What we’ve Learned About Venus From the Parker Solar Probe

The Parker Solar Probe has been getting in a lot of extracurricular activity lately.  Originally designed to observe the Sun, the probe has been taking full advantage of its path through the solar system.  In addition to snapping pictures of comets, the probe has repeatedly focused on Venus, including capturing an image peering underneath the cloud cover of the notoriously hot world.  Now a team led by Glyn Collinson of Goddard Space Flight Center found another serendipitous discovery in the data Parker collected during its latest flyby in the summer of 2020 – the probe actually flew through Venus’ upper atmosphere, and that atmosphere appeared different than it was almost 30 years ago.

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One Full Year of Seismic Data Collected by Mars Insight Includes 500 Quakes

The English vocabulary has some words that only make sense from an Earth-bound perspective.  Earthquake is one of those.  Even in some science fiction and fantasy books, where the action takes place somewhere other than Earth, that team is used to denote the ground shaking.  It’s therefore nice to see planetary scientists trying to expand the root word to other planets.  Marsquakes are the most commonly studied, and now thanks to InSight scientists have collected a full year of data on Marsquakes for the first time.

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Dune Fields in Gale Crater Tell the Story of Mars’ Shifting Climate Over Eons

Rocks can tell us a lot about a planet.  On Earth, the study of geology has been around for hundreds of years and has resulted in such scientific findings as the theory of plate tectonics and the discovery of dinosaur fossils.  Geology on Mars has not had as long and storied a history, but with the rovers that have landed on the planet in the last few decades, Martian geology has started to bloom. Curiosity, one of those rovers, has done a particularly good job at documenting the rock formations in its neighborhood of Gale crater.  Now researchers led by a team at Imperial College London have published a paper using data from Curiosity that detail a set of ancient dunes on Mars that provide some insight into the planet’s former habitability.

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New All-Sky Map of the Milky Way’s Galactic Halo

The outer reaches of the Milky Way galaxy are a different place.  Stars are much harder to come by, with most of this “galactic halo” being made up of empty space.  But scientists theorize that there is an abundance of one particular thing in this desolate area – dark matter.  Now, a team from Harvard and the University of Arizona (UA) spent some time studying and modeling one of the galaxy’s nearest neighbors to try to tease out more information about that dark matter, and as a result came up with an all new way to look at the halo itself.

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Astronomers are Watching a gas Giant Grow, Right in Front of Their Eyes

In the vastness of space, astronomers are likely to find instances of almost every astronomical phenomena if they look hard enough.  Many planetary phenomena are starting to come into sharper focus as the astronomy community continues to focus on finding exoplanets.  Now a team led by Yifan Zhou at UT Austin has directly imaged a gas giant still in formation.

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Instead of Betelgeuse, Keep Your eye on AG Carinae, Another Star That’s About to go Supernova

Astrophotography is one of the most gratifying parts of space exploration, and there’s nothing better at it than Hubble.  Recently, it celebrated the 31st anniversary of its launch by taking a spectacular image of one of the most impressive stars in the sky – AG Carinae.  In the not too distant future, Hubble, or a successor, might be able to capture an even more spectacular display from the star when it goes supernova.

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Are we Seeing a Star That Just got Spaghettified?

Sometimes astronomers come up with awesome names for certain phenomena and then feel like they can’t use them in formal scientific contexts.  Tidal Disruption Events (TDEs) are one of those – colloquially they are known as “spaghettifications” where a star is pulled apart until its constituent matter looks like a string of spaghetti.  

Astronomers have long known of this process, which takes place when a star gets too close to a black hole, but most of that knowledge has come through studying radiation bursts emitted by the blackhole as it devoured the star.  Now, a team led by Giacomo Cannizzaro and Peter Jonker from SRON, the Netherlands Institute for Space Research, and Radboud University now think they have captured the first glimpses of a star actively being spaghettified around the pole of a black  hole.

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How Salty is Enceladus’ Ocean Under the ice?

An icy satellite of Saturn, Enceladus, has been a subject of increasing interest in recent years since Cassini captured jets of water and other material being ejected out of the south pole of the moon.  One particularly tantalizing hypothesis supported by the sample composition is that there might be life in the oceans under the ice shells of Enceladus. To evaluate Enceladus’ habitability and to figure out the best way to probe this icy moon, scientists need to better understand the chemical composition and dynamics of Enceladus’ ocean.

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NASA is now Planning a Mission to go 1,000 AU From the Sun, Deep Into Interstellar Space

A different perspective can do wonders.  Perceiving things from a different angle can both metaphorically and literally allow people to see things differently.  And in space, there are an almost infinite number of angles that objects can be observed from.  Like all perspectives, some are more informative than others.  Sometimes those informative perspectives are also the hardest to reach.  

Voyager’s two probes did an excellent job in allowing humanity to access some difficult new perspectives simply given their distance from the Earth.  But now a team of over 500 scientists and volunteers is urging NASA to go even further to find a better perspective by sending a satellite to a distance 1000 times the distance from the Sun to the Earth – almost 10 times how far the Voyagers have traveled in over 35 years.

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Mars has the Right Conditions for Life Just Under the Surface

According to the immortal words of Ian Malcom (Jeff Goldblum) “Life..uh…finds a way”.  Back in 2005, an article in Nature used the famous quote from Jurassic Park to describe the possibility of life surviving on Mars.  It encapsulates the hope that life’s adaptability, which it has proved itself so many times over on Earth, could hold true on other planets as well.  Now a new paper in Astrobiology shows that there might very well be a place where life can sustain itself on the red planet – right underneath the surface.

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