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Saturn’s Still in the Business of Making Moons

A 750-mile (1,200-km) -long feature spotted on Saturn’s A ring by Cassini on April 15, 2013 could be a new moon in the making (NASA/JPL-Caltech/SSI)

This 750-mile (1,200-km) -long feature spotted on Saturn’s A ring on April 15, 2013 could be a new moon in the making (NASA/JPL-Caltech/SSI)

Congratulations! It’s a baby… moon? A bright clump spotted orbiting Saturn at the outermost edge of its A ring may be a brand new moon in the process of being born, according to research recently published in the journal Icarus.

“We have not seen anything like this before,” said Carl Murray of Queen Mary University in London, lead author of the paper. “We may be looking at the act of birth, where this object is just leaving the rings and heading off to be a moon in its own right.”

Read the rest of this article here.

Just Another Hazy Day on Titan

Color-composite of Titan made from raw images acquired by Cassini on April 7, 2014. (NASA/JPL-Caltech/SSI/J. Major)

Color-composite of Titan made from raw images acquired by Cassini on April 7, 2014. (NASA/JPL-Caltech/SSI/J. Major)

The weather forecast for Titan? Cloudy, hazy, and cold — just like every other day! The image here is a color-composite made from raw data captured by Cassini during a flyby on April 7, 2014, and it shows a look at the two main features of Titan’s atmosphere: a thick orange “smog” made of organic compounds created by the breakdown of nitrogen and methane by UV light, and a wispy blue upper-level haze composed of complex hydrocarbons.

Cassini was approximately 19,076 miles (30,700 km) from Titan when these particular images were captured.

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Cassini Uncovers Even More Evidence for Enceladus’ Hidden Ocean

A concept of the subsurface structure of Saturn's moon Enceladus (NASA/JPL-Caltech)

A concept of the subsurface structure of Saturn’s moon Enceladus (NASA/JPL-Caltech)

It’s been suspected for nearly a decade that Saturn’s 315-mile-wide moon Enceladus harbors a hidden ocean beneath its frozen crust, thanks to observations by the Cassini spacecraft of icy plumes spraying from its southern pole, and now scientists have even more evidence supporting its existence: Doppler measurements of the moon’s gravity taken during Cassini’s flybys show variations indicative of a subsurface southern sea as deep as the Pacific’s Mariana Trench!

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Hubble Eyes Mars-Bound Comet

Hubble image of comet C/2013 A1 (Siding Spring), before and after processing. Credit: NASA, ESA, and J.-Y. Li (Planetary Science Institute)

Hubble image of comet C/2013 A1 (Siding Spring), before and after processing. Credit: NASA, ESA, and J.-Y. Li (Planetary Science Institute)

Comet Siding Spring won’t hit Mars on October 19 but it will come really, really close: 86,000 miles, or just a bit over 1/3 the distance between the Moon and Earth. That’s like having a bullet from a sniper positioned a mile away knock your hat off! (Given that you were the target of a military-class sniper, not sure why you would be. Is there something I don’t know about you?) And while it won’t get bright enough or close enough to Earth to become a spectacle in our night sky, exploration robots on and around Mars should be in for quite a show.

Earlier this month, as Siding Spring (aka C/2013 A1) passed within the orbit of Jupiter, the Hubble Space Telescope turned its gaze onto it and captured the image above showing the comet’s icy 12,000-mile-wide coma and, after some processing, what appear to be two strong jets spraying out of its as-yet-unseen nucleus. These observations — and more like them in the months to come — will help scientists determine Siding Spring’s motion and rotation rate and what sort of interaction Mars (and its resident robots) can expect from its ejected material this fall.

Read the rest of my article on Discovery News here.

Rings Discovered Around an Asteroid

Artist's impression of the view from the asteroid Chariklo. Credit: ESO/L. Calçada/Nick Risinger (skysurvey.org)

Artist’s impression of the view from the asteroid Chariklo. Credit: ESO/L. Calçada/Nick Risinger (skysurvey.org)

We all know that Saturn is encircled by a system of rings, and perhaps you also know about the fainter rings around Uranus, Jupiter, and Neptune. But today, ESO astronomers have revealed a surprising discovery: there are also rings surrounding the asteroid 10199 Chariklo, a small, distant world orbiting the Sun far beyond Saturn.

This makes 250-km-wide Chariklo the fifth world ever found to have rings, after the four planets mentioned previously, and, based on the observations, it could also even have its own moon.

“As well as the rings, it’s likely that Chariklo has at least one small moon still waiting to be discovered,” said Felipe Braga-Ribas of the Observatório Nacional/MCTI in Rio de Janeiro who planned the observation campaign and is lead author on the new paper.

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“It’s Like The Universe Was Talkin’ To Me” – Neil Tyson’s First Visit To The Hayden Planetarium

“It’s as though you were locked in a room your whole life and then somebody opens a window.”
– Neil deGrasse Tyson

11-year-old Neil deGrasse Tyson with his first telescope (NOVA)

11-year-old Neil deGrasse Tyson with his first telescope (NOVA)

Do you remember your first telescope? Your first trip to a planetarium or observatory? Astrophysicist and Cosmos: a Spacetime Odyssey host Neil deGrasse Tyson does, and in this installment of NOVA’s Secret Life of Scientists and Engineers he shares his memories of seeing the Universe on the Hayden Planetarium’s big screens for the first time, and then receiving his own first telescope a couple of years later.

Obviously, they made quite the impression on young Neil.

“Saturn has rings! Oh my gosh the Moon has craters! Things you’ve heard about and read about, but to experience them yourself becomes a singular moment in your life. You are there in the Universe.”

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The Details Are In The Dunes

HiRISE image of frosty Martian dunes acquired on Jan. 24, 2014 (NASA/JPL/University of Arizona)

HiRISE image of frosty Martian dunes acquired on Jan. 24, 2014 (NASA/JPL/University of Arizona)

And what details! This image, acquired by the HiRISE camera aboard NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter on Jan. 24, 2014, shows rippled dunes in Mars’ southern hemisphere, coated with a fall dusting of seasonal carbon dioxide frost. With the Sun just five degrees above the horizon, the surface detail captured by HiRISE is simply exquisite.

Be sure to click the image for a high-resolution version.

The original image resolution is just over 50 cm per pixel, so details about 151 cm (5 feet) wide are resolved. See the full image area here, and view the original post on the University of Arizona’s HiRISE site here.

MRO launched on August 12, 2005, and has been in orbit around Mars since March 2006. It is currently in its second Extended Mission exploring the surface of Mars.

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