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Category: #Space

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Explore every moon in our solar system with this interactive atlas


The Atlas of Moons is National Geographic‘s amazing interactive project to explore the incredible diversity of over 200 moons in our solar system, like Europa, shown above. Each moon is described and shown with as much recent information available.

With the upcoming JUICE launch (aka Jupiter Icy Moons Explorer), public interest in Europa will undoubtedly increase. Via National Geographic:

With a vast global ocean tucked beneath a smooth, icy shell, Europa is considered one of the best places to look for life beyond Earth. Its ancient, alien sea likely contains all the ingredients needed for life as we know it. Peering beneath that crisscrossed crust is a bit tricky, but scientists recently spotted plumes of possible seawater venting into space, which could be sampled by an orbiting craft.

Discovered in 1610 by Galileo Galilei, it was named after a lover of Zeus. Features are named for people, places, gods, or objects from Celtic myths, as well as for people and places associated with the Greek Europa myth.

Image: National Geographic

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The Article Was Written/Published By: Andrea James

Swarms of autonomous insect robots could prove key to future planetary exploration


While we’re preparing to launch a six-wheeled robotic rover roughly the size of a car to explore Mars, future planetary exploration and science missions could employ much smaller hardware – including, potentially swarms of robots the size of insects designed to act in concert with one another autonomously.

Swarming insect-like robots are being developed by a number of different institutions and companies, but a researcher at California State University Northridge recently received a sizeable Department of Defense grant specially to fund the development of autonomous robot swarms for extraterrestrial applications – as well as for use right here on Earth in mining, industrial and search and rescue efforts.

The grant, for $539,000, was awarded to CSUN mechanical engineering professor Nhut Ho, who also directs the NASA Autonomous Research Center for STEAMH (which focuses on collaborative research efforts between Science, Technology, Entrepreneurship, Arts, Humanities and Mathematics academics, hence the acronym). The goal of the research is to build robotic swarms that can essentially be dropped into unknown and hostile environments, and then figure out how to complete specific tasks they’re given without essentially any additional input.

Ultimately, such a swarm would be able to perform complex problem solving to deal with challenges, including organizing themselves into different sized groups to handle different aspects of the task at hand, as well as dealing with setbacks including losing individual members of the swarm through redundancy and repurposing.

One way the system will be tested is through use with a collaborating team from NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) that seeks to find the best solutions for autonomously navigating and mapping underground environments.

As for why this approach is even being considered, there are a lot of potential benefits of using a swarm of small rovers vs. a single, large one. At a very basic level, there’s built-in redundancy – if a rover like NASA’s Perseverance encounters a fatal error, the mission is essentially done, while a swarm losing individual members shouldn’t end the entire mission. Also, a swarm can self-assemble into individual subunits and cover more ground more quickly, accomplishing a number of goals in parallel where a larger rover might have to handle tasks in sequence.

CSUN is working with partners including JPL, as mentioned, as well as Boston Dynamics, Intel, Clearpath Robotics, Telerob, Veoldyne and Silvus Technologies on its swarm project. It could be a while before any insect bots actually set ‘foot’ on the red planet, but this is definitely a strong sign of interest and support from large, deep-pocketed public funding sources.

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The Article Was Written/Published By: Darrell Etherington

Hitting the books: The ancient technology behind astronaut ice cream

8243cde0-a752-11ea-be9c-25fe1ab9163eIt’s been one week since astronauts Robert Behnken and Douglas Hurley made history by successfully riding SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket up to the International Space Station. This calls for a celebration! And what orbital party would be complete without t…

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