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
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
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
Neptune is sporting a new spot, the first one identified in the 21st century. NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope confirmed the existence of the high-pressure system known as a dark vortex after bright clouds hinted at its presence. Continue reading Neptune Sports Dark Vortex, Hubble Images Reveal
At a distant star called Kepler-223, four gas giant planets orbit close in to their sun. It couldn’t be more different from our own solar system today, where all the big planets hang out far away. But could Kepler-223 be how our solar system was long ago? Continue reading Extreme Exoplanets Reveal Migration Mystery
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
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
When our sun was young, it was a very nasty star that erupted with “superflares” and blowtorched the inner solar system with powerful solar winds. Fortunately, the sun finally grew up and mellowed, reaching the calm(er) state it is now. Continue reading Earth’s Magnetism Saved It From Solar Sterilization