NASA Plans Mission to Alpha Centauri

NASA has announced that it plans to send a spacecraft to the nearest star outside the solar system, Alpha Centauri,  in 2069. The bold mission is scheduled to coincide with the 100th anniversary of the first manned lunar landing in 1969.

The announcement comes from the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, which is responsible for planning new missions within the solar system and beyond.

Alpha Centauri is a system of three stars,  just four light years away.  Even at a tenth of the speed of light, which NASA experts say may be possible,  it would take a spacecraft 44 years to reach the constellation.

The technology for such a mission, however, does not even exist yet. Some form of laser-powered sails or a nuclear propulsion system would have to be created to reach such a speed.

 

NASA’s  first interstellar mission would concentrate on exploring one of the system’s exoplanets, Proxima Centauri b, which may be habitable.

Experts say that it would take half a century before such a mission could even be launched. As a result,  the spacecraft would probably not reach its destination before the beginning of the next century. In addition, considering cuts to NASA’s budget, the agency does not nearly have enough money to develop a spacecraft that could actually make the mission.

Currently, Voyager 1, launched in 1977,  is the farthest spacecraft and man-made object from earth.

 

The Alpha Centauri star system
The Alpha Centauri star system – Image: David Benbennick

Words

  • agency = organisation
  • anniversary = date on which something important happened in the past
  • announce = to say officially, in public
  • beyond =  here: outside the solar system
  • bold = exciting; not afraid of being difficult to do
  • century = a hundred years
  • coincide = be at the same time as
  • considering = if you look at or think about something
  • constellation =gourp of stars
  • currently = at the moment; now
  • destination  = place where you want to go
  • develop = plan, design and make
  • exoplanet =planet that is not in the solar system
  • explore = to travel to a place to find out more about it
  • habitable = a place with water and air, that allows you to live there
  • in addition = also
  • interstellar = between stars
  • laser = a narrow beam of light
  • light year = the distance light travels in one year = 9 500 000 000 000 kilometres
  • lunar = moon
  • mission = here: a trip to a faraway destination
  • nuclear propulsion system  = a system that uses nuclear energy to make a spacecraft  move forward
  • reach = get to
  • responsible = in charge of
  • scheduled = planned
  • solar system = our sun and the planets that go around it
  • spacecraft = object that can reach space and travel to the sun and other planets
  • technology = objects and machines to make something work

NASA Discovers Star System With 8 Planets

NASA has discovered the eighth planet of a star system, similar to our solar system. The star, Kepler-90  is over 2,500 light years away and larger and hotter than our sun. It is the first star known to have as many planets as our solar system.

The Kepler-90 star system is much more compact than our solar system. The outermost planet orbits the star at about the same distance as the earth orbits the sun.  its inner planets are small and rocky while the outer ones are larger and made up of gas

The newly discovered planet, Kepler -90i, is the third celestial object in the star system. It is probably rocky and similar to our earth, but because of its closeness to its home star has an average surface temperature of about 400° C. It moves around the star once every 14.4 days.

The discovery was made based on data provided by the Kepler space telescope. Launched in March 2009, the telescope has constantly been scanning certain sections of the universe in search of new stars and planetary systems. Up to now, over 2,000 new worlds have been discovered.

To help analyse the data NASA has been relying on artificial intelligence software supplied by Google.  This software examines weak signals of light when objects pass in front of a star.  The new way of examining data is expected to reveal even more new planets in the future.

 

Kepler 90 star system compared to our solar system
Kepler 90 star system compared to our solar system

Words

  • artificial intelligence = when computers do intelligent things  that only people can do, such as think and make their own decisions
  • average = normal, usual
  • based on = use
  • celestial = about the sky
  • closeness = being close to something
  • compact = here: the planets are closer together and near to the star
  • constantly = always
  • data = information
  • discover = to find something for the first time
  • distance = the amount of space between two objects
  • examine = look at something closely
  • launch = to send  an object into space
  • light year = the distance light travels in one year = 9,460,000,000,000 km
  • orbit = to go around
  • outermost = the farthest away from something
  • planetary system = star with planets moving around it
  • provide = give
  • rely = depend on; need
  • reveal = to show something that was not known before
  • rocky = covered with or made of rocks; here: a hard surface
  • scan = when a machine looks at things carefully but quickly
  • similar = like
  • solar system = our sun and the eight planets that move around it
  • surface temperature = temperature you get when you stand on the planet
  • weak = not strong

 

 

NASA Fires Voyager 1 Thrusters After 37 Years

Voyager 1 is the first man-made object to leave the solar system. 37 years after it was launched, NASA’s engineers fired the spacecraft’s backup thrusters. The primary thrusters have been getting weaker over the last few years. 

Voyager’s thrusters were fired for a few milliseconds from a distance of 13 billion miles in order to reposition the spacecraft so that the antennae would point towards earth.

