One NASA mission on Mars will be listening for the landing of the latest Red Planet rover, the CIA releases thousands of declassified UFO-related documents and a Japanese asteroid-studying spacecraft starts a new multi-year journey into the solar system. These are some of the top stories this week from Space.com.
Blue Origin successfully launches and lands its upgraded spacecraft.
On Thursday (Jan. 14), Blue Origin successfully launched the reusable RSS First Step spacecraft in an uncrewed suborbital test flight from West Texas. It is the first upgraded New Shepard spacecraft for astronauts, and both its rocket and capsule successfully touched down after launch. Blue Origin is developing New Shepard to carry people and payloads to suborbital space and back.
Alarming benchmark for CO2 in 2021.
The national meteorological service for the U.K., called the Met Office, made a recent forecast that suggests the concentration of carbon dioxide (CO2) in Earth's atmosphere will exceed a major threshold this year. CO2 stays in the atmosphere for a long time, according to forecast's lead researcher, and emissions from previous years causes levels to continue increasing. In 2021, they expect a 50% increase in atmospheric CO2 since the start of widespread industrial activity in the 18th century.
SpaceX Cargo Dragon splashes down in the Atlantic ocean.
SpaceX's 21st space station cargo delivery mission for NASA wrapped up on Wednesday (Jan. 13) when a Cargo Dragon spacecraft returned to Earth off the coast of Florida. The Dragon CRS-21 mission launched on Dec. 6, 2020 and delivered 6,40 lbs. (2,903 kilograms) of supplies and science equipment to the crew onboard the International Space Station. This was the first Atlantic splashdown of a Cargo Dragon.
The CIA releases thousands of declassified UFO-related documents.
The CIA released more than 2,700 pages of declassified documents related to "unidentified aerial phenomena." The documents were released following several Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests filed over the last 25 years, according to the operator of The Black Vault, an online repository of UFO-related documents.
Oldest and farthest known quasar is discovered.
Astronomers found the most distant quasar known to science. It's so far away that the light reaching Earth from this quasar dates back to when the universe was just 5% of its current age. This quasar also hosts a supermassive black hole with a mass roughly the equivalent of 1.6 billion suns.
Japanese probe journeys to new asteroid targets.
Japan's Hayabusa2 spacecraft is now on its way to a new asteroid after dropping off samples from its previous target to Earth in early December 2020. On Jan. 5, the mission team started powered navigation back out into the solar system to reach the 2,300-foot-wide (700 meters) asteroid (98943) 2001 CC21 for a flyby in 2026. A more in-depth visit to another space rock will occur in 2031, when it studies a small 100 feet (30 m) wide asteroid called 1998 KY26.
Scientists find an old and hot 'super-Earth' in the Milky Way.
Scientists used data from NASA's Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS) and the W.M. Keck Observatory in Hawaii to find an exoplanet, about 50% larger than Earth, that orbits one of the oldest stars in the Milky Way galaxy. The system is located nearby, about 280 light-years from Earth. The exoplanet is about our planet's size and density, but its average surface temperature of over 3,140 degrees Fahrenheit (1,726 degrees Celsius) means it is too hot to host any form of life as we know it.
NASA is ready to test-fire megarocket engines.
NASA plans to test-fire the four main engines of its next-generation heavy-lift booster, the Space Launch Systems (SLS) megarocket. This will be the final test in NASA's ''Green Run" testing series that will check if the rocket is ready for its first launch, the Artemis 1 uncrewed mission around the moon. The upcoming hot-fire engine test will occur at NASA's Stennis Space Center in Mississippi.
Scientists study sunquakes and look for their origins.
The sun releases acoustic energy in the form of waves that ripple along the sun's surface. This solar seismic activity is triggered deep beneath the star's surface, according to data from NASA's Solar Dynamics Observatory. Scientists plan to study more sunquakes to identify the source that originates deep within the star.
A NASA mission might hear the Martian landing of another mission.
NASA's InSight Mars lander is designed to listen for marsquakes, but its sensitivity means it may also pick up the waves made by NASA's Perseverance Mars rover when it lands on the Red Planet's surface in February 2021. The InSight mission will attempt to pick up the seismic activity of the rover's landing from more than 2,000 miles (3,200 kilometers) away.