Showing posts from 2011

NASA Probes Set To Orbit The Moon Over New Year’s

Source:   Maria Zuber, PBS Science Friday Podcast: Twin GRAIL spacecraft on a mission to study lunar gravity are nearing the end of their almost four month journey. The probes are expected to reach the moon on New Year's Eve and New Year's Day. GRAIL's principal investigator, Maria Zuber of MIT talks about the data they hope to collect.

Astronomer Edwin Hubble announced the discovery of other galaxies on this date in 1924.

Source:   Joyce Sutphen, The Writ'ers Almanac Excerpt: Astronomer Edwin Hubble announced the discovery of other galaxies on this date in 1924. At the time it was thought that our Milky Way galaxy represented the entirety of the universe. Hubble was studying the Andromeda Nebula .... Hubble crunched the numbers and realized that the star he was observing was 800 thousand light years away, more than eight times the distance of the farthest star in the Milky Way. ...he realized that the "cloud of gas" he'd been observing was really another vast galaxy that was very far away....

What if the Earth had Two Moons?

Source:    Amy Shira Teitel, Universe Today Excerpt:  …Since 2006, astronomers have been tracking smaller secondary moons that our own Earth-Moon system captures; these metre-wide moons stay for a few months then leave. But what if the Earth actually had a second permanent moon today? How different would life be?   ... For his two-mooned Earth thought experiment, Comins proposes that our Earth-Moon system formed as it did — he needs the same early conditions that allowed life to form — before capturing a third body. This moon, which I will call Luna, sits halfway between the Earth and the Moon.  …Eventually, the Moon and Luna would collide; like the Moon is now, both moons would be receding from Earth....

Blue moons? Kepler-22b offers NASA habitable world hopes

Source:   Dan Vergano, USA TODAY Excerpt: …some solace comes from the Kepler space telescope team's estimate that just in our Milky Way galaxy alone, some 500 million planets likely orbit inside their star's habitable zone. "We have many candidates in that region," said Kepler principal scientist William Borucki of NASA's Ames Research Center in Moffett Field, Calif., at a briefing unveiling Kepler-22b to his colleagues earlier this month. At his briefing, Borucki showed a chart depicting more than 50 possible habitable zone planets, …

NASA's Voyager Hits New Region at Solar System Edge

Source:    NASA RELEASE: 11-402 Excerpt:  NASA's Voyager 1 spacecraft has entered a new region between our solar system and interstellar space.  ...Although Voyager 1 is about 11 billion miles (18 billion kilometers) from the sun, it is not yet in interstellar space.  ...Scientists previously reported the outward speed of the solar wind had diminished to zero in April 2010, marking the start of the new region.  …"We've been using the flow of energetic charged particles at Voyager 1 as a kind of wind sock to estimate the solar wind velocity," said Rob Decker,... "We've found that the wind speeds are low in this region and gust erratically. For the first time, the wind even blows back at us. We are evidently traveling in completely new territory. ...For more information about the Voyager spacecraft, visit:

Exoplanets: I’ll Stop the World and Melt With You

Source:   C aleb A. Scharf, Scientific American Excerpt: Gas giant planets are among the most beautiful and awe-inspiring worlds. …The major bulk of these planets, and their cousins around other stars, consists of primordial hydrogen and helium – vast envelopes of matter cocooning their cores and rendering them inaccessible to us. The pressures deep down in a planet like Jupiter can reach a hundred million times those on Earth’s surface, and temperatures can be tens of thousands of Kelvin. …At such huge pressures, hydrogen becomes a liquid, even though temperatures are high. …A new paper showed up this past week by Wilson and Militzer that suggests … if a gas giant planet forms around a large rocky proto-planet (perhaps 10 times the mass of the Earth), the liquid metallic hydrogen that eventually envelops that core may also melt, or dissolve it. ... bigger, hotter “super-Jupiter” exoplanets may appear more abundant in heavy elements to our astronomical instruments not because t

NASA Launches Most Capable and Robust Rover to Explore Mars

Source:    NASA RELEASE : 11-397 NASA began a historic voyage to Mars with the Nov. 26 launch of the Mars Science Laboratory (MSL), which carries a car-sized rover named Curiosity. Liftoff from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station aboard an Atlas V rocket occurred at 10:02 a.m. EST. For more information about the mission, visit:

NASA Captures New Images of Large Asteroid Passing Earth

Source:    NASA RELEASE : 11-375 NASA's  Deep Space Network  antenna in Goldstone, Calif. has captured new radar images of Asteroid 2005 YU55 passing close to Earth. The asteroid safely will fly past our planet slightly closer than the moon's orbit on Nov. 8. The last time a space rock this large came as close to Earth was in 1976, although astronomers did not know about the flyby at the time. The next known approach of an asteroid this size will be in 2028. The new radar images are online at: For more information about asteroids and near-Earth objects, visit:  More information about asteroid radar research is available online at:

NASA Study Of Clay Minerals Suggests Watery Martian Underground.

