NASA JPL has a great new site that chronicles the missions and chocks up a tally of new planets being found, almost daily. (Visit http://planetquest.jpl.nasa.gov/ for more details.)
The Spitzer space telescope (SIRTF) keeps on providing great infrared imagery as it runs out of coolant and enters the “warm” part of its mission (visit website).
Meanwhile, the Hubble Space Telescope (HST) recently underwent repairs and should continue to provide superior space photography. The Space Telescope Imaging Spectrograph (STIS) has been repaired and new wide field camera and UV spectrograph have been installed, giving Hubble an unparalleled UV view of the Universe. (Visit the NASA Hubble site.)
The mission to Pluto continues, with the New Horizons probe. It is scheduled to “wake up” and check its systems on July 7th, 2009. It is planning to reach Pluto-Charon in 2015. At that rate of travel, it would take it 10,000 times as long to reach our nearest star! And, this will be the fastest probe ever sent into space, to date. (Visit the New Horizons site.)
Finally, the ESA Planck mission launched this month and will provide a detailed study of the cosmic microwave background radiation. “It will measure tiny fluctuations in the CMB with unprecedented accuracy, providing the sharpest picture ever of the young Universe — when it was only 380 000 years old — and zeroing-in on theories that describe its birth and evolution.” Planck will operate from L2, a Lagrange point about 1.5 million kilometers from Earth. The fine detailed search may also identify patterns that support the multiverse theory for the origin of the Universe. (Visit the ESA Planck mission website.)
On a personal note, it is terribly exciting to see these missions happen after so many years of talking about them! We will learn some amazing things about our universe, and the main thing being that we have a lot to learn, but from everything we can tell, the Universe CAN be scientifically probed and understood. And, it’s fuckin’ amazing, folks!