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The Most Exciting Space Missions Scheduled For 2016

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The Most Exciting Space Missions Scheduled For 2016

2015 was the year we saw Pluto and found water on Mars. In 2016, we’re going to learn just how the planets were made. Today looking ahead at what to expect in space this year. There’s a lot going on!

The European Space Agency’s ExoMars rover will land on Mars, Osiris-REX will launch towards the asteroid, and Rosetta will smash into comet 67P. But two upcoming missions really stand out to me.

JAXA — the Japanese Space Agency, is launching a x-ray astronomy telescope ASTRO-H in February of next year. X-Rays are produced when cosmic matter is heated to millions of degrees. We physically cannot observe those emission with urface telescopes because, to x-rays, the Earth’s atmosphere is OPAQUE!

By looking at them from space, we can pick up tons of data impossible to gather from Earth. To pick up as much as possible, the satellite has four sensor systems allowing it to measure hard and soft x-rays, gamma rays and perform x-ray spectroscopy. Once launched from Japan, the ASTRO-H will open up “windows into the distribution of dark matter in galaxies,” and the “the large-scale structure of the Universe.” Very cool.

Another mission this year is going to look into the solar system’s formation as a whole by looking at Jupiter. NASA’s Juno spacecraft will arrive at the Jovian system on July 5, and like another Mars mission, it might seem like we know plenty about the largest planet. We’ve been to Jupiter a lot, but most of those missions have been flybys on the way to other destinations — the Pioneer probes, the Voyager probes, New Horizons, Cassini, and Ulysses all flew past Jupiter without stopping.

Galileo went into orbit around the gas giant from 1995 to 2003, and we haven’t had anything in orbit since. We’re long overdue for a dedicated Jupiter mission, particularly one that will measure something we don’t know about: the amount of water in Jupiter’s atmosphere. This seems esoteric, but it’s actually going to help scientists with the major question of which planet formation theory is correct, or tell us if we need an entirely new theory by telling us where the water on Earth came from.

If Juno finds there’s little water in Jupiter’s atmosphere, scientists will be able to conclude that icy bodies like asteroids from the distant Kuiper Belt brought water as ice to the rocky inner planets. And because Jupiter is our best example of a giant planet, knowing more about its formation will help us understand the planets we find around other stars.

So, ASTRO-H and Juno are the missions that *I’m* into, but what missions are you guys looking forward to this year? Let us know in the comments below.


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