Latest Space News
Hubble Reveals Dynamic Atmospheres of Uranus and Neptune
Thu, 07 Feb 2019 10:00:00 EST

Hubble Image

The two major planets beyond Saturn have only been visited once by a spacecraft, albeit briefly. NASA's Voyager 2 spacecraft swung by Uranus in 1986, and Neptune in 1989. Our robotic deep-space tourist snapped the only close-up, detailed images of these monstrous worlds. For Neptune, the images revealed a planet with a dynamic atmosphere with two mysterious dark vortices. Uranus, however, appeared featureless. But these views were only brief snapshots. They couldn't capture how the planets' atmospheres change over time, any more than a single snapshot of Earth could tell meteorologists about weather behavior. And, they go through protracted seasonal changes in their multi-decades-long orbits. Ever since the Voyager encounter, the Hubble Space Telescope has provided an opportunity to monitor these worlds like a diligent weatherman.

Since Hubble's launch in 1990, astronomers have used it to amass an album of outer planet images. Yearly monitoring of these giant worlds is now allowing astronomers to study long-term seasonal changes, as well as capture transitory weather patterns. One such elusive event is yet another dark storm on Neptune, shown in the latest Hubble image of the planet (right).

The telescope's new snapshot of Uranus (left) shows that the ice giant is not a planetary wallflower. A vast bright polar cap across the north pole dominates the image. The cap, which may form due to seasonal changes in atmospheric flow, has become much more prominent than in previous observations dating back to the Voyager 2 flyby, when the planet, in the throes of winter, looked bland.

Gaia clocks new speeds for Milky Way-Andromeda collision - Read more >
Thu, 07 Feb 2019 16:00:00 +0100

ESA’s Gaia satellite has looked beyond our Galaxy and explored two nearby galaxies to reveal the stellar motions within them and how they will one day interact and collide with the Milky Way – with surprising results.

ESA’s Mars rover has a name – Rosalind Franklin - Read more >
Thu, 07 Feb 2019 12:00:00 +0100

The ExoMars rover that will search for the building blocks of life on the Red Planet has a name: Rosalind Franklin. The prominent scientist behind the discovery of the structure of DNA will have her symbolic footprint on Mars in 2021.  

Hubble Accidentally Discovers a New Galaxy in Cosmic Neighborhood
Thu, 31 Jan 2019 10:00:00 EST

Hubble Image

The universe is very cluttered. Myriad island cities of stars, the galaxies, form a backdrop tapestry. Much closer to home are nebulae, star clusters, and assorted other foreground celestial objects that are mostly within our Milky Way galaxy. Despite the vastness of space, objects tend to get in front of each other.

This happened when astronomers used the Hubble Space Telescope to photograph the globular star cluster NGC 6752 (located 13,000 light-years away in our Milky Way's halo). In a celestial game of "Where's Waldo?", Hubble's sharp vision uncovered a never-before-seen dwarf galaxy located far behind the cluster's crowded stellar population. The loner galaxy is in our own cosmic backyard, only 30 million light-years away (approximately 2,300 times farther than the foreground cluster).

The object is classified as a dwarf spheroidal galaxy because it measures only around 3,000 light-years at its greatest extent (barely 1/30th the diameter of the Milky Way), and it is roughly a thousand times dimmer than the Milky Way.

Because of its 13-billion-year-old age, and its isolation — which resulted in hardly any interaction with other galaxies — the dwarf is the astronomical equivalent of a living fossil from the early universe.

The international team of astronomers that carried out this study consists of L. Bedin (INAF-Astronomical Observatory of Padua, Italy), M. Salaris (Liverpool John Moores University, Liverpool, England, UK), R. Rich (University of California, Los Angeles, California, USA), H. Richer (University of British Columbia, Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada), J. Anderson (Space Telescope Science Institute, Baltimore, Maryland, USA), B. Bettoni (INAF-Astronomical Observatory of Padua, Italy), D. Nardiello, A. Milone, and A. Marino (University of Padua, Italy), M. Libralato and A. Bellini (Space Telescope Science Institute, Baltimore, Maryland, USA), A. Dieball (University of Bonn, Bonn, Germany), P. Bergeron (University of Montreal, Quebec, Canada), A. Burgasser (University of California, San Diego, California, USA), and D. Apai (University of Arizona, Tucson, Arizona, USA).