Nobody at NASA knew if firing the thrusters would work after decades of inactivity. After 19 hours, the time which it took for the signal to get back to earth, it was confirmed that the thrusters had actually been fired. Voyager 1 will now be able to operate and send data back to earth for another 2 to 3 years.

As Voyager 1 software dates back to the 1970s,  scientists had to examine the software code to make sure the engines worked correctly.

Voyager 1 and its twin Voyager 2 were launched in 1977  to carry out a grand tour of the solar system. They passed Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus and Neptune. After that, the spacecraft kept on flying and passed the boundaries of the solar system. In the past decades, the two spacecraft made great discoveries, including active volcanoes on Jupiter’s moon Io and a methane atmosphere on Saturn’s moon Titan.

Although Voyager 2’s thrusters are in a better condition than it’s sister craft NASA also plans to fire them in the near future.

 

Voyager 1
Voyager 1

Words

  • although = while
  • backup = something that you use to replace something that doesn’t work
  • billion = a thousand million
  • boundary = where something ends
  • condition = shape
  • confirm = know for sure that something has worked
  • correctly = in the right way
  • data = information
  • dates back = here: is from a certain time in the past
  • decade = ten years
  • discovery = to find something for the first time
  • distance = the amount of space between two objects
  • engine = machine that makes something travel
  • engineer = someone whose job it is to design and build machines, rockets, bridges etc..
  • examine = look at something very closely
  • fire = here: to make something work
  • grand tour = here: a journey that takes you far away to all the planets of our solar system
  • inactivity = here : not in operation
  • launch = start into space
  • man-made = made by a person, not nature
  • methane = gas that you can not see or smell, but which is burned to give heat
  • near future = sometime soon
  • operate = work the way it should
  • primary = most important, main
  • reposition = here: to move it into a new position
  • scientist = person who is trained in science and works in a lab
  • solar system = our sun and the planets that go around it
  • spacecraft = object that can travel in space
  • thruster = small engine in a spacecraft that controls how it flies by  pushing out small amounts of gas
  • twin = here: built in the same way

Google Maps Navigates Through Solar System

In addition to finding any place on Earth,  Google Maps now lets you navigate through space too.  It has recently added two dwarf planets, Pluto and Ceres, as well as some of the moons of Venus, Saturn and Jupiter  to its service.

Users can now explore the surface of Titan, Saturn’s largest moon . You can see lakes and rivers of methane beneath its clouds . About half a million images  come from the Cassini mission ,which  explored Saturn and its moons for  15 years before it burned up in the planet’s atmosphere.

Other highlights include close-ups of Saturn’s sixth-largest moon Enceladus , where water was discovered beneath the surface. Jupiter’s moons Europa and Ganymede are also included in Google Map’s new version. A total of 16 planets and moons can now be explored by users.

Exploring space  works like any place on Earth would.  Just choose a planet or moon and zoom around. Google Map offers the most important physical features of each celestial body as well as corresponding names.

Google Maps started out as a service that let users navigate land . In the past, years the world’s oceans have been added to the map service and in 2014 Google added images of our moon and Mars. Since 2017 users can take a tour of the International Space Station. Most of the material comes from various explorations carried out by NASA and the European Space Agency (ESA).

 

Artist's drawing of how Titan's surface may look like
Artist’s drawing of how Titan’s surface may look like

 

Words

  • atmosphere = mixture of gases that surrounds a planet
  • celestial = about the sky or heaven
  • close-up = film or picture in which the camera is very close to an object
  • corresponding names = names that are connected to the objects in the map
  • discover = to find something for the first time
  • dwarf planet = object in space that is too large for a moon and too small to be planet
  • explore = to travel around a place in order to find out more about it
  • offer = give to the user
  • in addition = also
  • include = to contain; have in it
  • methane = gas that you cannot see or smell; it can be burned to give heat
  • navigate = to find your way around from one place to another
  • physical features = the landscape with mountains, rivers etc..
  • recently = a short time ago
  • service = here: something that the company lets users do
  • surface = top part of a planet
  • various = many different
  • zoom = to move very quickly

 

60 Years Ago – Sputnik First Satellite in Space

60 years ago , on October 4th, 1957, the Soviet Union  launched the first man-made satellite into space. Sputnik showed that the Soviets were willing to overtake American technology.  The launch was also the beginning of a new episode in the Cold War – the Space Race.

Sputnik looked like a big basketball and weighed 84 kilograms. Two radio transmitters  and four antennae were attached to it. The satellite sent out a beeping signal and could be seen on Earth with the naked eye.

The Soviet satellite orbited the Earth over 1,400 times in a period of three months before it burned up in the atmosphereA month later Sputnik 2 was launched, this time with the first animal on board, a dog named Laika.

Sergei Korolev was the father of the Soviet space program. He oversaw the creation of a booster rocket that sent Sputnik into orbit. Korolev was also responsible for bringing  German engineers to the Soviet Union after World War II.

While Sputnik took the rest of the world by surprise, the Soviet Union told their people about the historic launch only a few days later.

