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Titan’s Land-o’-Lakes Found

The Cassini spacecraft has found features that look like methane lakes in the northern latitudes of Titan (see JPL press release).  The large dark patches, some about 30 miles across with rounded edges, appear to be associated with fluid channels.  Radar echoes cannot determine for sure whether the surface is liquid (dark means smooth, light […]

Saturn E-Ring Oxygen Bubble Blown by Enceladus

From a distance, the little moon Enceladus at Saturn looks for all the world like a leaking water balloon.  The Cassini Mission just released a new photo of Enceladus that fits that description well.  The plumes are faintly visible emanating from the south pole of the 300-mile-across moon as it orbits beyond the rings.  A […]

Update:  Crater-Count Dating Squabble Unresolved

Remember the revelation last year that many craters on Mars used to infer ages may have been secondary impacts from fallback debris? (see 10/20/2005 entry).  Well, a microsymposium on this subject was held in Houston in March, and Richard Kerr in Science1 said that “125 planetary scientists deadlocked over how to apply crater-dating techniques to […]

Asteroid Sticks Together While Theories Disintegrate

[Guest article]  In an story entitled “Rubbly Itokawa revealed as ‘impossible’ asteroid,” New Scientist Space reported on findings gathered from the recent visit of Japanese spacecraft Hayabusa to the asteroid Itokawa (see 11/28/2005 bullet).  There seems to be no end of problems for scientists trying to fit the solar system into billions of years.  Now […]

See Comet Crumble

A comet is breaking up before our eyes.  Comet Schwassmann-Wachmann 3 has split into dozens of pieces and is crumbling quickly, like pieces of dried meringue.  Science News tells about the breakup, and it made Astronomy Picture of the Day.  The Hubble and Spitzer space telescopes are also documenting the event.     This is […]

The Porridge Before the Soup: Too Hot?

In the evolutionary theory of everything, there is a soup before the primordial soup we normally think of.  It’s the solar nebula, the whirling disk of dust, gas and ice that preceded the planets.  Scientists used to think the nebula was differentiated like chemicals in a giant centrifuge, with the rocks close to the sun […]

Solar Eclipses Unique to Earth, SETI Researcher “Finds”

Like many before him, Seth Shostak pondered the significance of total solar eclipses for the one planet with observers to appreciate them.  “OK, I’ve done the math,” the SETI Institute director said for SETI Thursday on Space.com.  “What you always suspected might be true … is true: namely that the best place in the solar […]

Hope for Titan Ocean Evaporates into Ice Desert

Saturn’s moon Titan is a desert of sand made of ice grains mixed with hydrocarbons.  These grains form large fields of wind-driven dunes found over much of the planet-sized moon.  “Titan’s Seas Are Sand,” reported a press release from U of Arizona based on a paper in the May 5 issue of Science (see Perspective […]

Astrobiology Ten Years Later: Can It Justify Its Funding?

Astrobiology just turned ten years old, but is experiencing growing pains, partly due to a starvation diet.  This “science without a subject” (as George Gaylord Simpson quipped about its predecessor, exobiology) is struggling to justify itself at the Congressional feeding trough.  Proponents tout it as the most important subject in the universe.  Why, then, is […]

“Fertile Imagination” Envisions Life on Titan

The dramatic landing of the Huygens Probe on Titan over a year ago (01/14/2005, 01/21/2005, 12/05/2005) is finally getting some overdue notice from the media.  The PBS science series NOVA just aired a new program on Cassini-Huygens, “Voyage to the Mystery Moon” (see your local PBS station for rebroadcast times), and Astronomy Magazine’s May 2006 […]

Dry-Marsers Score Points

Those looking for water on Mars in hopes that life would grow in it had some setbacks this week.  National Geographic and Mars Daily reported on work by Gwendolyn Bart (U of Arizona) who found gullies on the moon similar to those on Mars thought to be formed by water.  Since the moon never had […]

Planet-Making a Lost Art

Exclusive  Solar system theorists are trying to reverse engineer the planets without the recipe.  Planets exist, but they can’t get from a rotating disk of dust and gas to a solar system from their models.  They are at a loss to explain Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, Neptune and a host of Jupiter-class planets around other stars. […]

Stardust Finds Burnt Rock in Comet Dust

In a surprise upset, scientists analyzing cometary material returned from the Stardust mission found minerals that must have glowed white-hot when they formed.  Comets were long thought to have formed in the outer fringes of the solar nebula or in the Oort Cloud, far from the sun where it’s icy cold and calm.  They were […]

Keeping Icy Moons Warm for Billions of Years

Each spacecraft that has explored the outer solar system has yielded surprises.  It is common knowledge that Voyager scientists were blown away by the first views of active moons they expected to be cold and old.  Recent discoveries have only intensified the surprises.  Richard Kerr wrote recently in Science,1 Why is there geology on Saturn’s […]

Alien Engineering: Is It Intelligent Design?

The SETI Institute finished airing a 2-part series on the History Channel called Alien Engineering (it will be rebroadcast on Feb. 18).  The series, featuring SETI Institute scientists Seth Shostak and Frank Drake, asks the following questions: Prepare for an exercise in imagination.  Suppose that an alien spacecraft crashed in the desert and we humans […]
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