Source:    NASA RELEASE : 11-369 Excerpt: ...A new NASA study suggests if life ever existed on Mars, the longest lasting habitats were most likely below the Red Planet's surface. ...A new interpretation of years of mineral-mapping data … suggests Martian environments with abundant liquid water on the surface existed only during short episodes. …Discovery of clay minerals on Mars in 2005 indicated the planet once hosted warm, wet conditions. …This new study supports an alternative hypothesis that persistent warm water was confined to the subsurface and many erosional features were carved during brief periods when liquid water was stable at the surface.

Watery Enceladus

Source:   John Spencer, Physics Today Excerpt: [page 38] ....Has life developed in the warm, wet conditions that we suspect exist within Enceladus? A positive answer would have profound implications for the ubiquity of life throughout the cosmos and its ability to develop independently of solar or stellar energy input. Even if the answer is negative, an understanding of how close Enceladus has come to being able to support life would tell us much about the potential development of habitable environments elsewhere in the solar system and beyond.

The curious aftermath of Neptune’s discovery.

Source:   Deborah Kent, Physics Today Excerpt:  ... sensational news of Neptune’s observation ... at the Berlin Observatory just after midnight on 23 September 1846. The discovery was seen as a remarkable accomplishment of celestial mechanics. ...the planet had been mathematically predicted before it was observed. … In the summer of 1845, French scientist Urbain Jean Joseph LeVerrier also started to study the irregularities of the orbit of Uranus. … LeVerrier sent his request to Johann Galle at the Berlin Observatory. ...after less than an hour of observing, Galle reported “there is a star of the 8th magnitude in such and such a position, whereupon I immediately exclaimed: that star is not on the map!”

The formation and differentiation of Earth

Source:   Bernard Wood, Physics Today  pg. 40 Excerpt: The solar system began to form 4568 million years ago, from a disk of dust and gas around the young Sun. Within a few million years, Jupiter and Saturn had formed and the terrestrial planets had reached significant fractions of their present size. The processes by which the planets formed are of particular interest at a time when the search for Earth-like planets around other stars occupies considerable attention. Earth-like exoplanets somewhat larger than our own are already detectable, ... The mechanisms of initial growth toward large bodies are poorly understood … some combination of mechanical sticking and eventually gravitational perturbation must have formed many 10-km-sized objects in the first 10^4–10^5 years. ...Although some planetesimals would have been destroyed in collisions, others would have continued to accrete….

Faraway Eris is Pluto's Twin - Dwarf planet sized up accurately as it blocks light of faint star

Source:    European Southern Observatory  Release eso1142 Excerpt: In November 2010, the distant dwarf planet Eris passed in front of a faint background star, an event called an occultation. …Occultations provide the most accurate, and often the only, way to measure the shape and size of a distant Solar System body. …The combined observations from the two Chilean sites indicate that Eris is close to spherical. …Eris… discovery was one of the factors that led to the creation of a new class of objects called dwarf planets and the reclassification of Pluto from planet to dwarf planet in 2006. Eris is currently three times further from the Sun than Pluto. …Eris’s newly determined diameter stands at 2326 kilometres, …This makes its size better known than that of its closer counterpart Pluto, which has a diameter estimated to be between 2300 and 2400 kilometres. …The motion of Eris’s satellite Dysnomia was used to estimate the mass of Eris …27% heavier than Pluto … Eris is probably a l

Series of bumps sent Uranus into its sideways spin

Source:   Europlanet  Press Notice EPSC11/13 Excerpt: Uranus’s highly tilted axis [98 degrees] makes it something of an oddball in our Solar System. The accepted wisdom is that Uranus was knocked on its side by a single large impact, but new research to be presented on Thursday 6th October at the EPSC-DPS Joint Meeting in Nantes rewrites our theories of how Uranus became so tilted and also solves fresh mysteries about the position and orbits of its moons. By using simulations of planetary formation and collisions, it appears that early in its life Uranus experienced a succession of small punches instead of a single knock-out blow. This research has important ramifications on our theories of giant planet formation.

