Outer Solar System

Explaining Sputnik Planum

June 3, 2016

It’s been a week spent catching up with space mission news, focusing on Rosetta, Juno and today, New Horizons. Usually I ponder what I’m going to write each day on Centauri Dreams while I’m having breakfast, a quiet time to reflect on recent events. And if Jay Melosh (Purdue University) is to be believed, I […]

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Radio Map of Jupiter Anticipates Juno Findings

June 2, 2016

Interesting news about Jupiter this morning even as the Juno spacecraft crosses into the realm of Jupiter’s gravity. It was six days ago that Juno made the transition into Jupiter space, where the gravitational influence of Jupiter now dominates over all other celestial bodies. And it will be on July 4 of this year that […]

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Cometary Breakup and Reassembly

June 1, 2016

Yesterday’s look at organic compounds on Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko needs to be augmented today by a just released study of the comet with implications for how all comets evolve. But first, a renewed pointer to the Kickstarter campaign for KIC 8462852, the unusual star whose light curves continue to baffle astronomers. Please consider contributing to the […]

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Rosetta’s Comet: Ingredients for Life

May 31, 2016

The thought that water and organic molecules might have arrived on the early Earth from the impacts of comets and asteroids has long been provocative, and our missions to nearby comets are now paying off with insights into the possibility. It was back in 2004 that the Stardust mission flew past Comet Wild 2, collecting […]

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Moons of the Outer Dwarf Planets

May 18, 2016

Yesterday’s post on the dwarf planet 2007 OR10 brought comments asking why an object this large hasn’t yet been named. Actually it has been, but only briefly. It was Meg Schwamb, then a graduate student of Caltech’s Michael Brown, who discovered 2007 OR10, and Brown quickly gave it the nickname Snow White — as the […]

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New Work on Dwarf Planet 2007 OR10

May 17, 2016

Although we always think of Kepler — and its successor mission K2 — as an exoplanet observatory, the spacecraft has also been put to work on objects much closer to home. Enter 2007 OR10, a dwarf planet that is currently about twice as distant from the Sun as Pluto. The Kepler instrument is, of course, […]

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Pluto: Unusual Interactions with the Solar Wind

May 5, 2016

David McComas (Princeton University) calls what his team of researchers have learned about the solar wind at Pluto ‘astonishing,’ adding “This is a type of interaction we’ve never seen before anywhere in our Solar System.” The reference is to data from the Solar Wind Around Pluto (SWAP) instrument that flew aboard New Horizons. McComas knows […]

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Beneath a Methane Sea

April 27, 2016

Back when Cassini was approaching Saturn and we all anticipated the arrival of the Huygens payload on the surface, speculation grew that rather than finding a solid surface, Huygens might ‘splash down’ in a hydrocarbon sea. I can remember art to that effect in various Internet venues of the time. In the event, Huygens came […]

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Of a Mountain on Titan

March 29, 2016

If Saturn’s inner moons are, as we discussed yesterday, as ‘young’ as the Cretaceous, then we have much to think about in terms of possible astrobiology there. But Titan is unaffected by the model put forward by Drs. Ćuk, Dones and Nesvorný, being beyond the range of these complex interactions. Huge, possessed of fascinating weather […]

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Saturn’s Moons: A Question of Age

March 28, 2016

Some years back at a Princeton conference I had the pleasure of hearing Richard Gott discussing the age of Saturn’s rings. Gott is the author of, in addition to much else, Time Travel in Einstein’s Universe (Houghton Mifflin, 2001). I admit the question of Saturn’s rings had never occurred to me, my assumption being that […]

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