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Planet Theories vs. the Evidence

Planet theorists are putting up a valiant fight against new findings, but in some cases, the evidence seems to be winning.

Tilt-A-World: Another Constraint on Habitability

Did you ever ride a Tilt-A-Whirl, one of those cheap carnival rides that makes you dizzy and sick? Our planet would be like that if its inclination were out of control. Without tilt stability, a new study reveals, we wouldn't be sick, we'd be dead, or never alive in the first place. It's not enough to be in the Habitable Zone. Would-be inhabited planets need to avoid a new problem, called “tilt erosion.”

Earth’s Twin: What Does “Potentially Habitable” Mean?

The Kepler spacecraft has found dozens of “potentially habitable” planets around other stars, but this week announced one that some news sources are calling “Earth’s twin.”

Planetary Eruptions

Eruptions can come in two types: literal and figurative. Some planetary bodies are literally erupting. Others are causing figurative eruptions in theories. Here are some recent news stories about planets, moons, comets and other objects circling our sun and other stars. There hasn’t been much news from Mercury or Venus this month, so we’ll start on the home planet and work outward.

Mars Water Evidence Evaporates

The strongest evidence for water from the Mars rovers has been called into question.  Scientists from the University of Colorado at Boulder believe that the observations of sulfates and concretions are better explained by fumaroles in volcanic ash deposits (see also EurekAlert).  Their paper in Nature1 explains that the model means high temperatures: “Consequently, the […]

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 […]

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 […]

Mars Joins Active Volcano Club

Mars may join Earth and Jupiter’s moon Io in having active hot-lava volcanos, says a report on BBC News.  A field of smooth volcanic cones near the north pole show no sign of impact craters or wind-blown features, suggesting they could have erupted recently.  If so, Mars could still be geologically active. At half the […]

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 […]

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.   […]

Mars Dry Areas More Extensive than Thought

If Mars had oceans or lakes, it wasn’t for long, at least in the Syrtis Major region.  Results of observations of the thermal emission imaging system (THEMIS) aboard the 2001 Mars Odyssey reveal about four times as much olivine as previously recognized in the Nili Fossae adjacent to the Syrtis volcanic shield.  Olivine quickly degrades […]

Mars Radiation Dosage Makes Life Improbable, Even with Global Flooding

An upcoming (June) paper in Icarus1 states, “ The biologically damaging solar ultraviolet (UV) radiation (quantified by the DNA-weighted dose) reaches the martian surface in extremely high levels.”  Earth has an ozone layer and global magnetic field to shield out the damaging rays, but Mars has no known atmospheric filter.  “Therefore, the existence of life […]

You Can Help Find Life on Mars

Astronomy Picture of the Day pulled a fast one for April Fool’s Day, humorously suggesting viewers might help scientists find water on Mars.  (The Mars in the picture was the candy kind.) The joke was on them, because they got baloney all over their faces with this line: “Finding water on different regions on Mars […]

Mars Crater-Count Dating Is All Wrong

Planetary scientists have long relied on crater counts to estimate the ages of surfaces in the solar system.  The more craters, the older the surface, has been the assumption.  Now, according to a report in New Scientist, the method is flawed, at least on Mars.  Data from the 2001 Mars Odyssey have shown rays around […]

Mars Makeover Underway

Amazing claims about Mars are coming in almost too fast to fathom, reports Space.Com, especially from the European Space Agency’s Mars Express orbiter.  These include evidence for recently active volcanos, frozen ice beds, methane and vestiges of glaciers and waterfalls.  Activity is “only yesterday” in the standard geological timescale.  One said, “it could start up […]
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