Outer Solar System

Water Vapor Detected Above Europa

December 16, 2013

Last week’s look at Europa examined the possibility of primordial impacts there that might have brought organic materials to the moon, focusing especially on clay-like minerals that a JPL team found in data from the Galileo mission. I had barely finished that article before the news from Hubble arrived with observations of water vapor above […]

Read the full article →

Europa: Minerals from an Ancient Impact?

December 12, 2013

Europa continues to fascinate those hopeful of finding life elsewhere in our Solar System, and it’s easy to see why. Consider everything the Jovian moon has going for it. Although it’s a long way from the Sun (Jupiter is 5 AU out), Europa gets internal heat from its interactions with the gravitational well around Jupiter, […]

Read the full article →

Space Weathering: The Mars Connection

November 19, 2013

I don’t usually have much to say about Mars, for this site’s focus is on deep space — the outer Solar System and beyond. But with both the Mangalyaan and MAVEN Mars missions in progress, I’ll take this opportunity to mention new work out of MIT that deals with the effect of Mars on asteroids. […]

Read the full article →

The Inner System Viewed from Saturn

November 15, 2013

With the Cassini mission continuing through 2017, we’ll doubtless have many fine views of Saturn to come, but the images below merit special attention, enough so that I decided to close the week with them. We’re looking at an annotated, panoramic mosaic made by processing 141 wide-angle images, sweeping across 651,591 kilometers. That covers the […]

Read the full article →

Titan’s Northern Lake Country

October 24, 2013

New views from Cassini are giving us a much better look at Titan’s north pole and the seas and lakes that make the region so distinctive. This is particularly interesting because most of the moon’s lakes are concentrated at its northern latitudes, a fact that demands an explanation. The new near-infrared images show an area […]

Read the full article →

Origins of Pluto’s Moons

October 16, 2013

Before getting into the distant regions near Pluto/Charon, let’s pause for a moment with a reflection on speed. New Horizons left Earth orbit traveling faster than any other vehicle launched into interplanetary space, although it has since slowed. Now the Juno mission is getting press for its velocity, perhaps impelled by this quote from Bill […]

Read the full article →

Landing Sites on Europa

August 9, 2013

A paper just published online by the journal Astrobiology examines what a Europa lander could accomplish on the surface. It’s part of the process of future mission building even if that future is deeply uncertain — we’re a long way from a Europa lander, and funding even a far less demanding flyby mission is problematic […]

Read the full article →

Variability of Enceladus’ Plume

August 1, 2013

I’ve come to believe that building the system-wide infrastructure we’ll eventually need for interstellar flight will depend on satisfying two imperatives: Planetary defense and astrobiology. The first demands the ability to move payloads quickly to distant targets, allowing plenty of time to change the trajectory of problematic objects. The second is all about science and […]

Read the full article →

Perspectives on Pluto and Charon

July 11, 2013

We’re just past the 35th anniversary of the discovery of Pluto’s moon Charon. Or more precisely, we just passed the July 7 date when the announcement of that discovery, which had actually happened in June of 1978, was made. That turned my thoughts back to Larry Niven’s story “Wait It Out,” which tells the tale […]

Read the full article →

Centaurs and their Implications

June 24, 2013

One of the themes I often use in my talks is the ‘filling out’ of our picture of the Solar System. In addition to the asteroid belt, we’ve added the icy bodies of the Kuiper Belt and the vast expanse of the Oort Cloud into what once seemed a relatively simple, nine-planet solar system. I […]

Read the full article →