WATCH NASA VIDEO: “2017 –Death of Saturn’s Cassini to the Discovery of 10 Earth-Sized Alien Planets”

 

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2017 was a year of groundbreaking discoveries and record-setting exploration at NASA. The Moon became a focal point for the agency, with unique coverage of the first coast-to-coast total solar eclipse in the U.S. in 99 years, and announced the 10 Earth-size planets found in the habitable zone of a star outside our solar system.

 

 

 

The Moon became a key focus point for NASA in 2017, whether it was blocking out the Sun during one of the most-viewed events in U.S. history, or reinvigorating the agency’s human space exploration plans.

Here are some of this year’s other highlights in the solar system and beyond:

A thrilling epoch in the exploration of our solar system came to a close Sept. 15, as NASA's Cassini spacecraft made a fateful plunge into the atmosphere of Saturn, ending its 13-year tour of the ringed planet. The mission transformed our understanding of ocean worlds, where life may potentially exist beyond Earth.

 

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Humanity's farthest and longest-lived space mission – NASA’s Voyager 1 and 2 – celebrated 40 years of unprecedented science findings and imagery on Sept. 5. NASA continues to communicate with the spacecraft daily as they explore the frontier where interstellar space begins.

 

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A spacecraft that will touch the Sun was named for a living researcher: Eugene N. Parker, professor emeritus at the University of Chicago. NASA’s Parker Solar Probe is scheduled for launch in 2018 to explore the Sun’s outer atmosphere.

NASA's Fermi Gamma-ray Space Telescope detected the first light ever tied to a gravitational-wave event, thanks to two merging neutron stars in the galaxy NGC 4993, located about 130 million light-years from Earth. NASA's Swift, Hubble, Chandra and Spitzer missions, along with dozens of ground-based observatories, later captured the fading glow of the blast's expanding debris.

 

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The James Webb Space Telescope completed environmental testing at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center and the Johnson Space Center as it readies for assembly into a single spacecraft ahead of launch in 2019.

 

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NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope revealed the first known system of seven Earth-size planets around a single star, Trappist 1, with three planets located in the habitable zone, in a solar system older than ours.

 

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NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope found an exoplanet that snows sunscreen, but only on the side of the planet that permanently faces away from its host star.

NASA’s Kepler space telescope team released its most comprehensive and detailed catalog of exoplanet candidates, introducing 219 new planet candidates, 10 of which are near-Earth size and orbiting in their star's habitable zone.

Astronomers using data from NASA’s Chandra X-Ray Observatory and other telescopes found evidence for a star that whips around a black hole about twice an hour, which could be the tightest orbital dance ever witnessed between a possible black hole and a companion star.

NASA’s OSIRIS-REx asteroid sample return spacecraft successfully used Earth’s gravity on Sept. 22 to slingshot itself on a path toward the asteroid Bennu, for a rendezvous next summer. The spacecraft is on a seven-year journey to rendezvous with, study, and return a sample of Bennu to Earth.

NASA selected two new planetary missions on Jan. 4 that have the potential to open new windows on one of the earliest eras in the history of our solar system. The Lucy mission will visit a target-rich environment of Jupiter’s mysterious Trojan asteroids, while the Psyche mission will study a unique metal asteroid that’s never been visited before.

Early science results from NASA’s Juno mission to Jupiter portray the largest planet in our solar system as a complex, turbulent world, with Earth-sized polar cyclones and plunnging storm systems that travel deep into the heart of the gas giant.

 

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On Oct. 19, the NASA-funded Pan-STARRS1 telescope discovered the first confirmed object to travel through our solar system from another star. The historic discovery revealed the interstellar interloper to be a rocky, cigar-shaped object with a ratio of length to width unlike any asteroid or comet observed in our solar system.

An international team of astronomers led by NASA scientists successfully completed the first global exercise using a real asteroid – 2012 TC4 – to test global response capabilities. The exercise tested the International Asteroid Warning Network for hazardous asteroid observations, modeling, prediction and communication.

