Showing posts from December, 2018

Martian methane—spotted in 2004—has mysteriously vanished. Source:   By Paul Voosen, Science Magazine. Excerpt: Scientists first detected traces of [methane]—a critical indicator of life on Earth—in the planet’s atmosphere decades ago. But today, researchers reported that a European satellite hasn’t spotted a single trace of methane. The finding, if it holds up, could complicate scientific dreams that martian microbes might be spewing the gas in the planet’s subsurface. ...scientists suspect that hundreds of tons of organic carbon pour into the martian atmosphere each year from solar system dust, reacting with solar radiation to form methane, say John Moores, a planetary scientist at York University in Toronto, Canada. “Where is all that carbon going?”...  

New Horizons flyby of Kuiper Belt object Ultima Thule (2014 MU69) Source:   NASA New Horizons is the superb spacecraft mounted with instruments that gave us all those rich, rich images and data in its flyby of Pluto in July of 2015.  Soon those exquisite instruments can be focused on yet another world in our Solar System, this time a Kuiper Belt object! Ultima is 100 times smaller than Pluto, but was likely formed 4.5 or 4.6 billion years ago, 4 billion miles from the Sun. It's been at near absolute zero temperature ever since, so it's likely the best sample of the ancient solar nebula ever studied. Will Ultima turn out to be a collection smaller bodies? Will it have an atmosphere? Will it have rings? Will it have moons? Any of that could be possible, and soon we'll know the answers to these questions. It flies by Ultima News Years Day — 2019 Jan 1. Get ready to wish New Year to New Horizons.

Megapixels: Watch NASA's OSIRIS-REx spacecraft zoom in on its asteroid target Source:   By Jillian Mock, Popular Science. Excerpt: On Monday, a NASA spacecraft reached the near-Earth asteroid Bennu, kicking off a research mission that could help us unlock secrets of the early solar system and, hopefully, the start of life on Earth. The spacecraft, named OSIRIS-REx (because Origins, Spectral Interpretation, Resource Identification, Security-Regolith Explorer doesn’t exactly roll off the tongue), has been beaming pictures of its approach to the asteroid all the way, allowing us to get a really close look for the first time. ...After a two year journey traveling to reach the asteroid’s orbit between Earth and Mars, the spacecraft is now less than 12 miles from Bennu. Following a few initial passes to get a sense of spin, mass, and shape, OSIRIS-REx will drop in close enough to start orbiting the asteroid in its weak field of gravity. If this happens as planned in January 2019, Bennu will become the smallest