Tuesday, June 30, 2015


A new study argues that huge exoplanets, several times bigger than Jupiter, could have moons as large as Mars.

Such super Jupiters orbiting in a star's habitable zone would not be good candidates to be the home of civilizations, but big exomoons could be.

Monday, June 29, 2015

Falcon 9 Explosion

SpaceX' Falcon 9 exploded two minutes into its cargo flight to ISS yesterday.

Oddly, it was the third flight to resupply ISS to fail in less than a year, and three separate launchers were involved-- rockets from Orbital Sciences, Russia, and SpaceX.  A common weakness, therefore, seems unlikely.

Saturday, June 27, 2015

Closing On Pluto

The New Horizons spacecraft is already delivering fantastic images of the Pluto system, among them photos of a dark patch in the polar region of the largest moon, Charon, and others showing a Pluto of an incredible range of terrain types.

Closest approach to Pluto is next month.

Friday, June 26, 2015

Impact Glass

When a meteorite slams into a planet or moon, rock can be melted to form glass.  It's called impact glass.  A new study shows impact glass can preserve traces of life that existed before the meteorite hit.

Scientists are thus suggesting looking for impact glass as a way to look for life on Mars.

Thursday, June 25, 2015

Nearby Life

Planetary scientist Nathalie Cabrol of the SETI Institute thinks life on Earth may have originated on Mars.  Over three billion years ago, during the Late Heavy Bombardment, she thinks life could have traveled between a warmer, wetter Mars and Earth inside rocks thrown away from their mother worlds.

She also thinks life in the outer Solar System is possible, but it would have a different origin.

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Venusian Volcanoes

A new study using data from the ESA's Venus Express spacecraft presents strong evidence that volcanoes on Venus are still erupting.  Localized, discreet hotspots-- even hotter than normal on Venus-- strongly suggests ash is being blown into the air and lava is running on the surface.

A Venus that is still internally active would be a major plus for planetary science.

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

More Ceres Spots

The Dawn spacecraft continues to take better images of the bright spots on Ceres, but they remain unexplained.  Ice and salt deposits are the leading candidates.

Dawn has also spotted a mountain three miles high.  Proportionately, given the size difference between Ceres and Earth, that mountain would tower over Everest.

Monday, June 22, 2015

Blue Origin

The so far secretive space firm Blue Origin has released a video touting the experience that will be offered by the company's manned capsule that is currently being developed.

The video features two former NASA astronauts.

Saturday, June 20, 2015

Towards Europa

NASA is moving ahead with plans to send a mission to Jupiter's moon Europa in the 2020s.

The mission, to be managed by JPL, envisions 45 flybys of Europa over a two year period.

Friday, June 19, 2015

New Horizons

NASA's New Horizons probe continues to close on Pluto prior to its flyby next month.  It's already taking images of unprecedented detail of Pluto and its moons.

After the flyby, the probe will continue into deep space in search of other denizens of the Kuiper Belt.

Thursday, June 18, 2015

Cold Mars

A new study suggests certain features on Mars today are better explained if Mars was an icy snowball billions of years ago rather than if the early planet was warm and wet, as other researchers have postulated.

The Mars of the new study would obviously be less friendly to life.

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Glint Effect

Scientists have determined one good way to search for water oceans on exoplanets is to look for the "glint effect"-- a flash of bright light as light from the parent star bounces off the water surface at just the right angle.

Of course, an ocean of water suggests the possibility of life.

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Martian Methane

Researchers have found methane, a gas associated with life, inside meteorites that came from Mars.

Methane can be made by geologic activity, so the finding is not proof of life on Mars.  However, it is another indication that life could have existed there.

Monday, June 15, 2015

Philae Calls Home

After seven months of silence, the ESA's Philae comet lander has contacted Earth.

Scientists theorize that since the comet is much closer to the Sun now, Philae's solar panels are gathering more energy to power the craft.

Saturday, June 13, 2015

Ceres' Bright Spots

The Dawn spacecraft has taken more and better images of the mysterious bright spots on Ceres.  The new images seem to resolve the two bright spots into dozens of smaller spots, but scientists still don't know what they are.

Dawn will get sharper and sharper images as it orbits closer and closer to Ceres.

Friday, June 12, 2015

WASP 142b

WASP 142b, a hot Jupiter that's 1,000 light years away, will always have the distinction of being the first exoplanet discovered by a teenager.

Tom Wagg, an English schoolboy, made the discovery two years ago, at age 15.  The existence of WASP 142b has recently been confirmed.

Thursday, June 11, 2015

Mexico To The Moon

Mexico has contacted with the small commercial firm Astrobotics to put a Mexican payload on the Moon.

The deal could be the first of many in which nations pursue space goals through the use of private companies.

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Airbus Looks Ahead

Airbus, the European aerospace giant, is looking at developing reusable rockets and space tugs.

Those would be steps towards building cislunar infrastructure that would support both a lunar base project and Mars exploration.

Tuesday, June 9, 2015

Exploring Europa

NASA is looking at not just a single mission to Europa in the 2020s, but a series of missions thereafter, including a landing, and possibly a penetration of the icy surface to probe the ocean below.

Some astrobiologists think Europa might be the best place to look for life beyond Earth in the Solar System.

Monday, June 8, 2015

Solar Sail Deployed

The Planetary Society's LightSail mission, after a rough start, has finally deployed its solar sail.

Solar sails, riding the solar wind, will allow interplanetary travel without the use of rockets.

Saturday, June 6, 2015

Pyongyang Space

North Korea recently announced it is developing a new Earth observation satellite.

The U. S., among other nations, is skeptical of Pyongyang's space program, seeing it as a cover for the development of ICBMs.

Friday, June 5, 2015

Mission Control

Mission Control in Houston is 50 years old this week, and plans are underway to restore it to its Apollo-era heyday.  It was decommissioned in 1992.

The goal is to have it ready for public tours by 2019, the 50th anniversary of Apollo 11.

Thursday, June 4, 2015

Proving Grounds

NASA is currently quietly planning a series of manned missions in the 2020s in cislunar space to act as "proving grounds" for technology that will take humans to Mars.

The idea includes asking international and commercial partners to participate in the missions.

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Ed White

Fifty years ago today, Ed White became the first American to walk in space.

He did it only three months after Alexei Leonov became the first human to walk in space-- an indication that the Americans were quickly closing the early Soviet lead in manned spaceflight.

Tuesday, June 2, 2015

Faster To Mars

NASA Chief Charles Bolden said recently that he wants to cut the time it takes astronauts to reach Mars in half.  That would cut down on the radiation astronauts would be exposed to, and cut the food, water, etc., needed to carry out the mission.

Nuclear rockets, for instance, could achieve the necessary speed, but many people oppose them on largely political grounds.

Monday, June 1, 2015

Boeing Wins Contract

Boeing has been awarded the first NASA contract to service ISS with a private, manned spacecraft, its CST-100.

SpaceX is expected to get a similar contract later this year for its Dragon capsule.