Planetary Science News

Engineers Developing ‘Hedgehog’ Robots That Hop and Tumble in Microgravity

September 4, 2015

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NASA Developed Hedgehog Robots Hop and Tumble in Microgravity

Engineers from NASA, MIT and Stanford are developing “hedgehog” robots that are specifically designed to overcome the challenges of traversing small bodies in microgravity by hopping and tumbling. Hopping, tumbling and flipping over are not typical maneuvers you would expect from a spacecraft exploring other worlds. Traditional Mars rovers, for example, roll around on wheels, […]

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Curiosity Rover Reveals Evidence of Ancient Top-of-Atmosphere Loss

September 3, 2015

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Scientists Examine What Happened to Early Mars' Atmosphere

What Happened to the Early Mars’ Atmosphere? A newly published study looks to answer this question and eliminate one possible theory. Scientists may be closer to solving the mystery of how Mars changed from a world with surface water billions of years ago to the arid Red Planet of today. A new analysis of the […]

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Cassini Reveals Incomplete Cooling Down of Saturn’s A Ring at Solar Equinox

September 3, 2015

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Astronomers Examine the Incomplete Cooling Down of Saturn’s A Ring

NASA’s Cassini Spacecraft reveals a higher-than-expected temperature in one section of Saturn’s rings, providing a unique window into the interior structure of ring particles not usually available to scientists. When the sun set on Saturn’s rings in August 2009, scientists on NASA’s Cassini mission were watching closely. It was the equinox — one of two […]

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Soyuz TMA-18M Successfully Launched, Heads to International Space Station

September 2, 2015

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Soyuz Heads to Space Station with New Crew

Soyuz TMA-18M successfully launched with its three crew members representing Russia, Denmark and Kazakhstan. They are headed to the International Space Station to provide a new ride home for the station’s one-year crew and continue important research that advances NASA’s journey to Mars. Sergey Volkov of Roscosmos, Andreas Mogensen of ESA (European Space Agency) and […]

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The Interior Chemistry of Distant Planet’s May Differ from Earth

September 1, 2015

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Exoplanet Chemistry May Differ from Earth

New research suggests that magnesium peroxide may be abundant in extremely oxidized mantles and cores of rocky planets outside our Solar System. Washington, DC — As astronomers continue finding new rocky planets around distant stars, high-pressure physicists are considering what the interiors of those planets might be like and how their chemistry could differ from […]

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Phytoplankton Are Extremely Sensitive to Changing Levels of Desert Dust

August 27, 2015

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New Research Shows Phytoplankton Are Extremely Sensitive to Changing Levels of Desert Dust

A newly published study shows that phytoplankton are extremely sensitive to changing levels of desert dust, revealing that the intensity of desert storms may affect the whole ocean ecosystem. Each spring, powerful dust storms in the deserts of Mongolia and northern China send thick clouds of particles into the atmosphere. Eastward winds sweep these particles […]

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NASA’s Dawn Spacecraft Delivers Sharper Images Ceres

August 25, 2015

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Dawn Zooms in on Ceres

New images from NASA’s Dawn Spacecraft reveal the small world’s features in unprecedented detail, including Ceres’ tall, conical mountain, crater formation features and narrow, braided fractures. “Dawn is performing flawlessly in this new orbit as it conducts its ambitious exploration. The spacecraft’s view is now three times as sharp as in its previous mapping orbit, […]

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Astronomers Study Textured Dust Storms on Mars

August 21, 2015

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Dust Storms on Mars

A new analysis of textured dust storms from the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics examines data over eight years of MGS observations and finds that such storms account for about half of all the dust in the Martian atmosphere. In the 1870’s astronomers first noted the presence of yellow clouds on the surface of Mars and […]

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NASA’s Cassini Spacecraft Views Dione for the Last Time

August 21, 2015

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Cassini Spacecraft Views Dione for the Last Time

NASA’s Cassini Spacecraft has captured new images of Saturn’s moon Dione during its last close approach to the small, icy world. Two of the new images show the surface of Dione at the best resolution ever. Cassini passed 295 miles (474 kilometers) above Dione’s surface at 11:33 a.m. PDT (2:33 p.m. EDT) on August 17. […]

