Planetary Science News

Data from NASA’s New Horizons Hints at Underground Ocean on Pluto

July 29, 2015

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Researchers Believe An Interior Ocean May Be Driving Geologic Activity on Pluto

Scientists believe that the ice flows and water ice mountains revealed by New Horizons help support the idea that an interior ocean may be driving geologic activity on Pluto. Pluto wears its heart on its sleeve, and that has scientists gleaning intriguing new facts about its geology and climate. Recent data from NASA’s New Horizons […]

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Mars Orbiter Preparing for Mars InSight Lander’s 2016 Arrival

July 28, 2015

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Mars Orbiter Preparing for Mars Lander Arrival

NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter is preparing for the arrival of NASA’s InSight Lander, which will occur on 2016. A planned 77-second firing of six intermediate-size thrusters on July 29 will adjust the orbit timing of the veteran spacecraft so it will be in position to receive radio transmissions from InSight as the newcomer descends through […]

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NASA’s Dawn Reveals Topography of Dwarf Planet Ceres

July 28, 2015

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NASA's Dawn Reveals Topography on the Surface of Dwarf Planet Ceres

New color-coded maps of dwarf planet Ceres reveal a diverse topography with height differences between crater bottoms and mountain peaks as great as 9 miles (15 kilometers). Scientists continue to analyze the latest data from Dawn as the spacecraft makes its way to its third mapping orbit. “The craters we find on Ceres, in terms […]

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NASA’s Cassini Views Saturn’s Moon Tethys

July 27, 2015

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New Cassini Image of Saturn's Moon Tethys

NASA has released a new image of Saturn’s moon Tethys. The image was taken at a distance of approximately 186,000 miles (300,000 kilometers) by NASA’s Cassini Spacecraft. With the expanded range of colors visible to Cassini’s cameras, differences in materials and their textures become apparent that are subtle or unseen in natural color views. Here, […]

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New Horizons Reveals Flowing Ices, Exotic Surface Chemistry, Mountains, and Haze on Pluto

July 25, 2015

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Flowing Ice Discovered by New Horizons on Pluto

NASA’s New Horizons continues to reveal secrets about Pluto, showing flowing ice and an extended haze around this icy world of wonders. “We knew that a mission to Pluto would bring some surprises, and now — 10 days after closest approach — we can say that our expectation has been more than surpassed,” said John […]

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Kepler-452b and the Search for Another Earth

July 24, 2015

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The Kepler Telescope and Astronomers Continue to Search for Another Earth

With the help of the Kepler Space Telescope, astronomers and scientists continue to search for another Earth-like planet. The discovery of a super-Earth-sized planet orbiting a sun-like star brings us closer than ever to finding a twin of our own watery world. But NASA’s Kepler space telescope has captured evidence of other potentially habitable planets […]

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NASA’s Curiosity Rover Discovers Bedrock with High Levels of Silica

July 24, 2015

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Curiosity Rover Discovers Unusual Bedrock on Mars

After almost three years on Mars, NASA’s Curiosity Mars Rover continues to amaze. This time Curiosity has discovered a target unlike anything it has studied before – bedrock with surprisingly high levels of silica. Silica is a rock-forming compound containing silicon and oxygen, commonly found on Earth as quartz. This area lies just downhill from […]

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New Horizons Image of Pluto in False Color

July 24, 2015

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New False Color Image of Pluto

This newly released image of Pluto was taken by the New Horizons Spacecraft at a distance of 450,000 kilometers. New Horizons scientists use enhanced color images to detect differences in the composition and texture of Pluto’s surface. When close-up images are combined with color data from the Ralph instrument, it paints a new and surprising […]

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Kepler Discovers Bigger, Older Cousin to Earth

July 23, 2015

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Kepler Discovers Bigger, Older Cousin to Earth

NASA’s Kepler Space Telescope has discovered a planet and star that closely resemble the Earth and our Sun. NASA’s Kepler mission has confirmed the first near-Earth-size planet in the “habitable zone” around a sun-like star. This discovery and the introduction of 11 other new small habitable zone candidate planets mark another milestone in the journey […]

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New Research Sheds Light on the Evolutionary Path That Enabled Life on Earth

July 23, 2015

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New Research Sheds Light on the Evolutionary Path That Enabled Life on Earth

A new study from the University of British Columbia reveals that the early loss of radioactive heat-producing elements such as uranium and potassium helped put our planet on the evolutionary path to sustain life. Compared to its celestial neighbors Venus and Mars, Earth is a pretty habitable place. So how did we get so lucky? […]

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“Windbots” – The Future Explorers of Planetary Skies?

