Mars Lacks Safety Shield for Humans

Forget all those optimistic, futuristic sci-fi tales of humans landing on Mars.  It isn’t safe, said  NASA’s space radiation program doubts that a human body could survive prolonged exposure to space.  This is a problem for long stays on the moon, too.     “The magnetic field of Earth protects humanity from radiation in […]

Enceladus: Hotter Chemical Plume Found

Initial results of Cassini’s March 12 flyby of Enceladus have been published.  You can watch a replay of today’s press briefing, read the blog, and read illustrated bulletins about the organic material, chemical signatures, hot spot locations, the stellar occultation (see also the Quicktime animation).  Another article shows the plume locations.  An astrobiologist (Chris McKay) […]

Crater Dater Deflator: Impactors Can Be Recycled

They came from outer space – that was the old paradigm about impactors that made craters on planetary bodies.  Then, we learned how secondary craters can confuse a surface’s history (06/08/2006, 09/25/2007).  Now, two papers in Icarus show that moons can do a lateral pass.     Alvarellos et al,1 showed that Jupiter’s moon Io […]

March Moon Madness

Moons of our planetary system are supposed to behave themselves.  They were expected to just quietly orbit their host planets like nice, cold, frozen, inactive chunks of rock and ice.  It seems like whenever we get a close look at them, they are madly at work destroying theories – just like their planets have been […]

Simple Molecules: The Building Blocks of Lie

At a physical level, everything in the universe is made of atoms and molecules.  Life, being a subset of everything in the universe, is composed of a subset of all molecules that exist.  It could be said that any atom or molecule present in a living thing is a building block of life, but how […]

Falling Rocks Leave Holes in Science

Hard data in astronomy is hard to come by, except when it comes by special delivery – as with meteorites.  If there is any class of phenomena that should be well understood, it should be space debris and the craters they form, because the processes involved can be watched in real time.  Meteorites adorn many […]

Saturn Moons Continue to Surprise Scientists

Just days before a long-awaited dive into the plume of Enceladus (see PhysOrg and JPL press release, flyby stats and news release), Cassini found another surprise in the Saturn system: a moon with rings.     A Jet Propulsion Lab press release on March 6 reported that the large moon Rhea may have rings – […]

Mars Life Hung Out to Dry in Salt

Scientists have just about hanged the possibility for life on Mars.  At first, the acid measured by the Spirit and Opportunity rovers made the environment look inhospitable.  “Now, we also appreciate the high salinity of the water when it left behind the minerals Opportunity found,” said Mark Knoll on a JPL press release.  “This tightens […]

Titan Is Old-Age Problem, Despite News Media Coverage

A paper in Geophysical Research Letters1 about Saturn’s largest moon, Titan, reads like a good-news, bad-news joke.  The good news is that Titan appears to have more hydrocarbons than Earth.  The bad news is that it is not enough to save the assumption that Titan is 4.5 billion years old.     Several science news […]

Something is Cooking Under Enceladus

Planetary scientists have been puzzling over Enceladus, a small moon of Saturn, since geysers were discovered erupting from its south pole three years ago.  Some models suggested that eruptions could occur without liquid water, but others were not sure.     Opinion now seems to be shifting back to the necessity of a wet interior, […]

Are Long-Term Climate Models Trustworthy?

Everything from global warming policy to evolutionary history depends on long-term climate models.  Textbooks make it seem like earth keeps reliable recordings that allow scientists to simply read off the record of years, decades, centuries, millennia and millions of years objectively.  It’s not that simple, wrote Maureen E. Raymo and Peter Huybers in Nature last […]

Explorer 1 Chief Discovers Design

On this day 50 years ago, America entered the space race.  On January 31, 1958, America gave its answer to Sputnik: a civilian satellite named Explorer 1.  Within a few hours of the time of day these words are being written, von Braun’s Jupiter-C rocket at Cape Canaveral, Florida, successfully launched a JPL satellite into […]

The Geologists Were Wrong

More examples of collapsing theories have appeared in the literature this week (compare last week, 01/21/2008): Dirty Comet:  The Stardust spacecraft that collected comet samples in 2006 was so named because it was believed comets contained pristine material from the birth of the sun.  That has all changed.  National Geographic News summarized a paper in […]

Messenger Sends Postcards from Mercury

Images downloaded from MESSENGER’s first flyby of Mercury on January 14 are starting to be published.  The Science Images page of the MESSENGER website (MErcury Surface, Space ENvironment, GEochemistry, and Ranging) posted the first image January 16, with more being added from time to time.  Launched in 2004 (07/27/2004, bullet 3), the spacecraft has unveiled […]

Solar System Super Snapshots

Here are some of the most fascinating new images coming from spacecraft out there on duty – but they didn’t just come in on their own.  They are brought to you by highly intelligent and dedicated human beings: the navigators, instrument teams, deep space network engineers, flight controllers and scientists who gather and distribute the […]
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