As things here on Earth become increasingly more Theater of the Absurd, NASA’s Cassini spacecraft whizzes millions of miles away, unaffected by our intra-human squabbling. After 20 years of heading toward and exploring the Saturn system, on September 15th, Cassini will plunge itself into the planet’s atmosphere, broadcasting the whole thing like a tearfully beautiful sequel to The Iron Giant.
Right now, OSIRIS-REx is one of the busiest spacecrafts in the solar system. OSIRIS-REx, which blasted off in September 2016, has been getting ready to rendezvous with the object of its mission—an asteroid called Bennu—in order to bring back samples to Earth. But before the spacecraft links up with Bennu in 2018, it’s been assigned a side project.
For spacecraft that zoom through the cosmos at thousands of miles per hour, calculating which one is traveling the fastest is more complicated than simply clocking the first to cross a finish line.
Mighty Jupiter is incomprehensibly large. More massive than all the other planets and asteroids in the solar system combined, Jupiter is the size of 1,300 Earths. As if such a big guy needed any additional protection, Jupiter is also swathed in radiation that’s many thousands of times harsher than around Earth.