Is Pluto a planet? A dwarf planet? A Kuiper Belt Object? All — or none — of the above?
Pluto has been a topic of scientific fascination since Clyde Tombaugh discovered it in February 1930, and then a topic of controversy after the IAU reclassified it as a dwarf planet in 2006. While conversations continue over Pluto’s planetary identity, at least one theme carried through the talks at the Pluto Science Conference in July 2013. See if you can figure out what it is in the video above! (Hint: it’s not difficult.)
NASA’s New Horizons mission will help us understand worlds at the planetary frontier by making the first reconnaissance of Pluto in July 2015. Read more about the mission here.
If you count at least slightly over two years old as “brand new” then yes, this one is certainly that!
Seen above in an image taken by the HiRISE camera aboard NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter on Nov. 19, 2013, a 100-foot-wide (30-meter) crater is surrounded by bright rays of ejected material and blown-clear surface. Since HiRISE calibrates color to surface textures, the less-dusty cleared surface at the crater site appears blue. (See a true-color calibrated scan here.)
By narrowing down when this particular spot was last seen to be crater-free, scientists have determined that the impact event that caused this occurred between July 2010 and May 2012.
Ejected material from this cratering event was thrown outward over 9 miles (15 km). It’s estimated that impacts producing craters at least 12.8 feet (3.9 meters) in diameter occur on Mars at a rate of over 200 per year.
Cassini couldn’t make it to the mall this year to do any Christmas shopping but that’s ok: we all got something better in our stockings than anything store-bought! To celebrate the holidays the Cassini team has shared some truly incredible images of Saturn and some of its many moons for the world to “ooh” and “ahh” over. So relax, sit back and marvel at some sights from a wintry wonderland 900 million miles away…
33 years after his death, John Lennon’s name has been officially given to a crater on Mercury. Imagine that.
The 95 km (59 mile) wide Lennon crater is one of ten newly named craters on the planet, joining 114 other craters named since NASA’s MESSENGER spacecraft’s first Mercury flyby in January 2008.
21 years ago today, December 16th, 1992, NASA’s Galileo spacecraft took this image of Earth and the Moon from a distance of about 3.9 million miles (6.2 million km). It’s one of the few images ever captured that singularly show both worlds in their entirety.
And to think that when this image was taken, our planet’s human population was 5.49 billion — 1.7 billion less than it is today. To put that into perspective, it wasn’t until 1830 that Earth had 1 billion people living on it. The next billion wasn’t reached until 100 years later. (Source)
(Needless to say, Earth itself hasn’t gotten any larger.)
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“Attempt no landings there?” Ok, FINE. We’ll just fly a spacecraft through Europa’s newly-discovered plumes and get a taste of its underground ocean that way!
Because it has them, and so we could.
This was the big news from NASA, ESA, and Hubble researchers today: Jupiter’s ice-covered moon Europa (yes, the one from 2010) has Enceladus-like plumes of water vapor near its south pole. What’s more, these plumes appear to vary depending on the moon’s distance from Jupiter; the giant planet’s gravity is “squeezing” Europa, causing the plumes to shut off when it’s closer and turn on when farther away. Now I’m no scientist, but I’d call that pretty solid evidence for a subsurface ocean… and darn good reason to scramble some exploration missions out to Europa tout de suite!
Yes, I said hexagon. If you haven’t heard, our solar system’s second-largest planet has another curious feature besides its sprawling rings; it’s also in possession of an uncannily geometric six-sided jet stream encircling its north pole — at the heart of which lies a churning hurricane-like vortex over 1,800 miles wide. This hexagon has been known about since the days of Voyager, and now NASA’s Cassini spacecraft has presented us with the highest-resolution look yet at this odd atmospheric phenomenon.