Red Planet Roundup: March 2019

With two rovers and a lander on the surface of Mars, six spacecraft orbiting above it, and scientists here on Earth studying the Red Planet from afar, new findings are announced often.

28 Mar 2019

Deep Space Network

Messages from Juno and other spacecraft in the far reaches of the solar system are relayed to scientists via NASA’s Deep Space Network (DSN), which was created in 1958. DSN consists of three sets of powerful radio antennae spaced about 120 degrees longitude apart around the world near Barstow, Calif., Canberra, Australia, and Madrid, Spain. The complexes are all situated in bowl-shaped terrain in semi-mountainous rural areas to minimize interference from external radio waves. As Earth rotates, at least one of the DSN antennae is pointed toward the spacecraft at all times. Communications via DSN begin and end at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, which manages the system.

11 Mar 2019

Citizen science (and art)

Juno carries a visible light camera, JunoCam, which is intended primarily to take photos that, it’s hoped, will provoke public interest in Jupiter. The images sent back are available for anyone to download and manipulate for scientific or artistic purposes. Thousands of images, both raw and manipulated, have been made available for viewing, and hundreds of citizen scientists have been engaged in the project. Scientists say they are delighted at how JunoCam has resonated and increased interest in, and understanding of, the Juno mission. See

11 Mar 2019

Juno unveils Jupiter's secrets

NASA’s Juno mission launched from Cape Canaveral, Fla., on Aug. 5, 2011, and arrived at Jupiter nearly five years later, having traveled 2.8 billion kilometers. Since then, Juno has made a plethora of new discoveries, upturning much of what we thought we knew about the gas giant. What else could it reveal?

11 Mar 2019

Some of Earth's water originated in the solar system's birth

When Earth first formed, the oceans of water we know today were nowhere in sight. The long-standing consensus about where our planet’s water came from posits that it was not present during Earth’s formation and that it was later brought by chondritic materials like meteorites, asteroids and comets. But new research suggests some also came from the solar nebula — the gas and dust left over from the formation of the sun that created the planets.

05 Mar 2019

Wrangling the data to choose Mars landing sites

NASA has sent four rovers to Mars, and the fifth — the Mars 2020 Rover — is slated to launch in summer 2020 for an early 2021 arrival. Selecting suitable landing sites is a critical and painstaking pre-launch step in ensuring both the technical and scientific success of these missions.

27 Feb 2019

Deep drilling reveals how impact crater's hidden ring formed

When the 15-kilometer-wide Chicxulub meteorite slammed into what is now Mexico’s Yucatán Peninsula 66 million years ago, it was moving at more than 20 kilometers per second. The impact blasted a hole 200 kilometers wide and more than 30 kilometers deep in Earth’s surface. The forces involved in such impacts are colossal — many orders of magnitude greater than the largest human-made explosions — and scientists have traditionally relied on models to explain what happens in the moments after impact. But in a new study looking at shocked rocks retrieved from the depths of the buried Chicxulub Crater, scientists have determined how the crater’s “peak ring” formed in mere minutes.

05 Feb 2019

Quirky lunar swirls expose the moon's secret past

Lunar observers have long noted mysterious “swirls,” patterns of alternating bright and dark shading, adorning the lunar surface. The popular Reiner Gamma formation — first described by Renaissance astronomers and now beloved by backyard astronomy enthusiasts — is one such lunar swirl.

25 Jan 2019

Voyager 2 pierces the heliopause, enters interstellar space

On Nov. 5, 2018, Voyager 2 became the second spacecraft to enter interstellar space, as it passed through the heliosphere’s outer limit, known as the heliopause, NASA announced at the American Geophysical Union (AGU) fall meeting in Washington, D.C., on Monday. The spacecraft’s twin, Voyager 1, made history as the first man-made object to depart the heliosphere in 2012. Reaching interstellar space is an extraordinary feat for spacecraft that have been traveling for more than 41 years.

11 Dec 2018

Titan's dunes form the same way as Earth's

The mountains of East Xanadu rise high above the windswept plains and dunes of Shangri-La. This fantastical landscape isn’t found in a scene from a Hollywood movie, or even a desert on Earth, but on Titan, Saturn’s largest moon. New research looking at the surface topography of Titan — more than a billion kilometers from Earth — reveals it has a lot in common with our planet. The work, published in the Journal of Geophysical Research: Planets, shows that the dunes likely formed in a process that’s analogous to how dunes form on Earth — through weathering, erosion and deposition.

23 Nov 2018