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Solar System: Things to Know This Week

Solar System: Things to Know This Week

Learn the latest on Cassini’s Grand Finale, Pluto, Hubble Space Telescope and the Red Planet.

1. Cassini’s Grand Finale

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After more than 12 years at Saturn, our Cassini mission has entered the final year of its epic voyage to the giant planet and its family of moons. But the journey isn’t over. The upcoming months will be like a whole new mission, with lots of new science and a truly thrilling ride in the unexplored space near the rings. Later this year, the spacecraft will fly repeatedly just outside the rings, capturing the closest views ever. Then, it will actually orbit inside the gap between the rings and the planet’s cloud tops.

Get details on Cassini’s final mission

The von Kármán Lecture Series: 2016

2. Chandra X-Rays Pluto

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As the New Horizon’s mission headed to Pluto, our Chandra X-Ray Observatory made the first detection of the planet in X-rays. Chandra’s observations offer new insight into the space environment surrounding the largest and best-known object in the solar system’s outermost regions.

See Pluto’s X-Ray

3. … And Then Pluto Painted the Town Red

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When the cameras on our approaching New Horizons spacecraft first spotted the large reddish polar region on Pluto’s largest moon, Charon, mission scientists knew two things: they’d never seen anything like it before, and they couldn’t wait to get the story behind it. After analyzing the images and other data that New Horizons has sent back from its July 2015 flight through the Pluto system, scientists think they’ve solved the mystery. Charon’s polar coloring comes from Pluto itself—as methane gas that escapes from Pluto’s atmosphere and becomes trapped by the moon’s gravity and freezes to the cold, icy surface at Charon’s pole.

Get the details

4. Pretty as a Postcard

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The famed red-rock deserts of the American Southwest and recent images of Mars bear a striking similarity. New color images returned by our Curiosity Mars rover reveal the layered geologic past of the Red Planet in stunning detail. 

More images

5. Things Fall Apart

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Our Hubble Space Telescope recently observed a comet breaking apart. In a series of images taken over a three-day span in January 2016, Hubble captured images of 25 building-size blocks made of a mixture of ice and dust drifting away from the comet. The resulting debris is now scattered along a 3,000-mile-long trail, larger than the width of the continental U.S.

Learn more

Discover the full list of 10 things to know about our solar system this week HERE.

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