The NASA spacecraft Dawn has spent more than seven years traveling across the Solar System to intercept the asteroid Vesta and the dwarf planet Ceres.

Now in orbit around Ceres, the probe has returned the first images and data from these distant objects.

But inside Dawn itself is another first – the spacecraft is the first exploratory space mission to use an electrically-powered ion engine rather than conventional rockets.

From 2009 to 2013, ESA’s Planck satellite took measurements of the cosmic microwave background (CMB), radiation that originated approximately13 billion years ago, around 380,000 years after the Big Bang.

Due to the expansion of the universe, this light is still observable today at microwave wavelengths across the entire sky so Planck surveyed the sky to map this ancient light.

One result is that the standard model of cosmology remains an excellent description of the universe, unless the Planck data is combined with other astronomical observations, where several deviations emerge. Are the anomalies due to measurement uncertainties or undiscovered physical correlations, which would challenge Einstein’s theory of gravitation?
NASA's Dawn spacecraft is approaching its historic orbit insertion at Ceres, which will happen on Friday, March 6th.

Ceres is named for the Roman goddess of agriculture and harvests. Ceres is considered a 'dwarf planet', according to 237 astronomers who outvoted their opposition, as is Pluto now. It was first spotted by Sicilian astronomer Father Giuseppe Piazzi in 1801 and since then has been called a minor planet and an asteroid, before getting an upgrade in 2006, along with Eris. 
The MUSE instrument on ESO's Very Large Telescope has given astronomers the best ever 3-D view of the deep Universe - in just 27 hours.

By taking very long exposure pictures of regions of the sky, astronomers have created many deep fields that have revealed much about the early Universe. The most famous of these was the original Hubble Deep Field, taken by the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope over several days in late 1995. This spectacular and iconic picture rapidly transformed our understanding of the content of the Universe when it was young. It was followed two years later by a similar view in the southern sky -- the Hubble Deep Field South. 
Known as the ‘Heart of Voh’ for its proximity to the Voh commune, a mining colony controlled by the French, these Mangrove swamps along the coast of New Caledonia in the southwest Pacific Ocean formed this natural structure, caused by changes in vegetation cover. Photographer Yann Arthus-Bertrand made it famous by using a photograph of the heart on the cover of a book, The Earth from the Air.

This false-color satellite image of the heart-shaped formation was captured by the Korea Aerospace Research Institute’s Kompsat-2 satellite on 1 April 2009.  No undead lichs had to be sent to their final resting place to obtain it. 

Balloons are common at childrens' birthday parties - we can thank Professor Michael Faraday of The Royal Institution for inventing "caoutchoucs" - but ever since the Montgolfier brothers took their lives in their hands and flew a hot air balloon over Paris in 1783, they have been common in science too.

They're affordable and they're reusable and since the 1950s, with the invention of the 'natural' shaped polyethylene balloon, there has been a surge in the quality and amount of science being performed with them. Researchers in everything from high-energy astrophysics (particle, x-ray and gamma-ray) to geospace uses them.

By Monica Grady, The Open University

Landing a spacecraft on a celestial body, whether it be the moon, Mars or a comet, is not easy. The European Space Agency found out the hard way in 2003 when its robot Beagle2, which was supposed to send back a signal after landing on Mars, didn’t do so.

But more than a decade after it went missing, the UK Space Agency has announced that the the elusive Beagle2 lander has been re-discovered.

The Beagle-2 Mars lander,hitched a ride on ESA’s Mars Express mission in 2003 and was released from the mothership on December 19th with a planned landing 6 days later.  

Then it was lost. Mars Express and NASA’s Mars Odyssey found nothing. 

But now the high-resolution camera on NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter has found it on the surface.  The good news is engineers now know that at least the entry, descent and landing sequence worked and it did indeed successfully 'land' on Mars on Christmas Day 2003. Beagle-2 was less than 2 meters across when fully deployed so catching sight of it was right at the limit of the resolution of cameras in orbit around Mars.

Credit: International Space Station

By Monica Grady, The Open University

Picture this scenario: A politician is appointed to run NASA who thinks its budget is too high and then half its money and a third of its workforce is on its way to evaporating. Public support for a mission to Mars is nonexistent.

It must be in late 2015, after anti-science Republican Senator Ted Cruz of Texas has control of NASA, if you read science media (and then whatever Huffington Post and Slate are).