Category Archives: Solar system

Pluto’s Wandering Heart Hints at Subsurface Ocean

Pluto’s famous heart-shaped feature caused the dwarf planet to roll over the eons, and this reorientation probably wouldn’t have been possible without a subsurface ocean, new research suggests.

The left lobe of Pluto’s “heart” is a 600-mile-wide (1,000 kilometers) plain called Sputnik Planitia (formerly known as Sputnik Planum), which astronomers think is an enormous impact crater. This basin has been filling with nitrogen ice over the years and now contains huge amounts of the stuff. Indeed, observations by NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft, which flew by Pluto last year, suggest that Sputnik Planitia’s ice may be up to 6 miles (10 km) thick. Continue reading Pluto’s Wandering Heart Hints at Subsurface Ocean

Mars Lander Crashed, Possibly Exploded

Satellite imagery from NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) dashed hopes that Europe’s Schiaparelli lander arrived in one piece on the surface of Mars.

Before and after shots of Schiaparelli’s landing site show a white spot, believed to be the probe’s jettisoned parachute, and a large dark region, the likely crash site, images released on Friday show. Continue reading Mars Lander Crashed, Possibly Exploded

Another Saturn Moon May Hide Subsurface Ocean

Cassini observations show that icy Dione is the latest small moon in the solar system possessing tantalizing clues of a liquid water ocean beneath its crust. NASA’s Cassini spacecraft has spotted many watery delights while orbiting Saturn’s system. There’s Enceladus’ 101 geysers, spewing fountains up from the ice and giving strong evidence of an ocean below. And there’s Titan, a strange, soupy, orange world that may also have an ocean somewhere under the surface.

Continue reading Another Saturn Moon May Hide Subsurface Ocean

Activity Spied on Europa, But It’s ‘NOT Aliens’

On Monday, NASA will host a teleconference “to present new findings from images captured by the agency’s Hubble Space Telescope of Jupiter’s icy moon, Europa.”

If, like me, you were hopeful that this announcement might include hints of an extraterrestrial flavor, the space agency was keen to quickly nip any alien-related rumors in the bud: Continue reading Activity Spied on Europa, But It’s ‘NOT Aliens’

Canada’s Flight Across the Solar System

When NASA’s new asteroid-sampling spacecraft makes a daring descent to Asteroid Bennu in 2020, it will be thanks in part to help from a much smaller partner — the Canadian Space Agency. The northern country (which happens to be my home) will fly a lidar altimeter on OSIRIS-REx that will be crucial to help the spacecraft arrive safely. Continue reading Canada’s Flight Across the Solar System

On Volcano Moon Io, it Snows Sulfur Every Day

The small Jupiter moon’s atmosphere undergoes a dramatic transformation when it passes into the gas giant’s shadow.
Jupiter’s moon Io is not only interesting in that it’s the most volcanic place in the solar system, it also has a seriously weird atmosphere that collapses and re-inflates as it passes into Jupiter’s shadow every single day.

As Io orbits Jupiter, the extreme Jovian tides warp the moon so much that huge quantities of energy are generated, causing molten rock from the moon’s interior to spew onto the surface, driving perpetual volcanic activity. Continue reading On Volcano Moon Io, it Snows Sulfur Every Day

Exploring the Realm of Saturn with Mobile Astronomy Apps

The planet Saturn captures the imagination with its visually stunning rings. Close-up views from our robotic emissaries have revealed braided ring structures, dynamic weather systems that include a gigantic polar hexagon and a diverse family of moons — each with a distinctive appearance. One of the moons, Titan, features landscapes reminiscent of Earth — but with a twist. Continue reading Exploring the Realm of Saturn with Mobile Astronomy Apps