A space rock that slammed into Mars revealed a surprise

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You never forget your first Mars mission.

When NASA’s InSight spacecraft arrived at the red planet on November 26, 2018, it was the first time I covered the landing of a spacecraft on Mars. The robotic lander made a graceful, ballet-like touchdown on the Martian surface.

Moments later, it sent back a “beep” and a photo of its landing site to mission control, as if to say, “I made it!” As the InSight team erupted into cheers at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, I was dancing right along with them thousands of miles away at my desk.

The mission has made incredible discoveries about quakes on the red planet and what Mars’ core might be like.

But the InSight mission is nearing an end as dust obscures its solar panels. In a matter of weeks, the lander won’t be able to send a beep to show it’s OK anymore.

Before it bids farewell, though, the spacecraft still has some surprises in store.

Ice chunks glimmer around the rim of a newly formed crater on Mars.

When Mars rumbled beneath InSight’s feet on December 24, NASA scientists thought it was just another marsquake.

The magnitude 4 quake was actually caused by a space rock slamming into the Martian surface a couple thousand miles away.

The meteoroid left quite a crater on the red planet, and it revealed glimmering chunks of ice in an entirely unexpected place — near the warm Martian equator.

Meanwhile, researchers tested a microbe nicknamed “Conan the Bacterium” under Mars-like conditions. The hardy organism’s ability to withstand harsh conditions led the scientists to believe ancient microbial life might be sleeping deep beneath the Martian surface.

Humans aren’t the only beings that pick their nose.

For the first time, an aye-aye, an unusual-looking lemur species, was documented rooting around in its nose — and then licking its finger clean.

Other non-human primates sample their own snot, too — but the critter’s incredibly long middle finger means it can reach all the way back into its throat, as depicted in a CT scan taken by the researchers.

Local legends associate the nocturnal aye-aye’s lengthy digit with prophecies of death in its native Madagascar. But researchers hope people will see the value in saving this misunderstood and highly endangered creature.

Emperor penguins live across the Antarctic Peninsula in a multitude of colonies.

Emperor penguins may reign supreme at the South Pole, but the iconic species is at risk of going extinct due to the climate crisis.

As greenhouse gas and carbon emissions warm the Earth, the floating world in the Southern Ocean these marine birds call home melts. Sea ice is where they breed and raise their chicks, remain safe from predators and forage for food.

When sea ice disappears, entire emperor penguin colonies can vanish.

The flightless seabirds have now been listed as threatened by the US Fish and Wildlife Service — that means they’ll receive new protections under the Endangered Species Act.

Marine archaeologists have finally located an elusive 17th century shipwreck in Sweden.

The researchers found the Äpplet, one of four warships created on the order of King Gustavus Adolphus in 1625. The vessel was a sister ship to the Vasa, which capsized on its maiden voyage and is on display in a Stockholm museum.

The applet served in Europe’s Thirty Years’ War and then was deliberately sunk in 1659 after being deemed unseaworthy. Researchers now plan to make a 3D image of the shipwreck as it rests on the seabed.

The James Webb Space Telescope's new image showcases the Pillars of Creation in mid-infrared light.

The James Webb Space Telescope showcased last week a sparkling view of the star-forming region called the Pillars of Creation.

A new image of the same feature, captured in mid-infrared light, reveals the dark underbelly of the normally ethereal scene where dust has drowned out the starlight. Only a few red stars pierce the darkness.

The towering columns resemble a tangle of ghostly figures clawing their way across the cosmos. With Halloween around the corner, it would be a fitting illustration of “the ghoul-haunted woodland of Weir” from Edgar Allan Poe’s “Ulalume.”

Additionally, Webb spied a distant surprise that might be an ancient merger between two galaxies during the early days of the universe. And planetary scientists made a startling discovery about exoplanets that may narrow the search for habitable worlds.

Check out these intriguing stories:

— A mysterious field in China’s Hengduan Mountains is filled with dozens of species of rhododendrons. Rather than competing with one another, they’ve evolved to live in harmony. (add link Friday)

— Retired astronaut Scott Kelly is part of a new expert team that will delve into the mysteries of UFOs. The highly anticipated NASA study kicked off Monday.

— Meet some adorable additions to the tree of life. After years of effort, researchers have discovered six new species of rainfrogs on the eastern slopes of the Ecuadorian Andes.

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