Exploring Titan with Balloons and Landers Last week – from Monday, February 27th to Wednesday, March 1st – NASA hosted the “Planetary Science Vision 2050 Workshop” at their headquarters in Washington, DC. In the course of the many presentations, speeches and panel discussions, NASA’s shared its many plans for the future of space exploration with the international community. Among the more ambitious of these was a proposal to explore Titan using an aerial explorer and a lander. Building upon the success of the ESA’s Cassini-Huygen mission, this plan would involve a balloon that would explore Titan’s surface from low altitude, along with a Mars Pathfinder-styleRead More →

Rise of the Super Telescopes: The Thirty Meter Telescope As Carl Sagan said, “Understanding is Ecstasy.” But in order to understand the Universe, we need better and better ways to observe it. And that means one thing: big, huge, enormous telescopes. In this series, we’ll look at six Super Telescopes being built: The Giant Magellan Telescope The Overwhelmingly Large Telescope 30 Meter Telescope The European Extremely Large Telescope Large Synoptic Survey Telescope James Webb Space Telescope The Thirty Meter Telescope The Thirty Meter Telescope (TMT) is being built by an international group of countries and institutions, like a lot of Super Telescopes are. In fact,Read More →

Reading The Signs Of A Martian Mega-Flood The Mars Express probe was the European Space Agency’s first attempt to explore Mars. Since its arrival around the Red Planet in 2003, the probe has helped determine the composition of the atmosphere, map the mineral composition of the surface, studied the interaction between the atmosphere and solar wind, and taken many high-resolution images of the surface. And even after 14 years of continuous operation, it is still revealing interesting things about Mars and its past. The latest find comes from the Kasei Valles region, where the probe captured new images of the giant system of canyons. AsRead More →

Brightest ‘Spot’ on Ceres is Likely a Cryovolcano The bright regions on the dwarf planet Ceres have been some of the most talked about features in planetary science in recent years. While data from the Dawn spacecraft has shown these bright areas are salt deposits (alas, not lights of an alien city), the question remained of how these salts reached the surface. Researchers with the Dawn mission say they have now thoroughly investigated the complex geological structures in Occator crater, the region with the brightest regions on Ceres. The scientists conclude that a bright dome-like feature called Cerealia Facula is the remnant of a cryovolcanoRead More →

Mineral Points To A Water Rich Mars For years now, scientists have understood that Mars was once a warmer, wetter place. Between terrain features that indicate the presence of rivers and lakes to mineral deposits that appeared to have dissolved in water, there is no shortage of evidence attesting to this “watery” past. However, just how warm and wet the climate was billions of years ago (and since) has been a subject of much debate. According to a new study from an international team of scientists from the University of Nevada, Las Vegas (UNLV), it seems that Mars may have been a lot wetter thanRead More →

Towards A New Understanding Of Dark Matter Dark matter remains largely mysterious, but astrophysicists keep trying to crack open that mystery. Last year’s discovery of gravity waves by the Laser Interferometer Gravitational Wave Observatory (LIGO) may have opened up a new window into the dark matter mystery. Enter what are known as ‘primordial black holes.’ Theorists have predicted the existence of particles called Weakly Interacting Massive Particles (WIMPS). These WIMPs could be what dark matter is made of. But the problem is, there’s no experimental evidence to back it up. The mystery of dark matter is still an open case file. When LIGO detected gravitationalRead More →

Carnival of Space #499 This week’s Carnival of Space is hosted by Brian Wang at his Next Big Future blog. Click here to read Carnival of Space #499 And if you’re interested in looking back, here’s an archive to all the past Carnivals of Space. If you’ve got a space-related blog, you should really join the carnival. Just email an entry to carnivalofspace@gmail.com, and the next host will link to it. It will help get awareness out there about your writing, help you meet others in the space community – and community is what blogging is all about. And if you really want to help out, sign upRead More →

Messier 36 – The Pinwheel Cluster Welcome back to Messier Monday! In our ongoing tribute to the great Tammy Plotner, we take a look at the Pinweel Cluster, otherwise known as Messier 36. Enjoy! During the 18th century, famed French astronomer Charles Messier noted the presence of several “nebulous objects” in the night sky. Having originally mistaken them for comets, he began compiling a list of them so that others would not make the same mistake he did. In time, this list (known as the Messier Catalog) would come to include 100 of the most fabulous objects in the night sky. Included in this listRead More →

NASA’s Plans to Explore Europa and Other “Ocean Worlds” Earlier this week, NASA hosted the “Planetary Science Vision 2050 Workshop” at their headquarters in Washington, DC. Running from Monday to Wednesday – February 27th to March 1st – the purpose of this workshop was to present NASA’s plans for the future of space exploration to the international community. In the course of the many presentations, speeches and panel discussions, many interesting proposals were shared. Among them were two presentations that outlined NASA’s plan for the exploration of Jupiter’s moon Europa and other icy moons. In the coming decades, NASA hopes to send probes to theseRead More →

This Asteroid Broke In Half, and Then Both Halves Grew Tails Like Comets In the 18th and 19th centuries, astronomers made some profound discoveries about asteroids and comets within our Solar System. From discerning the true nature of their orbits to detecting countless small objects in the Main Asteroid Belt, these discoveries would inform much of our modern understanding of these bodies. A general rule about comets and asteroids is that whereas the former develop comas or tails as they undergo temperature changes, the latter do not. However, a recent discovery by an international group of researchers has presented another exception to this rule. AfterRead More →

