The Most Amazing Space Stories This Week!
Three views of Mars at its best for 2016 take center stage in this collage of images by amateur astronomer Dylan O’Donnell (at left as seen from his home-built backyard observatory in Byron Bay, New South Wales), the European Space Agency's Mars Express spacecraft (center) and the Hubble Space Telescope. The images were all taken in mid-May 2016 to mark Mars' arrival at opposition on May 22, 2016.
Credit: D. O'Donnell - ESA/Mars Express/VMC CC BY-SA 3.0 IGO - ESA/NASA/Hubble

The closest approach of Mars since 2005 is around the corner, the Red Planet seems to be coming out of an ice age and a major mystery about supermassive black holes may be solved. Here are the most amazing things that happened in the universe this week.

Get ready for Mars' close approach on May 30

On Monday (May 30), Mars will be just 46.8 million miles (75.3 million kilometers) from Earth — closer than it's been since 2005. Here's what to expect from this cosmic encounter. [Full Story: Here Comes Mars! Red Planet Makes Closest Earth Approach Since 2005 Monday]

Inflatable space station habitat doesn't deploy on first try

NASA called off attempts to inflate the first privately built expandable room on the International Space Station on May 26 after early efforts to pump up the module didn't go exactly as planned. [Full Story: NASA Hits Snag While Inflating Space Station's New BEAM Habitat

Mars coming out of an ice age

Mars is emerging from an ice age, a finding that could shed light on the past and future climates of both Mars and Earth, researchers said. [Full Story: Red Planet Heats Up: Ice Age Ending on Mars

India launches space plane for first time

India flight-tested its robotic space-plane prototype, known as the Reusable Launch Vehicle-Technology Demonstrator (RLV-TD), for the first time on May 22. [Full Story: India Launches Prototype Space Plane on 1st Test Flight (Photos)

Big milestone for big telescope

Construction will soon begin on what is slated to be the largest optical telescope ever built. On May 25, the European Southern Observatory announced that it has selected a contractor to build the dome and main facility of the European Extremely Large Telescope (E-ELT) in the mountains of Chile. [Full Story: World's Largest Telescope Now Has a Construction Contract

Black hole birth mystery may be solved

Supermassive black holes were probably born big, a new study reports. These behemoths — which lie at the hearts of most if not all galaxies, and can contain billions of times more mass than the sun — probably form after the collapse of gigantic gas clouds, rather than the death of individual stars, as some astronomers had thought. [Full Story: Mystery Solved? Supermassive Black Holes Likely Born Big

Laser-sailing to Mars?

The same laser system being developed to blast tiny spacecraft between the stars could also launch human missions to Mars, protect Earth from dangerous asteroids and help get rid of space junk, project leaders say. [Full Story: Lasers Could Blast Astronauts to Mars, Protect Earth from Asteroids

Solar superflares could endanger astronauts

When a powerful "superflare" from the sun scoured the solar system more than 1,200 years ago, it apparently had little effect on Earth's inhabitants — but today's astronauts wouldn't be so lucky, scientists said. New research suggests that an event of that magnitude would greatly endanger current plans for space travel, with astronauts standing a good chance of receiving lethal doses of radiation. [Full Story: Ancient Solar Superflare Suggests Risks for Mars Missions

But then again, we may not be here without solar superflares

Potent and frequent solar eruptions could have warmed Earth enough for life to take root, and also provided the vital energy needed to transform simple molecules into the complex building blocks of life, such as DNA, researchers said. [Full Story: Superflares from the Sun May Have Sparked Life by Warming Earth

Radiation could make search for alien life tough

Two separate studies suggest that galactic radiation would quickly degrade biological material on the surface of Mars and Jupiter's ocean-harboring moon Europa, two of the prime targets in the search for signs of past or present extraterrestrial life. [Full Story: Alien Life? Radiation May Erase Mars, Europa Fossils

Saturn moon Titan's 'magic islands' explained (possibly)

The mysterious disappearing islands spotted in Titan’s lakes and oceans may actually be rafts of bubbles that form when it rains methane on the huge Saturn moon, a new study suggests. [Full Story: 'Magic Islands' May Bubble to the Surface of Saturn's Moon Titan

Many Earth-size exoplanets may not be Earth-like

Many Earth-like exoplanets that orbit red dwarf stars in the "habitable zone" — that just-right range of distances at which liquid water can exist — are actually too hot to host life, a new study suggests. [Full Story: Many Earth-Like Alien Planets Likely Too Hot for Life]

Energy for life may flow through Jupiter moon Europa's ocean

Jupiter's moon Europa might be able to support life even if there's little or no volcanic activity under the satellite's icy shell, a new study suggests. [Full Story: Jupiter Moon Europa's Ocean May Have Enough Energy to Support Life]

Another milestone for New Horizons

As NASA's New Horizons probe speeds toward a possible encounter with an object beyond the orbit of Pluto, the spacecraft has made observations of another icy object located in the same outer region of the solar system. [Full Story: Beyond Pluto, New Horizons Studies Distant Icy Object]

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