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Posts Tagged "planetary science"

Life, Unbounded

The Grand Texture of Planets

color_etopo1_ice_low

              In an idle moment, while staring at a set of solar system data, it occurred to me that it might be interesting to display a set of planetary surfaces on an equal footing, where the overall texture of these worlds was visible (although topography is probably a more [...]

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Life, Unbounded

Notes From The Frontier: Life’s Origins

(Credit: Wikipedia/Swollib)

I spent some of last week at a fascinating and lively symposium on the origins of life and the search for life in the universe, held at the Earth-Life Science Institute (ELSI) at the Tokyo Institute of Technology. To say that the science under discussion was broad in scope would be the understatement of the [...]

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Life, Unbounded

Dawn Approaches Ceres

Dawn's latest, and best, images of Ceres (NASA)

NASA’s Dawn mission, having performed remarkably at the asteroid Vesta, is homing in on Ceres. The spacecraft’s ion engines will bring it to a capture orbit around this 590 mile diameter dwarf planet on March 6th, 2015 – at a distance some 2.5 times further from the Sun than the Earth. Now at a separation [...]

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Life, Unbounded

Lost And Found On Mars

Close up, showing a possible partial deployment of solar panels (ESA).

Lost, presumed crashed, the Beagle-2 lander is finally located on Mars. Back in December 2003 a bold and decidedly British robotic device was released from the European Space Agency’s (ESA) Mars Express orbiter. The $120 million Beagle-2 lander was designed to plunge through the martian atmosphere and parachute down to the surface. Once there it [...]

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Life, Unbounded

Alien Yet Familiar: Following Curiosity Across Mars

(Mastcam image, Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS)

822 Martian days after landing, NASA’s Curiosity rover, carrying the Mars Science Laboratory, continues on its extraordinary journey across landscapes that are both utterly alien, and remarkably familiar. Here’s a small update. On November 18th 2014 the rover was in the center of this region (within the Pahrump Hills), continuing across the base area of [...]

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Life, Unbounded

Two New Arrivals Send Back Pictures Of Mars

Images of Mars in 3 ultraviolet bands(Courtesy Laboratory for Atmospheric and Space Physics /University of Colorado and NASA)

The skies of Mars just got a little more crowded. On September 21st, 2014 NASA’s Mars Atmosphere and Volatile Evolution Mission (MAVEN) fired its engines for some 33 minutes in order to swing into a safe orbit. And a few days later, early on Sept 24th, India’s Space Research Organization (ISRO) made history by joining [...]

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Life, Unbounded

Summer Shorts: A Record 25 Miles on Mars

A recent traverse map of Opportunity's adventures so far (yellow line) (Credit: L. Crumpler, NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS/NMMNHS)

It’s summer in the northern hemisphere of a small, damp, planet orbiting a middle-aged star in a spiral galaxy of matter enjoying a brief heyday before colliding with another galaxy in some 4 billion orbits of the same small, damp, planet. Time for some brief stories. In any other circumstances it would be hard to [...]

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Life, Unbounded

Summer Shorts: 101 Geysers Point To Enceladus’ Deep Ocean

3D map of 98 geysers across the southern polar region of Enceladus (Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Space Science Institute)

It’s summer in the northern hemisphere of a small, damp, planet orbiting a middle-aged star in a spiral galaxy of matter enjoying a brief heyday before colliding with another galaxy in some 4 billion orbits of the same small, damp, planet. Time for some brief stories. The NASA/ESA Cassini mission to Saturn first spied plumes [...]

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Life, Unbounded

Exoplanet Size: It’s Elementary

(Credit NASA/Ames/JPL-Caltech)

Since quite early in the history of the discovery of planets around other stars it’s been apparent that the likelihood of certain types of planets around a star is related to the abundance of heavy elements in that system. Specifically, astronomers can study the spectrum of light from a star and deduce the mix of [...]

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Life, Unbounded

Snow, a Slowing Planet, and a Last Dangerous Dance with Venus

20140516_Venus_Express_aerobraking_f537

                In about a month’s time, the European Space Agency’s (ESA) Venus Express spacecraft will adjust its orbit and dip into the outer venusian atmosphere. This hypervelocity skimming will allow scientists to not only obtain a little more data on Venus’s atmosphere, but to also learn more about [...]

