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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 […]

Comet Theories Vanish in Puff of Powder

They were supposed to be dirty snowballs, those comets, pristine relics from the primordial solar system.  They were supposed to be blasting volatile ices from their interiors as they approached the sun.  What are they doing with aromatic hydrocarbons, olivine, iron, clays and carbonates?  When the Deep Impact probe hit its target July 4, it […]

Floored of the Rings: Cassini Baffles Scientists at Saturn

For the past few months (02/28/2005), the Cassini spacecraft has had a ringside seat at Saturn, with high inclination orbits that have provided the best viewing angles since orbit insertion last year (07/01/2004).  Cassini scored, as it soared around and around the horde of ring particles, and poured its stored data toward waiting scientists at […]

“Marvelous Puzzle”: Enceladus’ South Pole Surface Less Than 1,000 Years Old

Enceladus, a moon of Saturn smaller than the British isles (comparison image), has a region at the south pole that is less than 1,000 years old, and maybe only 10 years old.  This conclusion, announced at Cassini science briefings in London August 30, is based on multi-instrument observations taken July 14 during the closest flyby […]

Meteorite Impacts Solar System Theories

A study partly funded by NASA and published in Nature1 has thrown a “monkey wrench” into theories of the origin of the solar system, according to a press release from the University of Toronto.  Small grains of minerals called chondrules in two meteorites are “young” – too young to have been formed in the assumed […]

Planetary Wanderings

Here are news briefs that are out of this world: Death Star Sighted:  On August 2, the Cassini Spacecraft took the best-ever pictures of Mimas, the little moon of Saturn with a huge crater Herschel that makes it look like the Death Star from Star Wars.  Why this little moon should be one of the […]

New Planet Discovered Beyond Pluto; Another Has a Moon

A 10th planet, the biggest since Pluto was found 75 years ago, has been discovered.  Late Friday, a JPL press release announced the find made in January by Dr. Mike Brown of Caltech in research partly funded by NASA.  The planet, temporarily designated 2003 UB313 until a name is approved, is three times farther than […]

Life on Mars – and Titan?

Life has not been found on Mars, but some scientists, according to National Geographic News, are worried that we are contaminating the planet with Earth germs that will make the search for Martians more difficult.  Speaking of Mars, a report in Science Now claims that Mars rarely got above freezing in its entire history.   […]
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