The first all-civilian space crew makes its historic launch, Chinese astronauts return to Earth after a 90-day mission to their new space station and scientists discover objects with strange orbits beyond Neptune. These are some of the top stories this week from Space.com.
Inspiration4 launches, bringing the first all-civilian crew to space.
The first all-civilian crew launched into space on Wednesday (Sept. 15) as part of SpaceX's Inspiration4 mission. The crew, which includes Chris Sembroski, Sian Proctor, Jared Isaacman and Hayley Arceneaux, is also the fourth group to ride in a Dragon capsule, which is a SpaceX vehicle designed as an astronaut taxi service to ferry humans to and from space.
China's Shenzhou 12 astronauts land back to Earth.
The three members of the first crewed mission to China's new space station are back on Earth. Nie Haisheng, Liu Boming and Tang Hongbo launched up to the station's core module, called Tianhe ("Harmony of the Heavens"), in June 2021. The 90-day Shenzhou 12 mission ended this week when their spacecraft detached from Tianhe, and the mission members landed back on Earth on Friday (Sept. 17).
Asteroid smacks Jupiter and produces a bright flash.
On Monday (Sept. 13), Brazilian observer José Luis Pereira caught a bright flash on Jupiter. The light was likely caused by an asteroid striking the giant planet's atmosphere. It is not uncommon for asteroids to hit Jupiter, and large space rocks can leave scars that linger for years. Monday's impact, however, was relatively small and the rock likely failed to reach Jupiter's deeper atmosphere.
NASA astronaut now on an extended record-breaking mission.
NASA astronaut Mark Vande Hei will now stay on the International Space Station until March 2022, bringing his space-station stay up to a record-breaking 353 days. Vande Hei's mission extension will help scientists learn how long spaceflight missions can affect the human body. Astronaut Scott Kelly currently holds the record for longest single spaceflight, at 340 days.
An ozone hole near the south pole is larger than Antarctica.
A massive ozone hole has opened up over Antarctica this year, and has already surpassed the size of most ozone holes measured since 1979. The ozone layer is an important atmospheric component that absorbs harmful ultraviolet UV radiation coming from the sun. Worsening climate change is making it harder for Earth to recover from the concentrations of substances that damaged the ozone decades ago.
Dixie fire gets close to antennas that are searching for alien life.
The SETI Institute's Allen Telescope Array (ATA) in northern California searches the universe for signs of alien life. The array is now close to the path of the raging Dixie Fire, which came within 8 miles (13 kilometers) of the observatory on Sept, 9, threatening its 42 antennas. ATA staff are "mildly optimistic" that this was their worst encounter with the fire. One of the latest events created by human-caused climate change, the Dixie Fire is the second-largest fire on record in California.
Scientists describe more than 400 new solar system objects.
NASA awards $146 million for Artemis human moon landers.
Super-precise clock creators awarded the Breakthrough Prize.
Five American companies are receiving millions of dollars from NASA so that they can develop crewed moon landers for the space agency's Artemis Program. NASA officials announced on Tuesday (Sept. 14) that Blue Origin, Dynetics, Lockheed Martin, Northrop Grumman and SpaceX would be awarded a total of $146 million as part of NASA's Next Space Technologies for Exploration Partnerships (NextSTEP) program. The awards will fund work over the next 15 months.
Tropical Storm Nicholas makes landfall.
Tropical Storm Nicholas made landfall near Houston, Texas as a category 1 hurricane on Tuesday (Sept. 14). Nicholas brought heavy rains to Texas and parts of Louisiana and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA)'s National Hurricane Center warned of "life-threatening flash floods."
Supernova mystery is solved 900 years after its night-sky appearance.
In a new paper, scientists describe what they think are the remnants of a massive collision that triggered a bright flash of light 900 years ago. Astronomers in China and Japan observed a new bright point in their skies that lasted about six months beginning in 1181 AD. The team thinks the fast-expanding nebula called Pa30 was the result of that vibrant explosion.