Lake Shorelines on Titan are Shaped by Methane Waves

Map of Titan’s northern region of hydrocarbon ‘seas’ of methane and ethane, created from Cassini radar imaging. Credit: NASA/JPL/USGS.
Map of Titan’s northern region of hydrocarbon ‘seas’ of methane and ethane, created from Cassini radar imaging. New research suggests that wind-driven waves are eroding the moon's coastlines. Credit: NASA/JPL/USGS.

Distant Titan is an oddball in the Solar System. Saturn’s largest moon—and the second largest in the entire Solar System—has an atmosphere denser than Earth’s. It also has stable lakes and seas of liquid hydrocarbons on its surface.

New research shows that waves on these seas are eroding Titan’s coastlines.

Continue reading “Lake Shorelines on Titan are Shaped by Methane Waves”

Marsquakes Can Help Us Find Water on the Red Planet

The Mars InSight lander's seismic detector was used to observe seismic waves from Marsquakes and impacts. Courtesy NASA
The Mars InSight lander's seismic detector was used to observe seismic waves from Marsquakes and impacts. New research shows that the lander's seismic and magnetic data could be used to detect subsurface water on Mars. Image Credit: NASA

Earth is a seismically active planet, and scientists have figured out how to use seismic waves from Earthquakes to probe its interior. We even use artificially created seismic waves to identify underground petroleum-bearing formations. When the InSIGHT (Interior Exploration using Seismic Investigations, Geodesy and Heat Transport) lander was sent to Mars, it sensed Marsquakes to learn more bout the planet’s interior.

Researchers think they can use Marsquakes to answer one of Mars’ most pressing questions: Does the planet hold water trapped in its subsurface?

Continue reading “Marsquakes Can Help Us Find Water on the Red Planet”

Lighting Up the Moon’s Permanently Shadowed Craters

This illustration shows a solar reflector on a crater rim could deliver solar energy where it's needed in the bottom of permanently shadowed polar craters on the Moon. Image Credit: Texas A&M Engineering

The Moon’s polar regions are home to permanently shadowed craters. In those craters is ancient ice, and establishing a presence on the Moon means those water ice deposits are a valuable resource. Astronauts will likely use solar energy to work in these craters and harvest water, but the Sun never shines there.

What’s the solution? According to one team of researchers, a solar collector perched on the crater’s rim.

Continue reading “Lighting Up the Moon’s Permanently Shadowed Craters”

Enceladus’s Fault Lines are Responsible for its Plumes

A false-colour image of the plumes erupting from Enceladus. Image Credit: NASA/ESA
A false-colour image of the plumes erupting from Enceladus. Image Credit: NASA/ESA

The Search for Life in our Solar System leads seekers to strange places. From our Earthbound viewpoint, an ice-covered moon orbiting a gas giant far from the Sun can seem like a strange place to search for life. But underneath all that ice sits a vast ocean. Despite the huge distance between the moon and the Sun and despite the thick ice cap, the water is warm.

Of course, we’re talking about Enceladus, and its warm, salty ocean—so similar to Earth’s in some respects—takes some of the strangeness away.

Continue reading “Enceladus’s Fault Lines are Responsible for its Plumes”

Ice Deposits on Ceres Might Only Be a Few Thousand Years Old

NASA's Dawn spacecraft captured this approximately true-color image of Ceres in 2015 as it approached the dwarf planet. Dawn showed that some polar craters on Ceres hold ancient ice, but new research suggests the ice is much younger. Image Credit: NASA / JPL-Caltech / UCLA / MPS / DLR / IDA / Justin Cowart

The dwarf planet Ceres has some permanently dark craters that hold ice. Astronomers thought the ice was ancient when they were discovered, like in the moon’s permanently shadowed regions. But something was puzzling.

Why did some of these shadowed craters hold ice while others did not?

