This picture released on January 11, 2019 by the China National Space Administration (CNSA) via CNS shows the Chang'e-4 lunar probe, taken by the Yutu-2 moon rover, on the far side of the moon. - China will seek to establish an international lunar base one day, possibly using 3D printing technology to build facilities, the Chinese space agency said on January 14, weeks after landing the rover on the moon's far side. The agency said four more lunar missions are planned, confirming the launch of a probe by the end of the year to bring back samples from the moon. (Photo by - / China National Space Administration (CNSA) via CNS / AFP) / China OUT (Photo credit should read -/AFP/Getty Images)

Chang’e-4, the Chinese vehicle that made waves recently for making the first soft landing on the far side of the moon, isn't done mystifying those of us down here on Earth.

In addition to a lander and rover, Chang’e-4 also features a six pound canister filled with a variety of seeds—like that of cotton and potatoes—along with fruit fly eggs and yeast. The intention is to create a miniature ecosystem that could provide more information to scientists on the feasibility of sustaining life on a planet outside of our biological origin.

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Just how prophetic was Star Trek? Based on a recent discovery, it seems a lot. Astronomers have recently discovered an exoplanet orbiting 40 Eridani A, a star known to hard-core Star-Trek fans as Spock’s home planet, Vulcan. While no one is actually suggesting that any pointy-eared aliens live on this newly discovered exoplanet, the discovery is undeniably coincidental.

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It’s not often that the human eye can view the larger objects of our solar system unaided. Typically, in most parts of the world, you need a telescope to decipher what is or isn't a planet. Starting on March 7, however, several planets will put on what has become known as a “planet parade.” Though they may not march across the sky in a boisterous procession, the planet parade of 2018 will see Jupiter, Mars, Saturn, Mercury and Venus lined up in a row.

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The Universe is huge. Because it is expanding and that expansion is accelerating, estimates have it stretching up to 93 billion light-years across, though the visible universe is only a mere 13.8 billion light-years across. This means most of the Universe will remain invisible, as its distant light has not had enough time to reach Earth. The Universe has very low density precisely because of its size. On average, a cubic meter of space contains only 5.9 atoms. The density of matter in the Universe, however, is only one atom per every four cubic meters of space. Matter itself is mostly empty space too; a typical atom is 100,000 times larger than its nucleus, and the nucleus contains 99.9 percent of an atom’s mass.

Researchers now believe they have found more than half of the Universe’s missing baryonic matter.

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Neutron star collison.

We are made of star stuff. With the exception of hydrogen and some helium, all the elements that we know and are made of were forged in the hot cores of giant stars billions of years ago. This includes carbon, nitrogen, oxygen and iron. Now, scientists are learning how most of the Universe’s heavy metals, like silver, gold, platinum and uranium, are generated. Without metals, life (as we know it) can not exist.

For the first time, in August 2017, two neutron stars were directly observed colliding with one another and collapsing into a black hole. The event occurred 130 million light years away. Astronomers at the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatories (LIGO) in the United States and the Virgo Interferometer in Italy detected gravitational waves, ripples in the fabric of spacetime caused by the birth of a black hole, emitting from a pair of merging neutron stars.

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Screenshot via NASA.

A little less than 11 light years from our solar system, in the constellation Virgo, lives a red dwarf star called Ross 128. There’s nothing inherently special about Ross 128; it’s a typical red dwarf star, one of the hundreds of billions throughout the Milky Way. But orbiting this faint solar neighbor is the closest potentially habitable Earth-like planet astronomers have ever detected, called Ross 128 b.

The nearest Earth-like exoplanet to us, Proxima b, orbits Proxima Centauri less than four light years away, but because of Proxima Centauri’s young age and frequent bursts of radiation, it is not believed to be habitable. Proxima Centauri is a red dwarf and is the Sun’s closest known stellar neighbor. Ross 128 is currently drifting toward our solar system, and in about 79,000 years, it will become our nearest celestial neighbor.

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Asteroid 2016 HO3 has an orbit around the sun that keeps it as a constant companion of Earth. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Does Earth have a second moon? Not quite. But astronomers discovered that asteroid 2016 HO3 does orbit the sun while it circles our planet—establishing its status as a quasi-satellite. Scientists are deeply interested in 2016 HO3, and NASA even envisions an exploration mission to the asteroid.

What are quasi-satellites?

On April 27, 2016, the asteroid now known as 2016 HO3 was first located by astronomers located at Haleakala, Hawaii. Many suspected it was merely space junk until Vishnu Reddy, assistant professor at the University of Arizona's Lunar and Planetary Laboratory, and his team completed their observations and presented them at the recent 49th annual Division for Planetary Sciences meeting in Utah. According to their findings, 2016 HO3 is indeed an ordinary asteroid and quasi-satellite.

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