Friday is astronomy day!

Planets and probes and telescopes, oh my!

On this day in 1930, the name of Pluto was officially announced to the world. If you’ve been paying attention to what NASA’s been up to recently, you’ll already know that their New Horizons mission is well-timed. New Horizons is the first mission to Pluto and the Kuiper belt; it was launched in 2006 and is now approaching its first target. The pictures shown below have been taken from approximately 70 million miles away and are the closest yet- even though they consist of only a few pixels now, they contain lots of information for scientists.

Credits: NASA/JHU-APL/SwRI
Credits: NASA/JHU-APL/SwRI

Elsewhere in NASA news, the Messenger mission to Mercury has come to an end after an unprecedented 4 year orbit. After collecting reams of data and outlasting its original mission length of one year, the probe finally surrendered to the pull of solar gravity and crashed into the surface of Mercury. The image shown below is the last it sent back before it crashed, showing its location not far from the Shakespeare basin. Messenger was the first spacecraft to orbit Mercury.

Credits: NASA/Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory/Carnegie Institution of Washington
Credits: NASA/Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory/Carnegie Institution of Washington

Finally the Square Kilometre Array (SKA) has found its headquarters. The multinational project, which will see vast fields of radio telescopes built across Africa and Australia to help us see further into space, will have its pre-construction HQ at the University of Manchester’s Jodrell Bank Observatory (UK). In a press release from the University of Manchester, Professor Stephen Watts, Head of the School of Physics and Astronomy, said: “This is great news for Jodrell Bank. Not only will it mean cutting edge science will continue to be carried out at the site for the foreseeable future but it will also help inspire the thousands of children who visit here every year from schools across the country. It is a great honour to be chosen as the headquarters of the largest telescope ever built.”

Jodrell Bank Observatory. Image shared by Sue Langford under a Creative Commons license.
Jodrell Bank Observatory. Image shared by Sue Langford under a Creative Commons license.
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