7 questions on space probes

7 questions on space probes

Nasa's Messenger probe is soon to go into orbit around Mercury after an eight-year journey from Earth. It is just one of many probes exploring our Solar System and beyond. Test yourself on these interplanetary craft.

Messenger's launch in 2004

1.) Multiple Choice Question

Messenger is the first probe to be sent to Mercury, the planet closest to our Sun.

Mercury's south pole
  1. True
  2. False

2.) Multiple Choice Question

Earlier unmanned Mariner missions, starting in 1965, photographed the surface of Mars, gradually revealing its extreme landforms. Among the most impressive discoveries was Olympus Mons. What?

Artwork of Viking 1 & Mariner 9 orbiting Mars
  1. Dried-up river channels
  2. Microbes found in soil
  3. Giant volcano

3.) Multiple Choice Question

Fictitious space probe Voyager 6 is key to the plot of the first Star Trek movie. In what capacity?

  1. Kirk and crew discover it floating in space, crumbling and devoid of life... or is it?
  2. It vanishes into a black hole and evolves into sentient cloud that heads for Earth, devouring all in its path
  3. It appears over 23rd Century Earth, emitting strange sounds that turn out to be calls of now-extinct humpback whales

4.) Missing Word Question

Nasa probe flew by ' * ' comet

  1. space peanut
  2. snow globe

5.) Multiple Choice Question

Nasa's latest probe to look for signs of life on Mars made headlines when it found water-ice just centimetres below the topsoil. Its name?

Artist's impression of probe on Mars
  1. Viking 1
  2. Phoenix
  3. Phobos 1
  4. Beagle 2

6.) Multiple Choice Question

Which is Beagle 2, launched then lost after much fanfare about British space exploration (and with a Blur call sign and instrument calibration chart by artist Damien Hirst)?

Which lander is Beagle? (Images from Science Photo Library and Nasa)
  1. Top left
  2. Bottom left
  3. Top right
  4. Bottom right

7.) Multiple Choice Question

Nasa boffins hope Messenger will not suffer the same fate as Japan's Akatsuki probe, which in December failed to enter orbit with Venus. Its name, like many other probes, is space-themed. What does "akatsuki" mean?

Artist impression of Akatsuki
  1. Brave explorer
  2. Dawn
  3. Cloudy planet


  1. It's false. Messenger is the first to orbit Mercury, but Mariner 10 made several passes in the 1970s. It took more than 7,000 photos of Mercury, Venus, the Earth and the Moon.
  2. Olympus Mons - Latin for Mount Olympus - is a volcano about three times the size of Everest, making it the largest known volcano in the solar system.
  3. Voyager 6 evolves into V'Ger, a destructive alien cloud in Star Trek: The Motion Picture. Sorry about the spoiler, folks. Option one is the plot of Alien, and option three is the plot of Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home.
  4. It's "snow globe" - images from Nasa's probe Deep Impact shows the comet Tempel 1 is surrounded by fluffy ice particles. On the same mission, it also photographed the comet Hartley 2, described as a "space peanut". Last week, another probe - Stardust - photographed craters on Tempel 1.
  5. It's Phoenix, which landed in 2008 but thought to have broken apart in the Red Planet's winter. Vikings 1 and 2 were the first US probes to land on Mars in 1976 - several years after the USSR's failed probes Mars 2 and 3. Beagle 2 was the British lander lost in 2003. And Phobos 1 and 2 were Russia's failed probes in the 1980s.
  6. It's number 4. Beagle 2 successfully ejected from the European Space Agency's Mars Express on 19 Dec 2003, and was expected to land on Christmas Day. But nothing more was heard from it, and the mission was presumed lost.
  7. Akatsuki translates as "dawn". It had been due to conduct joint observations with the European Space Agency's Venus Express craft, which arrived in 2006.

Your Score

0 - 3 : Lost in space

4 - 6 : One small step

7 - 7 : One giant leap

For more details on some of these probes, see the new Life on Mars collection on the BBC's Space website.

For past quizzes including our weekly news quiz, 7 days 7 questions, expand the grey drop-down below - also available on the Magazine page (and scroll down).

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