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Cassini's legacy after two decades at Saturn

Scientists on Earth have received the last submission from the Cassini spacecraft. It descended into Saturn’s atmosphere at 122,500 kilometers per hour, which caused it to melt, thereby ensuring that Saturn’s moons Titan and Enceladus would remain protected from possible contamination by any errant Earth microbes. Cassini scientists had considered other options for the spacecraft’s end, including leaving it to float endlessly in space or parking it in orbit around Saturn. But ultimately, they chose to have it descend into Saturn’s atmosphere after deciding the data that could be returned from the descent were more valuable than any further data it might obtain by remaining in space. Scientists will make discoveries from these data for decades to come.

15 Sep 2017

Mars class of 2020: A diverse group of missions takes aim at the Red Planet

As many as six missions to Mars might launch in summer 2020, representing a growing and increasingly diverse interest in interplanetary space exploration.
15 Sep 2017

A great time to land on Mars

The 2020 window represents an especially good opportunity for missions looking to reach the Martian surface because of favorable environmental conditions on the planet early in 2021 when the spacecraft will arrive. The elliptical shape of Mars’ orbit means that the planet is, at times, much closer to or farther from the sun, so the amount of sunlight hitting the planet varies dramatically through the Martian year. Meanwhile, the tilt of Mars’ axis, as on Earth, leads to a progression of seasons as the orientations of the northern and southern hemispheres with respect to the sun change regularly and oppositely. The combination of Mars’ orbit and tilt drives an annual cycle of swings in atmospheric pressure of up to about 25 percent as carbon dioxide freezes out of, or sublimes into, the atmosphere.

15 Sep 2017

Making oxygen with MOXIE

The MOXIE (Mars OXygen In-situ resource utilization Experiment) instrument on NASA’s 2020 rover is designed to demonstrate technology that can generate oxygen from carbon dioxide in the Martian atmosphere. Scaled-up versions of the technology could one day be used to produce the large amounts of fuel needed to boost rockets back off the planet’s surface, as well as to create breathing oxygen for human settlements.

 
15 Sep 2017

Travels in Geology: Sky-high adventure on Bolivia's Altiplano

Nestled between two ranges of the rugged Andes Mountains, the Altiplano is a vast, windswept plateau that stretches from southern Peru to northern Argentina, offering stunning, vividly colored vistas — from the snow-white crystals of the world’s largest salt flats and flocks of pink flamingos in a brick-red lake to the startlingly azure waters of Lake Titicaca.
13 Sep 2017

Getting there and getting around Bolivia's Antiplano

Bolivia’s main gateway, El Alto International Airport (LPB), is located 13 kilometers southwest of the country’s capital, La Paz. It hosts regular, year-round flights to and from major destinations in South America, including Lima and Cuzco, Peru, Santiago, Chile, and Buenos Aires, Argentina, as well as connecting flights to Miami on American Airlines and Los Angeles, Washington, D.C. (Dulles) and Orlando, Fla., on Avianca. Several regional airlines, including Boliviana de Aviación (BoA) and Amaszonas, offer multiple flights daily from La Paz to Uyuni. The hour-long flight typically costs about $150 one way. We found the South American carriers to be extremely efficient; it’s important to arrive at the airport two hours in advance because the flights often depart early!

13 Sep 2017

When schools shake: Keeping students and teachers safe during earthquakes

After seismic events strike schools, ensuring that people are safe and education is minimally disrupted are simple goals with complex solutions. Researchers and stakeholders are working together to navigate the maze of financial, social and technical challenges involved.
04 Sep 2017

A mammoth king: Was the legend of King Hygelac in "Beowulf" inspired by a fossil find?

Some literary and scientific sleuthing suggests that the eighth-century discovery and misidentification of fossil mammoth bones on the Rhine-Meuse River Delta could have led to the monsters and characters of “Beowulf.”
20 Aug 2017

Travels in Geology: Austria's Salzkammergut: World heritage preserved in salt

Explore stunning mountain peaks, sparkling lakes, quintessential alpine villages and the world’s oldest salt mines, along with Mozart’s hometown, in Austria’s salt district.
11 Aug 2017

Getting there and getting around Austria's Salzkammergut

Salzburg boasts Austria’s second-busiest airport, with nonstop flights to cities throughout Europe and connecting flights to a number of North American gateways. Munich, Germany, just 145 kilometers and 1.5 hours away on the A8 autobahn, has direct flights from North America. Picking up a rental car is easy at either airport. Austria’s official language is German, but many Austrians are fluent in English. Road signs are in German but are easily followed by English speakers.

11 Aug 2017

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