Space Observatory Provides Clues To Creation Of Earth's Oceans

Source:  NASA  Excerpt:  …Astronomers have found a new cosmic source for the same kind of water that appeared on Earth billions of years ago and created the oceans. The findings may help explain how Earth's surface ended up covered in water. New measurements that comet Hartley 2... contains water with the same chemical signature as Earth's oceans.

Enceladus weather: Snow flurries and perfect powder for skiing

Source:   Europlanet  Press Notice EPSC-DPS Joint Meeting 11/05 Excerpt: Global and high resolution mapping of Enceladus confirms that the weather forecast for Saturn's unique icy moon is set for ongoing snow flurries.  The superfine ice crystals that coat Enceladus's surface would make perfect powder for skiing, according to Dr Paul Schenk of the Lunar and Planetary Institute….The ghost-like features on the plains and the slope breaks on steep canyon walls are interpreted as due to the formation of a loose poorly-consolidated material lying on top of more solid crustal ices….  The layer is on average roughly 100 meters (350 feet or so) deep in this area.   …The models of plume deposition indicate that the rate of deposition on Enceladus is extremely slow by Earth standards, less than a thousandth of a millimetre per year.  To accumulate 100 meters of deposits would require a few tens of millions of years or so.  …Without replenishment, the E-ring formed by ejected plume

ALMA Opens Its Eyes

Source:    NSF Press Release 11-212   Excerpt: Astronomers ...discussed details of the first scientific observing cycle with the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array or ALMA. ... the first test image released by the ALMA collaboration...a composite of views of the "Antennae Galaxy" was taken with several different types of telescopes, including test data from ALMA.

Year of the Solar System, October 2011: Moons and Rings: Our Favorite Things

Source:   NASA Excerpt: …A new scientific model suggests Saturn's rings formed from the shredding of an ancient moon's outer envelope before it finally collided with Saturn.

NASA Spacecraft Revealing More Details About Planet Mercury

Source:    NASA RELEASE: 11-330 Excerpt: ...Scientists for decades had puzzled over whether Mercury had volcanic deposits on its surface. New data show a huge expanse of volcanic plains surrounding the planet's north polar region. These continuous smooth plains cover more than six percent of the planet's total surface. The deposits appear typical of flood lavas, or huge volumes of solidified molten rock similar to those found in the northwest United States. "If you imagine standing at the base of the Washington Monument, the top of the lavas would be something like 12 Washington Monuments above you," said James Head of Brown University…. Scientists also have discovered vents or openings measuring up to 16 miles (25 kilometers) across that appear to be the source of some of the large volume of very hot lava that has rushed across Mercury's surface….

Heat--A visual tour of what's hot and what's not in the universe

Source:   Rasmussen College Excerpt: Infographic tour features interesting facts about extreme temperatures in space.

Jumpy stars slow hunt for other Earths; NASA mission looks for extra time to battle stellar noise.

Source:   Ron Cowen, Nature Excerpt:  The Kepler spacecraft has hit an unexpected obstacle as it patiently watches the heavens for exoplanets: too many rowdy young stars. The orbiting probe detects small dips in the brightness of a star that occur when a planet crosses its face. But an analysis …has found that the stars themselves flicker more than predicted, with the largest number varying twice as much as the Sun. That makes it harder to detect Earth-sized bodies. …the analysis suggests that Kepler will need more than double its planned mission life of three-and-a-half years to achieve its main goal of determining how common Earth-like planets are in the Milky Way.... "We need an extended mission because the detection of Earth-sized planets hangs in the balance," says Geoff Marcy ... a member of the Kepler team....

