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Jupi-Tar?

Among the incomprehensible titles of most papers in the Astrophysical Journal, this one stood out: “Jupiter Formed with More Tar than Ice.”1  Looking at Galileo spacecraft data for oxygen abundance and other things, Katharina Lodders was led to propose the following model: Carbonaceous matter, which has high sticking probabilities, was the agent that sped up […]

“Toy Model” of Planetary Migration Partially Explains Neptune, but Not Uranus

When we last saw Hal Levison (Southwest Research Institute), the genius-at-work was going crazy in fairyland over the difficulties of explaining Uranus and Neptune (see 05/30/2002 headline).  He’s been recovering sanity slowly; he thinks he has a working hypothesis for why Neptune stopped migrating at 30 AU (astronomical unit = sun-earth distance).  Uranus, though, is […]

Our Solar System Is a Rare Gem

As if in time for the upcoming film release of The Privileged Planet (see 06/24/2004 headline), Philip Ball wrote a line for Nature Science Update that would have dismayed Carl Sagan and a host of SETI researchers: “Earth-like planets may be more rare than thought… In cosmic terms, our solar system could be special after […]

Solar Systems Defy Theories

Stuart Ross Taylor (Australian National University, Canberra) feels left behind.  The astronomers have their nice, neat H-R diagrams to explain stars, but no such diagram exists for planetary scientists.  Our hodgepodge collection of planets, moons and small bodies defies classification, to say nothing of the extrasolar planets that have been discovered so far, mostly in […]

Modern Cosmology Goes Schizophrenic

According to Charles Seife writing in Science,1 more cosmologists are taking parallel universes seriously.  This is a consequence of the Many Worlds interpretation of quantum mechanics, one possible mathematical solution to the effects of quantum “weirdness.”  If you think our headline is too harsh, read Seife’s opening in a Rod Serling voice while playing the […]

Solar System Update

What’s happening at Mars and Saturn?  In this golden age of planetary science, the extraordinary has become commonplace.  Let’s check in and see what the spacecraft have found lately. Mars.  The Mars Exploration Rovers Spirit and Opportunity are still going strong, well past their nominal mission.  Despite a few minor problems (and decreasing sunlight as […]

Infant Cosmos Was Already Elderly

At first, they weren’t sure it was real or they were just seeing things.  Now, it’s inescapable.  As far back as cosmologists can see, there were already mature galaxies.  That’s the thrust of two papers in the July 8 issue of Nature1,2 and a commentary on them by Keck Observatory astronomer Greg Wirth3, who says […]

Titan Shows Its Surface to Cassini

Time to Titan their theories; Cassini scientists are both fascinated and puzzled by surface features coming to light from the first encounter July 2 with Saturn’s large atmosphere-shrouded moon Titan.  At a news conference July 3, some of the initial findings were unveiled: methane clouds hovering over the south pole, linear dark and light markings […]

Tau Ceti a Star for Life to Avoid

Tau Ceti, a star with a dust disk astronomers had hoped might be an example of a planetary system under construction, is more like a war zone.  A press release from the Royal Observatory calls it “Asteroid Alley – an Inhospitable Neighbor.”  Using the James Clerk Maxwell Telescope in Hawaii, the astronomers detected 10 times […]

Cassini Watches Explosion in Saturn’s E Ring

Something strange happened in the E ring of Saturn last January.  The incident is forcing scientists to conclude the ring cannot be very old.     The E ring is the broad, extended ring that extends from Mimas to Rhea (click here for diagram), over three times as broad as the main ring system but […]

Saturn Runs Rings Around Cassini

“Shocked” was how Carolyn Porco, lead Cassini imaging scientist, described her initial reaction to new pictures of Saturn’s rings.  Precious images began to pour in early July 1 from science observations right after the previous night’s perfect orbit insertion maneuver (see 06/30/2004 headline).  Even though the imaging team had been confident in the capabilities of […]

Cassini to Rewrite Textbooks on Saturn

Hundreds of scientists and engineers are waiting with eager anticipation for SOI: Saturn Orbit Insertion, as the schoolbus-sized Cassini spacecraft races for its closest approach to the ringed planet tonight.  Just before closest approach, Cassini will fire its main engine for 96 minutes to slow down the spacecraft and allow Saturn to capture it in […]

ID Book Survives Nature Relatively Unscathed

Considering the intemperate disdain intelligent design books usually receive from the major journals – when they are even noticed (see, for example, Nature’s review of a book by William Dembski in the 07/11/2002 headline) – a new ID book fared surprisingly well this week.  In Nature1 June 24, Douglas A. Vakoch (SETI Institute) reviewed the […]

Comet Surface Wild and Crazy

“Completely unexpected,” was the reaction of Donald Brownlee, principal investigator of the Stardust mission, to the photos revealed by the spacecraft that flew into the tail of Comet Wild-2 last January (see 01/02/2004 headline), reports a University of Washington press release.  The comet mission is the cover story in the June 18 issue of Science, […]

Phoebe Shows Her Dark, Icy Face

Planetary scientists are reveling in the sharp new pictures of Phoebe taken last Friday by the Cassini Spacecraft.  Phoebe is the outermost moon of Saturn, an oddball since it revolves around Saturn in the “wrong” direction at high inclination.  Nine images have been released to the public so far (click here for the gallery).  The […]
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