As April 2020 opens, dazzling Venus at dusk is drawing ever closer to the magnificent Pleiades (Seven Sisters) in the constellation of Taurus. The brightest planet makes its closest approach to this famous open star cluster on the UK night of 3 April, when typical 10×50 binoculars and small telescopes will deliver memorable views around 9pm BST.
Scientists celebrated another success with Japan’s Hayabusa 2 spacecraft late Wednesday (U.S. time), when the robot explorer accomplished a second pinpoint touch-and-go landing on asteroid Ryugu, this time to collect a sample of pristine dust and rock excavated by an explosive impactor earlier this year.
Japan’s Hayabusa 2 spacecraft briefly landed on an asteroid Thursday more than 200 million miles from Earth and fired a bullet to scoop up a rocky sample, successfully accomplishing one of the mission’s most challenging manoeuvres before returning the asteroid specimen to scientists on the ground in December 2020.
A powerful European Ariane 5 rocket blasted off from French Guiana late Friday and boosted a pair of satellites into space for a seven-year plunge into the inner solar system, a voyage requiring seven planetary flybys to slow down enough in the sun’s gravitational clutches to slip into orbit around hellish Mercury.
Pioneering spacecraft from NASA and the Japanese space agency promise to reveal two unexplored asteroids later this year, officials said Wednesday, beginning surveys that will culminate in daring descents to capture samples for return to Earth, where eager scientists await a hands-on look at the specimens.