The science team's results will be published online January 31, 2019, in the Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society: Letters.

The Hubble Space Telescope is a project of international cooperation between NASA and ESA (European Space Agency). NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, manages the telescope. The Space Telescope Science Institute (STScI) in Baltimore, Maryland, conducts Hubble science operations. STScI is operated for NASA by the Association of Universities for Research in Astronomy in Washington, D.C.

Active galaxies point to new physics of cosmic expansion - Read more >
Mon, 28 Jan 2019 17:00:00 +0100

Investigating the history of our cosmos with a large sample of distant ‘active’ galaxies observed by ESA’s XMM-Newton, a team of astronomers found there might be more to the early expansion of the Universe than predicted by the standard model of cosmology.

World's Largest Digital Sky Survey Issues Biggest Astronomical Data Release Ever
Mon, 28 Jan 2019 09:00:00 EST

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Data from the world's largest digital sky survey is being publicly released today by the Space Telescope Science Institute (STScI) in Baltimore, Maryland, in conjunction with the University of Hawai’i Institute for Astronomy in Honolulu, Hawaii. Data from the Pan-STARRS1 Surveys will allow anyone to access millions of images and use the database and catalogs containing precision measurements of billions of stars and galaxies. This data release contains over 1.6 petabytes of data (a petabyte is one million gigabytes), making it the largest volume of astronomical information ever released. The survey data resides in the Mikulski Archive for Space Telescopes (MAST), which serves as NASA's repository for all of its optical and ultraviolet-light observations.

The ins and outs of stellar occultations - Read more >
Fri, 25 Jan 2019 13:00:00 +0100

On the night between Sunday 20 and Monday 21 January, many people across the world were treated to the spectacle of the lunar eclipse.

Hubble Sees Plunging Galaxy Losing Its Gas
Thu, 24 Jan 2019 13:00:00 EST

Hubble Image

Two's company and three's a crowd. But thousands are a mosh pit. That's the case in the giant Coma cluster of more than 1,000 galaxies.

Hubble spotted a wayward spiral galaxy losing its gas as it plunges toward the center of the massive cluster and is roughed up as it plows through the intergalactic medium. Telltale evidence lies in a long, thin streamer of material that is stretching like taffy from the galaxy's core and on into intergalactic space. Gas is the lifeblood of a galaxy, fueling the birth of new stars. Once it is stripped of all of its gas, the galaxy, named D100, will enter retirement and shine only by the feeble glow of its aging, red stars.

D100 is being stripped of its gas because of the gravitational tug of a grouping of giant "bully" galaxies in the crowded cluster. Their combined gravity is pulling the beleaguered galaxy toward the cluster's center. As D100 falls toward the core, the galaxy barrels through material. This action forces gas from the galaxy.

The gas-stripping process in D100 began roughly 300 million years ago. In the massive Coma cluster this violent gas-loss process occurs in many galaxies. But D100 is unique in several ways. Its long, thin tail is its most unusual feature extending nearly 200,000 light-years. But the pencil-like structure is comparatively narrow, only 7,000 light-years wide. Thankfully, our Milky Way galaxy lives in a sparsely populated small corner of the universe, with only one other big galaxy as a companion.

Hubble's Wide Field Camera 3 Recovered and Collecting Science
Thu, 17 Jan 2019 14:00:00 EST

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The Hubble Space Telescope's Wide Field Camera 3 was brought back to full operational status and completed its first science observations just after noon EST today, Jan. 17, 2019.

For more information, visit

Hubble's Wide Field Camera 3 to Resume Operations
Tue, 15 Jan 2019 14:30:00 EST

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NASA has moved closer to conducting science operations again with the Hubble Space Telescope's Wide Field Camera 3 instrument, which suspended operations on Tuesday, Jan. 8, 2019. Today, Jan. 15, the instrument was brought back to its operations mode. After resetting the telemetry circuits and associated boards, additional engineering data were collected and the instrument was brought back to operations. All values were normal. Additional calibration and tests will be run over the next 48 to 72 hours to ensure that the instrument is operating properly. Assuming that all tests work as planned, it is expected that the Wide Field Camera 3 will start to collect science images again by the end of the week.

