Last month in space - November
Find out what happened in the space industry in November!
1. International Space Station turns 20
The 20th November marked 20 years since the first component, the Zarya module, of the International Space Station was launched by Roscomos. NASA followed, 2 weeks later launching their first component, Unity. This landmark co-operation between the United States and Russia marked the start of an extraordinary project that has had a huge impact on our exploration of the Universe. Since the arrival of Expedition 1 on November 2nd 2000, the ISS has been home to 230 people from 18 different nations with NASA’s Peggy Whitson holding the record for the longest time working in space with an impressive total of 665 days over 3 missions. She also became the first female commander of the ISS in 2007.
To mark it’s 20th birthday the ISS is having a Refabricator installed, a hybrid recycler and 3D printer that will be able to melt plastics down and be used to create new tools.
2. Satellites used to count whales
Researchers from the British Antarctic Survey (BAS) have been testing the use of satellite images to count whales from space. Despite being taken from 620km up the highest resolution images give enough detail to identify different species. Attempts to count whales from orbit have been previously made with little success however the BAS's new approach which uses images from the WorldView-3 spacecraft allows objects as small as 31cm across to be detected. Only restricted military systems have access to greater resolution images. This new technique will allow us to study vast areas of oceans and will greatly increase our understanding of the size of whale populations and their behaviours.
Find out more about how we can use satellite images to track whales and other species here.
3. Mars Insight Probe reaches Mars
After a 7 month long journey, NASA’s Mars InSight probe has reached the equator of the red planet, touching down on Monday 26th November. The spacecraft hit the Martian atmosphere at 12,300mph, reaching the surface several minutes later. The InSight probe landed in Elysium Planitia, a large lava plain where it will spend the next few years mapping the interior of the planet.
Find out more about the mission and follow its progress here.
4. Hubble Space Telescope finds a smile from The Universe
Despite all the recent problems faced by the Hubble Space Telescope, it is back in action and recently when observing a vast array of galaxies, many from the galaxy cluster SDSS J0952+3434, found a cosmic ‘smile’. The mouth of the ‘smile’ is made by a distorted galaxy, formed by gravitational lensing, meaning the light from this galaxy has passed near a massive object while on its way to us and has been stretched and distorted. This effect is not uncommon and is known as pareidolia, which is the phenomenon of seeing patterns where no real pattern exists.
What’s Coming Up in December?
December will see both the Geminids and Ursids meteor shower. The Geminids shower will peak late on the 13th December reaching an expected maximum of 100 meteors per hour. The Ursids meteor shower will peak much later, on the 22nd December, and will mark the last meteor shower of 2018.
Emma studies Physics with Astronomy at the University of Southampton.
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