TIME A Year In Space

Mysterious Red Lines Spotted on Saturn’s Moon

NASA/JPL-Caltech/Space Science Institute Tethys, one of Saturn's moons

Scientists aren't sure what they are

NASA’s Cassini spacecraft has discovered strange red lines stretching across the surface of Saturn’s icy moon Tethys.

What are they? Scientists aren’t sure. They could be areas of exposed ice with chemical impurities, according to NASA, or the result of gas being released from within the moon.

“The red arcs must be geologically young because they cut across older features like impact craters, but we don’t know their age in years,” said Cassini imaging scientist Paul Helfenstein. “If the stain is only a thin, colored veneer on the icy soil, exposure to the space environment at Tethys’ surface might erase …

Read more from our partners at NBC News

TIME space

The Sadly Familiar Reason NASA Was Created

Dwight D.  Eisenhower, T. Keith Glennan
AP President Dwight Eisenhower and Dr. T. Keith Glennan, the first head of NASA, discuss photos received from the satellite Tires I in Washington on April 1, 1960,

The act that created the space agency was signed on July 29, 1958

NASA may be devoted to exploring the universe, but the agency owes its existence to a far more earthly concern: office politics.

The National Aeronautics and Space Act, which was signed into law on July 29, 1958, was intended to “provide for research into problems of flight within and outside the earth’s atmosphere, and for other purposes.” One of those other purposes, as TIME noted shortly after the act was signed, was “to overcome the interservice rivalries that had confused the U.S. missile and space programs.”

Before NASA, various branches of the military were conducting research into aspects of space exploration like jet propulsion and satellites, and each wanted a key role in the exciting new field. Giving a single branch agency over all space exploration would alienate the others. Moreover, it could signal that the universe was a battleground as much as a place of inquiry. As the NASA act noted, activities in space “should be devoted to peaceful purposes.”

With the establishment of an agency specifically dedicated to space—and its counterpoint, the military research agency now known as DARPA, which was created at the same time—that bureaucratic nightmare was thought solved.

Or not. As TIME reported that autumn, NASA’s authority to take over peaceful space-centric mission didn’t exactly go down easy:

Energetic Dr. T. Keith Glennan, chief of the newly created National Aeronautics and Space Administration, made his way into the Pentagon office of Army Secretary Wilber Brucker last fortnight with a message: civilian-run NASA, operating under Congressional authority, intended to take over the Army’s missile-making Redstone Arsenal, 2,100 scientists from its missile team, the Army-backed Caltech Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Los Angeles and various other installations.

Brucker lost no time hustling down to the office of Deputy Defense Secretary Donald Quarles to protest. In Chicago Major General John Medaris, Redstone commander, dramatically got aboard a plane for Washington to fight off NASA capture—while a news leak rallied press reinforcements.

President Eisenhower tried to stop the kerfuffle by saying that he hadn’t yet decided who would run the Arsenal and Laboratory in the long run. The Army implied that they’d be fine splitting the difference and giving everything except Redstone to NASA.

A version of that plan is what ended up happening, and before the end of the year NASA’s preeminence in American space exploration was settled. And, TIME reported, there was no sign of future in-fighting—at least not that NASA’s Glennan would be involved with. “I doubt,” he said, “that I can go through this again.”

Read more from 1958, here in the TIME Vault: Fight for Space

TIME space

Names for Parts of Pluto’s Moon Could Be Drawn From Star Wars and Star Trek

NASA

"It is an honor," says iconic Star Trek actor William Shatner

NASA’s scientists have decided to fly their geek flag high, and will be naming craters and peaks on Charon, Pluto’s moon, after places mentioned in science fiction.

According to the rules of the International Astronomical Union (IAU), Pluto’s craters have to have names drawn from underwater mythology. But, Mashable reports, NASA has more free reign to propose names for Charon’s craters and peaks — and in doing so its scientists will be referencing the likes of Star Wars, Star Trek, Firefly and Dr. Who.

To date, names like Vader, Skywalker and Leia Organa have been proposed for craters, and Mordor, from Lord of the Rings, for a huge dark spot on the north side of Pluto’s moon. There’s even a Serenity chasm, named after the beloved ship on the short-lived Joss Whedon show, Firefly.

