Outer Solar System

Titan: Polar Weather in Flux

October 2, 2014

Curiosities like the unusual feature in Ligeia Mare we discussed yesterday emphasize how important it is to have a long-term platform from which to study a planetary surface. If we are looking at something related to seasonal change on Titan, we have to remember that each season there lasts about seven Earth years. Winter turned […]

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A Surprise from Ligeia Mare

October 1, 2014

Interesting doings on Titan. I would guess that the odd feature that has cropped up in Ligeia Mare, a large ethane/methane sea in Titan’s northern hemisphere — has something to do with seasonal change, and that’s one possibility this JPL news release explores. After all, summer is coming to the northern hemisphere, and studying what […]

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New Horizons: Hydra Revealed

September 18, 2014

Since we don’t yet have flight-ready systems for getting to the outer Solar System much faster than New Horizons, we might as well enjoy one of the benefits of long flight times. Look at it this way: For the next ten months, we can look forward to sharper and sharper images and an ever increasing […]

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Crucible for Moon Formation in Saturn’s Rings

September 17, 2014

Hard to believe that it’s been ten years for Cassini, but it was all the way back in January of 2005 that the Huygens probe landed on Titan, an event that will be forever bright in my memory. Although the fourth space probe to visit Saturn, Cassini became in 2004 the first to orbit the […]

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Evidence for Plate Tectonics on Europa

September 11, 2014

It was the Galileo mission, which ended in 2003 when the probe descended into the depths of Jupiter’s atmosphere, that brought us the first solid evidence of an ocean beneath the ice of Europa. Galileo made multiple flybys of the Jovian moon, the first spacecraft to do so, with the closest pass being a scant […]

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Remembering Voyager: Triton’s New Map

August 29, 2014

I’m glad to see Ralph McNutt quoted in a recent news release from the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory. McNutt has been working on interstellar concepts for a long time, including the Innovative Interstellar Explorer mission that could become a follow-up to New Horizons. But he’s in the news in late August because of Voyager, […]

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What Io Can Teach Us

August 14, 2014

Io doesn’t come into play very much on Centauri Dreams, probably because of the high astrobiological interest in the other Galilean satellites of Jupiter — Europa, Callisto and Ganymede — each of which may have an internal ocean and one, Europa, a surface that occasionally releases material from below. Io seems like a volcanic hell, […]

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Rosetta: Arrival at a Comet

August 7, 2014

How do you close on a comet? Very carefully, as the Rosetta spacecraft has periodically reminded us ever since late January, when it was awakened from hibernation and its various instruments reactivated in preparation for operations at comet 67P/Churyumov–Gerasimenko. The spacecraft carried out ten orbital correction maneuvers between May and early August as its velocity […]

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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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