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  • News

    Curiosity finds that Mars’ methane changes with the seasons

    To Martian methane, there is a season.

    NASA’s Curiosity rover has found evidence that methane in Mars’ thin atmosphere varies during the year. Higher concentrations appear in late summer and early autumn in the northern hemisphere and lower concentrations in the winter and spring, researchers report in the June 8 Science.

    What’s more, Curiosity also spotted organic molecules...

    06/07/2018 - 14:00 Planetary Science, Astrobiology
  • Science Ticker

    New Horizons wakes up to begin Kuiper Belt exploration

    The spacecraft that raced past Pluto is back and ready to explore a whole new world.

    NASA’s New Horizons probe woke up at 10:55 p.m. EDT on June 4 after a nearly six-month slumber, and news of the event reached Earth several hours later. The craft is now getting ready to fly past a small Kuiper Belt object called Ultima Thule (SN Online: 3/14/18).

    New Horizons went into the last of...

    06/05/2018 - 10:51 Planetary Science
  • News

    Never-before-seen dunes on Pluto spotted in New Horizons images

    Pluto’s heart-shaped plains are striped with sand dunes, where the sand is made of solid methane ice, a new study finds.

    Images from the New Horizons spacecraft’s July 2015 flyby of Pluto show 357 linear ridges that planetary scientist Matt Telfer of the University of Plymouth in England and colleagues interpret as dunes that have been shaped by a novel process, the team reports in the...

    05/31/2018 - 14:01 Planetary Science
  • News

    Astronomers scrutinized last year’s eclipse. Here’s what they’ve learned

    LEESBURG, Va. — Astronomers watching the 2017 solar eclipse from the ground and from the air witnessed new, tantalizing features of the sun’s outer atmosphere.

    Three teams have recently presented their first science results from the Great American Eclipse. Combined, the findings could help disentangle lingering solar puzzles, such as how bursts of plasma leave the sun, why the outer...

    05/29/2018 - 11:53 Astronomy, Planetary Science
  • Context

    Pluto’s demotion ignores astronomical history

    If Dr. Seuss had been an astronomer, Horton the Elephant (who heard a Who) would have said “a planet’s a planet, no matter how small.”

    Even Pluto.

    But don’t quote Dr. Seuss to the International Astronomical Union. In 2006, the IAU declared Pluto a planet not. 

    IAU Resolution B5 (not to be confused with Le Petit Prince’s asteroid B 612) declared that in order to be considered...

    05/25/2018 - 13:08 Astronomy, History of Science, Planetary Science
  • Science Visualized

    Satellite smashups could have given birth to Saturn’s odd moons

    A space ravioli. A planetary baguette. A cosmic Kaiser roll. Some of Saturn’s moons have shapes that are strangely reminiscent of culinary concoctions.

    Images of the oddball moons, mostly from the now-defunct Cassini spacecraft (SN Online: 9/15/17), got planetary scientists wondering how these satellites ended up with such strange shapes. Now, researchers suggest that collisions between...

    05/21/2018 - 11:00 Planetary Science
  • Science Ticker

    China is set to launch a satellite to support a future lunar rover

    Editor's note: The Chang’e-4 relay satellite successfully lifted off from the Xichang Satellite Launch center at 5:28 a.m. Beijing time on May 21 (5:28 p.m. EDT on May 20).

    The Chinese space program is set to launch a satellite aimed at supporting future communications from a planned mission to the farside of the moon.

    The Chang’e-4 mission, which will include a rover and a lander...

    05/20/2018 - 10:00 Planetary Science
  • Letters to the Editor

    Readers amazed by Jupiter discoveries, giant viruses and more

    Jazzed by Jupiter

    Polar cyclones, a surprisingly deep atmosphere and a spin reminiscent of solid masses are among the latest discoveries the Juno spacecraft has made as it orbits Jupiter, Christopher Crockett reported in “4 surprising things we just learned about Jupiter” (SN: 3/31/18, p. 10).

    The findings astonished readers on Reddit.

    “Jupiter is one of those things [that]...

    05/16/2018 - 07:00 Animals, Planetary Science, Microbiology
  • News

    Another hint of Europa’s watery plumes found in 20-year-old Galileo data

    Jupiter’s icy moon Europa may have been spitting into space for at least 20 years. Analyzing old Galileo mission data suggests that the NASA spacecraft flew through a plume of water vapor from the moon during a 1997 flyby, researchers report May 14 in Nature Astronomy.

    “We now have very compelling support for the idea that Europa does possess plumes,” says study coauthor Xianzhe Jia, a...

    05/14/2018 - 11:00 Planetary Science, Astrobiology
  • Feature

    The recipes for solar system formation are getting a rewrite

    With a mortar and pestle, Christy Till blends together the makings of a distant planet. In her geology lab at Arizona State University in Tempe, Till carefully measures out powdered minerals, tips them into a metal capsule and bakes them in a high-pressure furnace that can reach close to 35,000 times Earth’s atmospheric pressure and 2,000° Celsius.

    In this interplanetary test kitchen,...

    05/11/2018 - 09:00 Exoplanets, Planetary Science, Astronomy