Outer Solar System

NASA Report on Europa Lander

February 13, 2017

With an ocean containing twice as much water as Earth’s oceans, Europa is a high-priority target for astrobiology. But the presence of water alone is not what gives the Jovian moon such interest. After all, we’re learning that icy worlds beyond the snowline can feature oceans beneath the surface, and we’re learning more all the […]

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Cassini: Grazing the Rings

February 8, 2017

I don’t want to get much deeper into February without looking at the recent Cassini imagery from Saturn’s rings. Cassini, after all, is a precious resource, and every day that passes brings us closer to its mission-ending plunge into Saturn’s cloud tops this September. Leading into that climactic event, however, we have the current ring-grazing […]

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Ice Volcanoes on Ceres?

February 7, 2017

If a terrestrial volcano erupts in molten rock, an ice volcano in the outer Solar System would presumably erupt with volatiles like water or ammonia. We have evidence of such things in places like Pluto and Triton, far beyond the snowline where water is abundant. Some scientists think Quaoar may have had cryovolcanic activity, and […]

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PROCYON: An Overview of Cometary Water

January 25, 2017

The Japanese PROCYON spacecraft (Proximate Object Close flyby with Optical Navigation) has just given us an interesting case of repurposing a scientific instrument, not to mention drawing value out of a mission whose initial plans had gone awry. Launched together with JAXA’s Hayabusa 2 probe in late December of 2014, PROCYON was to have flown […]

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Probing the Surface of Ceres

January 24, 2017

It doesn’t stretch credulity to hypothesize that the early Earth benefited from an influx of comet and asteroid material that contributed water and organic compounds to its composition. The surface of a world can clearly be affected by materials from other bodies in the Solar System. Now we’re learning that the dwarf planet Ceres may […]

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Jupiter in the Public Eye

January 23, 2017

Have a look at Jupiter as seen by the Juno spacecraft on its third close pass. A view as complex as the one below reminds us how images can be manipulated to bring out detail. This happens so frequently in astronomical images that it’s easy to forget this view is not necessarily what the human […]

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New Horizons: Going Deep in the Kuiper Belt

December 29, 2016

We’ve retrieved all the data from New Horizons’ flyby of Pluto/Charon in 2015, the last of it being acquired on October 25 of this year. But data analysis is a long and fascinating process, with papers emerging in the journals and new discoveries peppering their pages. The New Horizons science team submitted almost 50 scientific […]

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A New Look at Ice on Ceres

December 16, 2016

Ceres, that interesting dwarf planet in the asteroid belt, is confirmed to be just as icy as we had assumed. In fact, a new study of the world, led by Thomas Prettyman (Planetary Science Institute), was the subject of a press conference yesterday at the American Geophysical Union fall meeting in San Francisco. Prettyman and […]

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Shifting Perspectives on Pluto’s ‘Heart’

December 2, 2016

One of the great pleasures of doing this site is watching researchers matching ideas in peer-reviewed papers. A paper can meet the highest standards for publication but still present an argument that subsequent researchers question, igniting a new round of debate. Trying to get at the heart of a scientific question requires patience, but it’s […]

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Saturn: ‘Grazing’ the Rings

November 29, 2016

What the Jet Propulsion Laboratory refers to as ‘the first phase of the mission’s dramatic endgame’ begins tomorrow for the Cassini Saturn orbiter. Having given us an ocean within Enceladus and numerous images of Titan’s lakes and seas (not to mention ring imagery of spectacular beauty), Cassini now enters a phase in which it encounters […]

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