Blog Archives

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


High-Resolution Maps Indicate a Past Watery Environment in Mars’ “Grand Canyon”

HiRISE image of Candor Chasma, a region of Values Marineris recently mapped by the USGS and found to exhibit signs of past water. (NASA/JPL/University of Arizona )

If you’ve ever visited the Grand Canyon in the southwestern U.S. you know why it has the name it does—the vistas from the rim of this geological wonder are simply breathtaking, and it’s even more amazing to realize that it was all carved over the course of millions of years through the erosive action of the Colorado River. But there’s an even grander canyon system in our Solar System, and it’s not on Earth: it’s Mars’ Valles Marineris, which spans over 2,500 miles and is four times deeper than the Grand Canyon in Arizona—in fact, if Valles Marineris were on Earth it could stretch clear across the continental United States!

It’s thought that Mars’ canyon was created as the planet cooled, its crust contracting and splitting apart (as opposed to gradual excavation by a flowing river.) But there are sections of Valles Marineris that appear to have had a watery past, and new maps made by the USGS from data acquired by the HiRISE camera aboard NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter—which has been in orbit around Mars since March 2006—reveal regions that were once likely covered by liquid water.

“The major finding of this work is that the layers of rock exposed within what is called western Candor Chasma record a past environment where groundwater was abundant and occasionally seeped onto the ground surface, forming pools,” said USGS scientist Dr. Chris Okubo, lead author of the maps. “These pools would have been habitable for life, just as they are on Earth. Dust and sand blown into these pools may have buried and preserved evidence of past Martian life, which would be present as fossils within the rocks that we see today.”

Read the full story from the USGS here.

If You Were Wondering What Earth Looks Like From Saturn, Here You Go

Raw Cassini image showing Earth beyond the rings. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/SSI/Jason Major

That’s here; that’s home; that’s us. The image above shows what Earth looked like to NASA’s Cassini spacecraft on April 13, 2017 as it flew past Saturn’s night-shadowed A and F rings. At the time the raw images were captured Saturn and Cassini were about 889.6 million miles (1.43 billion kilometers) from Earth. From that distance our entire world—and everyone on it—is just another tiny light in the dark.

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Saturn’s Moon Atlas Is Even More Flying Saucery Than Pan

Animation made from images acquired by Cassini on April 12, 2017.

If you thought Pan resembled a UFO, Atlas is even more saucer-shaped! Slightly larger at about 19 miles across, Saturn’s moon Atlas was passed by NASA’s Cassini spacecraft on April 12, 2017, coming within about 9,000 miles. The images above are a collection of eight from Cassini’s closest approach. Like its smaller sibling Pan, Atlas has a flattened shape, created by the presence of a large buildup of icy material around its equator.

Atlas orbits Saturn just outside the edge of the A ring, taking about 14 hours to complete a full orbit.

Learn more about Atlas here.

UPDATE: Here’s a color image of Atlas made from raw images acquired by Cassini on April 12 in infrared, green, and UV wavelengths. I’ve adjusted it to bring out some surface detail and (hopefully) closer match actual visible light.

Atlas IR--G-UV 4-12-17

Color image of Atlas from April 12, 2017. Credit: NASA/JPL/Caltech/Space Science Institute/Jason Major.

Worried About Asteroid 2014 JO25? Don’t Be.

Concept image of a large asteroid passing by Earth and the Moon (NASA/Jason Major)

SPACE NEWS FLASH: On Wednesday, April 19, the asteroid 2014 JO25 will pass by Earth, coming as close as about 1.1 million miles at 12:24 UTC (8:24 a.m. EDT / 5:24 a.m. PDT). Yes, this asteroid is fairly large—just under half a mile across—and is traveling very fast—about 21 miles a second— BUT even so it poses no danger to Earth as 1.1 million miles is still over four and a half times the distance to the Moon…and it’s simply not going to get any closer than that.

It’s. Just. Not.

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