NASA Gives Public New Internet Tool To Explore The Solar System

Source:      NASA RELEASE: 11-288 Excerpt: NASA is giving the public the power to journey through the solar system using a new interactive Web-based tool. The "Eyes on the Solar System" interface combines video game technology and NASA data to create an environment for users to ride along with agency spacecraft and explore the cosmos. Screen graphics and information such as planet locations and spacecraft maneuvers use actual space mission data. ..."Eyes on the Solar System" and an introduction video are available at:

Dwarf Planet Mysteries Beckon to New Horizons

Source:   Dauna Coulter, Science@NASA Excerpt: At this very moment one of the fastest spacecraft ever launched -- NASA's New Horizons -- is hurtling through the void at nearly one million miles per day. ... headed for the lonely world of Pluto on the outer edge of the solar system. Although astronomers now call Pluto a dwarf planet, "it's actually a large place, about 5,000 miles around at the equator," says Alan Stern, principal investigator for the mission. "And it's never been explored."

NASA's Inspiring, Enlightening, and Successful Search for New Earths

Source:   Tim Folger, Discover Magazine Excerpt:  The Kepler space telescope, NASA’s first mission dedicated to the search for planets beyond our solar system, has produced a gusher of strange new worlds. If astronomers are right, many of them will prove to be habitable. …Kepler-10 b …announced … this past January, was the smallest world yet found beyond our solar system. …Kepler-10 b was merely a preview. A month after the January announcement, NASA released its first full data set from the Kepler mission, and the results left astronomers straining for superlatives. ...“We’re learning about a diversity of worlds in our universe that we had no clue about beforehand,” Marcy says. “Rocky planets, yeah, we thought there might be some of those. By the way, we’re finding some rocky planets that are even denser than Earth. But we’re also finding these mini-Neptunes, a class of planet for which we have no examples in our solar system. They’re like small Neptunes but with huge amounts o

Supernova of a Generation: Brightest Exploding Star in 40 Years Spotted

Source:   IB Times Excerpt: Astronomers from Berkeley have discovered the closest supernova, or exploded star, in 40 years in the Pinwheel Galaxy, located just 21 million light-years from Earth. ...Being the source of most of the chemical elements in the universe heavier than iron, supernovas also play an important role in the evolution of galaxies and planetary systems. They also seed the rest of space with elements such as carbon, oxygen and nitrogen, and can "nudge" gas clouds into collapsing to form new star systems.

LRO and International Observe the Moon Night

Source:   Brooke Hsu, Night Sky Network Links and downloads for a telecon about Lunar Reconnaisance Orbiter and the 2011 International Observe the Moon Night (InOMN).

Moon may be younger than thought, study says

Source:    Amina Khan, Los Angeles Times Excerpt: The moon may be 200 million years younger than widely believed, according to a new analysis of a rock brought back to Earth in 1972 by Apollo 16 astronauts. Or, if not, the moon may never have had the magma ocean that scientists think covered its surface soon after it formed. …an international team of scientists decided to use sophisticated techniques to better test a sample collected by the Apollo 16 mission … a about 4.36 billion years, which surprised the scientists. "We all looked at one another and laughed," said lead author Lars Borg, a geochemist …. If that is correct, it means the moon's magma ocean formed — and cooled — more recently than scientists have generally thought …. This also could mean that the great impact that separated the moon from Earth happened more recently too.,0,4380476.story

NASA Mars Rover Arrives At New Site On Martian Surface

Source:    NASA RELEASE: 11-265 Excerpt: After a journey of almost three years, NASA's Mars Exploration Rover Opportunity has reached the Red Planet's Endeavour crater to study rocks never seen before.  On Aug. 9, the golf cart-sized rover relayed its arrival at a location named Spirit Point on the crater's rim. Opportunity drove approximately 13 miles (21 kilometers) after climbing out of the Victoria crater. …NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, which launched Aug. 12, 2005, is searching for evidence that water persisted on the Martian surface for a long period of time. For more information about the rover and a color image as it approached the crater, visit:

With New Funding, Quest for Alien Life Is Back On

Source:   Fox News Online Excerpt: If ET phones, we're listening again — thanks to you.  Astronomers at the cash-strapped SETI Institute are poised to resume the quest for extraterrestrial life, after raising more than $200,000 to restart a key array of telescopes….

