Planetary Science News

Astronomers Probe Mystery of Pluto’s Icy Heart

December 1, 2016

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Researchers Probe Mystery of Pluto’s Icy Heart

New research looks to solve the many mysteries of Pluto’s icy heart-shaped feature. Was Pluto’s frozen heart formed in an ancient impact basin and was it once closer to the north pole? And does the icy heart conceal a subsurface ocean? Scientists are offering several new scenarios to explain the formation of Pluto’s frozen heart-shaped […]

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New Cassini Image Shows a Tiny Mimas, Huge Saturn Rings

November 28, 2016

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Cassini Sees Tiny Mimas Huge Rings

In this new image from the Cassini Spacecraft, Saturn’s icy moon Mimas is dwarfed by the planet’s enormous rings. Because Mimas (near lower left) appears tiny by comparison, it might seem that the rings would be far more massive, but this is not the case. Scientists think the rings are no more than a few […]

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New Image of Ceres from NASA’s Dawn Spacecraft

November 18, 2016

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New View of Ceres from Dawn Spacecraft

NASA’s Dawn Spacecraft views the shadowy, cratered terrain of Ceres in a dramatic new view of the dwarf planet. Dawn snapped this image on October 16, from its fifth science orbit, in which the angle of the sun was different from that in previous orbits. Dawn was about 920 miles (1,480 kilometers) above Ceres when […]

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New Horizons Reveals an Ocean Beneath Pluto’s Heart-Shaped Basin

November 18, 2016

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Slushy Ocean Beneath Pluto’s Surface

New data from NASA’s New Horizons Mission reveals evidence of any icy, slushy ocean beneath Pluto’s heart-shaped basin. Beneath Pluto’s “heart” lies a cold, slushy ocean of water ice, according to data from NASA’s New Horizons mission. In a paper published today in the journal Nature, the New Horizons team, including researchers from MIT, reports […]

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NASA’s SOFIA Set To Study New Frontiers in the Solar System and Beyond

November 16, 2016

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SOFIA Observatory Expanding New Frontiers in the Solar System and Beyond

NASA’s SOFIA flying Observatory set to study planets, comets and asteroids orbiting other stars and supermassive black holes. NASA’s Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy, SOFIA, will soon be studying Neptune’s giant moon, Triton, and following-up on Hubble’s recent sighting of water plumes on Jupiter’s moon Europa. According to recently completed plans for the 2017 observing […]

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‘Great Valley’ Provides More Evidence That Mercury is Shrinking

November 16, 2016

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Astronomers Reveal Great Valley on Mercury

A newly discovered “great valley” in the southern hemisphere of Mercury provides more evidence that the small planet closest to the sun is shrinking. Scientists used stereo images from NASA’s MESSENGER spacecraft to create a high-resolution topo map that revealed the broad valley — more than 620 miles (1,000 kilometers) long — extending into the […]

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Cassini Spacecraft Views Saturn’s ‘Watercolor’ Swirl

November 14, 2016

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Cassini Views Saturn's 'Watercolor' Swirls

In this newly released image from the Cassini Spacecraft you can see Saturn’s north polar region, which somewhat resemble the brushwork in a watercolor painting. Each latitudinal band represents air flowing at different speeds, and clouds at different heights, compared to neighboring bands. Where they meet and flow past each other, the bands’ interactions produce […]

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Get Ready for the November Supermoon

November 11, 2016

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November Supermoon

Don’t miss the upcoming supermoon on Monday, November 14. It will be the closest full moon to Earth since 1948 and we won’t see another supermoon like this until 2034. The moon’s orbit around Earth is slightly elliptical so sometimes it is closer and sometimes it’s farther away. When the moon is full as it […]

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ESO Views Protoplanetary Discs Being Shaped by Newborn Planets

November 9, 2016

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ESO’s SPHERE Instrument Reveals Protoplanetary Discs Being Shaped by Newborn Planets

Using data from the SPHERE instrument mounted on ESO’s Very Large Telescope, astronomers reveal protoplanetary discs being shaped by newborn planets. Sharp new observations have revealed striking features in planet-forming discs around young stars. The SPHERE instrument, mounted on ESO’s Very Large Telescope, has made it possible to observe the complex dynamics of young solar […]