The new monikers do still have to be approved by the IAU, but scientists are hopeful that the names have enough of a cultural legacy to receive the stamp of approval. (The IAU has already approved the names “Frodo” and “Bilbo” for features on Saturn’s moon.)

Stars of the aforementioned shows and series have already expressed their support. “It is an honor to have a character you helped create be given such an esteemed recognition,” William Shatner, who starred as Captain Kirk in Star Trek, told Mashable.

[Mashable]

TIME astronomy

Watch the Delta Aquarid Meteor Shower Live

The best time to watch is between moonset and sunrise early Wednesday morning

The Delta Aquarid meteor shower is set to light up skies across the globe with shooting stars in the wee hours of Wednesday morning.

While the Delta Aquarid meteor shower started on July 12 and is expected to continue until Aug. 23, the time between moonset and sunrise early Wednesday morning is slated to be the best time to see the shower’s shooting stars.

Astronomers suggest gazing up at the sky a few hours before dawn—at about 2 a.m.—when meteor showers are easiest to see and most frequent, with up to 15 or 20 meteors per hour. While a telescope or binoculars are unnecessary, city dwellers might find the showers hard to see; NASA suggests getting as far away from “urban light pollution as possible and find a location with a clear, unclouded view of the night sky.”

Click here to see where NASA recommends you watch meteor showers in your area.

Watch a livestream of the meteor shower at the top of this post starting at 9 p.m. EDT.

TIME space

Fatal Virgin Galactic Spaceship Crash Blamed on Co-Pilot Error

virgin galactic spaceshiptwo crash
Kenneth Brown—Reuters A combination of photos show Virgin Galactic's SpaceShipTwo as it detaches from the jet airplane that carried it aloft and then exploding over the skies of the Mojave Desert, Calif. on October 31, 2014.

The accident killed the co-pilot and seriously injured the pilot

(WASHINGTON) — Federal safety investigators said Tuesday the crash of a Virgin Galactic spaceship last year was caused by a catastrophic structural failure triggered when the co-pilot unlocked the craft’s braking system early.

National Transportation Safety Board investigators said the resulting aerodynamic forces caused the brakes to actually be applied without any further action by the crew. Investigators said no safeguards were built into system to overcome the error of the co-pilot.

The spaceship broke apart over the Mojave Desert during a test flight 10 months ago. The accident killed the co-pilot and seriously injured the pilot.

NTSB officials said early in the investigation that the co-pilot prematurely unlocked equipment designed to slow the descent of the spacecraft during initial re-entry. Simply unlocking the spacecraft’s brakes shouldn’t have applied them, but that happened anyway.

In determining the probable cause of the accident, board members were focused on prioritizing the lack of systems put in place to mitigate or overcome human error. Scaled Composites developed the craft for Virgin Galactic, and NTSB member Robert Sumwalt said the company “put all its eggs in the basket” the crew doing everying correctly.

“My point is that a single-point human failure has to be anticipated,” Sumwalt said. “The system has to be designed to compensate for the error.”

NTSB chairman Christopher Hart said he hoped the investigation will prevent such an accident from happening again. He said the NTSB learned “with a high degree of certainty the events that resulted in the breakup.”

“Many of the safety issues that we will hear about today arose not from the novelty of a space launch test flight, but from human factors that were already known elsewhere in transportation,” Hart said.

Virgin Galactic has been proceeding with its plans for space flight and is now building another craft. Company officials have said in recent months that their commitment to commercial spacecraft has not waivered despite the crash and they expect the company to resume test flights later this year. Eventually, the company envisions flights with six passengers climbing more than 62 miles above Earth.

TIME A Year In Space

See the Best Photos From an Astronaut’s Fourth Month in Space

Astronaut Scott Kelly just passed the four-month mark in his yearlong stay aboard the Space Station. Here is a collection of the best photos he's snapped so far

TIME is following Kelly’s mission in the new series, A Year In Space. Watch the first two episodes here.

TIME space

Pluto Silhouette Reveals Surprising Atmospheric Haze

Pluto Haze Eclipse New Horizons
NASA/JHUAPL/SwRI Pluto sends a breathtaking farewell to New Horizons. Backlit by the sun, Pluto’s atmosphere rings its silhouette like a luminous halo in this image taken by NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft around midnight EDT on July 15, 2015.