Continue reading “Ice Deposits on Ceres Might Only Be a Few Thousand Years Old”

If Europa has Geysers, They’re Very Faint

Jupiter's second Galilean moon, Europa. Its smooth surface has fewer craters than other moons, but they help us understand its icy shell. (Credit: NASA/JPL/Galileo spacecraft)
The Hubble spotted evidence of geysers coming from Jupiter's moon Europa, but nobody's been able to find them again. (Credit: NASA/JPL/Galileo spacecraft)

In 2013, the Hubble Space Telescope spotted water vapour on Jupiter’s moon Europa. The vapour was evidence of plumes similar to the ones on Saturn’s moon Enceladus. That, and other compelling evidence, showed that the moon has an ocean. That led to speculation that the ocean could harbour life.

But the ocean is obscured under a thick, global layer of ice, making the plumes our only way of examining the ocean. The plumes are so difficult to detect they haven’t been confirmed.

Continue reading “If Europa has Geysers, They’re Very Faint”

Curiosity has Reached an Ancient Debris Channel That Could Have Been Formed by Water

The steep path NASA’s Curiosity Mars rover took to reach Gediz Vallis channel is indicated in yellow in this visualization made with orbital data. At lower right is the point where the rover veered off to get an up-close look at a ridge formed long ago by debris flows from higher up on Mount Sharp. NASA/JPL-Caltech/UC Berkeley

Like a pilgrim seeking wisdom, NASA’s MSL Curiosity has been working its way up Mt. Sharp, the dominant central feature in Gale Crater. Now, almost 12 years into its mission, the capable rover has reached an interesting feature that could tell them more about Mars and its watery history. It’s called the Gediz Vallis channel.

Continue reading “Curiosity has Reached an Ancient Debris Channel That Could Have Been Formed by Water”

Mars’ Gale Crater was Filled with Water for Much Longer Than Anyone Thought

Layers at the base of Mt. Sharp. These visible layers in Gale Crater show the chapters of the geological history of Mars in this image from NASA's Curiosity rover. New evidence from this area shows that water persisted on Mars for longer than thought. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS.

Even with all we’ve learned about Mars in recent years, it doesn’t stack up against all we still don’t know and all we hope to find out. We know that Mars was once warm and wet, a conclusion that was less certain a couple of decades ago. Now, scientists are working on uncovering the details of Mars’s ancient water.

New research shows that the Gale Crater, the landing spot for NASA’s MSL Curiosity, held water for a longer time than scientists thought.

Continue reading “Mars’ Gale Crater was Filled with Water for Much Longer Than Anyone Thought”

How Warm Are the Oceans on the Icy Moons? The Ice Thickness Provides a Clue.

Jupiter's moon Ganymede is the largest moon in the Solar System and may have an ocean sandwiched between two layers of ice. But how warm is that ocean? Image Credit: By National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=8070396

Scientists are discovering that more and more Solar System objects have warm oceans under icy shells. The moons Enceladus and Europa are the two most well-known, and others like Ganymede and Callisto probably have them too. Even the dwarf planet Ceres might have an ocean. But can any of them support life? That partly depends on the water temperature, which strongly influences the chemistry.

We’re likely to visit Europa in the coming years and find out for ourselves how warm its ocean is. Others on the list we may never visit. But we may not have to.

Continue reading “How Warm Are the Oceans on the Icy Moons? The Ice Thickness Provides a Clue.”

This Planet-Forming Disk has More Water Than Earth’s Oceans

Astronomers have found water vapour in a disc around a young star exactly where planets may be forming. In this image, the new observations from the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA) show the water vapour in shades of blue. Image Credit: ALMA (ESO/NAOJ/NRAO)/S. Facchini et al.

Astronomers have detected a large amount of water vapour in the protoplanetary disk around a young star. There’s at least three times as much water among the dust as there is in all of Earth’s oceans combined. And it’s not spread throughout the disk; it’s concentrated in the inner disk region.

Continue reading “This Planet-Forming Disk has More Water Than Earth’s Oceans”