For future updates and more information about Hubble, visit

Wide Field Camera 3 Anomaly on Hubble Space Telescope Update
Fri, 11 Jan 2019 12:00:00 EST

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NASA continues to work toward recovering the Hubble Space Telescope’s Wide Field Camera 3 instrument, which suspended operations on Tuesday, January 8. A team of instrument system engineers, Wide Field Camera 3 instrument developers, and other experts formed and quickly began collecting all available telemetry and onboard memory information to determine the sequence of events that caused the values to go out of limits. This team is currently working to identify the root cause and then to construct a recovery plan. If a significant hardware failure is identified, redundant electronics built into the instrument will be used to recover and return it to operations.

For more information on Hubble and further updates about the Wide Field Camera 3 anomaly, visit

Team of telescopes finds X-ray engine inside mysterious supernova - Read more >
Thu, 10 Jan 2019 23:15:00 +0100

ESA’s high-energy space telescopes Integral and XMM-Newton have helped to find a source of powerful X-rays at the centre of an unprecedentedly bright and rapidly evolving stellar explosion that suddenly appeared in the sky earlier this year.

NASA's Hubble Helps Astronomers Uncover the Brightest Quasar in the Early Universe
Wed, 09 Jan 2019 17:15:00 EST

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Less than a billion years after the big bang, a monster black hole began devouring anything within its gravitational grasp. This triggered a firestorm of star formation around the black hole. A galaxy was being born. A blowtorch of energy, equivalent to the light from 600 trillion Suns, blazed across the universe. Now, 12.8 billion years later, the Hubble Space Telescope captured the beacon from this event. But Hubble astronomers needed help to spot it. The gravitational warping of space by a comparatively nearby intervening galaxy greatly amplified and distorted the quasar's light, making it the brightest such object seen in the early universe. It offers a rare opportunity to study a zoomed-in image of how supermassive black holes accompanied star formation in the very early universe and influenced the assembly of galaxies.

XMM-Newton captures final cries of star shredded by black hole - Read more >
Wed, 09 Jan 2019 23:15:00 +0100

Astronomers using ESA's XMM-Newton space observatory have studied a black hole devouring a star and discovered an exceptionally bright and stable signal that allowed them to determine the black hole’s spin rate.   

Gaia reveals how Sun-like stars turn solid after their demise - Read more >
Wed, 09 Jan 2019 19:00:00 +0100

Data captured by ESA’s galaxy-mapping spacecraft Gaia has revealed for the first time how white dwarfs, the dead remnants of stars like our Sun, turn into solid spheres as the hot gas inside them cools down.

Wide Field Camera 3 Anomaly on Hubble Space Telescope
Wed, 09 Jan 2019 11:00:00 EST

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The Wide Field Camera 3 on the Hubble Space Telescope suspended operations on January 8 due to a hardware problem. Hubble will continue to perform science observations with its other three active instruments, while the Wide Field Camera 3 anomaly is investigated. Wide Field Camera 3, installed during Servicing Mission 4 in 2009, is equipped with redundant electronics should they be needed to recover the instrument.

For more information about Hubble and further updates about the Wide Field Camera 3 anomaly, visit

Young Planets Orbiting Red Dwarfs May Lack Ingredients for Life
Tue, 08 Jan 2019 13:00:00 EST

Hubble Image

Our Sun is not one of the most abundant types of star in our Milky Way galaxy. That award goes to red dwarfs, stars that are smaller and cooler than our Sun. In fact, red dwarfs presumably contain the bulk of our galaxy's planet population, which could number tens of billions of worlds. Surveys by NASA's Kepler Space Telescope and other observatories have shown that rocky planets are common around these diminutive stars. Some of these rocky worlds are orbiting within the habitable zones of several nearby red dwarfs. The temperate climates on such worlds could allow for oceans to exist on their surface, possibly nurturing life.

