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Outer Planets

Jupiter. Saturn. Uranus. Neptune. Each of these giant planets is the center of its own miniature solar system. Each is spectacularly beautiful and scientifically fascinating, which are reasons enough to explore them. But by studying the giant planets and their rings and moons, we can also learn about the forces that operated during the formation of our own solar system, as well as the origins of the hundreds of new extrasolar planetary systems that we discover every year.

And their moons are worlds in their own right. There are at least 16 outer planetary moons that would be called dwarf planets if they orbited the Sun rather than a planet. Two (Jupiter's Ganymede and Saturn's Titan) are larger than the planet Mercury, and one (Triton) is probably a captured Kuiper belt object.

But it is challenging and expensive to explore the outer planets, and missions to the outer planets take a very long time to develop, fly, and operate. Cassini will be orbiting Saturn until 2017, and Juno will operate at Jupiter from 2016 to 2017. After that, it's not clear if anyone will be sending a followup mission to Saturn or Jupiter or its moons, or an orbiter to survey the Uranus or Neptune systems. And there is a critical shortage of the isotope of plutonium that is needed to generate power for outer planetary missions.

Did Voyager 1 capture an image of Enceladus' plumes erupting?

Posted by Ted Stryk on 2017/02/21 01:38 CST | 2 comments

Amateur image processor Ted Stryk revisited Voyager 1 data of Enceladus and came across a surprise.

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Explorer of Enceladus and Titan

Posted by Van Kane on 2017/02/01 09:05 CST | 6 comments

For the third time in less than a decade, scientists have proposed a multiple-flyby mission to explore the habitability of Saturn’s ocean moons Titan and Enceladus.

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Amazing photos of tiny moons as Cassini orbits among the rings

Posted by Emily Lakdawalla on 2017/01/19 12:39 CST | 6 comments

Behold: Daphnis, the tiny, 8-kilometer moon that orbits within a ring gap, gently tugging on the edges of the gap to create delicate scallops.

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Saturn's Ring Particles

Posted by Judy Schmidt on 2017/01/05 01:10 CST | 2 comments

Artist and astrophotographer Judy Schmidt brings us a view from within the rings of Saturn.

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Planetary discovery over the past quarter century

Posted by Steven Hauck on 2016/12/20 10:01 CST

2016 marks the 25th anniversary of the creation of what has become one of the primary venues for the publication of research in planetary science: the Journal of Geophysical Research: Planets. This occasion is a good opportunity to look back at what we have learned in this era of expanded exploration and to try to take a peek at the future.

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Serene Saturn (or the “Glutton for Punishment” mosaic)

Posted by Ian Regan on 2016/11/08 10:25 CST | 8 comments

A week ago Saturday I decided -- against my better judgment -- to tackle this monster of a mosaic. I call it the "Glutton for Punishment" mosaic.

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Juno update: 53.5-day orbits for the foreseeable future, more Marble Movie

Posted by Emily Lakdawalla on 2016/11/03 09:44 CDT | 4 comments

Juno may be staying in its 53.5-day orbit for quite a while. Here's a list of the future dates of the next 20 close approaches to Jupiter if the mission stays in that orbit, as well as the latest, near-final version of JunoCam's "Marble Movie."

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Juno and Marble Movie update at Apojove 1

Posted by Emily Lakdawalla on 2016/09/22 12:51 CDT | 4 comments

Juno is on its second of two long orbits around Jupiter, reaching apojove (its farthest distance from the planet) today.

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Some beautiful new (old) views of Neptune and Triton

Posted by Emily Lakdawalla on 2016/09/20 02:40 CDT | 4 comments

Beautiful new amateur work with 27-year-old Voyager data.

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A deep dive into the highest-resolution Voyager Jupiter data

Posted by Björn Jónsson on 2016/09/14 08:00 CDT

A few weeks before the first Juno high resolution imaging, I decided to take a look at Voyager color images at various resolutions, with particular attention to high-resolution mosaics.

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