Outer Solar System

Hitchhiker to the Outer System

September 2, 2015

At the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Masahiro Ono has been using supercomputer simulations to model a new way of moving between small bodies in the Solar System. We’ve had a demonstration in the last few years of what ion propulsion can do to enable orbital operations at one asteroid (Vesta) followed by a journey […]

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A KBO Target for New Horizons

August 31, 2015

What we’ll eventually want is a good name. 2014 MU69 is the current designation for the Kuiper Belt Object now selected as the next destination for New Horizons, one of two identified as possibilities, and the one the New Horizons team itself recommended. Thus we have a target — a billion and a half kilometers […]

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Back to the Ice Giants?

August 27, 2015

As data return from New Horizons continues, we can hope that an encounter with a Kuiper Belt Object is still in its future. But such an encounter will, like the flyby of Pluto/Charon itself, be a fleeting event past an object at huge distance. Our next chance to study a KBO might take place a […]

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Sharper Views of Ceres

August 26, 2015

The mapping of Ceres continues at a brisk pace. The Dawn spacecraft is now operating at 1470 kilometers from the surface, taking eleven days to capture and return images of the entire surface. As this JPL news release points out, each eleven day cycle consists of fourteen orbits, so we’re accumulating views of this formerly […]

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Dione: The Last Close Flyby

August 18, 2015

We’re in the immediate aftermath of Cassini’s August 17 flyby of Saturn’s moon Dione. The raw image below gives us not just Dione but a bit of Saturn’s rings in the distance. As always, we’ll have better images than these first, unprocessed arrivals, but let’s use this new one to underscore the fact that this […]

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Reddish Arcs on Saturn’s Moon Tethys

July 30, 2015

Looking for a good science fictional link to Saturn’s moon Tethys (you’ll see why in a moment), I came up short until I recalled Harry Bates’ story ‘A Matter of Size.’ First appearing in the April, 1934 issue of Astounding Stories, the novelette tells the breathless tale of giant humanoid beings who live on Tethys, […]

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New Horizons: Thoughts on Looking Back

July 29, 2015

The New Horizons imagery has been breathtaking, and never more so than in the image below. Here we’re seeing Pluto seven hours after the July 14 closest approach, looking back at Pluto as it occults the Sun. The backlit atmosphere shows us layers of haze reaching 130 kilometers above the surface. Image: Pluto sends a […]

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New Horizons: New Mountains, Pluto’s Moons

July 22, 2015

We’ve already had the pleasure of naming features on Pluto, at least informally, highlighted by the moment when the heart-shaped area revealed by New Horizons was named Tombaugh Regio, after the world’s discoverer. The fact that two of Clyde Tombaugh’s children were in the audience during the news briefing where this occurred made it all […]

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Unusual Charon Closeup

July 16, 2015

The latest view of Charon shows us a 390-kilometer strip of Pluto’s largest moon with a unique feature, clearly visible below. We are looking at what Jeff Moore (leader of the New Horizons Geology, Geophysics and Imaging team, calls “a large mountain sitting in a moat.” Moore is the first to admit that the scenario […]

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Pluto: Encounter and Aftermath

July 15, 2015

Exoplanet hunter Greg Laughlin (UC-Santa Cruz), who could make a living as a poet (if it were possible to make a living as a poet) wrote recently of his hope for a Pluto image “ that will become a touchstone, a visual shorthand for distance, isolation, frigidity and exile.” We haven’t seen that one yet, […]

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