NASA'S Juno Spacecraft Launches To Jupiter

Source:   NASA RELEASE: 11-257   Excerpt: NASA's solar-powered Juno spacecraft lifted off from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station at 12:25 p.m. EDT Friday to begin a five-year journey to Jupiter. Juno's detailed study of the largest planet in our solar system will help reveal Jupiter's origin and evolution. As the archetype of giant gas planets, Jupiter can help scientists understand the origin of our solar system and learn more about planetary systems around other stars. …"Jupiter is the Rosetta Stone of our solar system," said Scott Bolton, Juno's principal investigator from the Southwest Research Institute in San Antonio. "It is by far the oldest planet, contains more material than all the other planets, asteroids and comets combined and carries deep inside it the story of not only the solar system but of us…." For more information about Juno, visit:  and

NASA Spacecraft Data Suggest Water Flowing On Mars

Source:    NASA RELEASE: 11-245   Excerpt: Observations from NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) have revealed possible flowing water during the warmest months on Mars. "NASA's Mars Exploration Program keeps bringing us closer to determining whether the Red Planet could harbor life in some form," NASA Administrator Charles Bolden said, "and it reaffirms Mars as an important future destination for human exploration." Dark, finger-like features appear and extend down some Martian slopes during late spring through summer, fade in winter, and return during the next spring.  …"The best explanation for these observations so far is the flow of briny water," said Alfred McEwen of the University of Arizona, Tucson. ...For more information about MRO, visit:

Year of the Solar System,August 2011: Windy Worlds

Source:   NASA Excerpt: …Many of the planets in our solar system have significant atmospheres, but none are breathable to us except our own Earth's.   …Venus' atmosphere has suspended droplets -- clouds -- of sulfuric acid. …Extreme Acid Rain! …The outer planets' atmospheres are worse-deadly combinations of gases with unimaginable wind and temperature extremes. ... Like Earth, they have jet streams that can direct the flow of clouds and circulate the atmosphere.

Space Shuttle Discovery Virtual Reality

Source:    THELASTSHUTTLE.COM Excerpt: 360 degree virtual reality of Space Shuttle Disco

NASA'S Hubble Discovers Another Moon Around Pluto

Source:    NASA RELEASE: 11-234 Excerpt: Astronomers using the Hubble Space Telescope discovered a fourth moon orbiting the icy dwarf planet Pluto. The tiny, new satellite, temporarily designated P4, was uncovered in a Hubble survey searching for rings around the dwarf planet. The new moon is the smallest discovered around Pluto. It has an estimated diameter of 8 to 21 miles (13 to 34 km). By comparison, Charon, Pluto's largest moon, is 648 miles (1,043 km) across, and the other moons, Nix and Hydra, are in the range of 20 to 70 miles in diameter (32 to 113 km). ...The dwarf planet's entire moon system is believed to have formed by a collision between Pluto and another planet-sized body early in the history of the solar system.  …For images and more information about Hubble, visit: and

NASA'S Hubble Discovers Another Moon Around Pluto

Source:   NASA RELEASE: 2011-234     Excerpt: Astronomers using the Hubble Space Telescope discovered a fourth moon orbiting the icy dwarf planet Pluto. The tiny, new satellite, temporarily designated P4, was uncovered in a Hubble survey searching for rings around the dwarf planet. The new moon is the smallest discovered around Pluto. It has an estimated diameter of 8 to 21 miles (13 to 34 km). By comparison, Charon, Pluto's largest moon, is 648 miles (1,043 km) across, and the other moons, Nix and Hydra, are in the range of 20 to 70 miles in diameter (32 to 113 km). ...The dwarf planet's entire moon system is believed to have formed by a collision between Pluto and another planet-sized body early in the history of the solar system.  …For images and more information about Hubble, visit: and

NASA Dawn Spacecraft Returns Close-Up Image of Asteroid Vesta

Source:    NASA RELEASE: 2011-213   Excerpt: PASADENA, Calif. NASA's Dawn spacecraft has returned the first close-up image after beginning its orbit around the giant asteroid Vesta. …Vesta is 330 miles (530 kilometers) in diameter and the second most massive object in the asteroid belt. …After traveling nearly four years and 1.7 billion miles (2.8 billion kilometers), Dawn also accomplished the largest propulsive acceleration of any spacecraft, with a change in velocity of more than 4.2 miles per second (6.7 kilometers per second), due to its ion engines. …

NASA's Dawn Spacecraft Enters Orbit Around Asteroid Vesta

Source:    NASA RELEASE: 11-231   Excerpt: NASA's Dawn spacecraft on Saturday became the first probe ever to enter orbit around an object in the main asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter. Dawn will study the asteroid, named Vesta, for a year before departing for a second destination, a dwarf planet named Ceres, in July 2012. Observations will provide unprecedented data to help scientists understand the earliest chapter of our solar system. The data also will help pave the way for future human space missions. For information about the Dawn mission, visit:

Last Space Shuttle Launch

Source:   NASA YouTube movie of launch preparation.

