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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 […]

SETI Tries to Stretch the Habitable Zone

Can life exist outside the circumstellar habitable zone, that ring of life around a star where the temperature is comfy?  “For more than 150 years,” Ker Than wrote for LiveScience, “…this zone has been defined as a narrow disk around a star where temperatures are moderate enough that water on the surface of a planet […]

Keeping Saturn’s Moons Old

The Saturn system has a problem: young moons.  The current consensus on the age of the solar system (4.5 billion years) cannot handle such young objects.  Richard A. Kerr in Science last month described the vexing problem:1 Why is there geology on Saturn’s icy satellites?  Where did these smallish moons get the energy to refresh […]

Space Travel Too Hazardous for Humans

Astronomy magazine’s March 2006 issue contains a couple of sobering articles for those who like to dream of humans mastering the universe.  Asking “Will moon dust stop NASA?”, Trudy E. Bell described the dangers of space dust: “it sticks to spacesuits, wreaks havoc on equipment, and may be physically harmful,” she wrote, citing the experiences […]

ID Film Takes Hollywood

Grauman’s Chinese Theater on Hollywood Boulevard is a top tourist attraction in Tinseltown.  It features dozens of handprints of famous movie and TV stars, from Lucille Ball and Bill Cosby to Mickey Mouse.  This venue of many a blockbuster and glitzy opening night seemed hardly a place for naturalistic cosmology to take a thrashing, but […]

Planet Out of Bounds

There’s a small planetary object where it shouldn’t be.  New Scientist reported the discovery of a Kuiper Belt object (KBO) with a high inclination of 47° and a nearly circular orbit.  Astronomers can’t figure out how it got there.  It’s too far out to have been flung by Neptune into such a strange orbit.  They […]

It Was the Year of Titan

Of the top 10 astronomy stories for 2005, Astronomy Magazine gave #6 to Cassini’s year at Saturn, and #1 to the Huygens landing on Titan last January 14 (01/14/2005, 01/21/2005).     The official science papers from that event are now in.  In a special online edition, Nature1 published 9 new papers and articles with […]

Enceladus Eruptions Caught on Camera

Enceladus, one of the small icy moons of Saturn, is undergoing eruptive activity right now.  Evidence from previous flybys has now been corroborated visually in stunning images that made the lead stories on NASA, JPL and Cassini.  Amateur enthusiasts were already expressing excitement at the images before the announcement (see Unmanned Spaceflight).  The complete set […]

News from the Solar Neighborhood

Here’s a collection of recent items of interest under the sun.  (Don’t miss the big story above, too.) My Rhea Lies Under the Spacecraft:  Cassini added another trophy to its moon collection Saturday, skimming just 300 miles above the surface of Saturn’s large moon Rhea.  (Saturday is named after Saturn, hey).  Rhea is the largest […]

Make Your Own Privileged Planet

NASA-Ames Research Center has produced an online simulation game called AstroVenture that allows kids to try to design a habitable planet.  After they pick half a dozen parameters, the game tells them whether humans could live there or not. This is a cute feature that, with caveats, could be useful for parents and teachers.  The […]

Do Dead Meteorites Tell Tales?

Several researchers lately have claimed that meteorites can tell us the history of our solar system.  How can this be? Messages from Heaven:  Richard Kerr in Science1 reported on work by Strom et al. in the same issue2 that the asteroid belt was the source of the so-called “late heavy bombardment” that is said to […]

Can Chemicals Be Fertile?

Simon Conway Morris wins Stupid Evolution Quote of the Week for the following entry in Current Biology.1  Ostensibly he was trying to be light-hearted and funny about mass extinctions.  We’ll see if anyone is laughing about whether massive impacts are a blessing or a curse: Manna from heaven.  So yet more violence, with the Earth […]

Mars and Moons Shed Cocoons

With so many spacecraft touring our solar system, there’s almost too much news to process.  Here are a few highlights, starting with Mars, then comets, asteroids, a Titanic puzzle, and what Cassini found mini moons ago. Mars Ice Age:  Mars Express may have found evidence for deep ice deposits on Mars around the equator in […]
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