Outer Solar System

Soft Robotics for a Europa Rover

February 23, 2015

Approaching problems from new directions can be unusually productive, something I always think of in terms of Mason Peck’s ideas on using Jupiter as a vast accelerator to drive a stream of micro-spacecraft (Sprites) on an interstellar mission. Now Peck, working with Robert Shepherd (both are at Cornell University) is proposing a new kind of […]

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A Full Day at Pluto/Charon

February 13, 2015

Have a look at the latest imagery from the New Horizons spacecraft to get an idea of how center of mass — barycenter — works in astronomy. When two objects orbit each other, the barycenter is the point where they are in balance. A planet orbiting a star may look as if it orbits without […]

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New Views of Ceres, Pluto/Charon

February 6, 2015

Watching Ceres gradually take on focus and definition is going to be one of the great pleasures of February. The latest imagery comes from February 4, with the spacecraft having closed to about 145,000 kilometers. Here we’re looking at a resolution of 14 kilometers per pixel, the best to date, but only a foretaste of […]

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On to Europa?

February 4, 2015

With the 2016 budget cycle beginning, it’s heartening to see that Europa factors in as a target amidst a White House budget request for NASA of $18.5 billion, higher than any such request in the last four years, and half a billion dollars more than the agency received in the 2015 budget. This follows Congress’ […]

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Dawn: New Imagery of Ceres

January 20, 2015

Mark January 26 on your calendar. It’s the day when the Dawn spacecraft will take images of Ceres that should exceed the resolution of the Hubble Space Telescope. We’re moving into that new world discovery phase that is so reminiscent of the Voyager images, which kept re-writing our textbooks on the outer Solar System. 2015 […]

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Planets to Be Discovered in the Outer System?

January 16, 2015

Having just looked at the unusual ‘warped’ disk of HD 142527, I’m inclined to be skeptical when people make too many assumptions about where planets can form. Is our Solar System solely a matter of eight planets and a Kuiper Belt full of debris, with a vast cometary cloud encircling the whole? Or might there […]

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Naming Names in the Cosmos

January 15, 2015

How objects in the sky get named is always interesting to me. You may recall that the discovery of Uranus prompted some interesting naming activity. John Flamsteed, the English astronomer who was the first Astronomer Royal, observed the planet in 1690 and catalogued it as 34 Tauri, thinking it a star, as did French astronomer […]

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Dawn: Beginning Approach to Ceres

December 31, 2014

Speaking of spacecraft that do remarkable things, as we did yesterday in looking at the ingenious methods being used to lengthen the Messenger mission, I might also mention what is happening with Dawn. When the probe enters orbit around Ceres — now considered a ‘dwarf planet’ rather than an asteroid — in 2015, it will […]

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Are Europa’s Plumes Really There?

December 22, 2014

A new study of data from the Cassini Saturn orbiter has turned up useful information about, of all places, Europa. Cassini’s 2001 flyby of Jupiter en route to Saturn produced the Europa data that were recently analyzed by members of the probe’s ultraviolet imaging spectrograph (UVIS) team. We learn something striking: Most of the plasma […]

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Rosetta: New Findings on Cometary Water

December 11, 2014

Where did the water in Earth’s oceans come from? It’s an open question, but new data from the Rosetta mission, in particular its ROSINA instrument (Rosetta Orbiter Spectrometer for Ion and Neutral Analysis) indicate that terrestrial water probably did not come from comets like 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko, around which Rosetta has been orbiting since August. There is […]

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