Taxonomy term

solar system

The only Earth: Exploring the link between plate tectonics and life on the blue planet

Earth is the only planet known to have plate tectonics and life. Could that be a coincidence? Most geoscientists don't think so. In fact, it seems that plate tectonics is fundamental to life itself.

18 Jun 2017

Ceres' homemade organic materials

Researchers analyzing data from NASA’s Dawn spacecraft have found signs of organic compounds that arose on the surface of Ceres, a dwarf planet one-fourth the diameter of our moon in the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter. The compounds’ origins may provide clues about how life on Earth got started.

09 Jun 2017

Down to Earth With: Planetary geologist James W. Head III

In the late 1960s, as James W. Head III was finishing his graduate degree in geology at Brown University in Providence, R.I., he decided one day to take a look at a college placement annual, a phone book-like publication that listed prospective employers according to the types of jobs they had available. When Head looked up geology in the index, he saw several consecutive pages of related listings, as well as one separate page number. Curious about the outlier, Head flipped to it — and never looked back. Covering that entire page was a photo of the moon, a D.C.-area phone number, and a single line of text: “Our job is to think our way to the moon and back.”

29 Mar 2017

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

Jupiter's shrinking Great Red Spot

Like a kid sitting for her annual school portrait, Jupiter lines up with the Hubble Space Telescope for a series of photographs once a year. The images capture a broad range of features, including winds, clouds, storms and atmospheric patterns, and are used to create yearly maps of the gas giant to study how it changes over time.
05 Feb 2016

A pair of moons with underground oceans

Jupiter and Saturn are both gas giants boasting multiple moons. Now, two separate studies have identified another similarity: Each appears to have a moon with hidden underground oceans.
02 Aug 2015

Two new looks at Titan's dunes

Saturn’s largest moon, Titan, is covered with extensive fields of sand dunes around its equator. From a distance, the wind-swept landscape looks similar to those seen on Earth, Mars and Venus, but new research suggests that dune formation on Titan may require different conditions than previously thought.

31 Mar 2015

A journey to Pluto and beyond with New Horizons

NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft, the first mission to Pluto, will reach the former planet on July 14, 2015. After that, it will fly by the Kuiper Belt to explore the most distant bodies in the solar system.

22 Mar 2015

Conjunction injunction: Recent and future planetary alignments

February 1962: The five planets visible to the naked eye, as well as the sun and moon, all appeared within 17 degrees of each other in the sky. A concurrent solar eclipse and new moon made it possible to view the planets.

04 Feb 2015