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Gradual Accumulation Planetary Pebbles Formed Gas-Giant Planets

August 20, 2015

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Study Reveals Planetary Pebbles Were the Building Blocks for the Largest Planets

In a newly published study a team of astronomers reveals the mystery of how Jupiter and Saturn likely formed. This discovery, which changes our view of how all planets might have formed, is published in the August 20 issue of Nature. Ironically, the largest planets in the solar system likely formed first. Jupiter and Saturn, […]

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NASA’s Curiosity Rover Finishes ‘Marias Pass’ Studies, Headed to Mount Sharp

August 20, 2015

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NASA Mars Rover Moves Onward

The Curiosity Mars rover has finished activities in Marias Pass and is headed onward up Mount Sharp. NASA’s Curiosity Mars rover is driving toward the southwest after departing a region where for several weeks it investigated a geological contact zone and rocks that are unexpectedly high in silica and hydrogen content. The hydrogen indicates water […]

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NASA Spacecraft Confirms Existence of Neon in Lunar Atmosphere

August 17, 2015

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LADEE Spacecraft Reveals Neon in Lunar Atmosphere

NASA’s Lunar Atmosphere and Dust Environment Explorer (LADEE) spacecraft has confirmed the existence of neon in the lunar atmosphere. “The presence of neon in the exosphere of the moon has been a subject of speculation since the Apollo missions, but no credible detections were made,” said Mehdi Benna of NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in […]

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New Research Shows Pluto May Still Be Geologically Active

August 14, 2015

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Pluto May Still Be Geologically Active

New research hints that Pluto may still be geologically active, a theory that could explain how Pluto’s escaping atmosphere remains flush with nitrogen. The latest data from NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft reveal diverse features on Pluto’s surface and an atmosphere dominated by nitrogen gas. However, Pluto’s small mass allows hundreds of tons of atmospheric nitrogen […]

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Astronomers Discover Jupiter-Like Planet 51 Eridani b

August 14, 2015

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Jupiter-Like Exoplanet 51 Eridani b

Using the Gemini Planet Imager, astronomers have discovered a young Jupiter-like planet that is 100 light-years away. One of the best ways to learn how our solar system evolved is to look to younger star systems in the early stages of development. Now, a team of astronomers has discovered a Jupiter-like planet within a young […]

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Cassini Spacecraft Will Make Last Close Flyby of Dione in August

August 14, 2015

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Cassini to Make Last Close Flyby of Saturn Moon Dione

NASA’s Cassini Spacecraft will make its final close flyby of Saturn’s moon Dione on August 17. Cassini’s closest approach, within 295 miles (474 kilometers) of Dione’s surface, will occur at 11:33 a.m. PDT (2:33 p.m. EDT). Mission controllers expect fresh images to begin arriving on Earth within a couple of days following the encounter. Cassini […]

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New Analysis Provides More Accurate Estimates of Sources of Mercury Emissions

August 12, 2015

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Asia Produces Twice as Much Mercury Emissions as Previously Thought

A new analysis from MIT provides more accurate estimates of sources of mercury emissions from around the world, revealing that Asia produces twice as much mercury emissions as previously thought. Once mercury is emitted into the atmosphere from the smokestacks of power plants, the pollutant has a complicated trajectory; even after it settles onto land […]

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Ten Years and Counting, Mars Orbiter Still Going Strong

August 12, 2015

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Mars Orbiter Still Going Strong One Decade Later

It’s been ten years since the launch of NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter and its work is far from over. The Mars Orbiter has revealed the Red Planet’s diversity and activity, returning more data about Mars every week than all six other missions currently active there. The workhorse orbiter now plays a key role in NASA’s […]

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The Nearest Potentially Habitable Planet is Roughly Nine Light-Years Away

August 11, 2015

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Distance to the Nearest Potentially Habitable Planet

A new study from the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics has examined Kepler observations for exoplanet transits around lower mass M-dwarf stars, revealing that the nearest potentially habitable Earth-sized planet is likely to be about nine light-years away. The Kepler mission has so far spotted an astonishing 4696 possible exoplanets; about one third of them, 1030, […]

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