June 11, 2015 | David F. Coppedge

Solar System Puzzles Needing Explanation

Here are some of the latest observations that are baffling planetary scientists.

Mercury: Large cliffs thousands of miles long and over a mile high have scientists mystified, Charles Q. Choi says on Space.com. It’s not as simple as positing the cliffs formed when the crust shrank, because the pattern doesn’t match expectations. The majority are in the southern hemisphere; some are on opposite sides of the planet.

Ceres: That pair of bright spots on the asteroid Ceres is getting clearer as the Dawn spacecraft gets nearer, but questions remain, says PhysOrg. You can see now that there are smaller spots adjacent to them. They appear to be elevated above the surroundings within the crater where they are found. “Could we be seeing relatively fresh ice or salts after recent landslides related to impact or tectonic forces exposed them to view?” Writer Bob King is reminded of Wunda Crater on Uranus’s moon Umbriel, a bright spot at the pole observed by Voyager 2 back in 1986, but does using one mystery to refer to another help the situation? “Mission scientists confess still to being puzzled by the features,” the BBC News says.

Vesta: A new paper in Icarus asks where Vesta’s missing moons went. “Seven experienced searchers used multiple search approaches to look for satellites, none were found.” This is odd, considering that smaller asteroids have moons. “It is now time to factor the null result of this search into the context of satellite formation among other main belt asteroids and to conduct dynamical modeling to explore the suspected forces contributing to the absence of satellites at Vesta today.”

Saturn: The biggest ring in the solar system, discovered in 2009 (see 10/07/09), just got bigger. The Phoebe Ring got “supersized” by a new study published in Nature this week (see Space.com)Science Magazine says, “If Saturn were the size of a basketball, the ring from one side of the planet to the other would span two-thirds the length of a football field.” But can these tiny particles maintain retrograde orbits for billions of years? The large particles might, but they represent only about 10% of the material, and the rest is quickly swept up by Titan or by Poynting-Robertson drag in 100,000 years, the paper states. So a continual source of replenishment is needed. “They probably arise when debris shed by comets hits distant saturnian satellites such as Phoebe, kicking up material that goes into orbit around the ringed planet,” Science says, but in Space.com, Douglas Hamilton remarked, “Saturn’s main rings are like the fabled elephant graveyard — mysterious and filled with mostly large bones that contain clues about the recent past.

Comet Wild 2:  The comet visited by the Stardust mission that collected samples of its dust is still throwing up secrets. While the larger dust particles appear similar to meteorites, “The smaller-sized dust, on the other hand, displays the entire range of known oxygen isotopic compositions that have been measured for objects from the inner solar system (from the Sun to the asteroid belt),” Science Daily reports. “This unexpected combination of material has deepened the mystery of Wild 2’s past.” The article does not mention the discovery of high-temperature compounds and amino acids that surprised mission scientists back in 2006 when the capsule returned to earth.

The list is not exhaustive, but the scientists appear exhausted. Surprise, mystery and puzzlement drive science, but also cause stress. For alleviation of stress due to clinging to a secular moyboy worldview, consider creation. It’s restful when you don’t have to keep decaying systems running for billions of years.


(Visited 137 times, 1 visits today)


  • John C says:

    Interesting article at Space.com on the Phoebe Rings. I have one problem: Phoebe is dark, and is blamed (probably rightly) for the dark smear across Iapetus. The ring is ‘boy’ old, (according to them), and has lasted because the dust particles are so far apart (diffuse, is that the word?) So, the cometary impacts that formed the dust clouds were close enough together to form the ring, yet the comets themselves are in huge and eccentric orbits. The particles meanwhile, are far enough apart to collide rarely, and yet dense enough to form an observable ring (albeit barely visible). How does that make any sense? Sounds like the convenience of the cosmologists…

Leave a Reply