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Observations

Looking for Life in Our Soggy Solar System

Hubble Space Telescope data revealing Ganymede's ultraviolet aurorae overlays a visible-light image of the icy moon taken by NASA's Galileo orbiter. The ultraviolet aurorae are rocking back and forth in synchrony with Jupiter's magnetic field, suggesting the presence of a large ocean beneath Ganymede's surface. Credit: NASA/ESA/J. Saur/JPL/The Galileo Project

Scientists are finding liquid water, the cornerstone for life as we know it, in surprising nooks and crannies of the solar system. Following Wednesday’s news that there seem to be hydrothermal vents churning away in the warm, alkaline seas inside Saturn’s moon Enceladus, researchers announced airtight evidence yesterday that Jupiter’s moon Ganymede also has a [...]

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Observations

Rosetta Pours Cold Water on Cometary Origins of Earth’s Oceans

A comet jets water and other volatiles into space

In the Enuma Elish, a Babylonian epic that recounts the creation of the world, the heavens and the Earth emerge from a primordial abyss of brackish water. According to the biblical book of Genesis, water existed before land, life, and even light itself. Our ancient ancestors realized, just as we do today, that water is [...]

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Observations

What Interstellar Gets Wrong about Interstellar Travel

A starship travels through a cosmic wormhole

Christopher Nolan’s new film, Interstellar, is a near-future tale of astronauts departing a dying Earth to travel to Saturn, then through a wormhole to another galaxy, all in search of somewhere else humanity could call home. It’s a gorgeous, ambitious work, with outstanding performances from a star-studded cast augmented by high-fidelity visual effects and a [...]

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Observations

Why It Is Impossible to Pinpoint the 1,000th Exoplanet

Credit: NASA/Ames/JPL-Caltech

The list of known exoplanets is growing so long, so fast, that it is becoming difficult to properly appreciate the new discoveries. For those of us who grew up when our solar system accounted for the only nine worlds known in the entire universe, how are we to grasp the fact that astronomers now discover [...]

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Observations

This Video Montage of Saturn’s Rings and Moons Is Simply Gorgeous [Video]

For more than nine years, NASA’s Cassini probe has orbited Saturn, examining its rings and moons in unprecedented detail and sending back images of things and places humans had never seen. Filmmaker Fabio di Donato has managed to collapse that discovery and wonder into four minutes. In a new film posted on Vimeo, di Donato [...]

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Observations

Cassini Spacecraft Takes 1 Last Look at Home Today

Photo credit: CICLOPS, JPL, ESA, NASA

For a quarter-hour today, some of us on Earth can look up and know that almost a billion miles away, above the sky, a set of robotic eyes is looking right back. The Cassini spacecraft will be passing into Saturn’s shadow at that time, slewing its cameras to catch the planet’s majestic rings backlit by [...]

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Observations

Neptune’s New Moon May Be Named after One of Sea God’s Monstrous Children

Neptune's new moon

This past Monday, the planet Neptune officially got a new moon, a relatively tiny chunk of rock and ice about as wide as Manhattan is long. The object is currently dubbed S/2004 N 1, and it’s the fourteenth now known to circle that distant icy world. Mark Showalter, a researcher at the SETI Institute in [...]

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Observations

Mars Attacked: Planetary Scientists Vent Frustrations over Proposed Budget Cuts

Mars rover tracks

THE WOODLANDS, Texas—Planetary scientists, usually an affable lot, are plenty riled up at the moment. The field is bristling at cutbacks, proposed last month by the Obama administration, to planetary science and especially to NASA’s program of robotic Mars explorers. Researchers gathered here for the annual Lunar and Planetary Science Conference have taken turns railing [...]

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Observations

Obama Administration Proposes Big Cuts to NASA’s Mars Programs

NASA just released its presidential budget request for 2013 and, as expected, the space agency’s planetary science program takes a big hit. The budget document (summary pdf) is merely the first volley in an often drawn-out exchange between the White House and Congress, but still sets the general direction for the space program. Although the [...]

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Observations

Magnetoastrocoolness: How Cosmic Magnetic Fields Shape Planetary Systems

AUSTIN, Texas—Astrophysicists have a funny attitude toward magnetic fields. You might say they feel both repelled and attracted. Gravitation is assumed to rule the cosmos, so models typically neglect magnetism, which for most researchers is just as well, because the theory of magnetism has a forbidding reputation. The basic equations are simple enough, solving them [...]

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