That's the good news. The bad news is that many of these rocky planets may not harbor water and organic material, the necessary ingredients for life as we know it. Earth, which formed as a "dry" planet, was seeded over hundreds of millions of years with icy material from comets and asteroids arriving from the outer solar system.

If the same life-nurturing process is needed for planets around red dwarfs, then they may be in trouble. Researchers using the Hubble Space Telescope and the European Southern Observatory’s Very Large Telescope (VLT) in Chile have discovered a rapidly eroding dust-and-gas disk encircling the young, nearby red dwarf star AU Microscopii (AU Mic). The disk is being excavated by fast-moving blobs of material, which are acting like a snowplow by pushing small particles — possibly containing water and other volatiles — out of the system. Astronomers don’t yet know how the blobs were launched. One theory is that powerful mass ejections from the turbulent star expelled them. Such energetic activity is common among young red dwarfs.

If the disk around AU Mic continues to dissipate at the current pace, it will be gone in about 1.5 million years, which is the blink of an eye in cosmic time. Smaller bodies, such as comets and asteroids, could be cleared out of the disk within that short time span. Planets, however, would be too massive to be displaced. Without enrichment from comet and asteroid material, the planets may end up dry, dusty, and lifeless.

Triangulum Galaxy Shows Stunning Face in Detailed Hubble Portrait
Mon, 07 Jan 2019 12:00:00 EST

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NASA's Hubble Space Telescope has produced this stunningly detailed portrait of the Triangulum galaxy (M33), displaying a full spiral face aglow with the light of nearly 25 million individually resolved stars. It is the largest high-resolution mosaic image of Triangulum ever assembled, composed of 54 Hubble fields of view spanning an area more than 19,000 light-years across.

The Local Group of galaxies is dominated by the Milky Way, Andromeda, and Triangulum. As the junior member of this trio of spiral galaxies, Triangulum provides the valuable comparisons and contrasts that only a close companion can. Most notably, Triangulum's star formation is 10 times more intense than in the comparable Hubble panorama of the neighboring Andromeda galaxy. Astronomers have only begun to mine the enormous amount of data generated by these new Hubble observations, and expect they will yield important insights into the effects of such vigorous star formation.

The orderly nature of Triangulum's spiral, with dust distributed throughout, is another distinctive feature. Astronomers think that in the Local Group, Triangulum has been something of an introvert, isolated from frequent interactions with other galaxies while keeping busy producing stars along organized spiral arms. Uncovering the Triangulum galaxy’s story will provide an important point of reference in understanding how galaxies develop over time, and the diverse paths that shape what we see today.

Hubble Takes a Close Look at the Brightest Comet of the Year
Thu, 20 Dec 2018 14:00:00 EST

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On December 13th, NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope photographed comet 46P/Wirtanen, a periodic comet that orbits the Sun once every 5.4 years. These observations were taken days before the comet’s closest approach to Earth on December 16th, when it passed just over 7 million miles from our planet. Astronomers took advantage of this unusually close approach to study the comet’s inner cloud of gas and dust, or coma, in detail. Their goal was to study how gases are released from ices in the nucleus, what the comet’s ices are composed of, and how gas in the coma is chemically altered by sunlight and solar radiation. In this image, the comet’s nucleus is hidden in the center of a fuzzy glow from the comet’s coma.

Faint Glow Within Galaxy Clusters Illuminates Dark Matter
Thu, 20 Dec 2018 10:00:00 EST

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Utilizing the powerful Hubble Frontier Fields observations of galaxy clusters, a study demonstrates that intracluster light — the light of stars orphaned in galaxy cluster mergers — aligns with dark matter, tracing its distribution more accurately than other methods. With broader use, astronomers think the technique could be a first step in exploring the nature of the unobservable, elusive dark matter that makes up the majority of the universe.

Mars Express gets festive: A winter wonderland on Mars - Read more >
Thu, 20 Dec 2018 11:25:00 +0100

This image shows what appears to be a large patch of fresh, untrodden snow – a dream for any lover of the holiday season. However, it’s a little too distant for a last-minute winter getaway: this feature, known as Korolev crater, is found on Mars, and is shown here in beautiful detail as seen by Mars Express.

