NASA shut down space shuttle Endeavour for the final time on May 11, 2012. Space shuttle technicians working inside Orbiter Processing Facility-2 (OPF-2) at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida powered down Endeavour, the youngest of the retired fleet’s orbiters, at 9:58 a.m. EDT (1358 GMT) as they moved forward with preparations for the winged spacecraft’s museum display. This September, NASA will mount Endeavour on top of a modified Boeing 747 carrier aircraft and ferry it to Los Angeles for its exhibit at the California Science Center.
According to NASA scientists huge sunspot that dwarfs the Earth is unleashing a series of powerful solar flares as it moves across the surface of the sun. The sunspot AR 1476 was detected by space telescopes on May 5. The huge sunspot is 60,000 miles (100,000 kilometers) across, so large that when it was first seen in views from NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory spacecraft, mission scientists dubbed it a “monster sunspot.”
New observations from a NASA Dawn spacecraft show that the huge asteroid Vesta is a battered protoplanet left over from the solar system’s early days, with a unique mix of characteristics unknown from any other space rock. Scientists had thought that Vesta, the second-largest body in the main asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter, probably started down a planet-forming path shortly after the solar system’s birth. Many other Vesta-like objects were incorporated into rocky worlds such as Earth, but Vesta’s development along this path was halted.
The European Space Agency declared the death of its massive Earth-observing satellite Envisat on May 9 after a month of mysterious silence from the school bus-size spacecraft. Envisat is the world’s largest Earth-watching satellite for civilian use, with ESA officials touting its 10th anniversary in space earlier this year. The $2.9 billion satellite was originally designed to snap high-resolution photos of Earth for five years, but managed to last 10 years during its successful mission.
The Biological Oxidant and Life Detection mission, or BOLD, would send six small spacecraft to Mars to seek out extinct or extant life in the planet’s red dirt. As said researchers the mission, if it’s ever approved, might be ready to go by 2018 and would likely cost less than $300 million. If BOLD gets off the ground, it would be the first dedicated life-detection mission to Mars since NASA’s twin Viking landers blasted off in 1975, ultimately returning inconclusive results.
As said alien solar systems that are home to so-called Hot Jupiters are unlikely homes for Earth-like planets. Hot Jupiters get their name from the fact that they are approximately Jupiter’s size, but extraordinarily near their stars, at about a tenth of the distance from Mercury to our sun. These roaster planets are among the alien worlds that astronomers have discovered most often since their size and proximity to their parent stars mean they exert large gravitational tugs on their hosts that scientists can readily spot.
NASA’s Cassini spacecraft will be flying within about 46 miles (74 kilometers) of Saturn’s moon Enceladus (Enceladus is the sixth-largest of the moons of Saturn, it was discovered in 1789 by William Herschel) on May 2, aiming primarily to learn more about the moon’s internal structure. The flyby is the third part of a trilogy of flybys, the other two took place on April 28, 2010, and November 30, 2010, for Cassini’s radio science experiment.
A Russian space capsule touched down on the steppes of Kazakhstan in Central Asia on April 27, safely returning a joint U.S.-Russian crew to Earth after months aboard the International Space Station. The Soyuz TMA-22 spacecraft landed at 7:45 a.m. EDT (1145 GMT), less than four hours after undocking from the space station. Riding home aboard the space capsule were NASA astronaut Dan Burbank and Russian cosmonauts Anton Shkaplerov and Anatoly Ivanishin, who were reintroduced to the strong tug of Earth’s gravity after spending 165 days, or nearly 5 1/2 months, in orbit.
NASA’s Dawn spacecraft reveal new details about the giant asteroid Vesta, including its varied surface composition, sharp temperature changes and clues to its internal structure. Images from Dawn’s framing camera and visible and infrared mapping spectrometer, taken 420 miles (680 kilometers) and 130 miles (210 kilometers) above the surface of the asteroid, show a variety of surface mineral and rock patterns.