Panel Majority Agrees: Our Solar System Is Special

All five observational and theoretical planetary scientists on a panel last week agreed that our solar system is a special place, reports Space.Com.  At the 5th annual Isaac Asimov Memorial Panel Debate, held at the American Museum of Natural History, the topic was “whether our solar system is special, why it looks the way it […]

How Well Do We Know Our Moon?

Leonard David wrote in Space.Com that Earth’s moon is “still a puzzle” – “luna incognita,” he calls it, hoping for a new corps of discovery to go back.  Surprisingly, the treasure trove of Apollo data has “been sitting around and never properly studied,”  especially since the development of more highly sophisticated analytical techniques.  Carl Pieters […]

Titan: Case of the Missing Methane (and Ethane)

In Astrobiology Magazine this week, an article explained why the lack of methane and ethane oceans on Titan is so mysterious.  Jonathan Lunine, a chemist and astrobiologist who has been studying Titan for over two decades, explained why these hydrocarbons ought to be there.  Methane (CH4) is split by ultraviolet light from the sun.  The […]

What Is Melting the Ice on Enceladus?

When Cassini flew by Enceladus from 730 miles up on Feb. 15, scientists were hoping it would reveal the secret of its active surface.  As is common in planetary science, the mystery only deepened (click here for photo gallery).  The surface showed a complex mix of canyons, ridges and spots that suggest a taffy pulling […]

Cassini Shines in the Light of Saturn

Since its arrival at Saturn last June (see 07/01/2004 entry), the Cassini orbiter has achieved a string of phenomenal successes, and these just 15% of the way into its tour of Saturn’s rings, moons and magnetosphere (see JPL press release).  The prize has been publication of initial science results in Nature1 and Science2 – the […]

More Titan Results Announced

A week after the successful landing on Titan, ESA held its second main press conference on the findings.  The scientists were clearly upbeat about the results.  The probe transmitted data for 72 minutes from the surface after its 2.5 hour descent through the atmosphere.  The mesas, observed in stereo, are made of water ice about […]

Flying Saucer Lands on Titan

The Huygens Probe successfully landed on the surface of Titan Friday morning, and appears to have remained active for an hour after impact. See the official European Space Agency site for latest scientific results.  Download this 27-page Mission Description from JPL (2.0mb) for a detailed plan of the now highly successful mission.     At […]

Iapetus Cracked Like a Nut

Saturn has a moon named for the two-faced Roman god Janus, but the real two-faced moon is the larger Iapetus.  Since Jean Dominique Cassini discovered the moon in 1671 and noticed its varying brightness, scientists have been mystified by its two hemispheres, one as black as coal, the other white as snow.  Investigators were sure […]

Huygens Heads for Titan

At about 7:25 p.m. JPL time Christmas Eve, anxious scientists and engineers watching their monitors received bits from 800 million miles away, indicating that the Cassini spacecraft had successfully released the Huygens Probe over an hour earlier, with no faults or problems, right on schedule.  In mission control, engineers with Santa hats could be seen […]

Cassini Passes Titan a Third Time

Raw images from Cassini’s Titan-b flyover from 750 miles (see animation) have been uploaded to the website: Cassini Raw Images (proceed from this link).  Improved, processed images are now being posted at, such as this high resolution of dark terrain.  Look also at JPL the and Cassini Imaging Team websites.  In addition, teams monitoring […]

Planet-Building a Mess, or Theories a Mess?

A news release from the Spitzer Space Telescope operated by JPL says, “Astronomers Discover Planet Building is Big Mess.”  Data from the orbiting infrared observatory indicates that dust disks around stars appear to be dominated by collisions of large bodies.  Surprisingly, the dust disks do not correlate with the stars’ ages.  A study of 266 […]

Dating of Crater Rays Needs Overhaul

A dating method relied on by planetary geologists needs drastic revision, according to Planetary Science Research Discoveries (PSRD) scientists at the University of Hawaii.  Crater rays are the streaks that extend radially from impact craters.  Previously, planetary scientists assumed they darken over time under bombardment from the solar wind and can be used as indicators […]

Solar Particles Survive Genesis Crash

Scientists are relieved that they have been able to recover enough pieces from the crashed Genesis spacecraft to pursue the science objectives.  JPL Director Charles Elachi said they have snatched victory from the jaws of defeat and are bouncing back from a hard landing.  The highest-priority science goals may still be attainable, at least partially, […]

Are We Lost on a Speck of Cosmic Dust?

A new Copernican revolution seems to be in the works, not another “demotion” of man from the center of the universe, but a promotion back to the ancient idea of plan or purpose for our existence.  The demotions reached their nadir with Carl Sagan’s Cosmos and other books that declared we are nothing special, that […]

Delicate Planet Dance Disturbs Theories

Theorists have been thrown a curve ball with the discovery of a planet orbiting a binary star.  It appears that the gravitational tug on a hypothetical dust disk would have prevented the possibility of a planet forming around one of its members, but Gamma-Cephei has one.  “The formation of a planet in a binary star […]
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