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SciShow Space News explains how we lost track of a resupply mission, explores Pluto’s newfound ice caps, and helps you find Mercury.

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With all the discoveries and successful mission we talk about each week, it's easy to forget that space travel is incredibly dangerous. And sometimes, things go wrong. The world was reminded of that last week when the Russian space agency Roscosmos lost contact with Progress 59, a resupply mission that was headed to the International Space Station.

Progress 59 launched on April 28th, loaded with more than 2,500 kilograms of fuel, supplies and science experiments. It was supposed to dock with the ISS just six hours later, but it didn't. Shortly after liftoff, engineers had trouble maintaining communication with the capsule. They couldn't tell if its antennas had deployed, or if its propulsion system was properly pressurized. Even worse, a video they did manage to receive showed the ship spinning out of control. Engineers spent the next two days trying to re-establish contact, but eventually they said the ship was officially lost. Without guidance, Progress 59's orbit will gradually degrade and it'll eventually burn up in Earth's atmosphere, taking all those supplies and its fifty million dollar price tag with it. 

Don't worry though! The six ISS crew members are going to be fine. The station has more than enough food and supplies to last until the next resupply mission on June 19th. And they've already gone back to their usual routines.

And luckily it's not all doom and gloom on the space missions front. New Horizons is sending new pictures from Pluto. With it's July flyby of the dwarf planet only a few months away, the probe's already close enough that its onboard camera called LORRI can take higher resolution images than Hubble. The photos still aren't easy to make out but astronomers have spotted bright and dark patches on Pluto's surface, including an especially bright spot covering one of its poles. So let this be the first of New Horizons' possible discoveries - it seems like Pluto has polar ice caps. 

From years of observations, we already know that Pluto has plenty of water ice, plus nitrogen and methane. And scientists think that this shiny patch is probably frozen molecular nitrogen. The ice caps are just the beginning of what New Horizons will be able to tell us as it gets closer. There is a lot that we still don't know about Pluto, like whether it has a magnetic field, or faint rings, or even if we found all of its moons. New Horizons will help us answer those questions and will also map the dwarf planet's far side for the very first time. A few months from now, we'll know a whole lot more about that cold, icy world than we even did before. 

And finally, let's travel to the opposite extreme of the solar system. Mercury has been in the news a lot lately because after four years of observation, the MESSENGER probe has just ended its mission by crashing into the planet's surface. And if you've ever wanted to get a good look at Mercury for yourself, now's a really good time, at least if you're in the Northern hemisphere. That's because Mercury is now at its greatest eastern elongation, meaning that its orbit carries it far enough away from the Sun to be visible just after sunset. Most of the time, Mercury is so close to the Sun that it's impossible to see. Either by the time it's dark enough to see the planet it's already followed the Sun below the horizon, or be the time it rises above the horizon the Sun is already out. But a few times a year, it's visible to the naked eye.

To find Mercury in the sky, head outdoors around an hour after sunset, and then look for Venus which should be a bright point of light toward West-Northwest. Mercury is below and to the right, separated by 22 degrees, roughly the width of a hand held at arm's length. Don't wait too long though, because once the sky is dark enough for you to see it, you only have about half an hour before the planet sinks below the horizon. If you happen to miss it, then next elongation will be on June 24th, but that'll be a western elongation making the planet visible about an hour before sunrise, which is a little less convenient for those of us who don't normally get up before dawn. But it is a great time to grab a friend and a pair of binoculars if you have 'em and take a look at the smallest planet in our solar system. 

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