A graphical representation of the growing space debris problem. Note: Space junk not to scale!
The third Orbital Sciences Corporation Antares rocket cargo run to the space station launches from Pad-0A at NASA's Wallops Flight Facility on Jan. 9, 2014. Orbital is one of two private firms contracted by NASA to resupply the outpost.READ MORE: Belated Christmas: Orbital Rocket Launches ISS Cargo
The SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket launched from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station at 5:06 p.m. EST. successfully carrying the Thaicom 6 satellite to a parking orbit 55,900 miles above Earth.READ MORE: SpaceX Falcon 9 Launches Thai Communications Sat
SpaceShipTwo's rocket engine burst to life during a successful powered test flight over the Mojave Desert, Calif., on Friday. This comes ahead of the company's plan to see the first suborbital space tourist trips later in 2014.READ MORE: SpaceShipTwo Aces Third Rocket-Powered Test Flight
A tiny amount of sunlight leaks through a truss-based radiator panel and a primary solar array panel on International Space Station, as seen by an Expedition 39 space station crewmember.
A recent Mastcam photograph by Mars rover Curiosity of damage on one of its aluminum wheels. This week, NASA released images of Curiosity as seen by the orbiting Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter.READ MORE: NASA Orbiter Spies Curiosity Ripping Up Mars Dust
NASA/JPL-Caltech/University of Arizona
Color version of the Dec. 11, 2013, observation by the High Resolution Imaging Science Experiment (HiRISE) camera on NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter. Note the geological variations in the surrounding landscape.
Meanwhile, a decade ago... A panorama of NASA's Mars Exploration Rover Spirit's landing site inside Gusev Crater. Jan. 4 marked the 10 year anniversary since the rover touched down on the red planet.READ MORE: Spirit's Decade Old Mosaic of Mars is Still Stunning
A X1-class solar flare erupted from AR 1944 on Jan. 7. The flare also triggered a coronal mass ejection (CME) that that was directed toward Earth, but it had minimal impact on Jan. 9. The event, however, delayed the Orbital Sciences Antares rocket launch by two days amid concerns for the high-radiation environment surrounding Earth.READ MORE: Solar Boom: Sun Blasts X-Class Flare Right At Us
The recommissioned infrared NASA orbiter NEOWISE observed a newly-discovered near-Earth asteroid 2013 YP139.READ MORE: Recommissioned NEOWISE Discovers Near-Earth Asteroid
GPI/Gemini/Christian Marois, NRC Canada
Gemini Planet Imager's 'first light' image of Beta Pictoris b, an exoplanet orbiting the star Beta Pictoris. The commissioning of the GRI represents a new era in exoplanetary studies.READ MORE: New Exoplanet Hunter Directly Images Alien Worlds
Alexandra Angelich (NRAO/AUI/NSF)
Artist conception of Supernova 1987A and its newly discovered dust cloud.READ MORE: Dust Bunnies Discovered Around 'Dirty' Supernova
NASA, ESA, and J. Lotz, M. Mountain, A. Koekemoer, and the HFF Team (STScI)
This long-exposure Hubble Space Telescope image of massive galaxy cluster Abell 2744 is the deepest ever made of any cluster of galaxies. This is the first image from Hubble's "Frontier Fields" project.READ MORE: Hubble Takes Deepest View Into Cosmic Frontier
Japanese space scientists are set to trial a tether they hope will help pull junk out of orbit around Earth, clearing up tonnes of planetary clutter, they said Thursday.
Researchers at The Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) have developed what they called an electrodynamic tether made from thin wires of stainless steel and aluminum.
The idea is that one end of the strip will be attached to one of the thousands of dead satellites or bits of rocket that are jamming up space and endangering working equipment.
The electricity generated by the tether as it swings through the Earth's magnetic field is expected to have a slowing effect on the space junk, which should, scientists say, pull it into a lower and lower orbit.
Eventually the detritus will enter the Earth's atmosphere, burning up harmlessly long before it has chance to crash to the planet's surface.
"The experiment is specifically designed to contribute to developing a space debris cleaning method," said Masahiro Nohmi, associate professor at Kagawa University, who is working with JAXA on the project, told AFP.
Nohmi said a satellite developed by the university is expected to be launched into space on February 28, with the tether aboard.
"We have two main objectives in the trial next month," he said. "First, to extend a 300-meter (1,000-foot) tether in orbit and secondly to observe the transfer of electricity."
The actual reeling in of orbiting rubbish will be the objective of future experiments, he said. A spokesman for JAXA said the agency also plans to conduct its own trial on a tether in 2015.
More than 20,000 bits of cast off equipment, including old satellites, pieces of rocket and other fragments are uselessly orbiting the Earth in a band 800-1,400 kilometers (500-900 miles) from the surface of the planet at terrific speed.
Their presence causes problems for space scientists who have to try to prevent them colliding with functioning kit because of the huge damage they can cause.