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There’s a New Moon in the Solar System

Hubble WFC3 observations of 2007 OR10 in the Kuiper Belt in Nov. 2009 and Sept. 2010 reveal a small moon. Credits: NASA, ESA, C. Kiss (Konkoly Observatory), and J. Stansberry (STScI).

Ok, technically it’s not a new moon as it’s probably several billion years old but we didn’t know about it before, so it’s new to us! A team of researchers has just announced the discovery of a 150- to 250-mile-wide moon orbiting a dwarf planet in the Kuiper Belt named 2007 OR10. This distant, icy world is only 950 miles wide itself but it’s still the third largest dwarf planet, ranking behind Pluto and Eris in size.

The existence of the moon was first hinted at in observations by NASA’s Kepler telescope, which showed 2007 OR10 to be rotating suspiciously slowly for a KBO—45 hours as compared to a more typical under 24. After reviewing earlier Hubble observations of the object a moon was positively identified.

This discovery not only adds a new member to the Solar System’s family tree but also helps better understand the formation of KBOs.

“The discovery of satellites around all of the known large dwarf planets—except for Sedna—means that at the time these bodies formed billions of years ago, collisions must have been more frequent, and that’s a constraint on the formation models,” said Csaba Kiss of the Konkoly Observatory in Budapest, Hungary, lead author of the research. “If there were frequent collisions, then it was quite easy to form these satellites.”

Read the full article from NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center here: Hubble Spots Moon Around Third Largest Dwarf Planet


Cassini Survived Its Historic First Pass Between Saturn and Rings; First Pics In!

An image of Saturn’s north polar vortex captured by Cassini on April 26, 2017. (NASA/JPL-Caltech/SSI)

Cassini made it! On April 26, 2017, NASA’s Saturn-exploring spacecraft made its closest pass by the planet since its arrival in 2004, beginning the final phase of its mission with its first “Grand Finale” orbital pass that took it between the top of the planet’s atmosphere and the innermost edge of the ring system. It’s literally a journey that no other spacecraft has ever made—and now the pictures are coming in!

It’s also the closest Cassini has come to Saturn itself; at closest point Cassini was only about 1,900 miles (3,000 km) above the tops of Saturn’s swirling clouds. It’s amazing to think that the images we’re seeing were captured with Cassini’s wide angle camera—typically views like this have had to use its “zoom” narrow-angle camera!

Check out an animation below of some of Cassini’s views captured during the pass over Saturn’s north pole.

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Uranus Lights Up for Hubble

HST images of Uranus’ aurorae and rings combined with Voyager 2 images of the planet itself. (NASA)

Those white areas aren’t clouds; they’re aurorae—”northern lights”—around the poles of Uranus, captured by the Hubble Space Telescope in 2012 and 2014. (The image of Uranus itself was acquired by the Voyager 2 spacecraft in January 1986.)

“The auroras on Jupiter and Saturn are well-studied, but not much is known about the auroras of the giant ice planet Uranus. In 2011, the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope became the first Earth-based telescope to snap an image of the auroras on Uranus. In 2012 and 2014 a team led by an astronomer from Paris Observatory took a second look at the auroras using the ultraviolet capabilities of the Space Telescope Imaging Spectrograph (STIS) installed on Hubble.”

Aurorae on Uranus are driven by the same process that creates them around Earth’s polar regions: charged particles from the Sun get caught in the planet’s magnetic field and are focused toward the poles, where they make ions in the upper atmosphere release energy—in these observations in ultraviolet wavelengths. Also, since Uranus orbits the Sun “tilted sideways” its polar regions are near the plane of its orbit.

Read the rest of this article from NASA here: Hubble Spots Auroras on Uranus

These Are Our Best Pictures of Mars’ Smallest Moon

Mars’ smallest moon Deimos imaged by HiRISE on Feb. 21, 2009. (NASA/JPL/University of Arizona)

Mars isn’t a planet well-known for its natural satellites but it actually does have two small moons. The larger, Phobos, is an irregularly-shaped, heavily grooved and cratered world only about 17 miles (27 km) across at its widest. It orbits Mars so closely that it completes 3 orbits every day, and isn’t even visible from some parts of the planet. But Phobos has an even smaller companion in orbit: Deimos, which at the most 7.5 miles across is half Phobos’ size. Deimos orbits Mars much further away as well, taking about 30 hours to complete one orbit.

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What Is Space?

Two of my favorite comic characters contemplating the vastness of the Universe. Forever thanks to Mr. Watterson.

This is a blog post I wrote in March of 2008—a year before there was even Lights in the Dark! I’m sharing it again because it’s fun…I hope you think so too.

We’ve all seen the grade-school models of the solar system. Maybe you made one in science class. Out of painted styrofoam balls or colored construction paper. Maybe you saw one of those giant models hanging from the ceiling of your local science museum. Big colorful globes, some with rings around them, some painted swirly colors, others looking more like pitted rocks. For most people, that’s their impression of the solar system. Yellow sun in the middle, then all the different colored balls swooping around it. Some people even remember all the names from third-grade science class. Maybe even in order. (My Very Eager Mother Just Served Us Nine Pies?) If so, scratch-n-sniff stickers all around. Yum, root beer!

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