Outer Solar System

Psyche Mission Moved Up

May 25, 2017

Have a look at the design of the Psyche spacecraft now being built by Space Systems Loral in Palo Alto. What’s intriguing here is the five-panel x-shaped design of the solar array, reconfigured from a four-panel array on either side of the spacecraft. The juiced up array offers this asteroid-bound spacecraft higher power capabilities for […]

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The Sounds of Europa

May 11, 2017

Although there are no plans at present to send a lander to Europa, we continue to work on the prospects, asking what kind of operations would be possible there. NASA is, for example, now funding a miniature seismometer no more than 10 centimeters to the side, working with the University of Arizona on a project […]

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Cassini: Back into the ‘Big Empty”

May 2, 2017

Cassini’s final months are stuffed with daring science, the kind of operations you’d never venture early in a mission of this magnitude for fear you’d lose the spacecraft. With the end in sight for Cassini, though, ramping up the science return seems worth the risk. And while diving through the narrow gap between Saturn and […]

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Cassini Through the Gap

April 27, 2017

Sometimes it pays to step back and try to look at spaceflight with fresh eyes. Go out and find Saturn in the sky and consider it as the ancients did, a moving celestial ember. And as you stand there, realize all over again that we’ve built a spacecraft that has been operating around that world […]

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New Findings on Enceladus, Europa

April 14, 2017

Jim Green, who is director of the Planetary Science Division at NASA headquarters, clearly loves his job, and he got so excited during Thursday’s news conference that he kept interchanging Enceladus with Europa in his remarks. Both were in play during the discussion, and the context made it clear what he intended, but I always […]

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Investigation of a Possible Dwarf Planet

April 13, 2017

Astronomical investigations can overlap in extremely helpful ways. Consider the Dark Energy Survey, which examines some 12 percent of the sky in an attempt to learn more about whatever force is accelerating the expansion of the universe. DES is trying to map hundreds of millions of galaxies and identify thousands of supernovae while looking for […]

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Outer System News

April 11, 2017

NASA is to discuss new findings about ocean worlds in our Solar System in a news conference at 1400 EDT (1800 UTC) on Thursday. The prospects for oceans in the outer system are surprisingly varied, ranging from the strong evidence of a subsurface, salty ocean on Europa to other Jovian moons like Ganymede and Callisto, […]

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New Horizons: Star Fields Beyond

April 6, 2017

The attitude you bring to a star field changes everything. When I was a kid trying to figure out how to use a small telescope, I scanned the usual suspects — the Moon, Saturn and its rings, the Galilean satellites of Jupiter — all the while planning to branch out into major wonders like M31 […]

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‘Blue Binaries’ Argue for Smooth Neptune Migration

April 5, 2017

We’re getting a few clues about the nature of planet migration in the early Solar System thanks to a class of objects being described as ‘blue binaries.’ Cold Classical Kuiper Belt Objects (CCKBOs) are generally reddish, but a population of widely separated binaries has now been identified that is thought to have originated in the […]

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Building the Tools for Icy Moons

April 3, 2017

With my own memories of the July 4, 1997 landing of Mars Pathfinder at Chryse Planitia as fresh as yesterday, it’s hard to believe that we are looking at the 20th anniversary of rover operations on the planet. But as the Curiosity rover continues its travels and we look toward the Mars 2020 rover mission, […]

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