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Cassini Watches Clouds Form Over Titan’s Methane Sea

Animation of clouds forming over Ligeia Mare, one of Titan's many large methane lakes (NASA/JPL-Caltech/SSI)

Animation of clouds forming over Ligeia Mare, one of Titan’s many large methane lakes (NASA/JPL-Caltech/SSI)

What’s the weather forecast on Titan? Well if you’re planning a vacation down by the shores of Ligeia Mare you may get some cloudy skies, if what happened at the end of July repeats itself!

The animation above was made from images acquired by Cassini during a flyby of Titan in July 2014, showing the formation and dissipation of bright methane clouds over one of the moon’s polar lakes. Spanning a period of two days, the images reveal what may be the start of summer weather in Titan’s northern hemisphere… or just a bit of isolated “lake effect” cloudiness.

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New Horizons Captures Pluto and Charon Orbiting

Animation of Pluto and Charon showing nearly a full rotation (NASA/Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory/Southwest Research Institute)

Animation of Pluto and Charon showing nearly a full rotation (NASA/Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory/Southwest Research Institute)

Whether you think Pluto is a planet, a dwarf planet, a Kuiper Belt Object – or something else entirely – you should still be fascinated by this: a video of the dwarf planet Pluto and its largest moon Charon showing the two distinctly separate worlds actually in motion around each other! Captured by the New Horizons spacecraft from July 19–24, the 12 images that comprise this animation were acquired with the Long Range Reconnaissance Imager (LORRI) instrument from distances of 267 million to 262 million miles (429 million to 422 million km) and show nearly a full orbital rotation. Amazing!

Read more and see a close-up of these two distant worlds in my article on Universe Today here.

Boom! Io Explodes With Volcanic Eruptions Hundreds of Miles High

A volcanic outburst on Io on Aug. 29, 2013. Credit: Katherine de Kleer/UC Berkeley/Gemini Observatory

Infrared image of a volcanic outburst on Io on Aug. 29, 2013. Credit: Katherine de Kleer/UC Berkeley/Gemini Observatory

Three enormous volcanic eruptions on Jupiter’s moon Io were witnessed by scientists last year using the Keck II and Gemini telescopes in Hawaii. The only other confirmed volcanically-active world in the solar system besides Earth, Io is constantly being resurfaced by eruptions and lava flows, due to internal heat and pressures caused by tidal stresses as a result of its elliptical orbit around Jupiter. These recent outbursts were exceptionally powerful, sending huge amounts of incredibly hot molten material out into space and likely coating a large area on its surface as well.

“We typically expect one huge outburst every one or two years, and they’re usually not this bright,” said Imke de Pater, professor and chair of astronomy at UC Berkeley and lead author of a paper describing the 2013 eruptions. “Here we had three extremely bright outbursts, which suggest that if we looked more frequently we might see many more of them on Io.”

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Europa Is Covered In Bacon. That Is Why We Must Go.

A newly-released image of Europa's surface captured by Galileo (NASA/JPL)

A newly-released image of Europa’s surface captured by Galileo (NASA/JPL)

Whether you’re a trend-loving hipster, a breakfast lover, or just fan of meat products in general, you’d have to agree that it does look like a giant piece of bacon* running across the image above. And while the color and shape seems about right, the size and temperature is a bit off — that’d be a piece of fried pork 25 miles wide and -300ºF!

All kidding aside, this is actually a newly-released picture of the frozen surface of Jupiter’s moon Europa, made from images acquired by NASA’s Galileo spacecraft in 1997 and 1998. The dark coloration of the river-like bands is thought to be the result of organic compounds staining the water ice that has welled up from the moon’s deep subsurface ocean… all the more reason that yes, we really should attempt a landing there in the very near future!

Read more about this in my article on Universe Today here.

*No pigs were harmed in the production of this image.

What Made This Curious Cross Pattern on the Moon?

Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter Camera (LROC) image of a crossed pattern on the Moon

Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter Camera (LROC) image of a cross shape on the Moon

It’s not a trick of the light or camera sensor artifacts, there are actually geometric lines etched into the lunar surface in the image above, captured by NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter. But these aren’t the work of ancient aliens (or Richard Hoagland’s favorite Photoshop filters) —  they’re tracks left by the Soviet rover Lunokhod 2 during its exploration of the Moon in the first few months of 1973, immediately following the end of the Apollo missions.

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Oxygen Isotopes Support Our Moon’s Violent Origin

The "Giant Impact" hypothesis has the Moon formed from an impact between early Earth and a Mars-sized body (NASA)

The “Giant Impact” hypothesis has the Moon formed from an impact between early Earth and a Mars-sized body (NASA)

While it may not be a true “smoking gun” (there have been four and a half billion years of cooling off, after all!) scientists in Germany have found further support for the currently accepted scenario of the origin of our Moon, based on chemical analysis of rocks brought back by Apollo astronauts. (And yes, we really went to the Moon.)

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No, The Moon Landings Weren’t Faked. (And Here’s How You Can Tell.)

Buzz Aldrin on the Moon with a lunar seismic experiment, July 20, 1969 (NASA photo)

Buzz Aldrin on the Moon with a lunar seismic experiment, July 20, 1969 (NASA photo)

When you write about space as often as I do (and use a laptop with a big NASA sticker on the cover no less) you’re occasionally going to get the question posed to you: did we really land on the Moon? (That, and “do you believe in UFOs?”) And with this year marking the 45th anniversary of the Apollo 11 Moon landing — which, by the way, most definitely happened — and this particular weekend being 45 years since the Apollo 10 “dress rehearsal” lunar orbiting mission, I thought I’d assemble a list of a few oft-purported  “proofs” of a Moon landing hoax… and then let you know why they’re completely wrong.

You’ve probably heard a few of these before…

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