SPACE

space

Rings not just for planets anymore

Saturn is famously circled by halo-like rings of dust and debris, as are Jupiter, Uranus and Neptune. Now, a 250-kilometer-wide rock named Chariklo is breaking up the planetary monopoly and showing that other extraterrestrial bodies can host rings as well.

23 Jul 2014

Mars Monthly

As Curiosity and Opportunity rove around Mars, the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO), Mars Express and Mars Odyssey orbit above, and scientists on Earth study the Red Planet from afar, new findings are announced almost weekly. Here are a few of the latest updates.
 

10 Jul 2014

Mercury's shrinkage underestimated

In addition to its myriad craters, Mercury is marked by mountainous ridges and faults that, similar to wrinkles that emerge on an overripe apple as it shrinks, are signs that Mercury’s surface has cracked and buckled as the planet has cooled. From previous observations, it was estimated that Mercury’s radius had decreased 1 to 3 kilometers in about the past 4 billion years, but according to a new study in Nature Geoscience, the amount of contraction has been greatly underestimated.
 

06 Jul 2014

Rosetta: Off to decipher a comet's secrets

“Hello World.”

With that brief message, scientists at the European Space Agency (ESA) and followers around the world sent up a collective cheer. Rosetta — the ESA spacecraft currently on a 10-year mission to orbit and land on a comet — awoke in January after a three-year hibernation, and was ready to work.

23 Jun 2014

Benchmarks: June 16, 1963 & June 18, 1983: Valentina Tereshkova and Sally Ride become first and third women in space

On June 16, 1963, during the height of the Cold War, Valentina Tereshkova became the first woman to fly in space. It would be 19 years before another woman would fly in space — Soviet Svetlana Savitskaya in 1982 — and 20 years before the first American woman, Sally Ride, made it into space on June 18, 1983. These pioneers inspired the generations of women astronauts who followed. In the three decades since Ride’s foray into outer space, 57 other women have also taken flight (see sidebar) and, last year, half of NASA’s new class of astronauts were women.

16 Jun 2014

By the numbers: Women in space

The first two women in space — Valentina Tereshkova and Svetlana Savitskaya — were from the Soviet Union. Since their pioneering space flights, 58 other women have also flown in space.

16 Jun 2014

Ionospheric charge could forewarn of earthquakes

On Jan. 12, 2010, a magnitude-7 earthquake rocked Haiti’s capital, Port-au-Prince, destroying much of the city and killing more than 200,000 people. Satellite records of atmospheric electron activity high above the island reveal an unusual pattern of behavior in the ionosphere in the months leading up to the quake — information that could be used in the future to forewarn of major earthquakes.

01 Jun 2014

Comment: Preparing for the death of Earth

About 5 billion years from now, Earth will meet its end in a fiery blaze as it is swallowed by the expanding sun. What happens between now and then, in large part, is up to us and our ability to prepare for the distant future.

22 May 2014

Lessons from the Russian meteor burst

Scientists can thank the high motor vehicle accident rate in the Russian city of Chelyabinsk for providing the most stunning videos ever recorded of a meteor burst. Because of the many traffic accidents in that city, dashboard cameras abound, constantly recording everything in front of a car — the road, other vehicles, pedestrians, and, incidentally, the sky.

At about 9:20 a.m. on Feb. 15, 2013, many of those cameras recorded the explosion of a large meteor 23 kilometers above the city. As was widely reported at the time, the air blast shattered windows, and meteorite fragments rained down in and around Chelyabinsk, causing damage to some 7,000 buildings and sending about 1,600 people to hospitals. Although no one was killed, it marks “the first ever asteroid impact disaster in human history,” according to Clark R. Chapman of the Southwest Research Institute (SwRI) Planetary Science Directorate in Boulder, Colo., who presented research on the event at the annual meeting of the American Geophysical Union (AGU) in San, Francisco, Calif., last December.

18 May 2014

Benchmarks: May 6, 1852: Edward Sabine links the geomagnetic and sunspot cycles

At the beginning of the 19th century, little was understood about Earth’s magnetic field, but interest in its workings had begun to grow, especially in Europe. That the magnetic field exists had long been recognized, and magnetic compasses had aided in navigation for centuries, particularly at sea where fixed landmarks are hard to come by. Not surprisingly, the increased attention emerging around the turn of the century came from naval and shipping interests, which recognized that an accurate understanding of the field’s behavior would be a boon to their fleets.

By this time, the underlying physical explanation for the magnetic field had also become a major source of scientific curiosity. In the preceding two centuries, observers had measured differences in the field’s intensity, inclination and declination — the angle between magnetic and true north — between locations, as well as changes in those properties at the same location, both over varying lengths of time. Others had noted the synchronized occurrence of colorful atmospheric auroras with widespread disturbances in the magnetic field, termed magnetic storms.

It was clear the planet’s magnetic field was an inconstant and complex phenomenon, and many eminent scientists saw it as the next great natural mystery to unravel.

13 May 2014

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