Outer Solar System

Outer Planet Exploration Strategies

June 19, 2014

I’ll wrap up this week’s outer planet coverage with a look at recent Cassini flybys of Titan, but I also want to put these accomplishments in the context of what we might do with future missions to the ice giants Uranus and Neptune like the proposed ODINUS missions we looked at yesterday. One-off missions to […]

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Return to the Ice Giants

June 18, 2014

Once New Horizons has performed its flyby of Pluto/Charon and, let’s hope, its reconnaissance of a Kuiper Belt object (KBO), what comes next in our exploration of the outer Solar System? Pushing further out, Innovative Interstellar Explorer grew out of a NASA ‘Vision Mission’ study and has been developed at Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics […]

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New Horizons: Hubble Hunts KBOs

June 17, 2014

My guess is that the public thinks of the Hubble Space Telescope largely in relation to deep space objects. The Hubble Ultra Deep Field is a case in point, a region of the sky in the constellation Fornax that is no more than a tenth of the width of a full moon, but one that […]

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What to Look for at Charon

June 16, 2014

Let me suggest that you mark August 25th on your calendar. It’s the day we celebrate the 25th anniversary of Voyager 2’s closest approach to Neptune in 1989. That would be reason enough to look back and remember — marveling all the while at the Voyagers’ continuing mission — but it’s also the day when […]

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Proposed Europa/Io Sample Return Mission

May 28, 2014

I love a long journey by car or rail, but not by airplane. Back in my flight instructing days, I used to love to take a Cessna 182 on a long jaunt, but these days the flying I do means sitting in the cheap seats in the back of a gigantic jet and suffering the […]

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2030s: The Decade of Europa?

May 7, 2014

Our recent discussions of the Jovian moons Ganymede and Europa highlight a fact that not so long ago would have seemed absurd. Three of the four bright dots that Galileo saw through his primitive telescope around Jupiter are potential habitats for life. Even battered Callisto gives evidence of an internal ocean, as do, of course, […]

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A Layered Ocean within Ganymede?

May 2, 2014

Remember as you ponder NASA’s Request for Information about a Europa mission that the agency is contributing three instruments to the European Space Agency’s JUpiter ICy moons Explorer (JUICE) mission, to be operational in Jupiter space in the 2030s. The goal here is to explore Europa, Callisto and Ganymede through numerous flybys, with the craft […]

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The Europa Imperative

May 1, 2014

Stanley G. Weinbaum is best known for the 1934 short story “A Martian Odyssey,” lionized by readers and critics alike after it appeared in the July issue of Wonder Stories. Isaac Asimov would later opine that “A Martian Odyssey” was one of a handful of stories that changed the way all later science fiction was […]

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Saturn: Commotion in the A Ring

April 15, 2014

After yesterday’s look back at the ambitious Project Orion planners and their hopes of reaching Saturn’s moons by the 1970s, let’s stay in the same vicinity today to look at what may be the emergence of an entirely new moon. As always, we have Cassini to thank for this work, which shows a disturbance at […]

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On the Enceladus Ocean

April 7, 2014

The recent news about an ocean on Enceladus had me thinking over the weekend about a trip my wife and I took years ago to Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. There we had rented a cabin for the week on the shores of Lake Superior, twenty miles from the nearest town, unless you counted the small grocery […]

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