It might seem like NASA is announcing a brand-spanking-new "Earth-like" exoplanetconstantly—some far-away world that might possibly maybe have the basic requirements for life as we know it. And it seems that way because, well, that's pretty accurate: it's all thanks to NASA's wildly successful Kepler Space Telescope, which uses the blinking and dimming of distant alien stars to spot planets that might orbit around them. But the latest Kepler finds (219 new planetary candidates, 10 of which are Earth-size and the right distance from their host star to hold liquid water) mark something of an end: this represents the final official planetary search results from Kepler's mission data.
Close your eyes and picture what the Earth looks like. You're probably picturing a circle, mostly blue thanks to the ocean, with swirls of clouds and the occasional green and brown land mass. The entire sphere is floating in a mass of impossible black. You're picturing Earth in a way that you've never actually seen with your own two eyes. Maybe you're getting the sketch from this famous shot, below, known as the blue marble image. Astronauts aboard the Apollo 17 space mission snapped the picture on December 7th, 1972. Countless other images of our home planet have been taken, which have forever shaped our imagination of it. Still, only a handful of humans have seen it with naked eyes.
There's a big eclipse coming up. No, not the total solar eclipse in August that we're all really excited about. This one will happen in September around a star 1,000 light years away. Sure, it will be much more difficult to observe than our Moon passing in front of the Sun, but it could give us clues about a distant solar system.
One of NASA's greatest spacecraft will call it quits on September 15, 2017. The Cassini spacecraft has made countless discoveries during its sojourn to Saturn and its surrounding moons. It has also sent back nearly 400,000 images, many of which are purely spectacular, with surely more to come during the final months of the mission as Cassini explores new territory between Saturn and its rings.
If humankind ever sets up a colony on Mars, a lot of things will be different. There'll be less gravity, less oxygen, and more death if you go outside without a spacesuit. But at least one thing might remain the same: if we bring mice to Mars with us, we'll probably still have mouse infestations.