This Week’s Top Space Stories!

The first all-civilian space crew makes its historic launch, Chinese astronauts return to Earth after a 90-day mission to their new space station and scientists discover objects with strange orbits beyond Neptune. These are some of the top stories this week from 

Inspiration4 launches, bringing the first all-civilian crew to space. 

A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket launches the Inspiration4 mission on a Crew Dragon spacecraft, from Launch Complex 39A at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida. (Image credit: John Kraus/Inspiration4)

The first all-civilian crew launched into space on Wednesday (Sept. 15) as part of SpaceX’s Inspiration4 mission. The crew, which includes Chris Sembroski, Sian Proctor, Jared Isaacman and Hayley Arceneaux, is also the fourth group to ride in a Dragon capsule, which is a SpaceX vehicle designed as an astronaut taxi service to ferry humans to and from space. 

Full story: SpaceX launches four civilians into orbit on historic Inspiration4 flight

See also: SpaceX’s Inspiration4 astronauts share first snapshots from historic private space trip

Plus: SpaceX’s Inspiration4 private all-civilian orbital mission: Live updates

China’s Shenzhou 12 astronauts land back to Earth.

The three-person crew of Shenzhou 12 – Nie Haisheng, Liu Boming and Tang Hongbo – are seen after exiting their Shenzhou capsule after landing in n the Gobi Desert in Inner Mongolia on Sept. 17, 2021 to end a 90-day mission to China’s Tianhe module, the first piece of the Tiangong space station.   (Image credit: CMSE)

The three members of the first crewed mission to China’s new space station are back on Earth. Nie Haisheng, Liu Boming and Tang Hongbo launched up to the station’s core module, called Tianhe (“Harmony of the Heavens”), in June 2021. The 90-day Shenzhou 12 mission ended this week when their spacecraft detached from Tianhe, and the mission members landed back on Earth on Friday (Sept. 17). 

Full story: Chinese astronauts land after historic 3-month mission to new space station

Asteroid smacks Jupiter and produces a bright flash.

Brazilian observer José Luis Pereira captured this shot of an impactor hitting Jupiter on Sept. 13, 2021. (Image credit: José Luis Pereira)

On Monday (Sept. 13), Brazilian observer José Luis Pereira caught a bright flash on Jupiter. The light was likely caused by an asteroid striking the giant planet’s atmosphere. It is not uncommon for asteroids to hit Jupiter, and large space rocks can leave scars that linger for years. Monday’s impact, however, was relatively small and the rock likely failed to reach Jupiter’s deeper atmosphere. 

Full story: Jupiter just got smacked by a space rock and an amateur astronomer caught it on camera

NASA astronaut now on an extended record-breaking mission. 

NASA astronaut Mark Vande Hei as seen on the International Space Station in June 2021. (Image credit: NASA)

NASA astronaut Mark Vande Hei will now stay on the International Space Station until March 2022, bringing his space-station stay up to a record-breaking 353 days. Vande Hei’s mission extension will help scientists learn how long spaceflight missions can affect the human body. Astronaut Scott Kelly currently holds the record for longest single spaceflight, at 340 days. 

Full story: NASA astronaut gets extended stay in space for record-breaking 353-day mission

An ozone hole near the south pole is larger than Antarctica.

The 2021 ozone hole over Antarctica is among the 25% largest in recorded history. (Image credit: Copernicus Atmosphere Monitoring Service, ECMWF.)

A massive ozone hole has opened up over Antarctica this year, and has already surpassed the size of most ozone holes measured since 1979. The ozone layer is an important atmospheric component that absorbs harmful ultraviolet UV radiation coming from the sun. Worsening climate change is making it harder for Earth to recover from the concentrations of substances that damaged the ozone decades ago. 

Full story: This year’s giant Antarctic ozone hole probably due to climate change

Dixie fire gets close to antennas that are searching for alien life. 

A view of the Allen Telescope Array shows antennas under a smoke-filled sky and a red-tinged sun on Sept. 7, 2021. (Image credit: Alex Pollak)

The SETI Institute’s Allen Telescope Array (ATA) in northern California searches the universe for signs of alien life. The array is now close to the path of the raging Dixie Fire, which came within 8 miles (13 kilometers) of the observatory on Sept, 9, threatening its 42 antennas. ATA staff are “mildly optimistic” that this was their worst encounter with the fire. One of the latest events created by human-caused climate change, the Dixie Fire is the second-largest fire on record in California. 

Full story: Massive California fire comes within miles of alien-hunting radio telescope array

Scientists describe more than 400 new solar system objects. 

Artist’s impression of Kuiper Belt objects. (Image credit: MARK GARLICK/SCIENCE PHOTO LIBRARY via Getty Images)

NASA awards $146 million for Artemis human moon landers.

Super-precise clock creators awarded the Breakthrough Prize.

Artist’s illustration of an Artemis astronaut stepping onto the surface of the moon. (Image credit: NASA)

Five American companies are receiving millions of dollars from NASA so that they can develop crewed moon landers for the space agency’s Artemis Program. NASA officials announced on Tuesday (Sept. 14) that Blue Origin, Dynetics, Lockheed Martin, Northrop Grumman and SpaceX would be awarded a total of $146 million as part of NASA’s Next Space Technologies for Exploration Partnerships (NextSTEP) program. The awards will fund work over the next 15 months. 

Full story: NASA awards $146 million for human moon lander development

Tropical Storm Nicholas makes landfall.

Tropical Storm Nicholas spreading heavy rains as far as New Orleans as it approaches Housten in this satellite image captured by NOAA’s GOES East satellite.  (Image credit: UW-Madison CIMSS)

Tropical Storm Nicholas made landfall near Houston, Texas as a category 1 hurricane on Tuesday (Sept. 14). Nicholas brought heavy rains to Texas and parts of Louisiana and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA)’s National Hurricane Center warned of “life-threatening flash floods.”

Full story: Tropical Storm Nicholas batters Texas coast after making landfall as hurricane

Supernova mystery is solved 900 years after its night-sky appearance. 

A Hubble Space Telescope image of AG Carinae, an unstable star that is on the brink of exploding.  (Image credit: NASA, ESA, STScI)

In a new paper, scientists describe what they think are the remnants of a massive collision that triggered a bright flash of light 900 years ago. Astronomers in China and Japan observed a new bright point in their skies that lasted about six months beginning in 1181 AD. The team thinks the fast-expanding nebula called Pa30 was the result of that vibrant explosion. 

Full story: 900-year-old Chinese supernova mystery points to strange nebula

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