Uranus has the unfortunate reputation of being the most boring planet in the solar system. But where it appeared to be a nearly featureless, hazy blue ball to Voyager 2, it is now blooming dozens of clouds that are visible to the sharp-eyed Keck II Telescope.
This morning, asteroid 4179 Toutatis was so close to Earth that simultaneous observations from two telescopes in the same country could show parallax that is obvious even to the least experienced observer. The two telescopes belong to The European Southern Observatory and are located at La Silla and Paranal in Chile
On Wednesday, September 29, Earth will dodge a cannonball: the Near-Earth Asteroid known as 4179 Toutatis will buzz by at a distance only four times the distance from the Earth to the Moon -- about one and a half million kilometers, or about a million miles. But, as the wisdom goes, "close" only counts in horseshoes and hand grenades; Toutatis' flyby will have no effect whatsoever on us.
A week after Huygens' descent, the emerging picture of the surface of that smoggy world is of an arid, icy desert, where periodic storms of methane rain create transient rivers that wash sooty soil from icy highlands out to short-lived pools and lakes. The pools dry up -- perhaps sinking into a sandy soil of glass-like water ice -- and the Titanian desert waits for another methane storm.
Let's Change the World
Become a member of The Planetary Society and together we will create the future of space exploration.