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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.

On the masses and motions of mini-moons: Pandora's not a "shepherd," but Prometheus still is

Posted by Emily Lakdawalla on 2014/07/04 12:04 CDT | 4 comments

As Cassini celebrates 10 years at Saturn, we're beginning to see its long-term observations of Saturnian moons bear fruit. A surprising new result: While Prometheus exerts control over the F ring and Atlas, Pandora -- long thought to be a shepherd of the F ring -- does not.

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A close look at Saturn's closest moons

Posted by Emily Lakdawalla on 2014/06/26 08:13 CDT | 1 comment

A new composite image of the eight named moons that orbit closest to Saturn, and a list of all the best Cassini observations of these moons.

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Of Rings and Resolution

Posted by Bill Dunford on 2014/06/23 09:36 CDT | 3 comments

Seeing Saturn before and after Cassini.

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Another Day in the Solar System

Posted by Bill Dunford on 2014/05/12 09:56 CDT | 1 comment

One day, five worlds.

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New Horizons: Updates From the April 2014 Science Team Meeting

Posted by Simon Porter on 2014/05/07 06:36 CDT | 1 comment

New Horizons team member Simon Porter reports on the state of the mission and Pluto system science from the recent science team meeting at the Applied Physics Laboratory.

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Another Pale Blue Dot — Uranus Spied By Cassini

Posted by Val Klavans and Ian Regan on 2014/04/30 06:53 CDT | 1 comment

The Cassini mission has already returned an array of images of other solar system members from Saturn orbit: Earth (and the Moon), Venus, Mars, and Jupiter. It’s time to add another world to that list!

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Intro Astronomy Class 9: Titan, Uranus and Neptune Systems

Posted by Bruce Betts on 2014/04/11 02:31 CDT

Examine Saturn's moon Titan and explore the Uranian and Neptunian systems in this video of class 9 of Bruce Betts' Introduction to Planetary Science and Astronomy class.

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Intro Astronomy 2014. Class 8: Icy Galilean Satellites, Saturn System

Posted by Bruce Betts on 2014/04/11 02:28 CDT

Explore the icy moons of the Jupiter System and tour the Saturnian system in this video of class 8 of Bruce Betts' Introduction to Planetary Science and Astronomy class.

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LPSC 2014: Titan's Land of Lakes

Posted by Emily Lakdawalla on 2014/03/31 07:44 CDT | 2 comments

Report from a varied session on Titan's lakes at this year's Lunar and Planetary Science Conference.

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Snapshots of Science from the 2014 Lunar and Planetary Science Conference

Posted by Emily Lakdawalla on 2014/03/25 02:45 CDT | 2 comments

Vignettes from dozens of LPSC talks: GRAIL and LADEE at the Moon; ice and craters and conglomerates and organics and gullies on Mars; polar deposits and volatile elements on Mercury; tectonics on Enceladus; and more, until my brain was so full I could barely speak.

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