NASA'S Final Space Shuttle Mission Begins With Atlantis' Launch

Source:    NASA RELEASE: 11-216 Excerpt: Space shuttle Commander Chris Ferguson and his three crewmates are on their way to the International Space Station after launching from NASA's Kennedy Space Center at 11:29 a.m. EDT Friday. STS-135 is the final mission of NASA's Space Shuttle Program. …"The shuttle's always going to be a reflection to what a great nation can do when it dares to be bold and commits to follow through," Ferguson said shortly before liftoff. "We're not ending the journey today…we're completing a chapter of a journey that will never end." …STS-135 is the 135th shuttle flight, the 33rd flight for Atlantis and the 37th shuttle mission dedicated to station assembly and maintenance. For more information about space shuttle Atlantis' STS-135 mission, visit:  For more information about the space station, visit:

Year of the Solar System, July 2011: Asteroids: Leftovers from Planet Building

Source:   NASA  Excerpt: …Asteroids are bits of building material remaining from the formation of our solar system ...Asteroids can have families! Some asteroids have moons, some are pairs orbiting each other and still others appear to be rubble piles loosely held together by gravity. ... the largest asteroid, Ceres, has sufficient gravity to become nearly spherical, making it also a dwarf planet!

Dawn Closing in on Asteroid Vesta as Views Exceed Hubble

Source:   Ken Kremer, Universe Today Excerpt: A new world in our Solar System is about to be unveiled for the first time – the mysterious protoplanet Vesta, which is the second most massive object in the main Asteroid Belt between Mars and Jupiter. NASA’s Dawn Asteroid orbiter has entered its final approach phase to Vesta and for the first time is snapping images that finally exceed those taken several years ago by the iconic Hubble Space Telescope. …See also "Revolutionary Dawn Closing in on Asteroid Vesta with Opened Eyes"

NASA Probe Nears Position for Year-Long Stay at Giant Asteroid

Source:    NASA RELEASE: 11-197 Excerpt: NASA's Dawn spacecraft is on track to begin the first extended visit to a large asteroid. The mission expects to go into orbit around Vesta on July 16 and begin gathering science data in early August. Vesta resides in the main asteroid belt and is thought to be the source of a large number of meteorites that fall to Earth….The spacecraft will move into a high altitude mapping orbit, about 420 miles (680 kilometers) above the surface to systematically map the parts of Vesta's surface illuminated by the sun; collect stereo images to see topographic highs and lows; acquire higher resolution data to map rock types at the surface; and learn more about Vesta's thermal properties. Dawn then will move even closer, to a low-altitude mapping orbit approximately 120 miles (200 kilometers) above the surface. For more information about Dawn, visit:

NASA Mission Suggests Sun And Planets Constructed Differently

Source:    NASA RELEASE: 11-199 Excerpt:  Analysis of samples returned by NASA's Genesis mission indicates our sun and its inner planets may have formed differently than scientists previously thought. "…findings show that all solar system objects, including the terrestrial planets, meteorites and comets, are anomalous compared to the initial composition of the nebula from which the solar system formed," said Bernard Marty, a Genesis co-investigator from Centre de Recherches Petrographiques et Geochimiques in Nancy, France and the lead author of the second new Science paper. "Understanding the cause of such a heterogeneity will impact our view on the formation of the solar system." For more information on the Genesis mission, visit:

NASA Cassini Spacecraft Captures Ocean-Like Spray At Saturn Moon

Source:    NASA RELEASE: 11-196 Excerpt: NASA's Cassini spacecraft has discovered the best evidence yet for a large-scale saltwater reservoir beneath the icy crust of Saturn's moon Enceladus. The data came from the spacecraft's direct analysis of salt-rich ice grains close to the jets ejected from the moon. …"There currently is no plausible way to produce a steady outflow of salt-rich grains from solid ice across all the tiger stripes other than salt water under Enceladus's icy surface," said Frank Postberg, a Cassini team scientist at the University of Heidelberg, Germany, and the lead author on the paper.  …This finding is a crucial new piece of evidence showing that environmental conditions favorable to the emergence of life can be sustained on icy bodies orbiting gas giant planets," said Nicolas Altobelli, the European Space Agency's project scientist for Cassini. …Cassini's ultraviolet imaging spectrograph also recently obtained complemen

