Space The Final Frontiers

Space The Final Frontiers

This BBC Science Focus special edition reveals the exciting space missions that will help reveal more about the cosmos. IN THIS ISSUE… - A new race to the Moon has begun - Why we need to return to Venus - How we'll harvest space rocks - New Horizons: Pluto and beyond - The hunt for Planet Nine - The oldest galaxies in the Universe

United Kingdom
Immediate Media Company London Limited
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2 min

When we first landed on the Moon in 1969, humankind collectively marvelled at the ingenuity of our species. We had explored the surface of our own planet and had now successfully set foot on another world as well – no problem was insurmountable for us. While we’d landed uncrewed craft on the Moon before that, and had already sent probes to Venus and Mars, it was arguably the Moon landing that energised us to continue exploring the cosmos, so we could unlock the secrets of the Universe and perhaps even life itself. We set our sights further afield than the Moon, with missions to Mars, Jupiter, Saturn and beyond. But we also started building space stations that would allow us to explore the effects of space while remaining in comfortable proximity…

1 min
eye opener

Sol mates FLORIDA, USA In the early hours of 6 February, Solar Orbiter will set off from Cape Canaveral in Florida to begin its journey to the Sun. This joint NASA and ESA mission will unravel some of the mysteries of the Sun, taking high-resolution photos of its polar regions for the very first time. Data gathered by the probe will help us understand how our star creates and controls the heliosphere – a giant bubble of plasma that surrounds our Solar System – as well as investigating coronal mass ejections and solar winds. During the mission, this spacecraft will be exposed to sunlight 13 times more powerful than we feel on Earth. To protect the inside of the probe from the intense heat and radiation, Solar Orbiter’s instruments are hidden behind small ‘peepholes’…

9 min
a new race to the moon has begun

Early January was the one-year anniversary of the first mission to land on the far side of the Moon – China’s Chang’e 4. To mark the occasion, the Chinese space agency released the data and images they’d gathered so far. Looking back to 3 January 2019, there was much excitement when China successfully lowered their Chang’e 4 mission onto the Moon’s surface, and just 12 hours later, the Yutu 2 rover trundled down a ramp to imprint its tyre tracks in the lunar dust on the Moon’s far side for the first time. “It’s a hugely significant moment in the history of space exploration,” says Prof Ian Crawford, a planetary scientist at Birkbeck University of London. Chang’e is named after the Chinese goddess of the Moon, with Yutu being her pet white…

1 min
why do we only ever see one side of the moon?

Thanks largely to Pink Floyd’s 1973 album, astronomers regularly contend with talk of the ‘dark side of the Moon’. There isn’t one. At least there’s no permanently dark side of the Moon. It is true that we only ever see the front of the Moon and not the back due to an effect called tidal locking. Over time the Earth’s gravity slowed the Moon’s rotation on its axis until it matched the time it takes to orbit us (both 27.3 days). So the Moon is rotating, we just never see the other side. The Moon is always half lit up and half not (day and night, just like on Earth). Where this sunlight falls depends on the Moon’s position around the Earth. When between us and the Sun, the back…

1 min
mining on the moon

Why mine the Moon? The Moon has a mass of 73 trillion tons. A crude calculation shows that if one ton of material were removed each day, it would take 220 million years to deplete the mass by 1 per cent. This isn’t enough to cause a change in the Moon’s orbit, or affect the gravitation that influences the tides on Earth. Geological surveys of the Moon show that it contains several vital elements that are in increasingly short supply on Earth. These include: Helium-3 This substance is an isotope of helium that is made up of two protons and one neutron, rather than the two protons and two neutrons that comprise the more common helium-4. Though rare on Earth, helium-3 is relatively abundant in the Moon’s soil and rock. It could play…

1 min
hello, chang’e 4

1 Relay satellite This is positioned 65,000 kilometres beyond the lunar surface to bounce signals back to Earth. 2 Dosimeter This measures the radiation on the lunar far side, in preparation for future human missions to the Moon. 3 Groundpenetrating radar This can scan underneath the lunar surface, right down to a depth of 100 metres. 4 Transmitter dish This sends scientific data and images from the Yutu 2 rover to the relay satellite. 5 Panoramic camera This has already sent back stunning images of the landscape on the far side of the Moon. 6 Solar panels These provide power to the rover, but only during the two weeks every month when the far side is illuminated. 7 LFS booms This trio of five-metre-long antennas picks up radio waves from the early Universe, just after the Big Bang. 8 Lunar Micro Ecosystem The lander carries…