NASA released stunning images on Friday of the dwarf planet's silhouette

In this parting image, the New Horizons spacecraft captured a darkened Pluto backlit by the sun—illuminating the hydrocarbon haze circling the dwarf planet for the first time.

In addition to showing an elegantly beautiful silhouette, the NASA image indicates that haze layers extend for up to 80 miles above Pluto’s surface. Scientists had predicted much less atmospheric haze, and were surprised by how much the sunlight revealed, NASA said in a press release.

“My jaw was on the ground when I saw this first image of an alien atmosphere in the Kuiper Belt,” said New Horizons Principal Investigator Alan Stern in the press release. “It reminds us that exploration brings us more than just incredible discoveries—it brings incredible beauty.”

The New Horizons probe took the photo with its Long Range Reconnaissance Imager (LORRI), responsible for the historic photos of the dwarf planet. NASA released this image just hours after revealing a false color view of Pluto from New Horizons.

TIME space

NASA Discovers New Earth-Like Planet

It's a "bigger, older cousin to Earth"

NASA has discovered an Earth-like planet orbiting around a star, which a NASA researcher called a “bigger, older cousin to Earth.”

Kepler 452b was discovered on NASA’s Kepler mission orbiting in the habitable zone around a sun-like star, or the zone in which liquid water could pool on the surface of an orbiting planet, according to a NASA statement.

About 12 planets had previously been discovered in habitable zones that had similarities to earth, but, “Kepler-452b fires the planet hunter’s imagination because it is the most similar to the Earth-sun system found yet,” NASA’s statement says. “A planet at the right temperature within the habitable zone, and only about one-and-a-half times the diameter of Earth, circling a star very much like our own sun.”

Along with Kepler 452b, this mission also found 11 other small habitable zone planets. “This exciting result brings us one step closer to finding an Earth 2.0,” said John Grunsfeld, associate administrator of NASA’s Science Mission Directorate.

Read next: See the Evolution of the Iconic Blue Marble Photo

Listen to the most important stories of the day

TIME space

Astronauts Successfuly Join Colleagues on the International Space Station

The crew is slated to stay in space for five months, returning on Dec. 22.

Three astronauts have docked with the International Space Station and are joining three existing members on board the station for the next five months.

The three astronauts arriving at the International Space Station include American astronaut Kjell Lindgren and Japanese astronaut Kimiya Yui, who are flying for the first time. They are led by Soyuz commander Oleg Kononenko. The crew is slated to stay onboard for five months, returning on Dec. 22.

The trio will join American astronaut Scott Kelly and Russian cosmonauts Mikhail Kornienko and Gennady Padalka, who have already been in space for 117 days. They launched in the early hours of March 28.

TIME is following the yearlong mission between American astronaut Scott Kelly and Russian cosmonaut Mikhail Kornienko. Click here to watch the series, or watch Episode 1, “Leaving Home,” below.

TIME space

Watch Astronauts Dock With the International Space Station

The crew is slated to stay in space for five months, returning on Dec. 22.

After a successful launch, three astronauts are slated to dock with the International Space Station at 10:46 p.m. E.T. on Wednesday.

The astronauts launched from the Baikonur Cosmodrome aboard a Soyuz rocket at 5:02 p.m. EST. Over six hours, the crew orbited the Earth four times as they caught up with the space station, which orbits the Earth at 17,500 mph.

The three astronauts arriving at the International Space Station include American astronaut Kjell Lindgren and Japanese astronaut Kimiya Yui, who are flying for the first time. They are led by Soyuz commander Oleg Kononenko. The crew is slated to stay in space for five months, returning on Dec. 22.

The trio will join Kelly and Russian cosmonauts Mikhail Kornienko and Gennady Padalka, who have already been in space for 117 days. They launched in the early hours of March 28.

TIME is following the yearlong mission between American astronaut Scott Kelly and Russian cosmonaut Mikhail Kornienko. Click here to watch the series, or watch Episode 1, “Leaving Home,” below.

Your browser is out of date. Please update your browser at http://update.microsoft.com