Outer Solar System

The Distant Thing Imagined

February 5, 2016

If there’s one thing Pluto turned out to have beyond all expectation, it’s geological activity. New Horizons is now showing us what researchers are calling ‘hills of water ice’ floating in a sea of frozen nitrogen, much like icebergs moving through our own Arctic Ocean. The isolated hills are thought to be fragments of the […]

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Saturn’s Rings: Puzzling Mass Density Findings

February 4, 2016

Given that we have four planets in our Solar System with rings, it’s a natural thought that if so-called Planet Nine does exist, it might likewise show a system of rings. After all, Caltech’s Konstantin Batygin and Mike Brown are talking about a planet with a mass on the order of ten times that of […]

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New Pluto Imagery

February 1, 2016

Newly interpreted data from the New Horizons spacecraft tells us that Pluto has more water ice on its surface than we once thought. The image below tells the tale, a false-color view derived from observations by the Ralph/Linear Etalon Imaging Spectral Array (LEISA) instrument. Here we’re at infrared wavelengths and can see areas showing the […]

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Planet Nine: “An Uneasy Exhilaration”

January 21, 2016

In the past few years, several readers have talked to me about changes to the comment format on Centauri Dreams. In particular, some way of setting up comment ‘threads’ seemed to make sense, and there are various plugins to make this happen. Thanks to all for their input, and in particular Michael Spencer and Daniel […]

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Evidence for 9th Planet Unveiled

January 20, 2016

A new planet ten times the mass of Earth deep in the outer system? That’s the word out of Caltech, where Konstantin Batygin and Mike Brown report the evidence from computer modeling and simulations, though no planet has yet been directly observed. The planet would orbit 20 times further from the Sun than Neptune, with […]

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Dawn at Ceres: ‘Down Among Them’

December 23, 2015

The new images just in from Dawn at Ceres unexpectedly evoke a much earlier mission, the Apollo 10 precursor to the lunar landing. This was the second manned mission to orbit the Moon, one that saw the lunar module drop to just over 15 kilometers from the surface in a rehearsal for the Apollo 11 […]

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E-22: The Last Hurrah at Enceladus

December 17, 2015

It’s the end of an era. On Saturday December 19, the Cassini Saturn orbiter will make its final close pass by Enceladus. This doesn’t mark the end of Cassini itself, which still has work to do especially with regard to Titan, but it does mean the end, at least for now, of our close-up study […]

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Catching Up with Dawn at Ceres

December 11, 2015

The Dawn spacecraft has reached its final orbital altitude, closing to within 385 kilometers of the asteroid (and yes, I really should start calling Ceres a ‘dwarf planet’ consistently — working on it). We have no observations from this distance yet, but that process begins within days, and should give us images with a resolution […]

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ALMA: Interesting Objects in the Outer System

December 10, 2015

Two papers have appeared on the arXiv server suggesting hitherto undiscovered objects in the outer Solar System (thanks to Centauri Dreams reader Stevo Darkly for the pointer). Both papers use data harvested by the Atacama Large millimeter/submillimeter array (ALMA), an interferometer of radio telescopes in Chile’s northern high desert. Here some 66 12-meter and 7-meter […]

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The Best Pluto Imagery Yet

December 7, 2015

I finally have a landscape to attach to Larry Niven’s classic “Wait It Out,” a tale of shipwreck on Pluto. The New Horizons imagery is giving us resolutions of 77-85 meters per pixel, so that we can, as this JHU/APL news release reminds us, see features less than half the size of a city block. […]

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