Mars

In 2017, NASA made progress in the preparations to send astronauts to Mars, as well as reaching the milestone of 20 years of continuous robotic scientific exploration of the Red Planet. And a record 2.4 million space fans signed up this year to send their names to Mars on NASA’s InSight mission, a robotic lander designed to study the interior and subsurface of the planet in 2018.

On Nov. 16, NASA selected a science instrument for an upcoming sample return mission to the moons of Mars: a Japan-led mission known as MMX to the moons of Mars. The instrument will help scientists resolve questions about when and how the small moons formed around the Red Planet.

After receiving a record-breaking number of applications to join an exciting future of space exploration, NASA selected on June 12 women and men as the agency’s new astronaut candidates. They may fly on future deep space missions using the world’s most powerful rocket, the Space Launch System (SLS), and the Orion spacecraft. This year, NASA has been building and testing hardware for both the first and second missions for SLS and Orion.

Here are some of this year’s highlights about progress toward human deep space missions to the Moon and Mars:

The first piece of completed SLS hardware for the first test mission, Exploration Mission-1, was delivered to Kennedy Space Center for processing.

Flight preparations are complete for the four liquid fuel engines that will help power SLS on its first mission, and engineers began testing engines for the second mission that will carry crew, Exploration Mission-2.

All five parts of the rocket’s core stage are built and ready for additional outfitting and testing.
The 10 motor segments have been cast for the two solid rocket boosters, and they are on track to be ready for the first integrated test flight.

NASA has moved up a critical crew safety launch abort test for the Orion spacecraft in advance of the first launch with humans, and teams also have been testing the parachutes to bring the capsule to a safe landing as well as exit procedures for the crew after returning from a mission.

Meanwhile, teams powered on the Orion spacecraft for the first integrated test launch, and are busy building the Orion capsule for the first crewed mission. At the future launch site for SLS and Orion, upgrades to the walls of the flame trench are complete as well as the installation of all the work platforms in the Vehicle Assembly Building where the rocket will be stacked prior to launch.

In 2017, six NASA astronauts have lived aboard the International Space Station, supporting more than 120 new U.S. research investigations conducted in the unique microgravity laboratory to prepare for future deep space exploration and improve life on Earth. Investigations included research leading to new knowledge about combustion processes, tests of a drug to help fight cancer, and technology demonstrations like the Bigelow Expandable Activity Module (BEAM).

In addition, the space station hosts many external experiments that observe Earth and our environment from space and study space physics, such as neutron stars, black holes, and the search for dark matter. More than 170 total U.S. investigations this year are advancing our understanding in biology and biotechnology, physical sciences, human research, technology development and education.

In 2017, NASA further used the vantage point of space to increase our understanding of our home planet, improve lives, and safeguard our future. The 60th anniversary of space-based research of Earth, and the beginning of the United States’ exploration of space, comes in January 2018, followed by NASA’s 60th birthday on Oct. 1.

Here are some highlights from this year in NASA’s Earth sciences research:

A new NASA study provided space-based evidence that Earth’s tropical regions were the cause of the largest annual increases in atmospheric carbon dioxide concentration seen in at least 2,000 years. The research used global data from NASA’s Orbiting Carbon Observatory-2, launched in 2014.

NASA’s program to turn Earth science data from space into life- and property-saving information when natural disasters strike on Earth contributed to major hurricane, earthquake, and wildfire response efforts in 2017.
NASA Earth satellite data revealed the formation of a massive iceberg the size of the state of Delaware that split off the Larsen C ice shelf in Antarctica in July.

NASA’s use of the International Space Station for scientific studies of Earth continued to grow with the launch of instruments to observe lightning and the protective ozone layer in February and another in December to track the Sun’s influence on our climate.

 

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Scientists created the first global inventory of sulfur dioxide emissions from volcanoes using over a decade of data from NASA’s Aura satellite. Sulfur dioxide is a harmful air pollutant and a contributor to climate change.

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