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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.

Timeline of Juno Jupiter Orbit Insertion events

Posted by Emily Lakdawalla on 2016/06/16 02:55 CDT

Today NASA held a press briefing and released a press kit for the impending orbit insertion of the Juno spacecraft. The 35-minute orbit insertion burn is scheduled to begin July 5 at 03:18 UTC (July 4 20:18, PDT). Here's a timeline for events relating to orbit insertion.

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What to expect from JunoCam at Jupiter

Posted by Emily Lakdawalla on 2016/06/09 09:37 CDT | 15 comments

Juno will go in to orbit at Jupiter on July 5 (July 4 in North and South American time zones), and it's carrying a camera that's going to take really awesome photos of Jupiter. But you're going to have to be patient. Emily Lakdawalla explains why.

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Whither the Weather? A Jet Stream Explainer

Posted by Anna Scott on 2016/06/07 11:01 CDT | 4 comments

Jet streams are found in planetary atmospheres throughout our solar system. But what exactly are they?

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Three bright planets: Portraits from the Pyrenees

Posted by Emily Lakdawalla on 2016/05/26 02:40 CDT | 1 comment

It's a great time to go outdoors and look at planets. I have three glorious planetary portraits to share today, sent to me by amateur astronomer Jean-Luc Dauvergne.

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New work with 35-year-old data: Voyagers at Ganymede and Saturn

Posted by Emily Lakdawalla on 2016/05/25 04:44 CDT | 8 comments

The Voyager data set is a gift to Earth that keeps on giving. This week, I've seen three great new images processed from this old data set.

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The what-o-sphere? An explainer

Posted by Anna Scott on 2016/05/05 08:04 CDT | 3 comments

Why do we need to slice up atmospheres into classifications like the troposphere, stratosphere, mesosphere, and thermosphere?

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Atmospheric Waves Awareness: An Explainer

Posted by Anna Scott on 2016/04/20 10:30 CDT | 4 comments

There are two types of atmospheric waves that are critically important on Earth and other planets: gravity waves and planetary waves.

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Fog Detection from the Surface of Titan: New Findings From Old Data

Posted by Brittney Cooper and Christina Smith and John Moores on 2016/04/07 08:02 CDT | 4 comments

Huygens may have landed on Titan over a decade ago, but a group of researchers from York University were able to make a new and unexpected discovery with this older dataset.

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LPSC 2016: Icy Satellite Science

Posted by Jessica Noviello on 2016/04/05 08:01 CDT

This year’s Lunar and Planetary Science Conference devoted two oral presentation sessions to questions related to icy satellites in our solar system. Jessica Noviello reports back from the conference.

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Clouds and haze and dust, oh my!

Posted by Sarah Hörst on 2016/03/24 11:16 CDT | 3 comments

What types of aerosols do we find in the atmospheres around the Solar System, and why does what we call them—clouds vs. haze vs. dust—matter? Sarah Hörst explains.

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