Tag 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

Tiny Asteroid to Make Earthly Close Encounter

A tiny asteroid is to make a very close approach with Earth today (Sept. 7), zooming harmlessly by at a distance of only 23,900 miles (38,500 kilometers) — around 10 times closer to Earth than the moon.

The space rock was spotted by the Mt. Lemmon Survey’s 60-inch telescope near Tucson, Ariz., on Sept. 5 and it quickly became clear that the asteroid, called 2016 RB1, was going to breeze by and not impact our atmosphere. It is set to make its closest approach at 1:28 p.m. ET. Continue reading Tiny Asteroid to Make Earthly Close Encounter

New Dwarf Planet Discovered Far Beyond Pluto’s Orbit

Astronomers have discovered another dwarf planet in the Kuiper Belt, the ring of icy objects beyond Neptune. But this newfound world, dubbed 2015 RR245, is much more distant than Pluto, orbiting the sun once every 700 Earth years, scientists said. (Pluto completes one lap around the sun every 248 Earth years.)  Continue reading New Dwarf Planet Discovered Far Beyond Pluto’s Orbit

Europa’s Deforming Ice Is a Surprising Heat Generator

As excitement builds for NASA’s Juno mission that will enter Jupiter orbit this summer, and future missions that will investigate ice moon Europa’s life-supporting potential, new research into the strange qualities of the moon’s cracked crust could reveal some fascinating science about Europa’s sub-surface ocean. Continue reading Europa’s Deforming Ice Is a Surprising Heat Generator

Life’s Building Blocks Created on Lab-Grown Comet

Mix water, methanol and ammonia at low temperatures and low pressure, irradiate with ultraviolet light and what do you get? A residue of organics, which when warmed to room temperature, contains ribose and other sugars that are believed to be building blocks for RNA and DNA, molecules essential for all known forms of life. Continue reading Life’s Building Blocks Created on Lab-Grown Comet