July 23, 2015

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Windbots Could Someday Explore the Skies of Jupiter

Engineers are investigating the feasibility of creating a windbot, a new class of robotic probe designed to stay aloft in a planet’s atmosphere for a long time without wings or hot-air balloons, to someday explore planets like Jupiter. Among designers of robotic probes to explore the planets, there is certainly no shortage of clever ideas. […]

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New Horizons Spacecraft Discovers Second Mountain Range on Pluto

July 22, 2015

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New Horizons Reveals Second Mountain Range on Pluto

NASA’s New Horizons Spacecraft has discovered a second mountain range near the southwestern margin of Pluto’s Tombaugh Regio (Tombaugh Region), situated between bright, icy plains and dark, heavily-cratered terrain. This image was acquired by New Horizons’ Long Range Reconnaissance Imager (LORRI) on July 14, 2015 from a distance of 48,000 miles (77,000 kilometers) and sent […]

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Impact of Ocean Acidification on Phytoplankton Communities

July 20, 2015

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Study Reveals Ocean Acidification May Cause Dramatic Changes to Phytoplankton

A newly published study from MIT and colleagues shows that ocean acidification may cause dramatic changes to phytoplankton communities, recealing that many species may die out and others may migrate significantly as ocean acidification intensifies. Oceans have absorbed up to 30 percent of human-made carbon dioxide around the world, storing dissolved carbon for hundreds of […]

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Latest New Horizons Portrait of Pluto and Charon

July 20, 2015

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New Horizons Image of Pluto and Charon

An updated portrait of Pluto and Charon from NASA’s New Horizons Spacecraft. The latest two full-frame images of Pluto and Charon were collected separately by New Horizons during approach on July 13 and July 14, 2015. The relative reflectivity, size, separation, and orientations of Pluto and Charon are approximated in this composite image, and they […]

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Video of New Horizons’ Flyover of Pluto’s Icy Mountain and Plains

July 19, 2015

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Animated New Horizons Flyover of Pluto’s Icy Mountain and Plains

This short NASA video uses the latest images from the New Horizons Spacecraft to provide a simulated flyover of Pluto’s Norgay Mountains and Sputnik Plain. This simulated flyover of Pluto’s Norgay Montes (Norgay Mountains) and Sputnik Planum (Sputnik Plain) was created from New Horizons closest-approach images. Norgay Montes have been informally named for Tenzing Norgay, […]

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New Horizons Reveals a Dense Region of Atmospheric Ions Behind Pluto

July 18, 2015

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NASA's New Horizons Discovers Atmospheric Ions Behind Pluto

NASA’s New Horizons Spacecraft has discovered a region of cold, dense ionized gas tens of thousands of miles beyond Pluto – the planet’s atmosphere being stripped away by the solar wind and lost to space. Beginning an hour and half after closest approach, the Solar Wind Around Pluto (SWAP) instrument observed a cavity in the […]

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New Horizons Discovers Frozen Plains on Pluto

July 18, 2015

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New Horizons Discovers Frozen Plains in the Heart of Pluto

The latest data from NASA’s New Horizons Spacecraft shows a close-up image of a craterless plain on Pluto that appears to be no more than 100 million years old, and is possibly still being shaped by geologic processes. This frozen region is north of Pluto’s icy mountains, in the center-left of the heart feature, informally […]

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New Horizons Reveals Methane Ice on Pluto

July 17, 2015

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New Horizons Reveals Methane on Pluto

As data from New Horizons continues to come in, the latest spectra from the Ralph instrument reveals an abundance of methane ice with striking differences from place to place across the frozen surface of Pluto. “We just learned that in the north polar cap, methane ice is diluted in a thick, transparent slab of nitrogen […]

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