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Posts Tagged "planetary science"

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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Life, Unbounded

Water Erupts Across the Solar System

Europa erupts (Credit: NASA/ESA/K. Retherford/SWRI)

Reading the scientific headlines recently one would be forgiven for thinking that we’re experiencing a bout of interplanetary gastrointestinal distress. First, Saturn’s diminutive moon Enceladus continues to spew what we think are giant sprays of salty water from gnarled creases in its southern icy surface – captured in glorious imagery by the Cassini spacecraft over [...]

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Life, Unbounded

4 Billion Years of Martian History in 2 Minutes

Mars rendering, NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center

In honor of a slew of new results coming from NASA’s Curiosity rover, here’s a two-minute simulation of our current best-bet for how the martian environment has evolved over the past 4 billion years. From temperate and wet to frigid desert. Credit: NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center Conceptual Image Lab.

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Life, Unbounded

The Great Martian Storm of ’71

(NASA)

                          On November 14th 1971 NASA’s Mariner 9 became the first spacecraft to successfully orbit another planet. Its video-camera imaging system powered up, and American scientists eagerly awaited the first detailed pictures of Mars since the flyby of Mariners 6 and 7 just [...]

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Life, Unbounded

Greeks, Trojans, and a Temporary Companion for Uranus

image_1348-QF99

A telescopic survey looking for trans-Neptunian objects has chanced across a 37 mile wide chunk of rock and ice that instead moves around the sun in the same orbit as Uranus, just further ahead of the planet. This discovery is notable because such objects cannot stay in place for long – unlike planets such as [...]

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Life, Unbounded

Summer Astrobiology Roundup #3: The Ripening Of The Planets

IMG_0349

Although NASA’s planet hunting mission Kepler seems unlikely to return to a fully functioning state, after another reaction wheel failure, it has already yielded an extraordinary crop of new worlds. In fact, as well as finding many remarkable individual systems (from those orbiting binary stars to those laden down with planets), Kepler has provided a [...]

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Life, Unbounded

Summer Astrobiology Roundup #2: Possible ‘Comet Of The Century’ Starts Warming Up

Enhanced Hubble Telescope image of ISON from April 2013, showing a dusty tail and some evidence of volatile sublimation around the nucleus (NASA, ESA)

Back in February these pages discussed a newly discovered long-period comet, ISON (otherwise known as C/2012 s1), that is falling sunwards for what is probably its first passage through the inner solar system later this year – on a beautiful near parabolic orbit. At its closest point it will pass a mere 700,000 miles from [...]

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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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Observations

MESSENGER spacecraft successfully enters orbit around Mercury

Mercury during a 2008 MESSENGER flyby

On March 17, after a roundabout, nearly seven-year journey, NASA’s MESSENGER probe became the first spacecraft to orbit Mercury, the closest planet to the sun. MESSENGER, which stands for MErcury Surface, Space ENvironment, GEochemistry, and Ranging, launched in 2004 on an inward-spiraling path through the inner solar system that covered nearly eight billion kilometers and [...]

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Observations

Distant astrophysical beacons reveal masses of the solar system’s planets

Pulsars used to weigh the solar system

Electromagnetic pulses from far-flung celestial objects can provide a sort of scale with which to gauge the mass of the planets, according to a new study. The technique relies on the regularity of ultrashort blasts of radiation from pulsars, which result from the collapse of a massive star to an extremely dense and rapidly spinning [...]

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Observations

NASA spacecraft to buzz Mercury a third and final time today

Mercury MESSENGER flyby

In a pair of flybys by a robotic explorer last year, planetary scientists began to unravel some of the mysteries of Mercury, a planet that is difficult to study from Earth and that had not been visited by a spacecraft since the 1970s. Today brings the third such near approach to the planet by the [...]

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