In this column, staff writer J.E. Reich rounds up the most important and fascinating space news of the past week in bite-sized summaries to keep you up-to-date on what's happening way up above us.   

After last week's supermoon and the discovery of (very salty) unfrozen water on Mars, you'd think that the universe (or the hardworking folks at NASA) would take a little break — but if you did, you apparently thought wrong. Pluto decided to show up Mars' big watery moment last week by showcasing its own bona fide ice water via the New Horizons space probe, and NASA spacecraft Dawn made history by completing an orbit around the dwarf planet Ceres for the first time. Oh, and did we mention that NASA has announced its plan for sending astronauts to Mars?

Pluto Shows Off Its Blue Skies, New Horizons Discovers Ice Water On The Dwarf Planet's Surface

New Horizons sent back yet another treasure trove of goodies in the form of some breathtaking images that have given us even more insight into Pluto. The spacecraft captured an image of Pluto's "blue skies" — that is, the atmospheric "blue haze" created by "soot-like particles we call tholins," according to NASA. Most importantly, image-based data collected and analyzed by New Horizons' Ralph spectral composition manager identified ice water on Pluto — making it the first sighting of H2O on the dwarf planet's surface in history.

Dawn Spacecraft Completes Orbit Around Dwarf Planet Ceres

New Horizons wasn't the only space probe in the galaxy to make history this week: NASA's Dawn became the first spacecraft to complete an orbit around a dwarf planet — in this case, the minor planet Ceres, located in the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter.

Entering into the dwarf planet's gravitational pull at 38,000 miles early Friday morning, around 4:39 a.m. EDT; the space probe came to the end of Ceres' orbit – and its mission – at 7:39 a.m. EDT.

Ceres is also the only known entity in the asteroid belt that has achieved a hydrostatic equilibrium, or, in layman's terms, its round shape from its very own gravitational pull. When the dwarf planet was discovered in 1801 by Giuseppe Piazzi, it was initially regarded as a full-blown planet. Its status was changed around half a century later to that of an asteroid, and was later given a minor planet designation in 2006.

 

NASA Plans On Sending Astronauts To Mars With A Three-Phase Plan

Whether it's due to the Mars Rover's recent discovery of flowing water on Mars, the success of Matt Damon's science fiction survival flick The Martian, or a lucky coincidence of scheduling-meets-Mars-hype, NASA announced its plan to send Earthlings up to Mars by the 2030s.

According to NASA, the future Mars mission would take three phases to complete: mission preparation on the International Space Station (ISS), including health and behavioral research and in-situation scenario testing; immersive training within a deep space environment; and finally, an earth-independent Mars mission.

Strange Ripples Detected Passing Through Planet-Making Disk

The Hubble Space Telescope and European Southern Observatory's (ESO) Very Large Telescope picked up on some pretty unfamiliar activity: fast-moving ripples passing through a stellar disk surrounding AU Microscopii (AU Mic), a closeby star.

"The images from SPHERE show a set of unexplained features in the disk, which have an arc-like, or wave-like structure unlike anything that has ever been observed before," said Anthony Boccaletti, an astronomer at the Paris Observatory and one of the contributing scientists for a paper on the findings.

While the ripples are an unprecedented sighting, there are a few things that scientists have already been able to rule out about their properties — like the fact that the ripples are moving at such high speeds (three of them so fast that the gravitational pull of AU Mic can't contain them), that their movements are probably not controlled by actual objects, or they're the byproduct of some sort of large-scale collision.

Scientists are also pretty certain that they have something to do with how planets are possibly made — or rather, if there are any unusual configurations in AU Mic-like clusters or clumps, they might indicate the rudimentary stages of planetary formation.

Scotty Kelly's Photos From His Year In Space

Astronaut Scott Kelly has been documenting his assigned mission in space – which is supposed to last one full year – by taking a photo each day and posting it on his Twitter account. (As of now, he has around 100 days left to go). One thing we've learned: you cannot ruin a photo if it's taken from outer space.

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