Blog Archives

Why Are Pluto’s Moons So Weird?

A view of partially-lit Nix, captured from 14,000 miles by New Horizons on July 14, 2015. (NASA/JHUAPL/SwRI)

A view of partially-lit Nix, captured from 14,000 miles by New Horizons on July 14, 2015. (NASA/JHUAPL/SwRI)

Whether you want to call it a planet, dwarf planet, Kuiper Belt Object, or some or none of the above, there’s no denying that Pluto and its family of moons are true curiosities in the Solar System. Not only does little Pluto have one moon — Charon — that’s so massive in comparison that they both actually orbit each other around a central point outside the radius of either (if you feel like adding “binary” to whatever term you prefer to use, go right ahead) but it also has four other smaller moons in orbit that kinda sorta break the rules of how moons are “supposed to” behave.

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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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Cassini Has Made Its Last Pass by Enceladus. Here Are the Pictures.

The limb of Enceladus imaged by Cassini from a distance of 15,000 miles (24,000 kilometers) on Dec. 19, 2015. (NASA/JPL/SSI)

The limb of Enceladus imaged by Cassini from a distance of 15,000 miles (24,000 kilometers) on Dec. 19, 2015. (NASA/JPL/SSI)

After nearly eleven and a half years in orbit around Saturn the Cassini spacecraft has made its last-ever targeted flyby of Enceladus, the 320-mile-wide moon of Saturn that has intrigued scientists and the public alike with its active water ice geysers for more than a decade since their discovery. On Saturday Dec. 19, 2015, Cassini performed its E-22 flyby of Enceladus, coming within 3,106 miles (5,000 km) of the moon’s fractured and frozen surface as it sped by at over 21,000 mph. It captured some incredible images along the way, including the one above showing a crescent-lit Enceladus from its night side silhouetted against the hazy upper atmosphere of Saturn, 150,000 miles beyond.

Take a look through some more raw images from the E-22 flyby below.

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Mission Update: SUCCESS! Akatsuki Is In Orbit Around Venus!

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Illustration of Akatsuki in Venus orbit. (Credit: Go Miyazaki)

After some tense moments tonight at JAXA HQ, it has been determined that the spacecraft Akatsuki has performed the necessary thruster burn to establish orbit around Venus! Congratulations Akatsuki and JAXA!

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Pluto Is the New Science Star of the Solar System

This "psychedelic" picture of Pluto accentuates the subtlest color differences across its surface. (Credit: NASA/JHUAPL/SwRI)

This “psychedelic” picture of Pluto accentuates the subtlest color differences across its surface. (Credit: NASA/JHUAPL/SwRI)

Now over four months after the historic and long-awaited flyby of Pluto by New Horizons, planetary scientists have had a steady stream of unprecedented data arriving on Earth from the outwardly-speeding spacecraft. We’ve learned more about Pluto in the past few months than we had over the decades before and the information is still being analyzed — and is still coming. This surprising little world and its strange family of mismatched moons, 33 times farther from the Sun than us, has become in the latter half of 2015 the scientific “star of the Solar System.” (Take that all you can’t-be-a-planet folks!)

“It’s hard to imagine how rapidly our view of Pluto and its moons are evolving as new data stream in each week. As the discoveries pour in from those data, Pluto is becoming a star of the Solar System. Moreover, I’d wager that for most planetary scientists, any one or two of our latest major findings on one world would be considered astounding. To have them all is simply incredible.”
– Dr. Alan Stern, New Horizons Principal Investigator, SwRI

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Pics Are In from Cassini’s Flyby Through Enceladus’ Plumes!

The southern hemisphere of Enceladus imaged by Cassini upon approach on Oct. 28, 2015.

The southern hemisphere of Enceladus imaged by Cassini upon approach on Oct. 28, 2015.

On Wed. Oct. 28 Cassini performed its lowest-altitude dive yet through the icy plumes of Enceladus, coming just 30 miles from the moon’s surface — that’s only about 6 times higher than a commercial airliner at cruising altitude. But, traveling over 19,000 mph relative to Enceladus (which is 38 times faster than a jet plane!) the pass was over in just a few seconds. Still, Cassini managed to capture some images before, during, and after closest approach — and they’ve arrived on Earth today.

Here are some of the raw images from the E-21 flyby. These have not been validated or made into official releases by NASA or the Cassini imaging team yet, but they are a nice teaser of what we might expect once they are. (And, of course, the science performed during the flyby has yet to be revealed.) So pics only for now!

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