Space Explorers, Inc. Planetary Times Volume: 06 Issue: 12 Article: 1

2008: The Year in Space

From 10 to one, we are counting down the most fascinating space news events from the past year. 2008 has been filled with many accomplishments and discoveries. We look forward to continuing to spread the news by sharing the exciting developments and achievements 2009 is yet to bring.

10) Cassini Spacecraft Finds an Ocean May Exist Beneath Titan's Crust
NASA's Cassini spacecraft has discovered evidence that points to the existence of an underground ocean of water and ammonia on Saturn's moon Titan.
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9) Final Hubble Servicing Mission Delayed
NASA managers have announced that they will not meet a February 2009 launch date for the fifth and final shuttle mission to the Hubble Space Telescope. The decision comes after engineers completed assessments of the work needed to get a second data handling unit for the telescope ready to fly. The unit will replace one that failed on Hubble in late September, causing the agency to postpone the servicing mission, which had been targeted for October 14, 2008.
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8) NASA Confirms Liquid Lake on Saturn Moon
NASA scientists have concluded that at least one of the large lakes observed on Saturn’s moon Titan contains liquid hydrocarbons, and have positively identified the presence of ethane. This makes Titan the only body in our solar system beyond Earth known to have liquid on its surface.
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7) NASA’s Deep Impact Begins Hunt for Alien Worlds
NASA’s Deep Impact spacecraft is aiming its largest telescope at five stars in a search for alien (exosolar) planets as it enters its extended mission, called Epoxi. As it cruises toward the comet, Deep Impact will observe five nearby stars with “transiting exosolar planets,” so named because the planet transits, or passes in front of, its star. The Epoxi team directed the spacecraft to begin these observations January 22, 2008. The planets were discovered earlier and are giant planets with massive atmospheres, like Jupiter in our solar system.
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6) Discovery of Most Recent Supernova in Our Galaxy
The most recent supernova in our galaxy has been discovered by tracking the rapid expansion of its remains. This result, using NASA's Chandra X-ray Observatory and the National Radio Astronomy Observatory's Very Large Array, will help improve our understanding of how often supernovae explode in the Milky Way galaxy.
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5) Trio of Super-Earths
On June 16, 2008, at an international conference, a team of European astronomers announced a remarkable breakthrough in the study of extra-solar planets. Using the HARPS instrument at the ESO La Silla Observatory, they have found a triple system of super-Earths around the star HD 40307. Moreover, looking at their entire sample studied with HARPS, the astronomers count a total of 45 candidate planets with a mass below 30 Earth masses and an orbital period shorter than 50 days. This implies that one solar-like star out of three harbors such planets.
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4) NASA Spacecraft Reveal Largest Crater in the Solar System
New analysis of Mars’ terrain using NASA spacecraft observations reveals what appears to be by far the largest impact crater ever found in the solar system. NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter and Mars Global Surveyor have provided detailed information about the elevations and gravity of the Red Planet’s northern and southern hemispheres.
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3) ISS Receives New Regenerative Environmental Control and Life Support System
A new regenerative environmental control and life support system will give the station the ability to recycle urine and the condensation that the crew breathes into the air into pure water that can be used for drinking or to cool the station’s systems. That will be important when the shuttle fleet is retired in 2010, and its water deliveries dry up.
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2) STS-126, 122, 123, and 124 Successful
All four of the space shuttle missions to the International Space Station achieved their goals. With exception of the tool bag that floated away during STS-126, the tasks were completed successfully and additions and repairs were made on the International Space Station.
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Atlantis STS-122
Endeavour STS-123
Discovery STS-124
Endeavour STS-126

1) Mars Phoenix Lander Mission Confirms Water on Mars
Laboratory tests aboard NASA’s Phoenix Mars Lander have identified water in a soil sample! The lander’s robotic arm delivered the sample to an instrument that identifies vapors produced by the heating of samples. “We have water,” said William Boynton of the University of Arizona, lead scientist for the Thermal and Evolved-Gas Analyzer, or TEGA. “We’ve seen evidence for this water ice before in observations by the Mars Odyssey orbiter and in disappearing chunks observed by Phoenix, but this is the first time Martian water has been touched and tasted.”
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