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Titan Shows Its Surface to Cassini

Time to Titan their theories; Cassini scientists are both fascinated and puzzled by surface features coming to light from the first encounter July 2 with Saturn’s large atmosphere-shrouded moon Titan.  At a news conference July 3, some of the initial findings were unveiled: methane clouds hovering over the south pole, linear dark and light markings […]

Tau Ceti a Star for Life to Avoid

Tau Ceti, a star with a dust disk astronomers had hoped might be an example of a planetary system under construction, is more like a war zone.  A press release from the Royal Observatory calls it “Asteroid Alley – an Inhospitable Neighbor.”  Using the James Clerk Maxwell Telescope in Hawaii, the astronomers detected 10 times […]

Cassini Watches Explosion in Saturn’s E Ring

Something strange happened in the E ring of Saturn last January.  The incident is forcing scientists to conclude the ring cannot be very old.     The E ring is the broad, extended ring that extends from Mimas to Rhea (click here for diagram), over three times as broad as the main ring system but […]

Saturn Runs Rings Around Cassini

“Shocked” was how Carolyn Porco, lead Cassini imaging scientist, described her initial reaction to new pictures of Saturn’s rings.  Precious images began to pour in early July 1 from science observations right after the previous night’s perfect orbit insertion maneuver (see 06/30/2004 headline).  Even though the imaging team had been confident in the capabilities of […]

Cassini to Rewrite Textbooks on Saturn

Hundreds of scientists and engineers are waiting with eager anticipation for SOI: Saturn Orbit Insertion, as the schoolbus-sized Cassini spacecraft races for its closest approach to the ringed planet tonight.  Just before closest approach, Cassini will fire its main engine for 96 minutes to slow down the spacecraft and allow Saturn to capture it in […]

Comet Surface Wild and Crazy

“Completely unexpected,” was the reaction of Donald Brownlee, principal investigator of the Stardust mission, to the photos revealed by the spacecraft that flew into the tail of Comet Wild-2 last January (see 01/02/2004 headline), reports a University of Washington press release.  The comet mission is the cover story in the June 18 issue of Science, […]

Phoebe Shows Her Dark, Icy Face

Planetary scientists are reveling in the sharp new pictures of Phoebe taken last Friday by the Cassini Spacecraft.  Phoebe is the outermost moon of Saturn, an oddball since it revolves around Saturn in the “wrong” direction at high inclination.  Nine images have been released to the public so far (click here for the gallery).  The […]

Red Planet News; Ring World Beckons

Let’s drop in on Mars for the latest findings.  The two Mars Exploration Rovers are still doing splendidly; Spirit has its goal mapped out, a tour of the Columbia Hills where rock outcrops beckon geologists.  It recently crossed the 1.5 mile mark and set a single-day distance record, covering more than a football field with […]

Hot Jupiter!  Exoplanets Found Very Close to Stars

Two examples of Jupiter-size planets have been found by the European Southern Observatory.  They are so close to their parent stars, they orbit in less than two earth-days each.  Mercury would be 17 times farther out than one of them.  They belong to a new class of exoplanets scientists are terming “hot Jupiters.” A few […]

Lutherans Helped Copernicus

Every once in awhile, we are confronted to reconsider things we “know” are true, only to find out the truth is closer to the opposite.  The usual spin on Nicolaus Copernicus is that he was a brave scientist who threatened the church with his discovery that the earth orbits the sun, not the sun the […]

The Spin on a New Planet

Planetary scientists are “completely baffled” by a new “mysterious” planetoid named Sedna, discovered March 15.  About 70% the diameter of Pluto, it has no moon like Pluto does, but rotates very slowly – somewhere between 20 and 50 days – which would normally imply the presence of a satellite.  Most small bodies rotate in a […]

Privileged Planet Website Opens

A website featuring a new book by Guillermo Gonzalez and Jay Richards, The Privileged Planet, has opened.  The subtitle of the book is How Our Place in the Cosmos Is Designed for Discovery.  The authors take issue with pessimistic views, such as those of Steven Weinberg and Carl Sagan, that our planet is “pointless” or […]

Mercury’s Magnetic Field: Another Attempt to Save Theory from Data

Nature Feb. 121 restates a puzzle about Mercury known since the Mariner 10 encounters (1974-5): …why, against expectations, does Mercury have a global magnetic field? The planet’s diminutive size means that it should have cooled quickly after it formed.  Any molten core would have become solid, or almost completely so.  A magnetic-field-generating dynamo in an […]

Comets as Cosmic Storks

Chandra Wickramasinghe and colleagues at Cardiff University have raised the bar on tale-telling ability.  They believe that comets splatting on earth can carry away germs of life that gradually spread farther and farther out, eventually escaping the sun’s pull.  Over time, they might spread life to other worlds.  They estimate that since the origin of […]

Accretion: The Missing Link in Planetary Evolution

Every school child has seen artwork of planets evolving from a disk of dust and gas around a star like our sun, but there’s a missing link in the story. How did the dust particles stick together?
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