For the Love of Space

This is Stephanie of IMS.


I think it started last year, on July 14, when the New Horizons flyby of Pluto rekindled my love for planets and space. I remember setting a calendar reminder for the scheduled flyby, at my usual dinner time after work, and I remember feeling lucky that I lived in a time zone where I could have a small celebration of mission success at the same time that it happened. And then, a few weeks later, the photo data started to arrive:

Image credit: NASA, public domain

Image credit: NASA, public domain


I was hooked – Pluto was beautiful! I grew up in one of the last generations that learned Pluto as the ninth planet in our solar system, so despite the downgrade to “dwarf planet”, it still had a spot in my heart. (Right next to Pluto’s heart-shaped spot.)


I started to pay more attention to other planetary news – I now have a Google alert set up for KIC 8462852 (“Tabby’s Star”), which has been making recent news for its periodic dimming. What’s blocking the light of the star? Asteroids? A Dyson sphere built by aliens? No one knows for sure yet. That’s why it’s fascinating!


In much more recent news, enter Proxima Centauri b: an exoplanet (a planet outside our Solar System) that is roughly the same size as Earth. What makes this noteworthy? Well, our Earth is located in our Sun’s “habitable zone” – this means that the Earth has temperatures “just right” for life to grow and thrive. If Earth was closer to the Sun, it would be too hot; if it was farther away, it would be too cold.


Proxima b orbits its star, Proxima Centauri, in the habitable zone. Also, it’s very close to us, only 4.5 light years away, even though with our level of technology it would take a probe roughly 20 years to get there.


Finally, but unfortunately, the joint mission between Japan and Europe’s space agencies – the BepiColombo flyby of Venus and Mercury – has been pushed to 2018, instead of January 2017 as was reported last year. But either way, I think I’m most interested in seeing the updated photos of our neighboring planets.


If this is the future of technology, then I’m excited for the change. What an unbelievable time we live in!