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Astronomers Find an Earth-Sized World with a Venus-sized Atmosphere

Artist’s concept of GJ 1132b. (Credit: Dana Berry)

Using ground-based telescopes, an international team of astronomers has identified an atmosphere around the exoplanet GJ 1132b. Orbiting a red dwarf star a mere 39 light-years away this world is only about half again as large and massive as Earth, making it the smallest exoplanet to be discovered thus far with an atmosphere.

Unfortunately that likely means that although GJ 1132b is Earth-sized it’s not Earth-like. In order to even be detected in the manner that it was the atmosphere must be extremely thick, making this exoplanet more similar to Venus than Earth.

“An atmosphere that we would think of as Earth-like would be completely invisible to these observations, and to all other currently existing telescopes,” said Tom Louden, a physicist at the University of Warwick in Coventry, England (who wasn’t involved in the study.)

Read the full article by George Dvorsky on Gizmodo here.

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Look Into The Dark Eye of Saturn’s Southern Storm

Saturn’s southern vortex, imaged by Cassini in July 2008.  South is facing up in this color image. (NASA/JPL-Caltech/SSI/Jason Major)

I know I said in my previous post that the Solar System is not a vortex (and it’s not) but that doesn’t mean there are no vortexes in the Solar System—in fact, thanks to the churning atmospheres of the gas giants, it’s full of them! And that’s no better demonstrated than at the poles of Saturn, where giant hurricane-like storms spin away year after year, powered by atmospheric convection and the rapid rotation of the planet.

I’ve often posted about the vortex at the north pole of Saturn—and yes it’s quite impressive—but there’s also a similar feature at Saturn’s south pole as well, albeit a bit more subtle and much less turbulent. The image above is a color view, made from raw data acquired in red, green, blue, and polarized light by NASA’s Cassini spacecraft on July 15, 2008. That was a just over a year before Saturn’s spring equinox and the planet’s south pole was moving into shadow, but still had enough illumination for Cassini to capture some images.

Check out a more direct view down into the vortex below:

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Clementine: Lost and Gone Forever, But Never Forgotten!

The far side of the Moon imaged by Clemetine's Star Tracker camera in 1994.

The far side of the Moon imaged by Clementine’s Star Tracker camera on April 1, 1994.

One of my all-time favorite space images is this little gem from the Clementine mission to the Moon, launched January 25, 1994. It features a view from beyond the far side of the Moon, illuminated by reflected light off the Earth off frame to the left. The Moon is blocking the disc of the Sun with the glow of the solar corona and an overexposed Venus shining brightly in front of a background of stars. It may have been taken on April 1 but this picture is no joke—it’s absolutely beautiful!

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Meteors May Make Your Hair Hiss

Meteors typically occur about 50 to 75 miles above the ground. This one was photographed from above by astronaut Ron Garan aboard the ISS in August 2011. (NASA image)

Meteors typically occur about 50 to 75 miles above the ground. This Perseid meteor was photographed from above by astronaut Ron Garan aboard the ISS in August 2011. (NASA image)

Have you ever gone outside on a cold, clear night to watch a meteor shower and witness a super-bright fireball racing across the sky so brilliantly that you could swear you could hear it? Turns out the sizzling noise might not have been all in your head after all…but rather on it. (And here’s science to prove it.)

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There’s a Cerulean Storm Swirling on Saturn’s North Pole

RGB color-composite of Saturn from raw images acquired on Feb. 13, 2017. (NASA/JPL-Caltech/SSI/Jason Major)

RGB color-composite of Saturn from raw images acquired on Feb. 13, 2017. (NASA/JPL-Caltech/SSI/Jason Major)

Like some giant beast’s great blue eye Saturn’s north polar vortex appears to glare up at Cassini’s wide-angle camera in this image, a color-composite made from raw images acquired in red, green, and blue visible light wavelengths on February 13, 2017.

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