Outer Solar System

Rosetta: Target in Sight

March 28, 2014

The European Space Agency’s Rosetta spacecraft, having traveled for ten years, is on track for its close-up investigation of comet 67P/Churyumov–Gerasimenko to begin later this year. Three years ago we had the first actual image of the comet, a 13-hour exposure taken shortly before the craft entered a lengthy period of hibernation. On the 20th […]

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A Glassy Sea on Titan

March 24, 2014

The second largest sea on Titan is Ligeia Mare, made up of methane and ethane in a body of liquid that is larger than Lake Superior. Now we have word that the surface of Ligeia Mare is so utterly still that it would appear like glass. The news comes from Stanford University, where geophysicist Howard […]

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WISE: New Stars and Brown Dwarfs

March 10, 2014

Just how early we are in our thinking about traveling beyond the Solar System is revealed in a comment made by Ned Wright, principal investigator of the WISE mission. “We don’t know our own sun’s backyard as well as you might think,” said Wright. And he goes on to say, “We think there are even […]

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Mapping Ganymede

February 13, 2014

The first global geological map of Ganymede has become available through the efforts of a team led by Wes Patterson (Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory) and Geoffrey Collins (Wheaton College). The map doesn’t reproduce well in the small space I have available, but the image below gives you an idea of its layout and is […]

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The Plumes of Ceres

January 23, 2014

The MACH-11 program (Measurements of 11 Asteroids and Comets Using Herschel) uses data from the European Space Agency’s space-based Herschel observatory to look at small bodies that are targeted by our spacecraft. With the Dawn mission on its way to Ceres, the Herschel data have now revealed the existence of water vapor on the dwarf […]

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Waking Up Rosetta

January 20, 2014

In the first post of 2014, I wrote about what the following year — 2015 — would bring, the New Horizons flyby of Pluto/Charon as well as the arrival of the Dawn spacecraft at Ceres, a fascinating object with a possible internal ocean. But let’s not forget about the European Space Agency’s Rosetta spacecraft, which […]

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Ceres, Pluto: Looking Toward the Next New Year

January 2, 2014

Over the New Year transition I saw a number of tweets to the effect that as of January 1, the first flyby of Pluto was going to occur next year, a notable thought when I ponder how fast this long journey has seemed to move. Was it really way back in 2006 that New Horizons […]

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New Views of Titan’s Lake Country

December 17, 2013

Titan has about 9000 cubic kilometers of liquid hydrocarbon, some forty times more than in all the proven oil reservoirs on Earth. That’s just one of the findings of scientists working over the data from recent Cassini flybys of the Saturnian moon. Each flyby snares our attention because this is the only other place in […]

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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 […]

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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, […]

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