Scientists at NASA explain that unmanned spacecraft traveling away from the sun to explore the outer planets of the solar system are powered by nuclear energy, specifically Plutonium-238 built into a Radioisotope Thermoelectric Generator (RTG).
Elements such as Uranium and Plutonium are considered “radioactive” due to an imbalance of protons and electrons. The process of radioactive decay occurs as an atom of these elements naturally seeks to stabilize itself by releasing subatomic particles into the environment.
Alpha, beta, and dangerous gamma radiation are emitted as heat energy that can be converted into electricity within the generator.
Deep Space Network
The Jet Propulsion Laboratory in California is NASA’s home base for unmanned space travel. Scientists of the JPL oversee missions such as the Opportunity and Curiosity rovers on Mars, the Juno spacecraft orbiting Jupiter, and the Cassini mission exploring Saturn.
The Jet Propulsion Labs are also where NASA’s Deep Space Network is managed. The “network” is a series of dish-shaped antennas at three strategic locations around the globe; California, Madrid, and Australia. The stations are spaced approximately 120 degrees longitude apart from each other, ensuring that as the earth rotates there is a continual connection with NASA spacecraft wherever they are in the solar system.
Return to Sender
From 2003-2010, JAXA’s Hayabusa (named for the peregrine falcon, the fastest bird on earth) successfully landed on asteroid 25143 Itokawa, collected rock samples, and then returned to earth. When JAXA scientists analyzed the space dust, they theorized that Itokawa was once part of a much larger asteroid but broke apart when it collided with another object about 8 million years ago.
The Hayabusa 2 was launched in December of 2014 and arrived at asteroid 162173 Ryugu on June 27, 2018. JAXA’s latest mission, besides deploying four lander/rovers, includes firing projectiles at the surface of Ryugu to collect rock samples from deep beneath the asteroid’s weathered exterior. The samples will be returned to earth in December 2020.
Thousands of years ago, civilizations in China, the Middle East, and North Africa lived close to the earth and formed deep connections with the universe. Relying solely on the sharpness of their eyesight, these early astronomers mapped the night sky with incredible accuracy. The stars they would’ve been most familiar with were found near the equator, patterns that traveled across their line of sight on the ecliptic, eventually becoming the Zodiac Constellations
Astronomy vs Astrology
Though the practices of astrology and astronomy similarly involve studies of the night sky, there is a distinction that exists in modern theories of scientific knowledge. Astronomy is the study of the universe and its contents above and beyond Earth’s atmosphere. Astronomers examine the positions, motions, and properties of celestial objects. Astrology attempts to study how these same factors could affect individual lives in a personal way here on Earth.
Just for fun? Visit www.cafeastrology for a reading of your daily horoscope and compare that with the bright stars, colorful planetary nebulae, and luminous galaxies spinning light years in the distance within the boundaries of your sky sign.