This week in Outer Space

They say space is the place — and there’s a lot going on out there. Here’s what you might have missed this week in outer space.

Wildlife on Mars?

Earlier this week, the internet was ablaze over an image captured by NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter that bears a striking resemblance to a bear.

The image, first captured in December, shows a patch of the Martian landscape, outlined by what NASA calls a “circular fracture pattern,” with two craters for eyes and a volcanic formation for a nose and mouth.

Now, some people have attributed this to a phenomenon called “pareidolia”, the tendency of people to derive meaningful images from random patterns. These killjoys argue that other objects in a topography as vast and varied as Mars are likely to be similar — and, of course, they may technically to be right – but really like a bear.

NASA's HiRISE image of Mars next to a stock image of a bear.

NASA HiRISE image of Mars, with a stock image of a bear…. (Photo illustration: Yahoo News, Photos: NASA/JPL-Caltech/UArizona, Getty Images)

Don’t do it Look up

On Wednesday night, a bright green comet called “C/2022 E3 (ZTF)” or simply “The Green Comet,” reached its closest point to Earth in 50,000 years, becoming temporarily visible to the naked eye for the first time since shin. the Stone Age. In case you missed it, you may still have a chance between now and around February 10th.

Astronomers say the best view of the comet is on the northern horizon between about 10 pm ET and just before dawn. Although if you live in a city with tall buildings and serious light pollution, you may be out of luck.

Do planets get jealous of moon?

The International Astronomical Union’s Minor Planet Center, an organization operating at the Smithsonian Institution that keeps track of this type of thing, has listed 12 newly discovered moons orbiting Jupiter, bringing the gas giant’s total to 92 giant 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 has only one moon.

Space walkers

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 complete, NASA estimates that the new solar array will increase the power supply on board the ISS by up to 30%.

SpaceX is still 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 to its new Starlink internet service, which offers high-speed connections in remote parts of the world, from war-torn Ukraine to luxury yachts. SpaceX plans to add thousands of additional satellites to its network in the coming years. The next launch is scheduled for Sunday, February 5.

Honoring veteran astronauts

Vice President Kamala Harris presented the Congressional Space Medal of Honor to former astronauts Douglas Hurley and Robert Behnken, who piloted the first manned SpaceX mission with NASA to the ISS in 2020. The launch of “Dragon Endeavor” was the also the first US-led mission. manned spaceflight since NASA’s space shuttle program was retired in 2011.

“Bob and Doug and the team at SpaceX have worked for many years designing a new crew capsule, aptly named the ‘Crew Dragon,'” Harris said at Tuesday’s ceremony. “They understood what their work was for our nation, our world, and importantly for the astronauts who would one day trust their lives to the Dragon capsule.”

Remembering Columbia

Finally, this week marks the 20th anniversary of the space shuttle Columbia disaster. During re-entry into Earth’s atmosphere, Columbia disintegrated, killing all seven astronauts on board. In addition to the tragic loss of crew, the ensuing investigation revealed a major flaw in the shuttle’s heat shield, which marked the end of the space shuttle program eight years later.

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