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Blog Archive


Curiosity stories from AGU: The fortuitous find of a puzzling mineral on Mars, and a gap in Gale's history

Posted by Emily Lakdawalla on 2015/12/18 05:51 CST | 1 comments

Yesterday at the American Geophysical Union meeting, the Curiosity science team announced the discovery of a mineral never before found on Mars. The finding was the result of a fortuitous series of events, but as long as Curiosity's instruments continue to function well, it's the kind of discovery that Curiosity should now be able to repeat.

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Favorite Astro Plots #3: The rate of lunar cratering

Posted by Emily Lakdawalla on 2015/11/30 07:03 CST

The third entry in my series of blog posts about Favorite Astro Plots contains one of the biggest discoveries from the Apollo program -- as well as one of the biggest questions in planetary science. The chart was nominated by planetary scientist Barbara Cohen. It has to do with the ages of surfaces on the Moon.

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Detecting Dust Devils with Insight

Posted by Ralph Lorenz on 2015/11/11 11:29 CST

Planetary scientist and dust devil expert Ralph Lorenz describes how the upcoming Mars InSight lander's sensitive seismometer might be able to detect dust devils.

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DPS 2015: Pluto's small moons Styx, Nix, Kerberos, and Hydra [UPDATED]

Posted by Emily Lakdawalla on 2015/11/10 02:18 CST | 7 comments

For my first post on results from the Division for Planetary Sciences meeting, I'm going to tell you about Pluto's small moons: Styx, Nix, Kerberos, and Hydra, their bright colors and wacky rotation states.

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A Roundup of Dust Devil Research

Posted by Ralph Lorenz on 2015/11/02 07:23 CST

Planetary scientist Ralph Lorenz briefs us on the current state of our knowledge on dust devils on Earth and Mars.

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Favorite Astro Plots #2: Condensation of the solar system

Posted by Emily Lakdawalla on 2015/10/14 01:34 CDT | 2 comments

Behold: the story of how our solar system began, in one chart. This is the second installment in a series of planetary scientists' favorite plots. Today's #FaveAstroPlot was suggested by spectroscopist Michael Bramble.

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Favorite Astro Plots #1: Asteroid orbital parameters

Posted by Emily Lakdawalla on 2015/10/01 03:42 CDT | 3 comments

This is the first in a series of posts in which scientists share favorite planetary science plots. For my #FaveAstroPlot, I explain what you can see when you look at how asteroid orbit eccentricity and inclination vary with distance from the Sun.

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NASA's Mars Announcement: Present-day transient flows of briny water on steep slopes

Posted by Emily Lakdawalla on 2015/09/28 02:26 CDT | 25 comments

NASA held a press briefing today to publicize a cool incremental result in the story of present-day liquid water on Mars. How big a deal is this story? Was all the pre-announcement hype justified? Is this just NASA discovering water on Mars for the zillionth time? What does this mean for things many space fans care about: life on Mars or future human exploration?

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Mega Hemorrhaging Total Lunar Eclipse Sept 27-28, 2015

Posted by Bruce Betts on 2015/09/24 08:25 CDT | 1 comments

There will be a spectacular total lunar eclipse on the night of Sept. 27-28, 2015, a newly dubbed Mega Hemorrhaging Eclipse. Here is info on what lunar eclipses are and how to observe the eclipse.

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A Free, Online Course Exploring the Science of Phobos and Deimos

Posted by Casey Dreier on 2015/09/19 04:23 CDT | 3 comments

Impress your friends and wow your colleagues by learning all about Mars's moons.

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How the duck got its neck: Rapid temperature changes from self-shadowing may explain 67P's unusual activity and shape

Posted by Emily Lakdawalla on 2015/09/11 11:04 CDT | 5 comments

When Rosetta approached comet Churyumov-Gerasimenko last summer, both its shape and its activity were surprising. It looked like two comets welded together at a skinny neck. A new paper explains how the neck may be steepening itself.

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Posted by Dave Doody on 2015/07/28 09:04 CDT | 1 comments

The Deep Space Climate Observatory (DSCOVR) has begun sending us fresh, whole-hemisphere images of our own fragile planet. Some sources say that the spacecraft is "orbiting" the L1 point. Dave Doody thinks this warrants some scrutiny.

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Looking back at Pluto

Posted by Emily Lakdawalla on 2015/07/24 07:12 CDT | 17 comments

I don't think anyone was prepared for the beauty -- or the instant scientific discoveries -- in this "lookback" image of Pluto, captured by New Horizons shortly after it flew by.

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What in the world(s) are tholins?

Posted by Sarah Hörst on 2015/07/22 07:00 CDT | 10 comments

The question “why is Pluto red” has been answered with a word that most people have never heard of and perhaps even fewer people can actually define—“tholins”.

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Dawn at Ceres: A haze in Occator crater?

Posted by Andrew Rivkin on 2015/07/21 05:54 CDT | 17 comments

While Pluto deservedly stole the headlines last week, Chris Russell’s Dawn update at the Exploration Science Forum at NASA Ames reminded us that the other dwarf planets are also sharing their secrets with eager scientists.

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First look at New Horizons' Pluto and Charon images: "baffling in a very interesting and wonderful way"

Posted by Emily Lakdawalla on 2015/07/15 04:42 CDT | 33 comments

Today's press briefing at the Applied Physics Laboratory in California was preceded by hours of New Horizons team members cryptically dropping hints on Twitter at astonishing details in the seven images downlinked since the flyby. The images are, in fact, astonishing, as well as beautiful, surprising, and puzzling.

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Pluto minus one day: Very first New Horizons Pluto encounter science results

Posted by Emily Lakdawalla on 2015/07/13 12:16 CDT | 15 comments

At a press briefing this morning, New Horizons principal investigator Alan Stern divulged some extremely preliminary first science results from the New Horizons Pluto encounter. Science results include Pluto's diameter and information on its surface composition and atmospheric escape.

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5 Steps to Preventing Asteroid Impact

Posted by Bruce Betts on 2015/06/30 12:33 CDT | 3 comments

For Asteroid Day, Bruce Betts reviews 5 steps needed to prevent asteroid impact, as well as how The Planetary Society is involved in those.

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Transient hot spots on Venus: Best evidence yet for active volcanism

Posted by Emily Lakdawalla on 2015/06/18 06:42 CDT | 3 comments

In a paper released in Geophysical Research Letters today, Eugene Shalygin and coauthors have announced the best evidence yet for current, active volcanism on Venus. The evidence comes from the Venus Monitoring Camera, which saw transient hot spots in four locations along a system of rifts near Venus' equator. They saw the hot spots in two distinct episodes in 2008 and 2009.

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OSIRIS-REx – Seeking Answers to the Sweet Mystery of Life

Posted by Jason Dworkin on 2015/05/07 12:21 CDT | 2 comments

The nature of the origin of life is a topic that has engaged people since ancient times. The samples to be collected by OSIRIS-REx, returned to the Earth in 2023 and archived for decades beyond that, may indeed hide the secrets to the origin of life.

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