Outer Solar System

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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Dawn Orbits Ceres

March 6, 2015

I spent the morning working on an interesting paper about detecting ‘exorings’ — ring systems like Saturn’s around exoplanets — while switching back and forth to Twitter and various Web sources to follow events as the Dawn spacecraft became gravitationally captured by Ceres. I have problems with so-called ‘multi-tasking,’ which at least in my case […]

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Strategies for Life on Titan

March 4, 2015

Back in September of 1961, Isaac Asimov penned an essay in Fantasy & Science Fiction under the title “Not As We Know It,” from which this startling passage: …when we go out into space there may be more to meet us than we expect. I would look forward not only to our extra-terrestrial brothers who […]

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Seeing Ceres: Then and Now

March 2, 2015

I’m interested in how we depict astronomical objects, a fascination dating back to a set of Mount Palomar photographs I bought at Adler Planetarium in Chicago when I was a boy. The prints were large and handsome, several of them finding a place on the walls of my room. I recall an image of Saturn […]

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Soft Robotics for a Europa Rover

February 23, 2015

Approaching problems from new directions can be unusually productive, something I always think of in terms of Mason Peck’s ideas on using Jupiter as a vast accelerator to drive a stream of micro-spacecraft (Sprites) on an interstellar mission. Now Peck, working with Robert Shepherd (both are at Cornell University) is proposing a new kind of […]

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A Full Day at Pluto/Charon

February 13, 2015

Have a look at the latest imagery from the New Horizons spacecraft to get an idea of how center of mass — barycenter — works in astronomy. When two objects orbit each other, the barycenter is the point where they are in balance. A planet orbiting a star may look as if it orbits without […]

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New Views of Ceres, Pluto/Charon

February 6, 2015

Watching Ceres gradually take on focus and definition is going to be one of the great pleasures of February. The latest imagery comes from February 4, with the spacecraft having closed to about 145,000 kilometers. Here we’re looking at a resolution of 14 kilometers per pixel, the best to date, but only a foretaste of […]

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On to Europa?

February 4, 2015

With the 2016 budget cycle beginning, it’s heartening to see that Europa factors in as a target amidst a White House budget request for NASA of $18.5 billion, higher than any such request in the last four years, and half a billion dollars more than the agency received in the 2015 budget. This follows Congress’ […]

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Dawn: New Imagery of Ceres

January 20, 2015

Mark January 26 on your calendar. It’s the day when the Dawn spacecraft will take images of Ceres that should exceed the resolution of the Hubble Space Telescope. We’re moving into that new world discovery phase that is so reminiscent of the Voyager images, which kept re-writing our textbooks on the outer Solar System. 2015 […]

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Planets to Be Discovered in the Outer System?

January 16, 2015

Having just looked at the unusual ‘warped’ disk of HD 142527, I’m inclined to be skeptical when people make too many assumptions about where planets can form. Is our Solar System solely a matter of eight planets and a Kuiper Belt full of debris, with a vast cometary cloud encircling the whole? Or might there […]

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