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planetary geology

Comet ISON still intrigues and inspires, even after its demise

Comet ISON is dead, but its memory will live on." That eulogy for the much-discussed “comet of the century" was delivered today by Karl Battams of the Naval Research Laboratory in Washington, D.C., during a series of reports presented at the annual meeting of the American Geophysical Union (AGU) in San Francisco, Calif.

11 Dec 2013

Juno salutes its home planet and heads to Jupiter

Thanks to orbital mechanics, a spacecraft heading to Jupiter must go most of the way there, then loop around the sun, zoom back close to Earth, and finally head out again on its mission to the largest planet in the solar system. That's the story of Juno, launched by NASA on Aug. 5, 2011, and due to arrive at Jupiter on July 4, 2016. Its journey required a boost in velocity, relative to the sun, which it received when it flew as close as 559  kilometers above Earth on Oct. 9, 2013.

11 Dec 2013

Curiosity finds an ancient habitable environment in Mars' Gale Crater

San Francisco - Yellowknife Bay is named for Yellowknife, the capital of Canada’s Northwest Territories, but is nowhere near that subarctic city. It is not even on Earth, but is the focus of intense interest among scores of Earthbound geologists, biologists and astronomers. Yellowknife Bay is a geologic formation on Mars in the 154-kilometer-wide Gale Crater. The Curiosity rover, also known as the Mars Science Laboratory (MSL), has been exploring that crater for more than a year.

09 Dec 2013

In or Out? Has Voyager left the solar system?

San Francisco - There is a possibility that Voyager, the U.S. spacecraft launched in 1977, which is thought to have left the heliosphere and entered interstellar space last year, could still be "inside," said Ed Stone, Voyager project chief scientist, today at the annual meeting of the American Geophysical Union in San Francisco.

09 Dec 2013

MAVEN takes off for Mars to study the planet's atmosphere

NASA’s latest Mars mission, the Mars Atmosphere and Volatile Evolution (MAVEN) orbiter, successfully blasted off toward the Red Planet today to study how its evolving atmosphere contributed to climate change on Earth's neighbor.

18 Nov 2013

Hot Earth orbits closest star system

A hot Earth-sized planet circles Alpha Centauri, the sun's nearest stellar neighbor, a team of astronomers led by Xavier Dumusque of the University of Geneva reports this week in Nature. They detected the tiny gravitational tug this world exerts on its star.

16 Oct 2012

Sun provides water to the moon?

Until recently, the consensus in the scientific community was that the moon was bone-dry. Scientists thought that the massive impact responsible for the moon’s creation would have driven away the hydrogen needed to form water. In the past four years, however, that view has melted away. The first suggestion of water was in 2008, when researchers identified the presence of water in volcanic lunar glass. In 2009, satellites orbiting high above the moon identified water on its surface.

14 Oct 2012

Five outstanding questions in earth science

Even 15 years after the release of “Good Will Hunting,” there remains something appealing about watching the title character, a mathematically inclined janitor at MIT, scribble the solution to an unsolved mathematics problem on a hallway blackboard. In reality, there are a number of unsolved problems in mathematics, seven of which were designated in 2000 by the Clay Mathematics Institute as “Millennium Prize Problems,” each with a purse of $1,000,000. To date, only one has been solved.

27 Jun 2012

Of molten iron and magnetism

Since 1999, the German satellite CHAMP (CHAllenging Mini-satellite Payload) has swirled around Earth, keeping watch as the planet’s magnetic field waxes and wanes over time. CHAMP’s continuous measurements of Earth’s field have created a finely detailed picture of how the field changes both in space and in time — and by extension, how the movement of the molten iron in Earth’s outer core ebbs and flows. And thanks to these data, researchers report, they can now track even small-scale, rapid fluctuations in the field’s strength around the planet.

28 Aug 2008

Hubble's pics of Pluto: Dark orange and charcoal-black

Blogging on EARTH

Today NASA released new Hubble images of dwarf planet Pluto — and far from being just an icy colorless rock, the images show a mottled, dynamic, orangey-black world that changes color with the seasons (on Pluto, the change of seasons lasts 248 Earth years — and although on Earth the seasons change due to the axial tilt of the planet, Pluto's eccentric, non-circular orbit plays a big role in its seasonal variations).

04 Feb 2010