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”
In August 2014, the ESA’s Rosetta spacecraft arrived at its destination, Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko, after a 10 year journey. Rosetta carried a small companion, the Philae Lander. On November 12th, Philae was sent to the surface of Comet 67P. Unfortunately, things didn’t go exactly as planned, and the lander’s mission lasted only 63 hours.
During that time, it gathered what data it could. But mission scientists weren’t certain of its precise location, meaning its data was difficult to interpret accurately. Only when scientists knew precisely where Philae was located on the comet, could they make best use of all of its data.
Continue reading “Rosetta’s Philae Lander Was Alive on the Surface of 67P for 63 Hours, Trying to Communicate”
At the bottom of the ocean in the South Pacific Gyre, there’s a sediment layer that is among the most nutrient-starved environments on Earth. Because of conditions in that area, there’s almost no “marine snow”—the shower of organic debris common in the ocean—that falls to the ocean floor. Without all that organic debris falling to the floor, there’s a severe lack of nutrients there, and that makes this one of the least hospitable places on Earth.
A team of researchers took sediment samples from that area, and extracted 101.5 million year old microbes. When they “fed” those microbes, they sprang back to life.
The results are expanding our knowledge of microbial life and how long it can be dormant when conditions force it to be.
Continue reading “Microbes Were Dormant for Over 100 Million Years, But They Were Able to Spring Back to Life”
Most of us will be forgotten only a generation or two after we pass. But some few of us will be remembered: great scientists, leaders, or generals, for example. But we can add history’s great artists to that list, and one in particular: Johannes Vermeer.
Vermeer was largely ignored during the two centures that followed his death, and died as other painters often did: penniless. But as more time has passed, the Dutch Baroque painter has grown in reputation, as historians increasingly recognize him as a master.
Continue reading “Astronomers Do the Math to Figure Out Exactly When Johannes Vermeer Painted this, More than 350 Years Ago”
Every 26 months, the orbits of both Earth and Mars conspire to make travel between the two planets shorter. Launching in one of these windows means the travel time can be reduced to only six months. Our robotic missions to the Martian surface, and missions that place satellites in Martian orbit, launch during these windows.
But are there other alternatives to this mission architecture?
One group of researchers says that crewed missions to Mars shouldn’t go directly to their destination; they should slingshot past Venus first.
Continue reading “Instead of Going Straight to Mars, Astronauts Should Make a Slingshot Past Venus First”
Any mission to Mars requires deeper planning than missions to the ISS or the Moon. Based purely on the length of the mission, contingencies branch outwards in complex logistical pathways. What if there’s an accident? What if someone’s appendix bursts?
And what if surgery is needed?
Continue reading “How Would We Do Surgery in Space?”
Neutrinos are puzzling things. They’re tiny particles, almost massless, with no electrical charge. They’re notoriously difficult to detect, too, and scientists have gone to great lengths to detect them. The IceCube Neutrino Observatory, for instance, tries to detect neutrinos with strings of detectors buried down to a depth of 2450 meters (8000 ft.) in the dark Antarctic ice.
How’s that for commitment.
Continue reading “Detecting the Neutrinos From a Supernova That’s About to Explode”
We all know what water is. And what rock is. The difference is crystal clear. Well, here on Earth it is.
But on other worlds? The difference might not be so clear.
Continue reading “Deep Down in Ocean Worlds, it’s Difficult to Tell Where the Oceans End and the Rock Begins”
At first glance, Jupiter’s moon Europa doesn’t seem much like Earth. It’s a moon, not a planet, and it’s covered in ice. But it does have one important thing in common with Earth: a warm, salty ocean.
Now there’s even more evidence that Europa’s sub-surface ocean is habitable.
Continue reading “More Evidence that Europa’s Oceans Could be Habitable”
A black hole as a source of energy?
We know black holes as powerful singularities, regions in space time where gravity is so overwhelming that nothing—not even light itself—can escape.
About 50 years ago, British physicist Roger Penrose proposed that black holes could be a source of energy. Now, researchers at the University of Glasgow in Scotland have demonstrated that it may be possible.
Continue reading “How an Advanced Civilization Could Exploit a Black Hole for Nearly Limitless Energy”