Wind the cosmic clock back a few billion years and our Solar System looked much different than it does today. About 4.5 billion years ago, the young Sun shone much like it does now, though it was a little smaller. Instead of being surrounded by planets, it was ensconced in a swirling disk of gas and dust. That disk is called a protoplanetary disk and it’s where the planets eventually formed.
There was a conspicuous gap in the early Solar System’s protoplanetary disk, between where Mars and Jupiter are now, and where the modern-day asteroid belt sits. What exactly caused the gap is a mystery, but astronomers think it’s a sign of the processes that governed planet formation.
Continue reading “The Early Solar System Had a Gap Where the Asteroid Belt is Today”
The Solar System’s moons are intriguing objects for exploration. Especially moons like Europa and Enceladus. Their subsurface oceans make them primary targets in the search for life.
But why not send one spacecraft to visit several moons? NASA’s about to launch its Lucy mission which will visit 8 separate asteroids. Could the same be done for a mission to multiple moons?
For a spacecraft to do that, it would have to do a little dance with the notorious three-body problem, which makes a stubborn partner. A new study presents a possible way to do that.
Continue reading “Why Visit Just one Moon When you Could Explore Them all?”
A huge team of astronomers have combined forces to use the European Southern Observatory’s Very Large Telescope (ESO’s VLT) to provide the sharpest view ever of 42 of the largest objects in the asteroid belt, located between Mars and Jupiter.
Fittingly, the collection of images was released on the 42nd anniversary of the publication of “The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy” by Douglas Adams. In the book, the number 42 is the answer to the “Ultimate Question of Life, the Universe, and Everything.” These 42 images represent some of the sharpest views ever of these objects — which might contribute to answering these ultimate questions!
Plus, there’s a great poster of the asteroids, too:
Continue reading “Images of 42 of the Biggest Asteroids in the Solar System”
Many regions on Earth are temperate, nutrient-rich, stable environments where life seems to thrive effortlessly. But not all of Earth. Some parts, like Greenland’s ice sheet, are inhospitable.
In our nascent search for life elsewhere in the Solar System, it stands to reason that we’ll be looking at worlds that are marginal and inhospitable. Icy worlds like Jupiter’s moon Europa and Saturn’s moon Enceladus are our most likely targets. These frozen worlds have warm oceans under layers of ice.
What can Greenland’s cryo-ecosystems tell us about searching for life on icy bodies like Europa and Enceladus?
Continue reading “Greenland’s Ice Sheet is Similar in Many Ways to the Solar System’s Icy Worlds and Can Teach Us How to Search for Life”
BepiColombo made a quick visit to Venus in August and is on to its next rendezvous. On October 1st it’ll perform a flyby of Mercury, the spacecraft’s eventual destination. This visit is just a little flirtation—one of six—ahead of its eventual orbital link-up with Mercury in late 2025.
The quick visit will yield some scientific results, though, and they’ll be just a taste of what’s ahead in BepiColumbo’s one-year mission to Mercury.
Continue reading “BepiColombo Meets Mercury for the First Time on October 1”
Our conventional models of planet formation may have to be updated, according to a pair of new papers.
Accretion is the keyword in current planet formation theory. The idea is that the planets formed out of the solar nebula, the material left over after the Sun formed. They did this through accretion, where small particles accumulate into more massive objects. These massive boulder-sized objects, called planetesimals, continued to merge together into larger entities, sometimes through collisions. Eventually, through repeated mergers and collisions, the inner Solar System was populated by four rocky planets.
But the new research suggests that the collisions played out much differently than thought and that objects collided with each other several times, in a series of hit and runs, before merging. This research fills some stubborn holes in our current understanding.
Continue reading “The Early Solar System was Messier and More Violent Than Previously Believed”
Now that we know that interstellar objects (ISOs) visit our Solar System, scientists are keen to understand them better. How could they be captured? If they’re captured, what happens to them? How many of them might be in our Solar System?
One team of researchers is trying to find answers.
Continue reading “What Happens to Interstellar Objects Captured by the Solar System?”
One of the best innovations Lego has had in the last decade is leveraging the power of the internet to help choose what kits to create. Innovative designers can buy piece parts, make their own masterpieces, carefully document how to recreate them, and then lobby Lego to release them at a kit. One of the more creative recent projects is a Clockwork Solar System designed by Chris Orchard and Brent Waller, and it is absolutely stunning.
Continue reading “A Proposed Clockwork Solar System Made out of LEGO”
The Moon’s pitted surface tells a tale of repeated impacts over a long period of time. While Earth’s active geology erases most evidence of impacts, the Moon has no mechanism that can do the same. So there it sits, stark evidence of an impact-rich past.
The visible record of lunar cratering is used to understand Earth’s formation and history since periods of frequent impacts would affect both bodies similarly. But something’s wrong in our understanding of the Moon’s history. Impact crater dating, asteroid dynamics, lunar samples, impact basin-forming simulations, and lunar evolution modelling all suggest there’s some missing evidence from the Moon’s earliest impacts.
New research says that there were even more large, basin-forming impacts than we think. Scientists think that some of those impacts left crater imprints that are nearly invisible.
Continue reading “The Moon was Pummeled Even Harder by Asteroids Than it Looks”
In the near future, astronomers will benefit from the presence of next-generation telescopes like the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) and the Nancy Grace Roman Space Telescope (RST). At the same time, improved data mining and machine learning techniques will also allow astronomers to get more out of existing instruments. In the process, they hope to finally answer some of the most burning questions about the cosmos.
For instance, the Dark Energy Survey (DES ), an international, collaborative effort to map the cosmos, recently released the results of their six-year survey of the outer Solar System. In addition to gathering data on hundreds of known objects, this survey revealed 461 previously undetected objects. The results of this study could have significant implications for our understanding of the Solar System’s formation and evolution.
Continue reading “A 6-Year Search of the Outer Solar System Turns up 461 new Objects (but no Planet 9)”