This Giant Ice Volcano on Pluto is All Wright

New Horizons image of "Wright Mons," a cryovolcano on Pluto (NASA/JHUAPL/SwRI)

New Horizons LORRI image of “Wright Mons,” a cryovolcano on Pluto (NASA/JHUAPL/SwRI)

This bumpy wrinkled pucker is actually an enormous ice volcano — i.e., a cryovolcano — on the surface of Pluto, imaged by the passing New Horizons spacecraft on July 14, 2015. Informally called Wright Mons, the feature is about 90 miles (150 km) across and 2.5 miles (4 km) high, about as high as some of the tallest Alps. The entire volcanic mountain spans an area half the width of the state of Massachusetts!

See the region in context on a global view of Pluto below:

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Planetkiller Presents New Evidence for “Planet X”

Is there a "dark Neptune" lurking at the extreme edge of the Solar System?

Is there a dark, massive “Planet Nine” lurking at the extreme edge of the Solar System?

A planet-killing astronomer is now attempting to introduce a new world into the Solar System.

Self-professed “Pluto killer” Mike Brown — the Caltech professor and astronomer whose discovery of Eris in 2005 prompted the reclassification of what constitutes a full-fledged planet, thus knocking Pluto from the list a year later — is now offering up evidence for the existence of a “real” ninth planet, far beyond the orbit of Pluto and possibly even traveling farther than the Kuiper Belt extends. This “Planet Nine,” say Brown and co-researcher Konstantin Batygin — also of Caltech — could be nearly the mass of Neptune, although it has not been directly observed by any Solar System surveys performed to date.

(And for those long-time Planet X fans who will assuredly cry “told you so,” this hypothesis is based on actual observations and not just wishful thinking or sci-fi dreams. There’s a difference.)

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Astronaut’s Green Thumb Grows the First* Flower in Space

"Space Flower," the first flower grown on orbit (NASA)

“Space Flower,” the first zinnia flower grown on orbit (NASA)

Say hello to the first* flower unfurled in space! This picture, shared on Jan. 16, 2016 by NASA astronaut Scott Kelly, shows a plant that has – thanks to some TLC from Kelly – managed to produce the first-ever zinnia blooms in low-Earth orbit and in fact the first flower grown outside of Earth’s biosphere. (Edit: read disclaimer below.)

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And the Award for Leading Trojan Moon Goes To…

Raw image of Telesto from Cassini's narrow-angle camera on Jan. 14, 2016. (NASA/JPL-Caltech/SSI)

Raw image of Telesto from Cassini’s narrow-angle camera on Jan. 14, 2016. (NASA/JPL-Caltech/SSI)

Drumroll please… the little moon Telesto! (You like it, you really like it!) This image, captured by Cassini on Jan. 14, 2016, shows Saturn’s moon Telesto – a “leading trojan” of the much larger satellite Tethys.

A trojan moon is one that orbits a parent body within the same path as a more massive satellite, positioned at the Lagrangian points L4 and L5… usually at 60º ahead and behind within the orbit relative to the overall center (which, in the case of Tethys, is Saturn.)

The irregularly-shaped, 15-mile (24-km) -wide Telesto rides around Saturn ahead of Tethys, making it the moon’s “leading” trojan. Its slightly larger sister Calypso follows behind Tethys as the trailing trojan. All three orbit the ringed planet at a distance of over 183,000 miles (294,000 km).

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It’s Officially 2016 and Officially Time for a New Calendar

These are the calendars you're looking for.

These are the calendars you’re looking for.

If you just looked at your calendar and realized you’re literally out of days (Happy New Year!) then it’s way past time to get yourself a new one. And if you love space, these are the ones you’ll want.

Produced by Starry Messenger Press in conjunction with The Planetary Society, the 2016 Year in Space calendar is (like its predecessors) a gorgeous 16″ x 22″ (40.5 cm x 56 cm) work of art filled with over 120 images of space exploration and hundreds upon hundreds of bits of information about everything space. Sure it tells you what date it is like any other calendar, but no other calendar I know gives you so much great information about cosmic objects, astronauts and scientists, worlds of our solar system, and daily space exploration history. If you love space then you owe it to yourself to get one of these on your wall NOW. (I just put mine up and instantly learned that Ceres was discovered on this day in 1801!)

And, because Lights in the Dark has your back (and its illustrious author is not only mentioned on the inside front cover but this year was also responsible for writing all of the 53 photo descriptions on the desk version) you can get a discount by mentioning that you saw it on the internet. Order details are below:
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A Craterful of Cracks

The northwest quadrant of a frost-filled crater on Mars. Original image ESP_042895_2495; credit: NASA/JPL/University of Arizona.

The northwest quadrant of a frost-filled crater on Mars. Original image ESP_042895_2495; credit: NASA/JPL/University of Arizona.

Here’s a view of a section of a crater on Mars filled with a lacework of bright spidery fractures, acquired on Sept. 20, 2015 with the HiRISE camera aboard NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter. The crater is approximately 3 miles (5 km) wide and located in Mars’ north polar region, and its old, infilled interior has undergone countless millennia of freeze/thaw cycles that have broken the surface into polygons of all sizes, outlined by frost-filled cracks.

The fractured segments get increasingly more compressed closer to the crater rim, which contains the outward freeze expansion.

According to the image description from the HiRISE team:
The crater rim constrains the polygon formation within the crater close to the rim, creating a spoke and ring pattern of cracks. This leads to more rectangular polygons than those near the center of the crater. The polygons close to the center of the crater display a more typical pattern. A closer look shows some of these central polygons, which have smaller polygons within them, and smaller polygons within those smaller polygons, which makes for a natural fractal! 

See a wider view of the imaged region here.

Source: HiRISE/University of Arizona

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