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Watch SpaceX's Falcon 9 rocket moments before all goes wrong

A Falcon 9 rocket comes in for a landing on Tuesday, April 14, 2015. Credit: SpaceX

Scott Sutherland
Meteorologist/Science Writer

Wednesday, April 15, 2015, 10:57 AM - A near-success for SpaceX's landing attempt, Curiosity finds evidence of liquid water beneath Mars' surface, and mysteries persist on dwarf planet Ceres. It's What's Up In Space!

Near-success for SpaceX

Late Tuesday afternoon, the clear blue Florida sky was split by SpaceX's Dragon spacecraft, as it blasted towards space atop a Falcon 9 rocket. Once in orbit, the cargo ship and the rocket's second stage separated away for a boost towards the International Space Station, while the rocket's 1st stage made a controlled descent back towards Earth. The destination of this Earth-bound component of the rocket? A small drone barge 'parked' off the Atlantic coast of the United States.

When it arrived there, this is what happened:

Credit: SpaceX

The video cuts out just before what was undoubtedly a rather spectacular explosion, as the side-ward motion of the rocket apparently caused it to tip over upon touchdown, slam into the deck and undergo a 'Full RUD (Rapid Unscheduled Disassembly) event', like its predecessors.

However, the video really highlights the best part of this attempt. This rocket not only launched a spacecraft into orbit, but then dropped back down to Earth, homing in on the exact location of the drone barge and came in for landing right on target! That's incredible!

If it wasn't for that slight lateral motion that apparently spoiled everything, SpaceX could have sent that very same rocket back into space in a matter of days or weeks!

RELATED: SpaceX dragon en route to deliver ISS espresso machine, but there's mixed news about the Falcon landing

Briny Water on Mars?

Curiosity's REMS instrument. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech"

There's been plenty of news in the past few years about NASA's Curiosity rover unveiling a warmer, wetter past on Mars, about liquid water once flowing through the crater the rover is in, and even about water locked up in the soil and rocks around it. However, the latest evidence the rover has uncovered shows that there could be salty, liquid water right under its wheels at night!

According to NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL):

Martian weather and soil conditions that NASA's Curiosity rover has measured, together with a type of salt found in Martian soil, could put liquid brine in the soil at night.
Perchlorate identified in Martian soil by the Curiosity mission, and previously by NASA's Phoenix Mars Lander mission, has properties of absorbing water vapor from the atmosphere and lowering the freezing temperature of water. This has been proposed for years as a mechanism for possible existence of transient liquid brines at higher latitudes on modern Mars, despite the Red Planet's cold and dry conditions.
New calculations were based on more than a full Mars year of temperature and humidity measurements by Curiosity. They indicate that conditions at the rover's near-equatorial location were favorable for small quantities of brine to form during some nights throughout the year, drying out again after sunrise. Conditions should be even more favorable at higher latitudes, where colder temperatures and more water vapor can result in higher relative humidity more often.

RELATED: Mars' dusty surface hides 150 trillion tons of glacial water ice

Ceres Keeps Its Secrets... For Now

When NASA's Dawn spacecraft slipped into orbit around the dwarf planet Ceres back in early March, it gathered a multitude of images for the science team back here on Earth. While we wait for the probe to once again swing around the day side of Ceres, scientists have been poring over those images, and they have produced this detailed full-colour map of the surface.

Click to enlarge. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/UCLA/MPS/DLR/IDA

The map, and the diverse range of materials on the surface, reveals a very active past for Ceres, but one mystery of this dwarf planet that has yet to be solved by this latest look is the origin of the bright spots seen by Dawn as it approached.

According to NASA JPL:

Based on observations from NASA's Hubble Space Telescope, planetary scientists have identified 10 bright regions on Ceres' surface. One pair of bright spots, by far the brightest visible marks on Ceres, appears to be located in a region that is similar in temperature to its surroundings. But a different bright feature corresponds to a region that is cooler than the rest of Ceres' surface.
The origins of Ceres' bright spots, which have captivated the attention of scientists and the public alike, remain unknown. It appears the brightest pair is located in a crater 57 miles (92 kilometers) wide. As Dawn gets closer to the surface of Ceres, better-resolution images will become available.
"The bright spots continue to fascinate the science team, but we will have to wait until we get closer and are able to resolve them before we can determine their source," Russell said.

RELATED: NASA's Dawn probe captures the best shots yet of the asteroid-planet Ceres

Sources: SpaceX | NASA/JPL-Caltech | NASA/JPL-Caltech

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