While a flurry of missions crowded around Mars this year, some lesser-explored parts of the solar system are about to get fresh eyes.

Three countries visited the Red Planet in 2021, sending orbiters, landers, rovers and even a helicopter. The United Arab Emirates successfully put its first interplanetary spacecraft, called Hope, into orbit in February, to study Mars’ climate. China’s Zhurong rover has been trundling around the planet’s surface since May, studying the local geology and searching for underground water ice (SN Online: 5/19/21). And NASA’s Perseverance rover, which landed in February, has been collaborating with a helicopter called Ingenuity to explore an ancient lake bed and collect rocks for a future delivery mission to Earth (SN Online: 2/17/21; SN Online: 4/30/21).

But while all eyes were on Mars, other missions are embarking on journeys to study even more far-flung places. After years of delays and billions of dollars over budget, the James Webb Space Telescope is finally set to launch, no earlier than December 25, to probe the universe’s earliest galaxies, among other things (SN: 10/9/21 & 10/23/21, p. 26).

Meanwhile, spacecraft are heading off to visit 11 asteroids in the solar system in search of clues to the origins of the planets, and water and life on Earth, as well as ways to keep our planet safe from errant space rocks.

Let’s meet those rock explorers.

illustration of a spacecraft with two open shades on either side

Sign Up For the Latest from Science News

Headlines and summaries of the latest Science News articles, delivered to your inbox

Thank you for signing up!

There was a problem signing you up.


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here