Mars InSight lander detects quake, six new binary black hole mergers detected, NASA prepares for a real game of 'Astrosmash', and the first-ever image of a black hole is released
The space race is hotting up again, but this time it isn't just the US versus the Soviet Union.
China, Japan, and even entrepreneurs such as Jeff Bezos and Elon Musk and others are all involved in the effort, first, to make a new manned flight to the Moon and, second, a manned flight to Mars - ahead of a possible colonisation project (notwithstanding the bankruptcy of the unlikely Mars One project).
Not only that, observatories around the world are scanning the skies and sifting through the data to learn more and more, not just about the planets within our Solar System, but beyond our galaxy, too.
The otherwise unremarkable asteroid of Bennu has been in the public eye since December when a NASA probe first arrived to do a number of circuits around the 500-metre wide rock.
Bennu was first spotted in 1999. It is a carbon-rich, near-Earth asteroid, believed to have been created by the leftovers from the formation of the solar system. It is also thought to have remained largely unchanged for the past 4.5 billion years.
Observations from the Osiris-Rex probe indicate the presence of ‘plumes' of particles emanating from the surface of the asteroid, which is also littered with large boulders. These findings have perplexed NASA scientists, and forced them to alter their plans for rock sample collection from Bennu.
For more in-depth research on Bennu, check out the dedicated NASA Osiris-Rex website.
Astronomers at the European Space Agency's Gaia observation satellite claim that the mass of the Milky Way is around 1.5 trillion solar masses, within a radius of 129,000 light-years from the centre of the galaxy. Previous estimates had ranged from 500 billion to three trillion solar masses.
The astronomers used new data sets, which included the weight of dark matter combined with data collected by NASA's Hubble telescope and the European Space Agency's Gaia observation satellite.
According to researchers only a few per cent of the Milky Way's total mass is contributed by around 200 billion stars in the Milky Way. The rest of the galaxy's mass is locked up in invisible dark matter.
Ever since Pluto was relegated from ‘planet' to ‘dwarf planet', astronomers have been convinced that there is, nevertheless, another mass out there that could take its place. Pluto is, after all, not even the largest object in the Kuiper belt beyond Neptune (Eris is 27 per cent bigger, for example).
But scientists believe that there is a ninth planet somewhere in the outer reaches of the Solar System. Two recent papers have recently been published, providing evidence for the ninth planet.
These suggest that the planet may not be as far out as first thought, and that it could be larger or more dense than Earth. The only problem? No-one has much idea about where roughly it is and, hence, don't know where to point their telescopes.
It can be hard enough to appreciate the vastness of the Universe, how it was created, and what might lie beyond, but what about parallel universes and other esoteric concepts?
And, when you've got your head around them, what about the concept of multiple versions of reality existing simultaneously - at least, at the quantum level?
That's what researchers at the University of Innsbrück in Austria claim they have proved in an experiment known as ‘Wigner's friend', first postulated in 1961 by Nobel Prize-winning physicist Eugene Wigner.
Since 1961, Wigner's postulation remained no more than a theory, but recent advances in physics have enabled it to be tested in the labs.
"Theoretical advances were needed to formulate the problem in a way that is testable. Then, the experimental side needed developments on the control of quantum systems to implement something like that," study co-author Martin Ringbauer, a post-doctoral researcher at the University of Innsbrück, told Live Science.
A number of NASA vehicles have already been landed on Mars, trundled around, sent back pictures and conducted experiments on rock samples - all beamed back to Earth to add to what we know about the so-called red planet.
NASA scientists with Opportunity rover before it was sent on its mission to Mars
Following the demise of the Mars Opportunity rover, which was designed to last for no more than 90 days but ended up roving for 15 years, NASA is planning to send a new vehicle to Mars in2020, one that will be capable of doing even more.
In preparation for a launch next year, NASA has successfully conducted an experimental landing, deploying all the major components that will be used to get the new rover to Mars.
If everything continues to go well, Mars 2020 rover will launch on 17 July 2020 atop an Atlas V 541 rocket from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida, and arrive at its destination - Jezero crater on Mars - on 18 February 2021.
The aim of the mission is to study the geological processes at the surface of the landing site, to search for signs of ancient microbial life that might have existed on the planet, and to look for potential landing sites for future manned missions.