In January 1958 the Americans were able to launch their first satellite into orbit. Explorer I  remained in orbit until 1970 and was the  first satellite to detect the Van Allen radiation belt.  Later that year Congress passed a law that created NASA , the American space agency.

 

Sputnik 1
Sputnik 1

Words

  • antenna = a long  piece of wire used to receive radio or television signals
  • atmosphere = the mixture of gases that is around the Earth
  • booster rocket = a rocket that has enough power to send a satellite into Earth orbit
  • Cold War = unfriendly relationship between the USA and the Soviet Union after World War II
  • detect = to show that something existed
  • engineer = here: person who can understands how to build rockets and satellites
  • episode = time during which something happens
  • launch = start ; here: send into space
  • naked eye = without the help of a telescope
  • orbit = to go around a planet or star
  • oversee = to be in charge of ; the leader of
  • overtake = here: to do something more quickly than someone else
  • remain = stay
  • Soviet Union = largest Communist country in the world ; it existed between 1917 and 1991
  • space agency = government organisation that controls space travel and the study of space
  • transmitter = object that sends out radio signals
  • Van Allen radiation belt  = particles of energy that are kept together by the Earth’s magnetic field
  • weigh = how heavy something is

Related Articles

NASA’s Mission to the Sun

The American space agency NASA is planning a mission to the sun in order to explore the outer atmosphere of our solar system’s star.

The Parker Solar Probe and will launch in the summer of 2018. It is planned to go into orbit about 4 million miles from the sun’s surface, closer than any other man-made object in history. Astronomers expect to get information on the corona, the gases and plasma of the sun’s atmosphere.

The probe will also explore solar winds, storms and magnetic fields. These phenomena can affect communication and electric signals on Earth. In addition, scientists expect to get more data on space weather, which is important for longer future missions to Mars.

The probe, named after American solar astronomer Eugene Parker, can provide insight into the structure of our solar system and give us more information on how stars, like our sun, work.

The Parker Solar Probe  must cope with extreme  heat and radiation. The specially designed heat shield is over 10 cm thick and can withstand temperatures of 1,300 degrees Celsius.

The 7-year mission will be made up of 24 orbits around the sun. The probe will pass by Venus 7 times and use the planet’s gravity to position itself inside the sun’s outer atmosphere.

Up to now, the closest a spacecraft ever got to the sun was Helios 2 , which passed the star at a distance of 27 million miles in 1976.

 

Parker Solar Probe
The Parker Solar Probe – artist’s drawing

Words

  • affect = influence
  • astronomer = scientist who studies the stars and planets
  • atmosphere = the gases around a planet or the sun
  • cope = deal with a problem
  • data = information
  • explore = to find out more about something
  • gravity = the power or force that causes an object to be pulled towards a planet
  • heat shield = piece of metal that protects you from fire or extreme heat
  • in addition = also
  • insight = being able to understand something
  • magnetic field = the area around an object that has magnetic power
  • mission = longer trip to an unknown place
  • orbit = to move around an object in circles
  • phenomena = something that happens or exists in nature and is studied because it is difficult to understand
  • position = to move to the correct place
  • radiation = waves of energy that come from light or heat
  • solar = about the sun
  • space agency = organisation that plans missions to planets and stars
  • surface = the top layer of a planet or star
  • withstand = to be strong enough to protect something

Mission Cassini Coming To An End

After 20 years in space NASA’s Cassini mission is coming to an end in April. The  spacecraft  , which was  launched  in 1997 to explore Saturn and its moons, is running out of  fuel  and will crash on Saturn’s surface .

Cassini arrived at Saturn in 2004, after a 7-year long journey. It carried the Huygens probe , which landed on Saturn’s moon Titan in 2005. In the last  decade Cassini has been exploring  the planet and its moons.  Recently , the spacecraft has  revealed that there are giant oceans under the frozen surfaces of some of Saturn’s moons. It also  discovered  the existence of  hydrogen  , one of the  building blocks  of life.

In its last task  before hitting Saturn’s surface , Cassini will pass through the space between the planet’s surface and its rings.  It will travel closer to Saturn than ever before. NASA  scientists expect Cassini to find out even more about the Saturn’s mysterious  rings than we already know.

NASA's Cassini probe in orbit around Saturn
NASA’s Cassini probe in orbit around Saturn

 

Words

  • arrive = here: to get to a planet
  • building block = an element that is needed to produce something else
  • decade = ten years
  • discover = to find something for the first time
  • explore = to find out more about something that has just been discovered
  • fuel = energy that an object uses to travel
  • giant = very large
  • hydrogen =  a colourless gas; the lightest of all gases
  • journey = trip
  • launch = to start a journey
  • mission = long trip, often to a place that is not known very much
  • mysterious = strange and unusual
  • probe = a small unmanned spacecraft
  • recently = a short time ago
  • reveal = show
  • scientist = a person who is trained in science and works in a lab
  • spacecraft = object that can fly through space and to other planets
  • surface = the top layer of a planet
  • task = job; something to do