Best Space Stories of the Week – April 19, 2015

SpaceX Falcon 9 Rocket's Landing Attempt
The first stage of SpaceX's Falcon 9 rocket attempts to land on a robotic ship on April 14, 2015, shortly after sending the company's Dragon cargo capsule to orbit. (Image credit: SpaceX)

SpaceX nearly pulled off an unprecedented rocket landing during a cargo launch to the International Space Station, NASA's Curiosity rover found evidence that liquid water flows through Martian soil on cold nights and the New Horizons probe returned its first color image of Pluto. Here's a look at's top stories of the week.

SpaceX almost makes reusable-rocket history

A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket successfully launched the company's robotic Dragon cargo capsule toward the International Space Station Tuesday (April 14), then almost succeeded in landing on an unmanned ship in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean. [Full Story: SpaceX Narrowly Misses Rocket Landing After Dragon Spaceship Launch Success]

Amazing video shows the SpaceX rocket crash and burn

A stunning new video shows the first stage of SpaceX's Falcon 9 rocket crashing and burning after nearly pulling off an unprecedented touchdown on a robotic "drone ship" in the Atlantic Ocean Tuesday (April 14). [Full Story: Awesome New SpaceX Video Shows Rocket Landing Try and Crash]

Curiosity finds signs of wet Martian soils

NASA's Mars rover Curiosity has found evidence that the Red Planet's soil absorbs water from the atmosphere on cold nights, leading to the existence of salty liquid water under the surface. [Full Story: On Mars, Liquid Water Appears at Night, Study Suggests]

New Horizons returns first color image of Pluto

NASA's New Horizons mission to Pluto has returned its first color image of the dwarf planet and its largest moon, Charon. New Horizons captured the photo on April 9, about three months before the spacecraft makes the first-ever flyby of the Pluto system. [Full Story: 1st Color Image of Pluto Snapped by Approaching NASA Probe (Photo)]

Best maps of universal dark matter yet

New dark matter maps from the Dark Matter Survey telescope reveal in high definition the distribution of this mysterious substance throughout the universe. [Full Story: Dark Matter Illuminated in New High-Resolution Maps]

United Launch Alliance reveals new Vulcan rocket

United Launch Alliance, the U.S. company behind the Atlas and Delta family of rockets, has unveiled Vulcan, its next-generation launch system. Vulcan incorporates new engines, a reuse approach that features a mid-air recovery and a new upper stage aimed at enabling complex on-orbit operations. [Full Story: 'Behold Vulcan': Next-Generation Rocket Unveiled by United Launch Alliance]

Mystery of Saturn's 'Great White Spots' solved?

Giant storms on Saturn known as "Great White Spots," which recur every 20 to 30 years, may be caused by moisture in the planet's atmosphere, researchers say. [Full Story: Mystery of Saturn's Epic Planet-Encircling Storms Explained]

How do Saturn moon Titan's huge dunes form?

Rare tropical methane storms could help solve the mystery of how strange, giant dunes form on Titan, Saturn's largest moon. These long, colossal dunes pose one of Titan's greatest mysteries, as they seem to grow eastward, whereas models of Titan's atmosphere predict that surface winds at its equatorial latitudes would blow westward. [Full Story: Violent Methane Storms on Titan May Explain Strange Dunes]

Another ringed body in the solar system?

Astronomers have spotted possible rings around the minor planet Chiron, suggesting that ring systems may be more common throughout the solar system than scientists had previously thought. [Full Story: Weird Comet-Asteroid 'Centaur' May Have Rings]

Successor to Hubble Space Telescope may hunt for signs of life

The iconic Hubble Space Telescope turns 25 this month, and getting the ball rolling on a life-hunting successor instrument would be a fitting birthday present, one prominent researcher argues. [Full Story: Beyond Hubble: Will Future Space Telescope Seek Alien Life by 2030?]

End is near for NASA Mercury probe

NASA's MESSENGER probe, which has been circling Mercury since March 2011, is nearly out of fuel and will say goodbye with a dramatic death plunge on April 30, provided that one final orbit-raising maneuver scheduled for April 24 goes as planned, mission team members said. [Full Story: Mercury Probe's Dramatic Death Plunge Set for April 30]

Dawn spacecraft gets view of Ceres' north pole

Ceres' cratered north pole blazes through the darkness in new images captured by NASA's Dawn probe on April 10. The photos are the highest-resolution views of the world that Dawn has gotten since entering Ceres' orbit on March 6, NASA officials said. [Full Story: NASA Probe Sees North Pole of Dwarf Planet Ceres (Video)]

Follow Mike Wall on Twitter @michaeldwall and Google+. Follow us @Spacedotcom, Facebook or Google+.

Join our Space Forums to keep talking space on the latest missions, night sky and more! And if you have a news tip, correction or comment, let us know at:

Mike Wall
Senior Space Writer

Michael Wall is a Senior Space Writer with and joined the team in 2010. He primarily covers exoplanets, spaceflight and military space, but has been known to dabble in the space art beat. His book about the search for alien life, "Out There," was published on Nov. 13, 2018. Before becoming a science writer, Michael worked as a herpetologist and wildlife biologist. He has a Ph.D. in evolutionary biology from the University of Sydney, Australia, a bachelor's degree from the University of Arizona, and a graduate certificate in science writing from the University of California, Santa Cruz. To find out what his latest project is, you can follow Michael on Twitter.