamic” life under the planet’s surface – hinted at by the activity of methane and oxygen. Mars research got another boost in 2018 when Mars Express showed that there might still be an underground reservoir of liquid water near the southern pole of the planet.

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Measuring the universe

Measuring the universe
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The satellite Gaia was launched by the European Space Agency in 2013. Gaia had an incredible mission to take ‘distance measurements for more than a billion stars in the Milky Way, as well as velocity data for more than 150 million stars,’ National Geographic reports. The results of this mission have been nothing less than spectacular, leading to the mapping of 1.7 billion stars in our home galaxy, and helping scientists create a better understanding of  ‘how the Milky Way galaxy evolved into its current configuration, how quickly the local universe is expanding, how common large planets are, whether there’s evidence for advanced extraterrestrial technologies, and what’s going on with about 14,000 asteroids in our own solar system.’

An array of exoplanets

An array of exoplanets
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The Kepler telescope, which was active in space from 2009 to 2018, made so many important discoveries about exoplanets – that is, planets that exist outside our solar system – it’s hard to wrap a feeble human mind around them. In nine years, it discovered over 2600 exoplanets. Additionally, it proved there are more planets than stars in our galaxy, which ‘revolutionises our understanding of our place in the cosmos,’ according to NASA; found a diversity of planets, and showed scientists that the most common size of the planets comes in somewhere between Earth and Neptune and ‘doesn’t [even] exist in our solar system.’

Comet touchdown

Comet touchdown
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The year 2014 saw a momentous occasion. That’s the year the European Space Agency managed, for the very first time, to land a spacecraft, called the Philae lander, on the surface of a comet called Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko that, to complicate matters, was very small and very, very far away. Before it ‘slipped into hibernation mode’ (not on the agenda), ‘Philae was able to detect an icy surface on the comet and organic molecules like carbon, according to Space.com.

Visions of Pluto

Visions of Pluto
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In 2015, New Horizons zipped by the dwarf planet Pluto and took the first up-close images scientists had ever seen. What it showed then was how remarkable this undervalued piece of rock actually is. New Horizons revealed ‘a surprisingly dynamic and active world, with icy mountains reaching up to nearly 6000 metres and shifting plains’ that are so geologically active it’s possible they suggest ‘that even cold, distant worlds could get enough energy to heat their interiors, possibly harbouring subsurface liquid water or even life,’ Smithsonian Magazine reports. That there are nine planets is one of 25 facts you learned in school that are no longer true.

Here are some crazy facts about Earth you never learned in school.

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– The Reader’s Digest team