December comet brings back Rosetta memories - Read more >
Fri, 14 Dec 2018 12:00:00 +0100

A special visitor is crossing the sky: Comet 46P/Wirtanen, sighted with telescopes and binoculars in recent weeks, is on the way to its closest approach to Earth this weekend, when it might become visible to the naked eye.

In Search of Missing Worlds, Hubble Finds a Fast Evaporating Exoplanet
Thu, 13 Dec 2018 10:00:00 EST

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In nabbing exoplanets that are precariously close to their stars, astronomers have discovered a shortage of one type of alien world. It's a predicted class of Neptune-sized world that orbits just a few million miles from its star, much closer than the 93-million-mile distance between Earth and the Sun. Dubbed "hot Neptunes," these planets would have atmospheres that are heated to more than 1,700 degrees Fahrenheit (hot enough to melt silver).

However, the mysterious hot-Neptune deficiency suggests that these planets are rare, or, they were plentiful at one time, but have since disappeared. In fact, most of the known Neptune-sized exoplanets are merely "warm," because they orbit farther away from their star than those in the region where astronomers would expect to find hot Neptunes.

To date, astronomers have discovered two warm Neptunes that are leaking their atmospheres into space. The most recent finding, a planet cataloged as GJ 3470b, is losing its atmosphere at a rate 100 times faster than that of the previously discovered evaporating warm Neptune, GJ 436b.

These discoveries reinforce the idea that the hotter version of these distant worlds may be a class of transitory planet whose ultimate fate is to shrink down to the most common type of known exoplanet, mini-Neptunes — planets with heavy, hydrogen-dominated atmospheres that are larger than Earth but smaller than Neptune. Eventually, these planets may downsize even further to become super-Earths, more massive, rocky versions of Earth. If GJ 3470b continues to rapidly lose mass, in a few billion years, perhaps it, too, will dwindle to a mini-Neptune.

NASA's Webb Telescope Will Provide Census of Fledgling Stars in Stellar Nursery
Wed, 12 Dec 2018 10:00:00 EST

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Billions of years ago, the young universe blazed with the brilliant light of myriad stars bursting to life. The young stars arising from this stellar "baby boom" are too far away and too faint for even the most powerful telescopes to study in detail.

Astronomers will use the upcoming NASA James Webb Space Telescope to study star birth in the nearby Small Magellanic Cloud galaxy, which contains some of the same conditions that existed in galaxies during the universe’s peak star-formation epoch. Webb’s sharp infrared vision will help researchers take a census of medium-mass stars like our Sun still wrapped in their dense, dusty cocoons in the giant stellar nursery NGC 346, located about 200,000 light-years away. This census could help astronomers develop a clearer picture of how the galaxies of long ago churned out stars so rapidly.

Rosetta witnesses birth of baby bow shock around comet - Read more >
Wed, 12 Dec 2018 12:00:00 +0100

A new study reveals that, contrary to first impressions, Rosetta did detect signs of an infant bow shock at the comet it explored for two years – the first ever seen forming anywhere in the Solar System.

Riccardo Giacconi (1931–2018) - Read more >
Tue, 11 Dec 2018 15:47:00 +0100

ESA is saddened to hear of the passing of Professor Riccardo Giacconi, Nobel laureate and pioneer of X-ray astronomy, on 9 December at the age of 87.

Riccardo Giacconi, Visionary Director of the Space Telescope Science Institute
Mon, 10 Dec 2018 16:15:00 EST

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The worldwide astronomical community mourns the loss of Riccardo Giacconi, the first permanent director of the Space Telescope Science Institute (STScI) in Baltimore, Maryland.

Learning from lunar lights - Read more >
Fri, 07 Dec 2018 14:31:00 +0100

Every few hours observing the Moon, ESA’s ‘NELIOTA’ project discovers a brilliant flash of light across its surface – the result of an object hurtling through space and striking our unprotected rocky neighbour at vast speed. Based at the Kryoneri telescope of the National Observatory of Athens, this important project is now being extended to January 2021.

