“Out of this world” space discoveries and gadgetry

By Casey Frye, CCNN Writer

Super Saturn
The newly discovered “Super Saturn” has gigantic rings.

Space has definitely been “out of this world” lately, with crazy phenomena and technology popping up left and right!

First, a mountain-sized “doomsday” asteroid recently brushed past Earth at a distance of 745,000 miles, which astronomers consider a “near miss”. Then, Jupiter’s 3 biggest moons – Callisto, Io, and Europa – cast a rare triple shadow, which won’t happen again until 2032. The gas giant is the Solar System’s biggest planet, has over 60 confirmed moons, and is the 5th planet from the Sun.

If you prefer the icy rings of neighboring Saturn, the 2nd largest planet, then check this out: Scientists found a “Super Saturn” outside of our Solar System with 30 rings that are 200 times bigger – they’re tens of millions of miles wide!

What better way to explore the starlit mysteries of the great beyond than with high-tech space gadgetry? Well, Back in 1969, NASA’s Apollo 11 made history with the first successful manned Moon mission, landing Americans Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin on its surface. Now, NASA is looking to conquer Mars, and they’re developing an unmanned helicopter drone that could one day explore the Red Planet. The little chopper, which weighs about 2 pounds and has blades 3.6 feet wide, may join NASA’s 2020 Mars rover.

ancient solar system
There’s an ancient solar system out there that’s almost as old as the Universe!

Meanwhile, Google’s Lunar Xprize recently awarded millions of dollars to companies that are trying to land the first ever private spacecraft on the Moon.

And, the European Space Agency’s comet-orbiting Rosetta spacecraft captured snowflake-like dust particles! See, last November, Rosetta’s Philae lander made the first ever comet landing. Unfortunately, the solar-powered machine got trapped in a shadowy region, where it was forced to hibernate. Still, scientists have picked up some great up close footage of the comet, and they’re excited to monitor its journey towards the Sun.

With all these futuristic discoveries, will scientists find evidence of alien civilizations? Well, they’re certainly optimistic, since they have identified the oldest known system of Earth-sized rocky planets in the Milk Way! Even though the five planets can’t support life, they’re part of a system that formed 11.2 billion years ago. Since the Universe is only about 13.8 billion years old, that means that Earth-sized planets could have formed much earlier than scientists once believed. Since some of those Earth-like planets might have been livable, alien life would have had plenty of time to evolve. I mean, scientists have already found water on moons in our own Solar System and on planets beyond it. So, it’s not too far-fetched to imagine them finding evidence of microscopic bacteria, simple plant life, or even complex organisms!

What’s next on the horizon? Well, stay tuned to NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft, as it zooms in on Pluto for some breathtaking photos! Its journey across 3 billion miles over the past 9 years is about to pay off…

Featured image and ancient solar system art courtesy of NASA. Image of “Super Saturn” courtesy of University of Rochester.