NASA Spacecraft Confirms Theories, Sees Surprises at Mercury

Source:    NASA RELEASE: 11-186 Excerpt: Data from MESSENGER [MErcury Surface, Space ENvironment, GEochemistry, and Ranging spacecraft], the first spacecraft to orbit Mercury, is giving scientists important clues to the origin of the planet and its geological history  ...Two decades ago, Earth-based radar images showed deposits thought to consist of water ice and perhaps other ices near Mercury's north and south poles ... preserved on the cold, permanently shadowed floors of high-latitude impact craters. MESSENGER is testing this idea by measuring the floor depths of craters near Mercury's north pole. For more information about the mission, visit:  

Year of the Solar System, June 2011: Impacts!

Source:   NASA Excerpt: Collisions are at the core of solar system formation …and continue to be one of the most important processes throughout our solar system. ... the Earth-Moon system most likely formed by the impact of the early Earth with another planet half Earth's size ...NASA scientists have created their own impacts to study this important process -- on the Moon during the LCROSS mission and on comet Tempel 1 during the Deep Impact mission.

Martian icecap hosts a massive CO2 deposit

Source:   Johanna L. Miller, Physics Today Excerpt: Radar data reveal a solid reservoir that contains almost as much carbon dioxide as the planet’s entire atmosphere. …because Mars doesn’t have a large moon, it… wobbles by up to tens of degrees on time scales of hundreds of thousands of years…. a profound effect on the planet’s polar icecaps. Substantial amounts of material sublimate and are redeposited, creating a complex structure of overlapping layered deposits. Most of those deposits are primarily water ice. …but now, data from the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter reveal at least one large deposit of CO2 ice…if ...vaporized, as it certainly was at some point in the past and will be again in the future, it could nearly double the average pressure of Mars’s thin, CO2-based atmosphere. See also:

NASA-Funded Scientists Make Lunar Watershed Discovery

Source:    NASA RELEASE: 11-171 Excerpt: A team of NASA-funded researchers has measured for the first time water from the moon in the form of tiny globules of molten rock, which have turned to glass-like material trapped within crystals. Data from these newly-discovered lunar melt inclusions indicate the water content of lunar magma is 100 times higher than previous studies suggested.

Mars: Red Planet's Rapid Formation Explains Its Small Size Relative to Earth

Source:    Nicolas Dauphas and Ali Pourmand, National Science Foundation Excerpt: Mars developed in as little as two to four million years after the birth of the solar system, far more quickly than Earth, according to results of a new study published in this week's issue of the journal Nature. The red planet's rapid formation helps explain why it is so small, say the study's co-authors.

Cosmic explosion may be most distant object in Universe

Source:   Elizabeth Weise, USA TODAY Excerpt: Astronomers may have spotted the most distant object in the universe -- 13.14 billion light years away. Going by the prosaic name GRB 090429B, the object came to their attention because of a 10-second gamma-ray burst originally detected by NASA's Swift satellite in April 2009....

Cassini Spacecraft And Ground Telescope See Violent Saturn Storm

Source:   N ASA RELEASE: 11-151 Excerpt:  ...NASA's Cassini spacecraft and a European Southern Observatory ground-based telescope tracked the growth of a giant early-spring storm in Saturn's northern hemisphere so powerful it stretches around the entire planet. The rare storm has been wreaking havoc for months and shot plumes of gas high into the planet's atmosphere. ...The storm produced a 3,000-mile-wide (5,000-kilometer-wide) dark vortex, possibly similar to Jupiter's Great Red Spot, within the turbulent atmosphere. "Nothing on Earth comes close to this powerful storm," says Leigh Fletcher, the study's lead author....  See also

Common Jupiters?