Rise of the Super Telescopes: The Large Synoptic Telescopes We humans have an insatiable hunger to understand the Universe. As Carl Sagan said, “Understanding is Ecstasy.” But to understand the Universe, we need better and better ways to observe it. And that means one thing: big, huge, enormous telescopes. In this series we’ll look at 6 of the world’s Super Telescopes: The Giant Magellan Telescope The Overwhelmingly Large Telescope The Thirty Meter Telescope The European Extremely Large Telescope The Large Synoptic Survey Telescope The James Webb Space Telescope The Large Synoptic Survey Telescope While the world’s other Super Telescopes rely on huge mirrors to doRead More →

Astronomy Cast Ep. 432: Geoglogic Ages of Mars – From Wet and Wild to Desolate Desert Today, Mars is a desolate wasteland, with dusty red rocks and sand stretching out to the horizon. But billions of years ago, it was a vastly different world. It was blue, with oceans, rivers, lakes, and maybe life? Let’s tell the story of geology on Mars, and we got from that world to the one we see today. Visit the Astronomy Cast Page to subscribe to the audio podcast! We usually record Astronomy Cast as a live Google+ Hangout on Air every Friday at 1:30 pm Pacific / 4:30Read More →

Weekly Space Hangout – March 3, 2017: Dr. Alan Stern of New Horizons Host: Fraser Cain (@fcain) Special Guest: Dr. Alan Stern is the Principal Investigator on the New Horizons mission. He will be joining us today to update everyone on what we now know about Pluto now that all of the New Horizons data have been received. Guests: Kimberly Cartier ( KimberlyCartier.org / @AstroKimCartier ) Paul M. Sutter (pmsutter.com / @PaulMattSutter) Dave Dickinson (www.astroguyz.com / @astroguyz) Their stories this week: Eclipse MegaMovie SpaceX Plans to Orbit the Moon in 2018 The Moon occults Aldebaran ALMA explains spirals around a star Next-gen U.S. dark matterRead More →

Catch ‘The Great American Occultation’ of Aldebaran Saturday Night The Moon nearing Aldebaran on February 5th, 2017. Image credit and copyright: Chris Lyons. Ever watch the Moon cover up a star? There’s a great chance to see just such an event this coming weekend, when the waxing gibbous Moon occults (passes in front of)  the bright star Aldebaran for much of North America on Saturday night, March 4th. Shining at magnitude +0.85, Aldebaran is the brightest star that lies along the Moon’s path in the current epoch, and is one of four +1st magnitude stars that the Moon can occult. The other three are Regulus, AntaresRead More →

Curiosity Watches a Dust Devil Go Past The left side of this 360-degree panorama from NASA’s Curiosity Mars rover shows the long rows of ripples on a linear shaped dune in the Bagnold Dune Field on the northwestern flank of Mount Sharp. The rover’s Navigation Camera recorded the component images of this mosaic on Feb. 5, 2017. Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech Tis a season of incredible wind driven activity on Mars like few before witnessed by our human emissaries ! Its summer on the Red Planet and the talented scientists directing NASA’s Curiosity rover have targeted the robots cameras so proficiently that they have efficiently spotted aRead More →

NASA Proposes A Magnetic Shield to Protect Mars’ Atmosphere This week, NASA’s Planetary Science Division (PSD) hosted a community workshop at their headquarters in Washington, DC. Known as the “Planetary Science Vision 2050 Workshop“, this event ran from February 27th to March 1st, and saw scientists and researchers from all over the world descend on the capitol to attend panel discussions, presentations, and talks about the future of space exploration. One of the more intriguing presentations took place on Wednesday, March 1st, where the exploration of Mars by human astronauts was discussed. In the course of the talk, which was titled “A Future Mars EnvironmentRead More →

When Galaxies Collide, Stars Suffer the Consequences When galaxies collide, the result is nothing short of spectacular. While this type of event only takes place once every few billion years (and takes millions of years to complete), it is actually pretty common from a cosmological perspective. And interestingly enough, one of the most impressive consequences – stars being ripped apart by supermassive black holes (SMBHs) – is quite common as well. This process is known in the scientific community as stellar cannibalism, or Tidal Disruption Events (TDEs). Until recently, astronomers believed that these sorts of events were very rare. But according to a pioneering studyRead More →

Some Active Process is Cracking Open These Faults on Mars. But What is it? Mars has many characteristics that put one in mind of Earth. Consider its polar ice caps, which are quite similar to the ones in the Arctic and Antarctic circle. But upon closer examination, Mars’ icy polar regions have numerous features that hint at some unusual processes. Consider the northern polar ice cap, which consists predominantly of frozen water ice, but also a seasonal veneer of frozen carbon dioxide (“dry ice”). Here, ice is arranged in multicolored layers that are due to seasonal change and weather patterns. And as images taken byRead More →

Volcanic Hydrogen Gives Planets a Boost for Life Whenever the existence of an extra-solar planet is confirmed, there is reason to celebrate. With every new discovery, humanity increases the odds of finding life somewhere else in the Universe. And even if that life is not advanced enough (or particularly inclined) to build a radio antenna so we might be able to hear from them, even the possibility of life beyond our Solar System is exciting. Unfortunately, determining whether or not a planet is habitable is difficult and subject to a lot of guesswork. While astronomers use various techniques to put constraints on the size, mass,Read More →

What the Oldest Fossil on Earth Means for Finding Life on Mars Scientists have found evidence that life existed on Earth much earlier than previously thought and they say this discovery has implications for life springing up on other planets, particularly Mars. Fossils of microscopic bacteria were discovered in Quebec, Canada in the Nuvvuagittuq Supracrustal Belt, a formation which contains some of the oldest sedimentary rocks in the world. Scientists estimate the fossils are at least 3.7 billion years old, and could be as old as 4.28 billion years. This is hundreds of millions of years older than previously found specimens. “The most exciting thingRead More →