Outer Solar System

Sea Salt in Europa’s Dark Materials?

May 14, 2015

‘Europa in a can’ may be the clue to what’s happening on Jupiter’s most intriguing moon. Created by JPL’s Kevin Hand and Robert Carlson, ‘Europa in a can’ is the nickname for a laboratory setup that mimics conditions on the surface of Europa. It’s a micro-environment of extremes, as you would imagine. The temperature in […]

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A New Look Inside Enceladus

May 7, 2015

We can hope that plumes like those found emanating from the south pole of Enceladus happen on other icy worlds. There have been hints of plumes at Europa but they’ve proven elusive to pin down. However, we’re learning a great deal about the water inside Enceladus through Cassini flybys, using models based on mass spectrometry […]

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Pluto/Charon: Surface Features Emerging

April 30, 2015

One of the more memorable moments from yesterday’s teleconference on the New Horizons mission was Alan Stern’s comment that the latest pixelated images of Pluto/Charon constituted his ‘meet Pluto moment.’ If anyone has an interest in meeting Pluto, it’s Stern (Southwest Research Institute), who serves as principal investigator and whose unflagging efforts made it possible. […]

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Ganymede Bulge: Evidence for Its Ocean?

April 8, 2015

What to make of the latest news about Ganymede, which seems to have a bulge of considerable size on its equator? William McKinnon (Washington University, St. Louis) and Paul Schenk (Lunar and Planetary Institute) have been examining old images of the Jovian moon taken by the Voyager spacecraft back in the 1970s, along with later […]

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Migratory Jupiter: A Theory of Gas Giant Formation

April 3, 2015

An interesting model of planetary formation suggests that the architecture of our Solar System owes much to the effects of the giant planets as they migrated through the protoplanetary disk. Frédéric Masset (Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México) and colleagues go so far as to speculate that planetary embryos in orbits near Mars and the asteroid […]

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A Fresh Look at Rhea

March 31, 2015

When it comes to Saturn, have you noticed what’s been missing lately? Well, actually for the last two years. While the Cassini orbiter has had high-profile encounters with Titan, it has been in a high-inclination orbit that has meant no recent flybys of other Saturnian moons. All that has now changed as Cassini returned to […]

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Chariklo & Chiron: Centaurs with Possible Rings

March 19, 2015

You may be forgiven if you aren’t familiar with the name Chariklo. Discovered in 1997, 10199 Chariklo is a ‘centaur,’ an outer system body with an orbit that moves between the orbits of Saturn and Uranus, just nudging the orbit of the latter. Its odd name (we’re big on names and their derivations here) comes […]

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Evidence Mounts for Ganymede’s Ocean

March 13, 2015

Yesterday’s discussion of hydrothermal activity inside Saturn’s moon Enceladus reminds us how much we can learn about what is inside an object by studying what is outside it. In Enceladus’ case, Cassini’s detection of tiny rock particles rich in silicon as the spacecraft arrived in the Saturnian system led to an investigation of how these […]

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Hydrothermal Activity in the ‘Broken Heart’ of Enceladus

March 12, 2015

Enceladus has been a magnet for investigation since 2005, when the Cassini spacecraft began to reveal the unusual activity at the moon’s south pole, where we subsequently learned that geysers of water ice and vapor laden with salts and organic materials were spraying into space from deeply fractured terrain. Subsequent studies have homed in on […]

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Searching for Exoplanet Rings

March 9, 2015

Not long ago we looked at the discovery of what appears to be a disk orbiting the huge gas giant J1407b (see Enormous Ring System Hints of Exomoons). The example of Saturn is one thing that makes us wonder whether rings might exist around exoplanets, but of course in our own Solar System we also […]

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