Space probes

In the summer 2014 the problems to the flash memory of the Mars Rover Opportunity’s computer became serious, convincing NASA mission manager to format it to try to solve them. Unfortunately, that operation was insufficient despite being carried out again in early December 2014. For this reason, Opportunity is temporarily working in a limited way without using the flash memory and at NASA they’re preparing a more sophisticated solution.

Combined image of Sun observations by NASA's NuSTAR and Solar Dynamics Observatory (SDO) satellites (Image NASA/JPL-Caltech/GSFC)

NASA’s space telescope NuSTAR (Nuclear Spectroscopic Telescope Array), launched in June 2012, was built to study objects such as black holes and for this reason its sensitivity focuses on high-energy X-rays. For once, however, it was used in a way totally different from what was intended to observe the Sun in a new way.

The idea of using NuSTAR to study the Sun came to David Smith, a solar physicist and a member of the NuSTAR team, already seven years ago, during the construction of this space telescope. Fiona Harrison, the project’s principal investigator, initially thought it was a crazy idea but Smith convinced her that it made sense. The purpose of the proposal was to try to observe the faint flashes of X-rays that the Sun emits according to the theoretical predictions.

ESA has declared the end of the Venus Express space probe’s mission. As of November 28, 2014, communications have become unstable and the mission control center lost control of the spacecraft. It was known that it was almost out of fuel but ESA hoped that there was still some increase the altitude of Venus Express to allow it to extend its mission for some more days. Now it’s expected to fall in the atmosphere of the planet Venus, where it will be destroyed by its enormous pressure and its high temperatures corrosive compounds.

The Milky Way's magnetic field along the Galactic plane (ESA/Planck Collaboration. Acknowledgment: M.-A. Miville-Deschênes, CNRS – Institut d’Astrophysique Spatiale, Université Paris-XI, Orsay, France)

At first glance it might seem like a Vincent Van Gogh painting, actually, it’s the visualization of data collected by the Planck Surveyor satellite during its mission, which ended just over a year ago. In the course of about four and a half years, Planck observed the oldest light in the history of the universe but also a nearer light emitted by dust and gas in the Milky Way. The interaction between the interstellar dust in our galaxy and the structure of the galactic magnetic field is portrayed in this amazing image.