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.   […]

Cassini Skimmed Over Enceladus at Close Range

The Cassini spacecraft made its closest-yet flyby of Enceladus July 14, skimming just 109 miles above the surface.  This was the closest approach to any object thus far in the four-year mission.  It was nearly three times closer than the earlier record, the March 9 Enceladus flyby (see encounter map).     Enceladus has long […]

Deep Impact Strikes Comet in Tempel

Cheers and hugs erupted at JPL again last night when the Deep Impact spacecraft successfully sent its washing-machine size copper probe plunging into Comet Tempel 1.  A somewhat unexpected plume of powdery material was ejected, so opaque it was difficult to image the crater.  Speaking of craters, the camera aboard the probe revealed a surface […]

Understanding the Sun – Not

Exclusive  The star we understand best should be the closest – our own – right?  Despite a revolution in solar observations, there is much we don’t know about Ol’ Sol.  That was the flavor of a talk by Dr. Alan Title (Stanford) at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory on Monday.  At one point, he showed a […]

Jupiter Moon Throws Curve Ball

The little inner moon of Jupiter, Amalthea, isn’t dense enough.  A press release from Jet Propulsion Laboratory says that data from the Galileo spacecraft “shakes up long-held theories of how moons form around giant planets.”  Density of moons is supposed to decrease with radius around Jupiter, meaning that Amalthea should be the most solid.  Instead, […]

How Privileged Is Our Planet?

Several recent news stories touch on the uniqueness of Earth. Eccentric neighbors:  A story in Science Daily draws attention to the highly eccentric orbits of most extrasolar planets found so far.  The press release from Northwestern University begins, “Except for the fact that we call it home, for centuries astronomers didn’t have any particular reason […]

Titan’s Atmosphere Is a Hydrocarbon Factory

A press release from Jet Propulsion Laboratory announced the discovery of complex hydrocarbons in Titan’s atmosphere.  Some molecules have up to seven carbon atoms.  The discoveries came from the recent flyby on April 16, the closest yet, at just 638 miles above the surface.  Swooping into the upper layers of the atmosphere, the spacecraft came […]

How to Get Asteroid Dust Ponds in Mere Millennia

A team of U. of Colorado and MIT scientists modeled the formation of the smooth dust ponds found in some of the craters on the asteroid Eros by the NEAR spacecraft (see 02/13/2001 entry).  They calculated that micrometeoroid settling from impacts was too slow a process, and instead ran experiments with electrostatic levitation of fine […]

Solar Eclipse Probabilities Calculated

The probability, on average, that the spot you are standing on will see a total solar eclipse is once every 360 to 375 years, says Joe Rao, a lecturer at the Hayden Planetarium, writing for MSNBC News.  Some cities, though, like Los Angeles, have to wait 1565.9 years, and some rare spots may not see […]

Titan May Have Erupted Ice Recently

Large features on Titan resemble volcanic calderas.  The fact that no impact craters appear on the flows indicate that they are young.  But these are no ordinary volcanoes.  If the findings are confirmed, they erupted ice.     Richard Kerr reported the scuttlebutt from last week’s Lunar and Planetary Science Conference in Texas.  Titan may […]
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