Tag Archives: neptune

Voyager Map Details Neptune’s Strange Moon Triton

NASA’s Voyager 2 spacecraft gave humanity its first close-up look at Neptune and its moon Triton in the summer of 1989. Like an old film, Voyager’s historic footage of Triton has been “restored” and used to construct the best-ever global color map of that strange moon. The map, produced by Paul Schenk, a scientist at the Lunar and Planetary Institute in Houston, has also been used to make a movie recreating that historic Voyager encounter, which took place 25 years ago, on August 25, 1989. (more…)

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Solar System’s Edge Redefined

Washington, D.C.—The Solar System has a new most-distant member, bringing its outer frontier into focus.

New work from Carnegie’s Scott Sheppard and Chadwick Trujillo of the Gemini Observatory reports the discovery of a distant dwarf planet, called 2012 VP113, which was found beyond the known edge of the Solar System. This is likely one of thousands of distant objects that are thought to form the so-called inner Oort cloud. What’s more, their work indicates the potential presence of an enormous planet, perhaps up to 10 times the size of Earth, not yet seen, but possibly influencing the orbit of 2012 VP113, as well as other inner Oort cloud objects. (more…)

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NASA’s Kepler Provides Insights on Enigmatic Planets

More than three-quarters of the planet candidates discovered by NASA’s Kepler spacecraft have sizes ranging from that of Earth to that of Neptune, which is nearly four times as big as Earth. Such planets dominate the galactic census but are not represented in our own solar system. Astronomers don’t know how they form or if they are made of rock, water or gas.

The Kepler team today reports on four years of ground-based follow-up observations targeting Kepler’s exoplanet systems at the American Astronomical Society meeting in Washington. These observations confirm the numerous Kepler discoveries are indeed planets and yield mass measurements of these enigmatic worlds that vary between Earth and Neptune in size. (more…)

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UChicago researchers use Hubble Telescope to reveal cloudy weather on alien world

Weather forecasters on exoplanet GJ 1214b would have an easy job. Today’s forecast: cloudy. Tomorrow: overcast. Extended outlook: more clouds.

That’s the implication of a study led by researchers in the Department of Astronomy and Astrophysics at the University of Chicago who have definitively characterized the atmosphere of a super-Earth class planet orbiting another star for the first time. (more…)

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How Do We Know When Voyager Reaches Interstellar Space?

Whether and when NASA’s Voyager 1 spacecraft, humankind’s most distant object, broke through to interstellar space, the space between stars, has been a thorny issue. For the last year, claims have surfaced every few months that Voyager 1 has “left our solar system.” Why has the Voyager team held off from saying the craft reached interstellar space until now?

“We have been cautious because we’re dealing with one of the most important milestones in the history of exploration,” said Voyager Project Scientist Ed Stone of the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena. “Only now do we have the data — and the analysis — we needed.” (more…)

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NASA’s WISE Finds Mysterious Centaurs May Be Comets

PASADENA, Calf. — The true identity of centaurs, the small celestial bodies orbiting the sun between Jupiter and Neptune, is one of the enduring mysteries of astrophysics. Are they asteroids or comets? A new study of observations from NASA’s Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer (WISE) finds most centaurs are comets.

Until now, astronomers were not certain whether centaurs are asteroids flung out from the inner solar system or comets traveling in toward the sun from afar. Because of their dual nature, they take their name from the creature in Greek mythology whose head and torso are human and legs are those of a horse. (more…)

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Distant Planetary System is a Super-Sized Solar System

TORONTO, ON – A team of astronomers, including Quinn Konopacky of the Dunlap Institute for Astronomy & Astrophysics, University of Toronto, has made the most detailed examination yet of the atmosphere of a Jupiter-like planet beyond our Solar System.

According to Konopacky, “We have been able to observe this planet in unprecedented detail because of the advanced instrumentation we are using on the Keck II telescope, our groundbreaking observing and data-processing techniques, and because of the nature of the planetary system.” (more…)

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Texas Astronomers Measure Most Massive, Most Unusual Black Hole Using Hobby-Eberly Telescope

FORT DAVIS, Texas — Astronomers have used the Hobby-Eberly Telescope at The University of Texas at Austin’s McDonald Observatory to measure the mass of what may be the most massive black hole yet — 17 billion times our sun’s mass — in galaxy NGC 1277. The unusual black hole makes up 14 percent of its galaxy’s mass, rather than the usual 0.1 percent. This galaxy and several more in the same study could change theories about how black holes and galaxies form and evolve. The work will appear in the journal Nature on Nov. 29.

NGC 1277 lies 220 million light-years away in the constellation Perseus. The galaxy is only 10 percent the size and mass of our Milky Way. Despite NGC 1277’s diminutive size, the black hole at its heart is more than 11 times as wide as Neptune’s orbit around the sun. (more…)

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