NASA Reveals Mysteries of Interstellar Space

NASA Reveals Mysteries of Interstellar Space

The new Paramount film \"Interstellar\" imagines a future where astronauts must find a new planet suitable for human life after climate change destroys the Earth\'s ability to sustain us.

The new Paramount film "Interstellar" imagines a future where astronauts must find a new planet suitable for human life after climate change destroys the Earth's ability to sustain us. Multiple NASA missions are helping avoid this dystopian future by providing critical data necessary to protect Earth. Yet the cosmos beckons us to explore farther from home, expanding human presence deeper into the solar system and beyond. For thousands of years we've wondered if we could find another home among the stars. We're right on the cusp of answering that question.

Called the eXtreme Deep Field, or XDF, image from NASA's Hubble Space Telescope contains about 5,500 galaxies. Some span back 13.2 billion years in time -- nearly to the Big Bang, and are the most distant galaxies ever seen. Image Credit: NASA

Largely visible light telescopes like Hubble show us the ancient light permeating the cosmos, leading to groundbreaking discoveries like the accelerating expansion of the universe. Through infrared missions like Spitzer, SOFIA and WISE, we've peered deeply through cosmic dust, into stellar nurseries where gases form new stars. With missions like Chandra, Fermi and NuSTAR, we've detected the death throes of massive stars, which can release enormous energy through supernovas and form the exotic phenomenon of black holes.
NASA also is developing its next exoplanet mission, the Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS), which will search 200,000 nearby stars for the presence of Earth-size planets.
As of now, the distance between stars is too great for spacecraft to traverse using existing propulsion. Only one spacecraft is poised to leave the solar system in the near future. Voyager 1, launched in 1977, made the historic entry into interstellar space in August of 2012, reaching the region between stars, filled with material ejected by the death of nearby stars millions of years ago. It won't encounter another star for at least 40,000 years.
This enormous mosaic of the Milky Way galaxy from NASA's Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer, or WISE, shows dozens of dense clouds, called nebulae. Many nebulae seen here are places where new stars are forming, creating bubble like structures that can be dozens to hundreds of light-years in size. Image Credit: NASA
Many other missions in the near future will expand the frontier of exploration in our solar system. In 2015, New Horizons will fly by Pluto and see the icy world up close for the first time. In 2016, NASA will launch the InSight mission to Mars and asteroid sample return mission OSIRIS-REx. In 2018, Hubble's successor, the James Webb Space Telescope, will see light from the universe's first stars. In about 2019, we'll launch a robotic spacecraft to capture and redirect an asteroid. In 2020, we'll send a new rover to Mars, to follow in the footsteps of Curiosity, search for ancient Martian life, and pave the way for future human explorers. In 2021, SLS and Orion will launch humans on the first crewed mission of the combined system. In the mid-2020s, astronauts will explore an asteroid redirected to an orbit around the moon, and return home with samples that could hold clues to the origins of the solar system and life on Earth. In doing so, those astronauts will travel farther into the solar system than anyone has ever been.
It's an exciting time as NASA reaches new heights to reveal the unknown and benefit humankind.
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