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Gathering photos of Earth from space used to be the purview of governments alone, but today, private companies are increasingly performing those operations from orbit.
The big picture: Some satellite constellations are now able to take high-resolution photos of vast swaths of Earth every day, giving governments and private companies unprecedented and quick views of changes on Earth's surface.
What's happening: The National Reconnaissance Office recently awarded BlackSky Global, Maxar and Planet — three companies with satellites in space looking down at Earth today — "study contracts."
The good: Private, Earth-observing satellites can also be used for disaster management, deforestation monitoring, shipping and other applications.
The bad: More surveillance means more privacy concerns for individuals on the ground.
What to watch: The market for data collected by Earth-observing spacecraft beyond governments is unclear.
Chang'e-4 on the surface of the Moon. Photo: Xinhua/CNSA via Getty Images
A team of scientists has reconstructed the exact descent and landing of the Chang’e-4 lunar lander on the far side of the Moon, a new study in Nature Communications shows.
Why it matters: Chang’e-4’s January landing could act as a blueprint for more distant autonomous landings on other objects like asteroids in the future.
Details: The study’s authors pieced together photos taken by the lander during descent and the Yutu-2 rover after landing in the Von Kármán crater to get a detailed look at how the landing succeeded.
The big picture: Landing on the Moon is no easy feat, as multiple recent missions have shown.
Io seen by the Galileo spacecraft in 1999. Photo: NASA/JPL/University of Arizona
Loki — a huge volcano on Jupiter’s moon Io — is expected to erupt sometime this month.
Why it matters: Studying this volcano in deep space could help scientists learn more about how volcanoes on Earth formed in the planet's early history, according to planetary scientist Julie Rathbun.
What they found: Rathbun and her colleagues think that Loki actually erupts on a regular schedule, with an event lasting for about 100–200 days at a time.
But, but, but: Loki isn’t like a typical volcano you find on Earth. According to Rathbun, Loki is like a giant lake of lava on the moon’s surface.
The big picture: Studying Io’s volcanic environment can also give scientists a better sense of what a volcano-dominated moon looks like, Rathbun said.
Marking 60 years of Moon crashes and hard landings (Jonathan Corum, New York Times)
Venus may have supported life billions of years ago (Samantha Mathewson, Space.com)
NASA awards long-term Orion production contract to Lockheed Martin (Jeff Foust, Space News)
NASA is getting serious about finding hazardous asteroids (Eric Berger, Ars Technica)
Area 51 raid was the worst way to spot an alien or UFO (Sarah Scoles, Wired)
Tracks left by the Curiosity rover on Mars. Photo: NASA/JPL-Caltech
There’s still time to send your name to Mars aboard a NASA rover expected to hunt for signs of past life on the Red Planet.
What’s happening: NASA is planning to send a computer chip stenciled with millions of names to Mars aboard the agency’s 2020 rover.
Background: This isn’t the first time NASA has sent names to Mars aboard one of its spacecraft. The agency sent about 2 million names to Mars with its InSight lander, when it touched down in 2018.
Go deeper: Add your name to the 2020 rover’s chip.
The track of a lone boulder bouncing on Comet 67P can be seen in this photo taken by the European Space Agency's Rosetta orbiter.
The new photo is part of a collection of images scientists are still studying, years after the end of the Rosetta mission in 2016.
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