Tag Archives: saturn

Tidal forces explain how an icy moon of Saturn keeps its ‘tiger stripes’

The persistence of the massive, explosive fissures on the surface of Saturn’s sixth-largest moon, Enceladus — despite the moon’s astoundingly frigid surface — have remained a mystery for 11 years. Researchers from Princeton University and the University of Chicago show, however, that the fissures could be kept active by the sloshing of water in the vast ocean that scientists suppose is beneath the moon’s thick ice shell. The findings could help provide a clear objective for future satellite missions to Enceladus, which scientists suspect could host life. (more…)

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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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Cassini Sees Saturn and Moons in Holiday Dress

This holiday season, feast your eyes on images of Saturn and two of its most fascinating moons, Titan and Enceladus, in a care package from NASA’s Cassini spacecraft. All three bodies are dressed and dazzling in this special package assembled by Cassini’s imaging team.

The new images are available online at: https://www.nasa.gov/cassini , https://saturn.jpl.nasa.gov and https://ciclops.org .

“During this, our tenth holiday season at Saturn, we hope that these images from Cassini remind everyone the world over of the significance of our discoveries in exploring such a remote and beautiful planetary system,” said Carolyn Porco, Cassini imaging team leader, based at the Space Science Institute, Boulder, Colo. “Happy holidays from all of us on Cassini.” (more…)

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Hubble Sees Evidence of Water Vapor at Jupiter Moon

NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope has observed water vapor above the frigid south polar region of Jupiter’s moon Europa, providing the first strong evidence of water plumes erupting off the moon’s surface.

Previous scientific findings from other sources already point to the existence of an ocean located under Europa’s icy crust. Researchers are not yet fully certain whether the detected water vapor is generated by erupting water plumes on the surface, but they are confident this is the most likely explanation. (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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How Did Earth’s Primitive Chemistry Get Kick Started?

How did life on Earth get started? Three new papers co-authored by Mike Russell, a research scientist at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif., strengthen the case that Earth’s first life began at alkaline hydrothermal vents at the bottom of oceans. Scientists are interested in understanding early life on Earth because if we ever hope to find life on other worlds — especially icy worlds with subsurface oceans such as Jupiter’s moon Europa and Saturn’s Enceladus — we need to know what chemical signatures to look for.

Two papers published recently in the journal Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B provide more detail on the chemical and precursor metabolic reactions that have to take place to pave the pathway for life. Russell and his co-authors describe how the interactions between the earliest oceans and alkaline hydrothermal fluids likely produced acetate (comparable to vinegar). The acetate is a product of methane and hydrogen from the alkaline hydrothermal vents and carbon dioxide dissolved in the surrounding ocean. Once this early chemical pathway was forged, acetate could become the basis of other biological molecules. They also describe how two kinds of “nano-engines” that create organic carbon and polymers — energy currency of the first cells — could have been assembled from inorganic minerals. (more…)

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