New Virtual Reality Experience Highlights NASA’s Webb Space Telescope
Wed, 05 Dec 2018 10:00:00 EST

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Visit the James Webb Space Telescope at its orbit point beyond the Moon, 1 million miles from Earth. Fly through the Orion Nebula and watch a planet-forming disk take shape. Explore the star fields of a simulated galaxy. Or get hands-on and fling stars into a ravenous black hole to watch them spaghettify. All of these encounters are part of the new WebbVR virtual experience.

WebbVR offers users an opportunity to immerse themselves into a variety of environments from our own solar system to distant galaxies. Information hubs provide more details about the places you visit, while simulations incorporate real physics. WebbVR is available for download from Steam, a popular VR content platform.

Celebratory Galaxy Photo Honors 25th Anniversary of NASA's First Hubble Servicing Mission
Tue, 04 Dec 2018 11:00:00 EST

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Over the past 28 years Hubble has photographed innumerable galaxies throughout the universe, near and far. But one especially photogenic galaxy located 55 million light-years away holds a special place in Hubble history. As NASA made plans to correct Hubble's blurry vision in 1993 (due to a manufacturing flaw in its primary mirror) they selected several astronomical objects that Hubble should be aimed at to demonstrate the planned optical fix. The magnificent grand spiral galaxy M100 seemed an ideal target that would just fit inside Hubble's field-of-view. This required that a comparison photo be taken while Hubble was still bleary-eyed. The Wide Field/Planetary Camera 1 was selected for the task. And, the picture had to be taken before astronauts swapped-out the camera with the vision-corrected Wide Field/Planetary Camera 2, in December 1993. Following the servicing mission Hubble re-photographed the galaxy again, and it snapped into crystal clear focus. The public celebrated with Hubble's triumphant return to the clear vision that had been promised. And, jaw-dropping pictures of the vast universe that followed have not disappointed space enthusiasts. Because of the astronaut servicing missions, Hubble's capabilities have only gotten better. To commemorate the 25th anniversary of the first servicing mission, this 2-panel photo compares the blurry, pre-servicing 1993 image to a 2009 image taken with Hubble's newer, Wide Field Camera 3 instrument, installed during the last astronaut servicing mission to the space telescope.

Exoplanet mission launch slot announced - Read more >
Fri, 23 Nov 2018 15:40:00 +0100

The Characterising Exoplanet Satellite, Cheops, will target 15 October to 14 November 2019 for launch.

Shaping the surface of Mars with water, wind and ice - Read more >
Thu, 22 Nov 2018 11:00:00 +0100

ESA’s Mars Express has imaged an intriguing part of the Red Planet’s surface: a rocky, fragmented, furrowed escarpment lying at the boundary of the northern and southern hemisphere.

Oxia Planum favoured for ExoMars surface mission - Read more >
Fri, 09 Nov 2018 15:00:00 +0100

The ExoMars Landing Site Selection Working Group has recommended Oxia Planum as the landing site for the ESA-Roscosmos rover and surface science platform that will launch to the Red Planet in 2020.

Windy with a chance of magnetic storms – space weather science with Cluster - Read more >
Thu, 08 Nov 2018 11:00:00 +0100

Space weather is no abstract concept – it may happen in space, but its effects on Earth can be significant. To help better forecast these effects, ESA’s Cluster mission, a quartet of spacecraft that was launched in 2000, is currently working to understand how our planet is connected to its magnetic environment, and unravelling the complex relationship between the Earth and its parent star.

Galactic ghosts: Gaia uncovers major event in the formation of the Milky Way - Read more >
Wed, 31 Oct 2018 19:00:00 +0100

ESA’s Gaia mission has made a major breakthrough in unravelling the formation history of the Milky Way. 

A changing crater: Honouring a renowned Mars scientist - Read more >
Fri, 26 Oct 2018 11:00:00 +0200

The surface of Mars may appear to be perpetually still, but its many features are ever-changing – as represented in this Mars Express view of the severely eroded Greeley impact crater.