Check Out How Big the Planets and the Moon Will be in Our Sky Over the Next Two Years

Everything in space is moving. Galaxies collide and merge, massive clouds of gas migrate, and asteroids, comets, and rogue planets zip around and between it all. And in our own Solar System, the planets follow their ancient orbits.

Now a new data visualization shows us just how much our view from Earth changes in two years, as the orbits of the planets change the distance between us and our neighbours.

Continue reading “Check Out How Big the Planets and the Moon Will be in Our Sky Over the Next Two Years”

Uranus’ Moons are Surprisingly Similar to Dwarf Planets in the Kuiper Belt

Astronomer William Herschel discovered Uranus—and two of its moons—230 years ago. Now a group of astronomers working with data from the telescope that bears his name, the Herschel Space Observatory, have made an unexpected discovery. It looks like Uranus’ moons bear a striking similarity to icy dwarf planets.

The Herschel Space Observatory has been retired since 2013. But all of its data is still of interest to researchers. This discovery was a happy accident, resulting from tests on data from the observatory’s camera detector. Uranus is a very bright infrared energy source, and the team was measuring the influence of very bright infrared objects on the camera.

The images of the moons were discovered by accident.

Continue reading “Uranus’ Moons are Surprisingly Similar to Dwarf Planets in the Kuiper Belt”

Jupiter Probably Has 600 Small, Irregular Moons

The better our technologies get, the better we get at finding objects in space. That’s certainly true of Jupiter and its moons. Prior to Galileo, nobody knew the other planets had moons. Then in 1609/10, as he made improvements to his telescope, he aimed it at the gas giant and eventually found four moons: Io, Europa, Ganymede, and Callisto. Now those four natural satellites also bear his name: the Galilean moons.

Over the centuries since then, and especially in our digital age, astronomical tools and methods kept improving. In particular, wide-field CCD (Charge Coupled Devices) have led to an explosion of astronomical discoveries. In recent years, the confirmed number of Jovian moons has risen to 79. Now, a new study says that there may be 600 small irregular moons orbiting Jupiter.

Continue reading “Jupiter Probably Has 600 Small, Irregular Moons”

Europa’s entire icy shell shifted 70-degrees a few million years ago

The mysterious world Europa, the ice-covered second moon of Jupiter, sports deep scars that cut across its face. An international team of investigators studied high-resolution maps of that surface to reveal a pattern: something shook Europa sometime within the past few million years, causing the entire shell to shift by 70 degrees.

Continue reading “Europa’s entire icy shell shifted 70-degrees a few million years ago”

A Huge Ring-Like Structure on Ganymede Might be the Result of an Enormous Impact

Ganymede’s surface is a bit of a puzzle for planetary scientists. About two-thirds of its surface is covered in lighter terrain, while the remainder is darker. Both types of terrain are ancient, with the lighter portion being slightly younger. The two types of terrain are spread around the moon, and the darker terrain contains concurrent furrows.

For the most part, scientists think that the furrows were caused by tectonic activity, possibly related to tidal heating as the moon went through unstable orbital resonances in the past.

But a new study says that a massive impact might be responsible for all those furrows.

Continue reading “A Huge Ring-Like Structure on Ganymede Might be the Result of an Enormous Impact”

The Moons of Uranus Are Fascinating Enough On Their Own That We Should Send a Flagship Mission Out There

What’s the most interesting fact you know about Uranus? The fact that its rotational axis is completely out of line with every other planet in the solar system?  Or the fact that Uranus’ magnetosphere is asymmetrical, notably tilted relative to its rotational axis, and significantly offset from the center of the planet?  Or the fact that it’s moons are all named after characters from Shakespeare or Alexander Pope?

All of those facts (with the exception of the literary references) have come from a very limited dataset. Some of the best data was collected during a Voyager 2 flyby in 1986. Since then, the only new data has come from Earth-based telescopes.  While they’ve been steadily increasing in resolution, they have only been able to scratch the surface of what may be lurking in the system surrounding the closest Ice Giant.  Hopefully that is about to change, as a team of scientists has published a white paper advocating for a visit from a new Flagship class spacecraft.

Continue reading “The Moons of Uranus Are Fascinating Enough On Their Own That We Should Send a Flagship Mission Out There”

Another Collection of Newly Forming Planetary Systems. This Time from the Gemini Planet Imager

Over the next decade, several very powerful telescopes will come online. Observing time on these ‘scopes will be in high demand, and their range of targets will span a whole host of topics in astronomy, astrophysics, and cosomology.

One of the topics near the top of the list is exoplanets.

But how will astronomers know where to spend their precious exoplanet observing time?

Continue reading “Another Collection of Newly Forming Planetary Systems. This Time from the Gemini Planet Imager”

New Pictures of Phobos, Seen in the Infrared

NASA’s Mars Odyssey Orbiter doesn’t get a lot of headlines lately. It was sent to Mars in 2001, to detect the presence of water and ice on Mars, or the past presence of it. It also looked at Mars’ geology and radiation. It’s been doing its job without a lot of fanfare.

Now Odyssey’s infrared camera has given us three new images of Mars’ moon Phobos.

Continue reading “New Pictures of Phobos, Seen in the Infrared”