(via APOD: 2014 August 3 - Dark Shuttle Approaching)

On this day in 2007, NASA’s Phoenix Lander launched on a Delta II rocket enroute for Mars.The mission of the Phoenix lander had two primary objectives; the first was to study the history of water on Mars, the second was to evaluate the potential habitability of Mars in the arctic’s ice-rich soil. It also contributed to NASA’s strategy of exploration known as, “Follow the water.”After landing on the Red Planet on May 25, 2008, the Phoenix lander confirmed the existence of water ice on Mars on July 31, 2008 after soil samples that were heated released water vapor. The lander went on to successfully complete its mission in August of the same year and sent its final communication with Earth on November 2, 2008.The Phoenix lander design will serve as the basis of several upcoming Mars missions, such as NASA’s Icebreaker Life, a proposed follow-up mission which would focus on studying any organics, biomolecules, minerals and salts contained within the ice.The spacecraft’s design will also be adapted for NASA’s Mars InSight lander, which was recently given the green light to begin construction, and is set to launch in 2016 on a mission to study the evolution of the planet’s formation. Additionally, the Mars One lander that is expected to be launched in 2018 will also be based on NASA’s Phoenix lander.Read more about the discovery here: more about NASA’s Phoenix lander and its mission here: more about NASA’s “Follow the water” strategy here:

The Brown Dwarfs of Orions Trapezium

Seven Sisters: Pleiades
The Seven Sisters, also called the Pleiades or M45, is an open star cluster located about 400 light years away towards the constellation Taurus. It is about 13 light years across and is one of the brightest and closest star clusters to us.
The cluster contains over 3000 stars, most of which are considered middle aged. Surrounding the brighter stars are reflection nebulae, gas and dust reflecting the light from the stars. Also buried in the cluster are faint, low mass brown dwarf stars.
Image from National Geographic, information from NASA.

Tonight: A Total Lunar Eclipse

Cat’s Eye Nebula (NASA, Chandra, 01/08/01) | NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center

Arctic Lights by Kevin Gorton