OK, yesterday I promised we would get to the space news. Clearly the real story is the earthlike planet right in our backyard (erm, relatively speaking). However it isn’t going anywhere right now so I am going to blog about it later when we have all had a moment to think about the real implications. The space story I am looking at today is closer to home, but still takes place out there in the black: back in October of 2014, NASA lost communication with Stereo B one of two paired spacecraft which orbited the sun from the distance of Earth.
The solar observatory spacecraft allow stereoscopic viewing of the sun. One spacecraft Stereo A was ahead of Earth on its orbit, whereas Stereo B trailed behind us. The two observatories allow us to study coronal mass ejections and other stellar phenomena. In 2011, the craft were 180 degrees apart from each other—allowing humankind to view the entire sun at once for the very first time (a truly remarkable milestone, when you think about it, which I heard nothing about at the time).
Sadly, however, in 2014, as part of an automation and attitude test, Stereo B began to spin. Mission controllers then lost contact with the craft which (because of the nature of its work) was on the other side of the sun! NASA has patiently waited till the orbital path of Stereo B carried it further towards Earth and has used the Deep Space Network, a networked array of radio telescopes to find the errant craft.
We are still working on figuring out what sort of shape the poor guy is in (and maybe rehabilitating the spinning observatory), however I feel the story is worth telling as a sort of reminder of the fleet of crafts we have up there, which we don’t think about very often.