Showing posts from May, 2011

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:

NASA Selects Investigations for Future Key Planetary Mission

Source:   N ASA Release 11-132 Excerpt: NASA has selected three science investigations from which it will pick one potential 2016 mission to look at Mars' interior for the first time; study an extraterrestrial sea on one of Saturn's moons; or study in unprecedented detail the surface of a comet's nucleus. For more information about the Discovery Program, visit:

Spacecraft Earth to Perform Asteroid 'Flyby' This Fall

Source:   NASA/JPL Excerpt:  Since the dawn of the space age, humanity has sent 16 robotic emissaries to fly by some of the solar system's most intriguing and nomadic occupants -- comets and asteroids. ..."On November 8, asteroid 2005 YU55 will fly past Earth and at its closest approach point will be about 325,000 kilometers [201,700 miles] away," said Don Yeomans, manager of NASA's Near-Earth Object Program Office at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif. "This asteroid is about 400 meters [1,300 feet] wide – the largest space rock we have identified that will come this close until 2028."  

Year of the Solar System, May 2011: Volcanism

Source:   NASA Excerpt: There is plenty of hot stuff in our solar system, even in the outer frozen realms; so much that planetary scientists have found evidence of volcanism on every terrestrial planet and on many of the moons and even some asteroids!

From Earth to the Solar System: 90+ images

Source:   NASA Excerpt: From Earth to the Solar System is home to a collection of high resolution images that showcase the discoveries and excitement of planetary exploration, with a focus on the origin and evolution of the Solar System and the search for life. The 90+ images in the collection were chosen for their scientific significance and sheer beauty.