10 Things for the Week of Dec. 30 - Jan. 5
28 December 2012
Your weekly look at upcoming events and stories from around our solar system:
1. LAST CHANCE: NAME THAT ASTEROID
Only hours remain to get a rare chance to name an asteroid. The student contest to name the asteroid to be visited by the OSIRIS-REx mission closes on Monday (Dec. 31). The only other way to name an asteroid is to discover one yourself.
2. CLOSEST APPROACH TO THE SUN
On Thursday (Jan. 2), Earth makes its annual closest approach to the sun (about 147.5 million km). Although the sunlight will be a bit brighter, don't expect things to warm up. Seasonal weather patterns are shaped primarily by the 23.5-degree tilt of our planet's spin axis, and not by the Earth's elliptical orbit. During northern winter the North Pole is tilted away from the sun, which makes the days shorter -- that is what makes it cold.
3. 50 YEARS OF EXPLORATION: MARINER 2
Thursday also marks 50 years since final contact with the Mariner 2 spacecraft (the first successful mission to another planet). The inert spacecraft is still out there orbiting the sun. Our Eyes on the Solar System team painstakingly recreated Mariner 2's trajectory. Now you can fly with Mariner 2 using this tool.
4. WATCH FOR METEORS
The Quadrantids meteor shower should peak on Friday (Jan. 3). Like December's Geminid meteors, the Quadrantids originate from an asteroid called 2003 EH1. The Quadrantids are named for the extinct constellation: Quadrans Muralis, which is no longer recognized, but it was around long enough to give the meteor shower -- first seen in 1825 -- its name.
5. SO LONG, SPUTNIK
Also on Friday, Fifty-five years ago something more than a meteor burned up in Earth's atmosphere. Sputnik, the world's first satellite, fell back to Earth in 1958 after launching the space race.
6. NOBLE SPIRIT
Saturday (Jan. 4) marks the eighth anniversary of the Spirit Mars Exploration Rover's historic landing on Mars. The rover succumbed to the harsh Martian environment in 2010 after delivering spectacular science and far exceeding its expected lifetime. Her sister rover -- Opportunity -- is still roving on Mars and is a part of a fleet of spacecraft currently exploring the Red Planet from a variety of vantage points.
7. MERCURY MAP
The MESSENGER team, working hard on an extended mission at Mercury, have released an interactive map that allows you to explore our solar system's innermost planet in unprecedented detail.
8. BYO JUNO
We've added Jupiter-bound Juno to our Build-Your-Own Space Fleet page in our revamped kids section.
9. LIVE FROM SATURN
NASA's Cassini orbiter is still working hard at Saturn. Check in on the mission any time through the raw image gallery. Pressed for time? Check out the Best of 2012 gallery.
10. THE LONG ROAD TO PLUTO
New Horizons continues on its nine year run to Pluto. The recent discoveries of more moons orbiting Pluto triggered interest in making sure the spacecraft's flight path is clear of debris as it passes through the Pluto system in July 2015.
Read More by Phil Davis