Benchmarks: September 26, 1991: Crew sealed inside Biosphere 2

It takes about an hour to drive from Tucson, Ariz., to the Biosphere 2 research facility, perched atop a plateau in the Santa Catalina Mountains. Through its glittering glass walls, you can still see the shadowy silhouette of the Brazilian rainforest that grows inside. Indeed, the facility once enclosed numerous small-scale experimental ecosystems — from a swath of swaying savanna to a 700,000-gallon ocean complete with its own coral reef. And, beginning on Sept. 26, 1991, Biosphere 2 enclosed a crew of four men and four women who would call the bubble home for two years.
26 Sep 2015

Red Planet Roundup: September 2015

With two rovers patrolling the surface of Mars, five spacecraft orbiting above it, and scientists here on Earth studying the Red Planet from afar, new findings are announced often. Here are a few of the latest updates.
15 Sep 2015

MESSENGER mission ends with a bang, and more data

After 11 years in space and more than 4,100 laps around Mercury since entering orbit in 2011, NASA’s MESSENGER spacecraft was decommissioned in heroic fashion on April 30, slamming into the planet’s surface at more 14,000 kilometers per hour after it had run out of propellant. Fittingly, it gouged a 16-meter-wide crater of its own amid the myriad others it observed there.
12 Sep 2015

Comment: Exoplanets: Life on the Terminator

New missions are searching for potentially life-bearing exoplanets around small, cool, red dwarf stars. On many of these exoplanets, the habitable zone lies on the line between sunlight and shadow, which, ironically, is called “the terminator.” Would life be able to exist in the terminator zones?

10 Sep 2015

Sun shapes Titan's atmospheric makeup

Saturn’s largest moon, Titan, has a thick atmosphere composed of 98 percent nitrogen and about 1.4 percent methane, as well as small amounts of other gases. In a new study published in the Journal of Geophysical Research: Space Physics, astronomers have identified fluctuations in methane levels in Titan’s thermosphere that appear to be in tune with the 11-year solar cycle.
07 Sep 2015

Earth-like atmosphere enough to set some exoplanets spinning

Earth is “Exhibit A” in showing that planetary rotation — which moderates global climate, keeps a lot of water in liquid form and generally makes the place more livable — is a plus when it comes to sustaining life. But scientists have thought that many of the rocky, Earth-like exoplanets discovered recently, which might otherwise be considered potentially hospitable to life, aren’t so fortunate. On these unlucky worlds, unable to rotate because they’re held too tightly by their parent stars’ gravity, one half of the planet is perpetually roasted by stellar radiation while the other is left frigid and dark. Now, however, a new study suggests that a little atmosphere can go a long way toward helping exoplanets rotate.

22 Aug 2015

Meteorite reveals rare irregular crystals

Scientists have found naturally occurring quasicrystals for the second time in a meteorite recovered from eastern Russia, according to a new study in Scientific Reports. Some of the researchers, including the lead author, Luca Bindi of the University of Florence in Italy, reported the discovery of the first natural quasicrystal, a mineral called icosahedrite, in the same meteorite in 2012. The researchers say that both quasicrystals probably formed under the high temperatures and pressures of a violent cosmic collision about 4.5 billion years ago, shortly after the formation of the solar system.
05 Aug 2015

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

Benchmarks: July 22,1960: Mineral discovery ends Meteor Crater debate

In 1923, Daniel Moreau Barringer stood on the edge of a vast bowl-shaped depression in the Arizona desert, watching a drill rig bore into the floor of the crater. Barringer had spent more than two decades exploring the massive hole, which lies on the Colorado Plateau 65 kilometers east of Flagstaff, Ariz. And although he had sunk dozens of drill holes, collected scores of samples, and carefully mapped the piles of talus that draped its concave walls, Barringer still hadn’t found what he was looking for, and he was getting nervous.
22 Jul 2015

Red Planet Roundup: July 2015

With two rovers patrolling the surface of Mars, five spacecraft in orbit above it, and scientists here on Earth studying the Red Planet from afar, new findings are announced often. Here are a few of the latest updates.
15 Jul 2015