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Spring arrives to Vesta's north pole, as Dawn departs, plus a request for citizen scientists

Posted by Emily Lakdawalla on 2012/09/11 11:08 CDT | 3 comments

Dawn's last images of Vesta peek into previously shadowy north polar territory. As the spacecraft leaves Vesta behind, its science team requests help from the public.

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The Planetary Society Celebrates 35 Years of Voyager

Posted by Casey Dreier on 2012/09/07 02:12 CDT

The Planetary Society welcomed Dr. Ed Stone, Voyager Project Scientist for the past forty (yes, forty) years to the stage for an intimate evening discussing the past, present, and future events for the enduring Voyager spacecraft.

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RBSP to explore decades-old radiation belt mysteries

Posted by Jason Davis on 2012/08/24 11:01 CDT

NASA's Radiation Belt Storm Probes will shed new light on the Van Allen Radiation Belts, a dangerous region of space in our planet's backyard.

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New spots on Uranus

Posted by Emily Lakdawalla on 2012/08/22 05:42 CDT | 5 comments

New Hubble photos show that Uranus has both dark and bright spots!

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Curiosity sol 11 update: Decision to drive to "the high thermal inertia unit" and what that means

Posted by Emily Lakdawalla on 2012/08/17 06:06 CDT | 8 comments

Some notes from this morning's Curiosity press briefing: the rover will be driving to "Glenelg" to investigate the "high thermal inertia unit." I explain what that means, with psychedelic Odyssey THEMIS images of the landing site.

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See What's NEXT for Humanity

Posted by Mat Kaplan on 2012/08/16 01:23 CDT | 5 comments

A new monthly series of Southern California Public Radio events begins with a look at how intelligent machines and virtual humans will change what it means to be a real human. Attend or watch the live webcast tonight, Thursday, August 16.

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Cosmoquest Science Hangout Wednesday August 1: Mihály Horányi, lunar dust expert

Posted by Jason Davis on 2012/07/30 12:31 CDT

I'll be guest hosting this week's Cosmoquest Science Hangout on Wednesday, August 1. The show starts at 2300 UTC, and my special guest is Mihály Horányi.

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A fifth moon for Pluto, and a possible hazard for New Horizons

Posted by Emily Lakdawalla on 2012/07/16 02:55 CDT | 9 comments

Pluto is now known to have at least five moons (Charon, Nix, Hydra, P4, and the newly discovered P5), and its burgeoning population might pose a risk to New Horizons during its flyby, three years from now.

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Talking Climate With Bill Nye

Posted by Mat Kaplan on 2012/07/03 04:04 CDT | 2 comments

Talk about changing climates on this world and others brought 600 people to the Boulder Theater.

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A geochemist's Periodic Table of Elements

Posted by Emily Lakdawalla on 2012/06/25 07:39 CDT | 5 comments

The Periodic Table of Elements that hangs in chemistry classrooms doesn't include a lot of the information about elements that's most important to geologists. Here's one that does.

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Some Details About Transits of Venus

Posted by David Shortt on 2012/05/22 06:02 CDT | 2 comments

The upcoming rare transit of Venus is one step in a long dance among Earth, Venus and the Sun. Transits of Venus follow a peculiar pattern—two transits 8 years apart, then 105.5 years with no transits, then two transits 8 years apart, then 121.5 years with no transits, for a total cycle of 243 years—and thereby hangs a tale.

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Third Martian Anniversary for Mars Climate Sounder

Posted by David Kass on 2012/05/16 11:35 CDT | 2 comments

May 16, 2012 is the third martian anniversary of the start of Mars Climate Sounder (MCS) observations from Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter. MCS started measuring the atmosphere of Mars three Mars years ago, on September 24, 2006. We can now compare the weather and behavior of the atmosphere in three different years, and find the temperature differences to be surprisingly large.

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Earth’s toughest life could survive on Mars

Posted by Mike Malaska on 2012/05/15 06:22 CDT | 6 comments

The surface of Mars is a tough place to survive, but researchers at the German Aerospace Center (DLR) found some lichens and cyanobacteria tough enough to handle those conditions.

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A possible nine-planet system

Posted by Emily Lakdawalla on 2012/04/06 04:06 CDT | 1 comments

Someone on Twitter pointed me to a paper recently posted to ArXiv titled "Evidence for 9 planets in the HD 10180 system." If the (tentative) conclusion holds up, HD 10180 will be the first exoplanetary system known to have more planets than our own.

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What Saturn's moons can tell us about comets (Notes from LPSC 2012)

Posted by Emily Lakdawalla on 2012/04/03 05:20 CDT

My notes on a two-part presentation by collaborators Jim Richardson and David Minton about the sizes of things in the Kuiper belt, a story they told by looking at Saturn's moons. How does that work? What connects Saturn's moons to the Kuiper belt is craters.

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Notes from the Lunar and Planetary Science Conference: Making Cassini's radar images prettier

Posted by Emily Lakdawalla on 2012/03/26 02:12 CDT

One of the more exciting talks last week was given by Antoine Lucas about his work with Oded Aharonson "denoising" Cassini radar images of Titan. Cassini's radar images are superior to the camera photos in revealing fine details and topography on Titan's surface, but they do suffer from a random noise component that makes the pictures look snowy. Antoine and Oded have developed a method for removing much of this noise.

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Notes from the Lunar and Planetary Science Conference: A little bit of Phobos and Deimos

Posted by Emily Lakdawalla on 2012/03/22 12:04 CDT | 3 comments

I just sat in the "small bodies" session at the Lunar and Planetary Science Conference, listening to three talks about Phobos. The first was by Abby Fraeman, who looked at data on Phobos and Deimos from the two imaging spectrometers in orbit at Mars. The next talk, by L. Chappaz, was motivated by Phobos-Grunt's mission. It asked: if you grabbed 200 grams of soil from the surface of Phobos, how much of that material would actually have originated on Mars? Then there was a particularly interesting talk that dealt with the question of how Phobos' grooves formed.

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Notes from the Lunar and Planetary Science Conference: Is there ice at Mercury's poles?

Posted by Emily Lakdawalla on 2012/03/22 10:28 CDT

Water ice at Mercury's poles? That's crazy, right? Mercury is so close to the Sun that it seems inconceivable that you could have water ice there. But Mercury's rotational axis has virtually no tilt (MESSENGER has measured its tilt to be less than 1 degree), so there are areas at Mercury's poles, most often (but not always) within polar craters, where the Sun never rises above the horizon to heat the surface.

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Notes from Titan talks at the 2012 Lunar and Planetary Science Conference (LPSC)

Posted by Emily Lakdawalla on 2012/03/20 02:16 CDT

One of the topics I found most exciting yesterday was a series of talks on Titan's climate. Bob West showed how Titan's detached haze has shifted with time. Zibi Turtle presented about how Titan's weather has changed with these seasonal changes. Jason Barnes followed up Zibi's talk -- which was based on Cassini camera images -- with a study of the same regions using data from Cassini's imaging spectrometer, trying to figure out what was going on with that brightening. Ralph Lorenz talked about rainfall rates on Titan. Jeff Moore asked: what if Titan hasn't always had a thick atmosphere?

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Online Astronomy Course Update

Posted by Bruce Betts on 2012/03/06 11:27 CST

All the archived lectures from my free Introduction to Astronomy and the Solar System course, as well as links to the syllabus and how to watch the lectures live, can be found online.

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