Source:    NSF Release 11-099 Excerpt: …Astronomers have discovered a new population of Jupiter-size planets floating alone in the dark of space, away from the light of a star. According to the scientists, these lone worlds were probably ejected from developing planetary systems. ...Using data collected between 2006 and 2007, … researchers turned up evidence for what now appear to be 10 free-floating planets roughly the mass of Jupiter. See also: New York Times article 2010-05-19 by Dennis Overbye [link:  and

Exoplanet near Gliese 581 star 'could host life'

Source:   Kirsty Lang, BBC News  Excerpt: …A red dwarf star 20 light-years away is again providing hints that it hosts the first definitively habitable planet outside our Solar System. The planet Gliese 581d is at the colder outer edge of the "Goldilocks zone" in which liquid water can be sustained. Now a study in Astrophysical Journal Letters suggests its atmosphere may keep things warm enough for water.

SETI search to look at 'likely' worlds

Source:   UPI Excerpt: Berkeley, Calif. — U.S. astronomers [at the University of California] searching for alien life say they'll aim radio telescopes at some likely candidates among 1,235 planets discovered by a NASA space telescope…. once they acquire 24 hours of data on a total of 86 Earth-like planets among those found by the Kepler space telescope, they'll initiate a coarse analysis and then, in about two months, ask an estimated 1 million SETI@home users to conduct a more detailed analysis on their home computers, a [UC] Berkeley release reported last week…."We've picked out the planets with nice temperatures -- between zero and 100 degrees Celsius (32 degrees to 212 degrees F.) -- because they are a lot more likely to harbor life," said physicist Dan Werthimer, Chief Scientists for SETI@HOME. See also article in  Popular Science  and NPR's and  All Things Considered

Why Some Planets Orbit the Wrong Way; Extrasolar Insights Into Our Solar System

Source:    National Science Foundation   Excerpt: More than 500 extrasolar planets--planets that orbit stars other than the sun--have been discovered since 1995. But only in the last few years have astronomers observed that in some of these systems, the star is spinning one way and the planet is orbiting that star in the opposite direction. "That's really weird, and it's even weirder because the planet is so close to the star," said Frederic A. Rasio, a theoretical astrophysicist at Northwestern University. ... It so obviously violates our most basic picture of planet and star formation."

NASA Spacecraft's Data Reveal Magma Ocean Under Jupiter Moon

Source:    NASA RELEASE: 11-144 Excerpt: New data analysis from NASA's Galileo spacecraft reveals a subsurface ocean of molten or partially molten magma beneath the surface of Jupiter's volcanic moon Io. …The finding heralds the first direct confirmation of this kind of magma layer at Io and explains why the moon is the most volcanic object known in the solar system. …Io produces about 100 times more lava each year than all the volcanoes on Earth. …While Earth's volcanoes occur in localized hotspots like the "Ring of Fire" around the Pacific Ocean, Io's volcanoes are distributed all over its surface. …A global magma ocean about 20 to 30 miles (30 to 50 kilometers) beneath Io's crust helps explain the moon's activity. …"It has been suggested that both the Earth and its moon may have had similar magma oceans billions of years ago at the time of their formation, but they have long since cooled," said Torrence Johnson, a former Galileo pro

How Old Is the Earth?

Source:   Richard Dawkins, YouTube Excerpt: …People long believed the Earth had only existed for several thousand years. Then, in the 1800's, a study of geological features (including fjords) led scientists to the conclusion that the planet must be … at least millions of years old. Later, the discovery of radioactivity provided a mechanism by which the Earth's core could be continually heated. This meant it was much older ... Earth is roughly 4.54 billion years old!

The Impact of Comet Shoemaker-Levy 9 Sends Ripples Through the Rings of Jupiter

Source:    M. R. Showalter, Science  Excerpt: Jupiter’s main ring shows vertical corrugations reminiscent of those recently detected in the rings of Saturn. The Galileo spacecraft imaged a pair of superimposed ripple patterns in 1996 and again in 2000. These patterns behave as two independent spirals.... We associate this with the Shoemaker-Levy 9 impacts of July 1994. ...Impacts by comets or their dust streams are regular occurrences in planetary rings, altering them in ways that remain detectable decades later.

Milky Way Panorama, Sky Survey

Source:   Nick Risinger Excerpt: Nick Risinger … amateur astronomer and photographer quit his day job as a Seattle marketing director and lugged six synchronised cameras about 60,000 miles to capture an image of the entire night sky. He… stitched 37,440 exposures together into a spectacular, panoramic survey sky that he posted online ... a 360-degree view of the Milky Way, planets and stars in their true natural colors. Viewers can zoom in on portions of the 5,000-megapixel image to find Orion or the Large Magellanic Cloud.  Story: