Outer Solar System

On Charon’s Unusual North Pole

September 14, 2016

Deep space exploration brings a surprise with each new destination. New Horizons made the point over and over again, and today we get word of new work on one of the mission’s discoveries, that dark red polar cap at the north of Pluto’s large moon Charon. Will Grundy (Lowell Observatory) and colleagues are behind the […]

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Last Images of Titan’s Far South

September 8, 2016

Have a look at an image Cassini acquired on July 25 of this year during its T-121 flyby of Titan. Here we’re dealing with a synthetic-aperture radar image, but one that has been cleaned up with a ‘denoising’ algorithm that produces clearer views. Because of its proximity to the Xanadu region, the mountainous terrain shown […]

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Juno’s First Look at Jupiter’s Poles

September 6, 2016

Since I’ve just finished reading Stephen Baxter and Alastair Reynolds’ The Medusa Chronicles, a great deal of the action of which takes place beneath the upper clouds of Jupiter, I’m finding the Juno mission more than a little fascinating. The novel shows us a Jupiter that is the habitat of a variety of dirigible-like lifeforms, […]

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Niku: A ‘Rebellious’ Trans-Neptunian Object

August 15, 2016

We’ve all come to terms with the fact that beyond the orbit of Neptune there exists a large number of objects. These trans-Neptunian objects (TNOs) substantially altered the almost sedate view of the Solar System that prevailed in the first half of the 20th Century, showing us that far from being a tame and orderly […]

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Liquid Methane in Titan’s Canyons

August 11, 2016

It was in 2012 that Cassini data showed us the presence of the river system now called Vid Flumina, which empties into Titan’s Ligeia Mare after a journey of more than 400 kilometers. Given surface temperatures on this largest of Saturn’s moons, researchers assumed liquid methane would be the key player here. The question was […]

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Atmospheric Collapse on Io

August 9, 2016

I suspect most scientists would like to have a moment like the one Stanton Peale, Patrick Cassen and Ray Reynolds experienced when Voyager flew past Io in 1979. How many of us get to see a major idea vindicated in such short order? It was on March 5 that Voyager 1 passed within 22,000 kilometers […]

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Jupiter’s Great Red Spot as Heat Source

July 27, 2016

Speculating about what an advanced extraterrestrial civilization might do has kept us occupied for the last two days, with gas giants like Jupiter the primary topic of conversation. We don’t know if it’s possible to ignite a gas giant to provide new sources of energy. But with Juno getting ready to measure Jupiter’s aurorae, we’re […]

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A New Dwarf Planet (and its Implications)

July 15, 2016

A dwarf planet designated 2015 RR245 (and now in search of a name) has been found in an orbit that takes it out to at least 120 AU. It’s a discovery made by the Outer Solar System Origins Survey (OSSOS), an international collaboration focused on the Solar System beyond Neptune. The goal is to test […]

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Updates from Jupiter and Ceres

July 14, 2016

We don’t have high-resolution pictures of Jupiter from the Juno mission yet, but we do have JunoCam in operation. It’s a color camera working in visible light that has returned data following the spacecraft’s arrival at Jupiter on July 4. This JPL news release tells us that JunoCam was folded into the mission as part […]

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Prebiotic Chemistry on Titan?

July 7, 2016

If you’re looking for liquid water on Titan, prepare to go deep, perhaps as much as 100 kilometers below the Saturnian moon’s crust, which is itself made of ice. When it comes to exoplanets, we always talk about the habitable zone as a place where liquid water could exist on the surface. Titan clearly fails […]

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