Phoenix Did NOT Find Mars Life

A media snafu has NASA spokespersons rushing to deny that life has been found on Mars, reported  For example, Live Science reporter Leonard David said that the White House has been alerted to the potential for new information about life on Mars based on findings from the Phoenix Lander.  The apparent secrecy has teased […]

What’s SETI Got to Do With It?

The science news outlets are all posting a story from about how you can adopt a scientist.  Mark Showalter is an interesting guy – astronomer, scuba diver, amateur naturalist, award-winning photographer, and specialist in planetary rings.  But why was this story posted in the SETI column?     There doesn’t seem to be anything […]

Ethane Lake Found on Titan

Liquid ethane has been detected in a lake near the south pole of Saturn’s moon Titan, reported JPL yesterday.  This confirms long-held suspicions that ethane, a byproduct of methane disruption by the solar wind, accumulates on the surface of the large atmosphere-shrouded moon.  A problem remains why there is so little of it.  Pre-Cassini predictions […]

Earth from Space Is a Special Place

The Deep Impact spacecraft, 31 million miles away, captured images of the moon circling the Earth, reported (for the sequence of images, click here).  “Making a video of Earth from so far away helps the search for other life-bearing planets in the universe by giving insights into how a distant, Earth-like alien world would […]

Watery Moon Upsets Conventional Wisdom

The moon looks pretty dry.  It may have maria (oceans) but the figurative term would not attract customers for beachfront property: its seas are made of hardened lava.  The moon’s “Ocean of storms” (Mare Procellarum) only gets rain in the form of solar wind and cosmic rays.  Still, could there be water molecules in this […]

Love Your Planet

Modern astronomy and space travel have given humans the ability to view the earth from a distance and ponder its significance.  Some astronomers expected the earth to be ordinary-looking.  In many respects, however, astronomy is teaching us otherwise.  Clara Moskowitz, staff writer for began an article by saying, “Earth is one special planet.”   […]

First Mercury Research Papers in from MESSENGER

Science published a suite of papers analyzing data from the first MESSENGER spacecraft flyby of Mercury.1  The flyby last January was the first since Mariner 10 visited in the 1970s.  Mariner 10 had left many questions that are now being revisited.  Among the dozen papers and articles, here are three that discuss the most significant […]

Saturn Rings: F is for Flamboyant

The Cassini spacecraft just started its extended mission on July 1.  Among its many achievements during the four-year prime mission (2004-2008) was the elucidation of complex processes occurring in Saturn’s rings.  One ring in particular, the thin outlying F-ring, attracted particular interest.  Voyager scientists from the early 1980s could hardly believe their eyes when separate […]

Hopes Die for Enceladus Longevity

Ever since Enceladus, the little 300-mile-across moon of Saturn was found in 2005 to be erupting out its south pole, scientists have tried to explain how it could be possible.  They have looked high and low for an energy source to power the geysers of the little moon dubbed “Cold Faithful” for billions of years.  […]

Mars Life Hopes Suffer Double Disappointment

Just when the new Phoenix lander was flexing its arm and going to work (see JPL), hoping to determine the habitability of Mars, two papers came out expressing doubt it will find anything. Toxic salty stew: summarized a new paper in Science1 that concluded Mars has way too much salt.  Although some earth organisms […]

The Phoenix Lands on Mars

The Phoenix Spacecraft successfully landed on Mars Sunday night.  Its mission is to look for water and the potential habitability of life in the northern latitudes of the red planet near its polar cap for the next 3 months.  This is the first soft landing on Mars in 32 years, and the third in history […]

Moon Still Feeling the Impact

Craters on the moon seem so old.  Astronomers count them to try to figure out how long ago the surface was battered by impacts.  Although amateurs have claimed to see flashes on the moon’s surface through backyard telescopes, serious astronomers dismissed many of the reports as stories from the lunatic fringe.  “Not any more,” says […]

Beware of Starstuff

Stars can be dangerous.  They spew out deadly particles, unless you are protected from them in a safety bubble – like Earth has.  The Earth’s magnetic field and atmosphere only let in the life-giving part of sunlight.  Studies of other stars, and our own moon, show that things could be far worse. Record flare:  A […]

Earth’s Core Values Questioned

Geologists have long assumed that iron attracted certain elements toward the earth’s core during its formation.  The amounts of them we find today were added by meteorites and comets as a veneer on the surface later.  A press release from Florida State University is questioning those core values.  New research “calls into question three decades […]

Iapetus Is Losing Its Dry Ice

How long can a moon afford to leak?  Iapetus is losing its dry ice (carbon dioxide) through sublimation at a prodigious rate, say scientists in a paper in Icarus this month.1  “One can see that the long-term stability of CO2 is problematic.”     Solving the mystery of the dark side on this mystery moon […]
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