Insight on InSight

Some seven months ago, a NASA spacecraft called InSight was launched atop an Atlas 5 rocket and headed to Mars (Figure 1). If all goes well, the spacecraft will land on the Martian surface at around 8pm UK time this Monday 26th November and begin its science investigation. InSight is a fixed lander (see Figure 2 below), a much simpler affair than the Curiosity rover that arrived in 2012 and continues its trek across the floor of Gale crater to this day. Mobility, is however, not required for the specific aim of the mission. 

Exo-Moons and Goblins

The discovery of planets orbiting around other stars has been one of humankinds greatest achievements. The existance of these ‘exo-planets’ can challenge our perception of our place in the universe. Since the first confirmed detection of a planet around another normal star (51 Peg) in 1995, many thousands of planets have been discovered. Indeed, it is likely that most stars will have their own system of planets. It is important in answering the question – is there intelligent life out there?

A new ultra-compact binary star

Approximately every other star in the Milky Way galaxy is in a ‘binary’ system. These binaries are made up of two stars orbiting around a common centre of gravity. The time taken for the stars in the binary to make one revolution is called the ‘orbital period’. Binaries have a wide range of orbital period. The closest stellar system to the Sun is alpha Centauri which has two stars not unlike our Sun orbiting around one another every 80 years. A third member of the system, Proxima Centauri, which is much smaller red dwarf star, orbits around these two stars once every 10,000 years.