Outer Solar System

Proposed Europa/Io Sample Return Mission

May 28, 2014

I love a long journey by car or rail, but not by airplane. Back in my flight instructing days, I used to love to take a Cessna 182 on a long jaunt, but these days the flying I do means sitting in the cheap seats in the back of a gigantic jet and suffering the […]

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2030s: The Decade of Europa?

May 7, 2014

Our recent discussions of the Jovian moons Ganymede and Europa highlight a fact that not so long ago would have seemed absurd. Three of the four bright dots that Galileo saw through his primitive telescope around Jupiter are potential habitats for life. Even battered Callisto gives evidence of an internal ocean, as do, of course, […]

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A Layered Ocean within Ganymede?

May 2, 2014

Remember as you ponder NASA’s Request for Information about a Europa mission that the agency is contributing three instruments to the European Space Agency’s JUpiter ICy moons Explorer (JUICE) mission, to be operational in Jupiter space in the 2030s. The goal here is to explore Europa, Callisto and Ganymede through numerous flybys, with the craft […]

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The Europa Imperative

May 1, 2014

Stanley G. Weinbaum is best known for the 1934 short story “A Martian Odyssey,” lionized by readers and critics alike after it appeared in the July issue of Wonder Stories. Isaac Asimov would later opine that “A Martian Odyssey” was one of a handful of stories that changed the way all later science fiction was […]

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Saturn: Commotion in the A Ring

April 15, 2014

After yesterday’s look back at the ambitious Project Orion planners and their hopes of reaching Saturn’s moons by the 1970s, let’s stay in the same vicinity today to look at what may be the emergence of an entirely new moon. As always, we have Cassini to thank for this work, which shows a disturbance at […]

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On the Enceladus Ocean

April 7, 2014

The recent news about an ocean on Enceladus had me thinking over the weekend about a trip my wife and I took years ago to Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. There we had rented a cabin for the week on the shores of Lake Superior, twenty miles from the nearest town, unless you counted the small grocery […]

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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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