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Observing at the WIYN

Posted by Meg Schwamb on 2011/06/08 02:43 CDT

On May 5 and 6, I had a run on the WIYN (Wisconsin-Indiana-Yale-NOAO) telescope, a 3.5 m telescope, the second largest telescope on Kitt Peak in Arizona.

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Zapping Rocks for Science

Posted by Ryan Anderson on 2011/05/27 09:01 CDT

Laser beams and space exploration are perfect for each other, and not just because all self-respecting starship captains know their way around a blaster. It turns out that zapping rocks with a laser is not only fun, it also can tell you what they're made of!

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South of the Border

Posted by Meg Schwamb on 2011/05/25 08:30 CDT

The last decade has seen an explosion in our understanding of the solar system with the discovery of the largest Kuiper belt objects (KBOs) of comparable size to Pluto.

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Searching for one planet, finding another

Posted by Konstantin Batygin on 2011/05/23 07:35 CDT

Some parallels exist between Odysseus' journey and the discoveries of exoplanets. What initially started out as a well-planned trip from Troy back to Ithaca, turned into a series of rather unfortunate events, with episodes of fighting Cyclops and having your crew turned into swine.

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Galileo's still producing discoveries: A magma ocean within Io!

Posted by Jason Perry on 2011/05/13 11:44 CDT

A fresh report was published online yesterday in Science Express on the discovery of a magma ocean beneath the surface of Io. Big news! This is a paper I've been looking forward to seeing for more than year and half.

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The Moon is a KREEPy place

Posted by Emily Lakdawalla on 2011/04/27 01:03 CDT | 2 comments

If you go to a conference about lunar geology, sooner or later you'll hear the term "KREEP" bandied about. (And almost as soon as KREEP is mentioned, a bad pun will be made. It's inevitable.) Context will tell you it has something to do with a special kind of lunar rock, but that'll only get you so far. What is KREEP, and why is it important on the Moon?

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Mercury's Weird Terrain

Posted by Emily Lakdawalla on 2011/04/19 11:21 CDT

When Mariner 10 flew past Mercury, it caught an immense impact basin lying half in and half out of sunlight, which they named Caloris. Even with only half the basin visible, scientists knew it was one of the largest in the solar system. Geologists had to wait more than 25 years to see the rest of Caloris, and when they did it turned out to be even bigger than they had thought. But the fact that Caloris was only half in sunlight was fortuitous in one sense, because it meant that the spot on Mercury that was exactly opposite the area of the Caloris impact was also partially in sunlight. That spot looks weird.

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Comparing Clementine and Chandrayaan-1 spectra from the Moon

Posted by Emily Lakdawalla on 2011/04/11 12:38 CDT

In a paper recently published in the Journal of Geophysical Research, Georgiana Kramer and several coauthors performed a careful comparison of two data sets that seem like they're measuring the same things, so you'd think that the measurements they took would match between the two instruments. But they don't quite match.

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LPSC 2011: Lunar Layers

Posted by Mike Malaska on 2011/03/29 11:49 CDT

Some recent high-resolution images from the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter Camera (LROC) have revealed large blocks on the lunar surface that show evidence of layers. The layered blocks were seen near the crater Aristarchus, which is a bright crater in the northeast quadrant of the nearside Moon.

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LPSC 2011: Sponge-moon Hyperion

Posted by Mike Malaska on 2011/03/23 02:51 CDT

Saturn's moon Hyperion has a bizarre sponge-like appearance that is in dramatic contrast to other heavily cratered bodies in the solar system.

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Evidence for rain on Titan

Posted by Emily Lakdawalla on 2011/03/22 04:40 CDT

Last week, Zibi Turtle and Jason Perry and a dozen other coauthors published a paper in Science discussing evidence for rain on Titan.

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LPSC 2011: Kirby Runyon on Mars, the Moon, Hartley 2, and Ganymede

Posted by Kirby Runyon on 2011/03/15 01:57 CDT

Kirby Runyon, a second-year grad student at Temple University, offered to send me some writeups of selected presentations from last week's Lunar and Planetary Science Conference, and I enthusiastically agreed.

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365 Days of Astronomy Podcast: A MESSENGER to Mercury

Posted by Emily Lakdawalla on 2011/03/14 11:18 CDT

I've got another 365 Days of Astronomy podcast airing today, this one an overview of the MESSENGER mission with particular attention to what's been learned in the three Mercury flybys, and what's going to happen when it enters orbit only a little more than three days from now!

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Martian timekeeping

Posted by Emily Lakdawalla on 2011/03/09 12:23 CST

While scanning through the talks scheduled for this week's Lunar and Planetary Science Conference I came across the following talk title: "Interannual and Seasonal Variability in the North Polar Region of Mars: Observations in Mars Years 29 and 30 by MARCI, CTX, and CRISM." My first thought was "hey, cool research spanning a long time period and across data sets." But my second was "Mars years 29 and 30? What does that mean?"

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The 42nd Lunar and Planetary Science Conference (LPSC)

Posted by Emily Lakdawalla on 2011/03/07 11:16 CST

Science is all about asking questions, coming up with ideas that might explain the answers, and then poking at those ideas to see if they work. Scientists spend much of their time in solitary research working out those ideas. But they also devote big chunks of time to meetings where they pitch their ideas and see what their peers think of them.

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What does decommissioning a spacecraft entail?

Posted by Emily Lakdawalla on 2011/03/03 12:47 CST

In my last couple of posts about the Stardust spacecraft, which is now basically out of fuel after a remarkably successful extended mission to comet Tempel 1, I've mentioned that it's soon to be decommissioned. A reader asked me: what does it mean to decommission a spacecraft?

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How much is Vesta's geology controlled by its one huge impact feature?

Posted by Emily Lakdawalla on 2011/02/07 02:09 CST

Here's a neat paper just published in Geophysical Research Letters: "Mega-ejecta on asteroid Vesta." In it, Martin Jutzi and Erik Asphaug consider Vesta's shape -- which appears to be dominated by a very large impact crater centered at its south pole -- and ask how much of the great big asteroid Vesta's global appearance is likely to be dominated by the effects of that one large impact.

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Butterfly crater on Mars

Posted by Emily Lakdawalla on 2011/01/27 05:32 CST

I've spent the day noodling around in the current issue of Icarus, following up some of the more interesting stories within its table of contents, and came across a picture of this very cool crater -- actually, set of craters -- on Mars.

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Scientific clarification: "inverted topography" is more general than "esker-like features"

Posted by Emily Lakdawalla on 2011/01/14 10:50 CST

In the past couple of months I've received several emails from scientists offering clarifications, corrections, or alternative points of view to previous posts, which is awesome and something that I enthusiastically encourage. Here's one of them.

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Bill Nye Connects with Space People at IAC

Posted by Susan Lendroth on 2010/09/30 12:23 CDT

The 61st International Astronautical Congress (IAC)is being held in Prague in the Czech Republic, and Bill Nye is attending on behalf of the Planetary Society.

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