This week, the European Space Agency’s Rosetta spacecraft, currently circling the comet 67P/Churyumov–Gerasimenko, celebrated a special celestial milestone: perihelion, the closest point to the sun in the comet’s orbit. It’s been just a little more than a year since Rosetta rendezvoused with the comet, and that craft is just one of more than two dozen currently active space missions that are up and running from space agencies around the globe. Humanity is probing Mars for signs of ancient life, sniffing out water on distant moons, and even venturing beyond the reaches of our solar system.
The fruits of this scientific inquiry have already started to ripen. We’ve discovered traces of organic molecules on Mars thanks to the Curiosity rover, tasted plumes of ice erupting from Saturn’s moon Enceladus through the instruments of Cassini, and started to map the frozen mountain ranges of Pluto with the help of New Horizons. We have space probes circling planets, moons, and parked at the Lagrange points where an object can stably orbit the sun in concert with the Earth. Soon, hopefully, we’ll learn more about the clouds of Venus with the help of the Akatsuki spacecraft and explore the Kuiper Belt as New Horizons ventures further out on its lonely journey. And who knows what the Voyager probes will encounter on their way out of the solar system?
Here’s a helpful infographic guide to those 29 (as of August 2015) missions. (Note that we’re not including those orbiting the Earth.)
Image: Julie Rossman