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Moon formed from pulverized Earth mantle

Scientists have long thought that the moon was formed when an impactor crashed into Earth, some 100 million years after the planet’s formation. But details of this collision, and how the moon formed in its aftermath, remain puzzling. Now, researchers have found new potassium isotopic evidence that suggests the moon condensed from a superheated cloud of Earth’s mantle material after an extremely violent collision vaporized the impactor and much of the proto-Earth.

23 Jan 2017

Mercury's recent tectonics revealed

Not so long ago, Mercury was the least-studied planet in the inner solar system, known only from Earth-based observations and from Mariner 10’s brief flyby in the 1970s. In 2011, the MESSENGER spacecraft began orbiting Mercury, imaging the planet’s crater- and fault-scarred surface before crashing into it, as planned, in 2015. As MESSENGER spiraled downward, it took a last series of high-resolution images, analyses of which are revealing new information about the planet’s surface geology, including evidence for recent tectonic activity.

05 Jan 2017

Cosmic suntan

An international team of astronomers recently measured the amount of light hitting Earth that comes from outside our galaxy across a broad range of wavelengths.

22 Dec 2016

Newly discovered Earth-like worlds are rocky, not gassy

In May, a new planetary system was discovered just 40 light-years from Earth, including three Earth-sized planets orbiting around their red dwarf sun in a temperature range that could potentially harbor life. Now, a follow-up study on the system has found that the two innermost planets are primarily rocky with compact atmospheres, as opposed to inhospitable gas giants, like Jupiter.

15 Nov 2016

Pluto may still have liquid ocean

Last year, images from NASA’s New Horizons flyby of Pluto revealed geologic activity that suggested a liquid ocean may have once lurked beneath the dwarf planet’s icy crust. But whether it still exists in that state, or had frozen, remained a question. According to a new study published in Geophysical Research Letters, it may still be partially liquid.

14 Nov 2016

Dust orbiting Jupiter is going the wrong way

Periodically, micrometeoroids strike one of the four Galilean moons of Jupiter — Io, Europa, Ganymede and Callisto — sending dust into space, some of which enters into orbit around the gas giant. Recently, researchers charting the dusts’ orbits spotted some peculiar patterns, including some particles orbiting Jupiter in a retrograde fashion, by circling, when viewed from above, clockwise rather than counterclockwise.

03 Nov 2016

Convection formed Pluto's polygons

Among Pluto’s peculiar surface features, many of which were first seen just last year when NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft zipped by the dwarf planet, are polygon-shaped rises covering parts of a large equatorial basin known as Sputnik Planum. The basin is known to be filled mainly with ices of nitrogen, methane and carbon monoxide, but the origin of the polygons has been debated. In a pair of new studies published in Nature, two teams of researchers now attribute the distinctive shapes to convection within underlying layers of frozen nitrogen.

24 Oct 2016

New type of meteorite found in Sweden

Meteorites offer a glimpse into the workings and origins of our solar system. Now, a meteorite found in a Swedish quarry, reported in a new study in Nature Communications, is opening a whole new window: The find has been classified as a new type of meteorite, never before seen on Earth.

18 Oct 2016

Milky Way invisible for a third of humanity

Death Valley National Park is a remote place, and in its night sky countless stars, including many in our own Milky Way Galaxy, are visible. But on the park’s eastern horizon, a dome of light appears each night, blotting out stars in that part of the sky. The glow of city lights from Las Vegas creates this “light pollution,” which worldwide now hides the Milky Way from about one-third of humanity, according to a new study in Science Advances.

12 Oct 2016

Rosetta mission ends with a bang: But the discoveries will continue

Rosetta crashed onto the surface of a comet on Sept. 30, bringing its mission to an end, though the scientific analysis and discoveries will continue for decades. We examine a few of the biggest surprises and highlights of Rosetta’s scientific journey so far.

30 Sep 2016