Thursday, March 31, 2016

Socking Jupiter

Amateur astronomers observed a comet or an asteroid slam into Jupiter March 17.

That happens with some regularity due to Jupiter's powerful gravity, but it's still something to see.

Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Enceladus Geysers

The geysers of Saturn's small moon Enceladus may be powered by tides in its huge subsurface ocean raised by Saturn's powerful gravity, according to a new study.

The theory could be checked out by Cassini, but the probe will not make another Enceladus flyby before the scheduled end of its mission.

Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Planetarry Defense

Two asteroids whizzed within a few million miles of Earth recently, one of which proved to be much bigger than expected.

 The twin event should be yet another reminder that a planetary defense program is needed.

Monday, March 28, 2016

Glorious Saturn

A new study that uses computer modeling of gravitational fields suggests that Saturn's glorious ring system and some of its inner moons may only be about 100 million years old.

Before that, Titan likely dominated a system that had another pack of small inner moons.  Some of them may have eventually collided, with that material forming the rings.

Big Comet

A comet that came within 2.2 million miles of Earth last week turns out to be three thousand feet wide.

If it struck Earth, depending on various factors, that's big enough to do significant local and possibly regional damage.

Friday, March 25, 2016

Moon Village

ESA continues to argue an international lunar base, or Moon village, combining private enterprise and public effort, is the logical next step after ISS.

The time frame for building such a base is perhaps twenty years.

Thursday, March 24, 2016

Settling Mars

NASA plans to establish a base on Mars by the late 2030s that will be repeatedly visited by crews, but it has no plans to colonize the planet.

Colonization will likely require a broadly based effort led by commercial interests.

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Changing Pluto

Analysis of New Horizons data suggests Pluto changes drastically over time.

At some point in the relatively recent past, for example, Pluto's atmosphere may have been thicker than Mars'.

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Comet Flybys

Monday, a comet came within 3.3 million miles of Earth.  On Tuesday, another comet came within 2.2 million miles.

Astronomers think the two may once have been a single comet that broke apart.

Monday, March 21, 2016

Liquuid Fueled Rockets

Ninety years ago this month, Robert Goddard launched the first liquid fueled rocket.

Though his work was not fully appreciated in his lifetime, Goddard's development of the liquid fueled rocket, plus his invention of the multistage rocket, form much of the backbone of the Space Age we know.

Saturday, March 19, 2016

Robot Builders

Robots are being used in a project to build combination launch and landing pads in Hawaii, a first step towards doing the same on the Moon and Mars.  The Big Island is made of the same stuff, basalt, as those other worlds.

The project is a partnership between NASA and the Pacific International Space Center for the Exploration of Space, or PISCES.

Friday, March 18, 2016

Superheavy Particles

A new theory attempting to plumb the nature of dark matter postulates it's made of superheavy particles-- particles nearly dense enough to be mini black holes.

Scientists will have the technology to detect such particles, if they exist, in a few years.

Thursday, March 17, 2016

Ceres' Bright Spots

New work suggests the bright spots on the dwarf planet Ceres wax and wane in brightness, but the cycle does not exactly match Ceres day-night cycle.

The variations in brightness are due to ice evaporating and re-freezing, but a subtler local cycle may also be operating.

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Magnetic Fields And Mars

In October 2014 Comet Siding Spring had a close encounter with Mars.  The magnetic fields of the two bodies merged, and Mars apparently came out on the short end, perhaps losing some upper atmosphere into space.

How big a role this mechanism may have played in the loss of Mars' atmosphere over time is unclear.

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Pluto's Snakeskin

A study of Pluto's so-called snakeskin terrain suggests the area contains densely packed steep hills about 1,650 feet tall.

The hills may also be made of methane cathrate that formed in the protosolar nebula before the Sun ignited.

Monday, March 14, 2016


ExoMars, a joint ESA-Russia project, successfully lifted off today.

ExoMars is to search for signs of life.

Saturday, March 12, 2016

Kelly Retires

Scott Kelly, just back from nearly a year in space, is retiring from NASA.

Kelly spent twenty years as an astronaut and went into space four times.

Friday, March 11, 2016

MRO At Ten

NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter has now been orbiting Mars for ten years.

In that time, it has been critical in helping scientists develop the modern view of Mars as a dynamic world.

Thursday, March 10, 2016

Reforming NASA

Several ideas for reforming NASA and reshaping U. S. space policy are rolling around Congress.

Some seek to encourage commercial space development, some to give NASA a new management structure, and some to explicitly make NASA's next big goal landing humans on Mars.

Wednesday, March 9, 2016

Blue Origin

Blue Origin plans to start flying paying passengers in 2018.

Test flights are scheduled for next year.

Tuesday, March 8, 2016

Early Asteroid

An asteroid whizzed within 2.54 million miles of Earth yesterday, a day earlier than NASA expected/

NASA says the early flyby wasn't a shock, as the asteroid's orbit isn't precisely known.

Monday, March 7, 2016

Oldest Galaxy Yet

Astronomers using the Hubble Space Telescope have found the oldest galaxy yet, a tiny one that formed only 400 million years after the Big Bang.

Because it formed so soon after the universe cooled enough to allow matter to exist, the galaxy says something important about the structure of the early universe.

Saturday, March 5, 2016

Fifty-Fifty For SpaceX

A Falcon 9 rocket successfully put its payload into orbit, but the booster stage failed to land softly on a drone ship.

SpaceX has soft landed a booster on land, but not yet on a ship.

Friday, March 4, 2016

Valleys Of Mars

A new study using computer simulations of early Mars suggests the valleys of the planet were not cut by volcanic activity as assumed, but by water.

Simulations suggest early Mars had a cold, dense atmosphere, and heavy rain and snow fell, creating the valleys.

Thursday, March 3, 2016

Dust Storm

A major dust storm seems to be developing on Mars.  An edge of it seems to have blown over the position of NASA's Opportunity rover.

Researchers are eager to compare dust in the storm to dust Opportunity has collected.

Wednesday, March 2, 2016

Kelly Home

Scott Kelly safely returned to Earth yesterday after 340 days in space.

Comparing his physical condition with that of his identical twin brother will hopefully provide insight into how the human body copes with long term weightlessness.

Tuesday, March 1, 2016

Transit Zone

A new study defines the "transit zone" as the area in the galaxy that would allow aliens to observe Earth transiting the face of the Sun, and thus learn Earth has life, even intelligent life.  There are roughly 100,000 stars in the zone.

Researchers suggest focusing SETI searches on those stars.