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Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter Views Wind Carved Rock on Mars

November 9, 2016

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New Image of Wind Carved Rock on Mars

This newly released NASA image shows wind carved rock on the surface of Mars. The distinctively fluted surface and elongated hills in this image in Medusae Fossae on Mars are caused by wind erosion of a soft fine-grained rock. Called yardangs, these features are aligned with the prevailing wind direction. This wind direction would have […]

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NASA’s Cassini Spacecraft Measures a Day on Saturn

November 7, 2016

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Cassini Begins Epic Final Year at Saturn

Measuring the exact length of a Saturn day is turning out to be a bigger challenge than originally thought. Over more than a decade in Saturn orbit, Cassini’s instruments have wrestled with confusing measurements to determine the planet’s precise rotation rate. The mission’s final year and unprecedented trajectory will carry Cassini to unexplored regions so […]

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NASA’s Cassini Spacecraft Captures a New View of Saturn

October 31, 2016

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New Cassini View from Above Saturn

NASA’s Cassini Spacecraft views Saturn from above. Saturn appears as a serene globe amid tranquil rings in this view from NASA’s Cassini spacecraft. In reality, the planet’s atmosphere is an ever-changing scene of high-speed winds and evolving weather patterns, punctuated by occasional large storms. The rings, consist of countless icy particles, which are continually colliding. […]

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NASA Shows Arctic Sea Ice Is Losing Its Bulwark Against Warming Summers

October 31, 2016

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How Arctic Sea Ice Is Losing Its Bulwark Against Warming Summers

New research shows that the Arctic sea ice has been hit with a double whammy over the past decades: as its extent shrunk, the oldest and thickest ice has either thinned or melted away, leaving the sea ice cap more vulnerable to the warming ocean and atmosphere. “What we’ve seen over the years is that […]

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NASA GRAIL Mission Provides Insights into Moon Impacts

October 28, 2016

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New Research on Lunar Impacts

Astronomers are using data from NASA’s Gravity Recovery and Interior Laboratory mission to provide new insights into the huge impacts that dominated the early history of Earth’s moon and other solid worlds, like Earth, Mars, and the satellites of the outer solar system. In two papers, published this week in the journal Science, researchers examine […]

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10 Years of Revolutionary Solar Views from NASA’s STEREO Mission

October 25, 2016

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STEREO 10 Years of Revolutionary Solar Views

Ten years ago the twin STEREO spacecraft joined a fleet of NASA spacecraft monitoring the sun and its influence on Earth and space – and they provided a new and unique perspective. Launched 10 years ago, on October 25, 2006, the twin spacecraft of NASA’s STEREO mission – short for Solar and Terrestrial Relations Observatory […]

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Cassini Views Saturn’s Dynamic Atmosphere

October 24, 2016

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Astronomers Study Saturn's Fluid Dynamics

Astronomers are using Saturn’s clouds to study fluid dynamics, which seeks to understand the motion of gases and liquids. Saturn’s lack of a solid planetary surface (as on Earth, Mars or Venus) means that its atmosphere is free to flow around the planet essentially without obstruction. This is one factor that generates Saturn’s pattern of […]

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Astronomers Reveal That Uranus May Have Two Undiscovered Moons

October 21, 2016

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New Study Suggests Uranus May Have Two Undiscovered Moons

New research suggests that there could be two previously undiscovered moonlets orbiting near Uranus’ rings. Rob Chancia, a University of Idaho doctoral student, spotted key patterns in the rings while examining decades-old images of Uranus’ icy rings taken by Voyager 2 in 1986. He noticed the amount of ring material on the edge of the […]

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Kepler Helps Show What Conditions Might Look Like on Various Hot Jupiters

October 19, 2016

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Kepler Reveals Cloudy Nights and Sunny Days on Distant Hot Jupiters

Data from NASA’s Kepler Space Telescope and computer modeling show an approximation of what various hot Jupiters might look like. The weather forecast for faraway, blistering planets called “hot Jupiters” might go something like this: Cloudy nights and sunny days, with a high of 2,400 degrees Fahrenheit (about 1,300 degrees Celsius, or 1,600 Kelvin). These […]

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