Secrets of Mars’ core revealed for the first time

Have you ever spotted another planet in the sky? It’s a celestial thrill without compare.

The first time I spied Mars, it appeared like a red star among a sea of glittering white ones. It was a mind-blowing moment, as I thought about the many spacecraft that humans have sent across millions of miles to visit our planetary neighbor.

The red planet is currently visible in the evening sky through August, so don’t forget to look up.

And this week, the fleet of robots currently exploring Mars revealed more of its secrets.

Other worlds

Mars may not be the kind of place to raise your kids, but it’s a veritable playground for NASA’s Perseverance rover, Ingenuity helicopter and InSight lander.

Ingenuity recently dipped down in craters and flew over rough terrain for its longest, speediest flight yet as an aerial scout — and it captured images of geological features so intriguing that they are changing the course of the Perseverance rover’s scientific quest.

The Perseverance team shared some of the first key observations made by the rover this week as well — including wonderfully weird rocks that could contain evidence of ancient microbial life, if it ever existed on Mars. Percy will collect its first Martian sample within the next two weeks, and it will be one of dozens returned to Earth by future missions.

And in an exciting first, the stationary InSight lander has revealed the mysterious interior of Mars, thanks to its detection of Marsquakes that helped scientists peer inside the planet.

We are family

Renaissance polymath Leonardo da Vinci is remembered for and connected with many things — now including 14 living descendants, according to new research.

This is a curious finding, as Leonardo was not known to have fathered any children. But researchers traced his lineage in other ways.

The historians hope to use this information to understand more about Leonardo’s genius and gain insights about his health, including if he had a rare eye condition or not.

Consequences

The last of the Xerces blue butterflies fluttered through the air in the early 1940s. As the first North American insect to go extinct due to humans, it has become an icon for insect conservation.

These periwinkle pearly-winged insects lived in the coastal sand dunes along San Francisco and were first characterized by scientists in 1852. But humans destroyed their habitat.

It’s a harsh reminder amid what many scientists call an “insect apocalypse,” as species decline around the globe. While all of them may not be as pretty as the Xerces blue butterfly, insects are more crucial to our lives than most people realize.

Force of nature

Raging wildfires in the western US are so bad that the fires are actually creating their own weather and smoke that’s visible from space.

These fires aren’t just a concern in the West; haze from the smoke is reaching across the US, causing bad air quality on the East Coast.

Rare mushroom cloud-like formations have been seen over the fires. These pyrocumulus clouds tower above the ash and smoke from raging wildfires and can be seen for miles.

And it’s not just the US that’s facing the brunt of destructive fires fueled by the climate crisis. Wildfires are sparking globally, even in the world’s coldest city.

Across the universe

It may look like a burning ring of fire, but this is an actual image of a planetary system that’s still cooking 400 light-years away, taken by the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array of telescopes in Chile.

Two Jupiter-like planets orbit a star, but astronomers spied a moon-forming disk around one of the planets — and it’s the first time they have seen anything like this.

The disk around the planet is 500 times larger than the massive rings around Saturn.

Scientists plan to keep an eye on this system to watch as planets, and maybe even moons, form and grow.

Curiosities

A little more intrigue before you go:

— Unknown viruses dating back 15,000 years have been found in ice samples taken from a glacier in the Tibetan plateau — and they are unlike anything scientists have ever seen before.

— Meet octogenarian Wally Funk, who trained for NASA’s Women in Space Program but was denied the opportunity to fly — until now. And this is what’s next after two billionaires took quick trips to the stars.

— For wild cockatoos, opening trash cans isn’t easy. But in Australia, members of one particular species have taught each other how to do it. Leftovers, anyone?

Like what you’ve read? Oh, but there’s more. Sign up here to receive in your inbox the next edition of Wonder Theory, brought to you by CNN Space and Science writer Ashley Strickland, who finds wonder in planets beyond our solar system and discoveries from the ancient world.

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