Freezing Ocean Might Not Be Responsible for Cryovolcanic Flows on Pluto’s Moon, Charon

Color-enhanced image of Pluto's largest moon, Charon, taken by NASA's New Horizons spacecraft on July 14, 2015. (Credit: NASA/Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory/Southwest Research Institute)

In a recent study scheduled to be published in the journal Icarus in March 2023, a team of researchers led by the Southwest Research Institute (SwRI) modeled a potential correlation between an ancient freezing ocean with cryovolcanic flows and surface canyons on Pluto’s largest moon, Charon. Their hypothesis was that when Charon’s interior ocean froze long ago, the significant stress put on the icy outer shell from the addition of more ice to the bottom of the existing shell could have been responsible for the cryovolcanic flows on the surface.

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The Outer Solar System Supplied a Surprising Amount of Earth’s Water

Currently exploring the Kuiper Belt, New Horizons is just one of five spacecraft to reach beyond 50 astronomical units, on its way out of the solar system and, eventually, into interstellar space. (Credit: NASA/Johns Hopkins APL/Southwest Research Institute)

In a recent study published in Science, a team of researchers at Imperial College London examined 18 meteorites containing the volatile element zinc to help determine their origin, as it has been long hypothesized that Earth’s volatiles materials, including water, were derived from asteroids closer to our home planet. However, their results potentially indicate a much different origin story.

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Scientists Examine Geological Processes of Monad Regio on Neptune’s Largest Moon, Triton

Global color mosaic of Neptune's largest moon, Triton, taken by NASA's Voyager 2 in 1989. (Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/USGS)

In a recent study submitted to the journal Icarus, a team of researchers at the International Research School of Planetary Science (IRSPS) located at the D’Annunzio University of Chieti-Pescara in Italy conducted a geological analysis of a region on Neptune’s largest moon, Triton, known as Monad Regio to ascertain the geological processes responsible for shaping its surface during its history, and possibly today. These include what are known as endogenic and exogenic processes, which constitute geologic processes occurring internally (endo-) and externally (exo-) on a celestial body. So, what new insights into planetary geologic processes can we learn from this examination of Monad Regio?

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NASA’s Psyche Mission is Back on. It’ll Launch Towards its Metal Asteroid Target Later This Year

A June 2020 artist illustration of NASA's Psyche spacecraft. (Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Arizona State University)

NASA’s Psyche mission is back on track for launch and is now scheduled for a potential October 2023 launch date, according to an October 2022 statement from NASA. This comes after missing its originally planned launch date between August and October of 2022, and becoming subject to an independent review board, whose results were announced in November 2022.

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Will Pluto finally answer, ‘Are we alone?’

Color-enhanced image of Pluto from NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft taken in July 2015. More thorough exploration of the outer Solar System will require efficient power systems for spacecraft. (Credit: NASA / Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory (JHUAPL) / Southwest Research Institute (SwRI))

We previously examined how Neptune’s largest moon, Triton, could answer the longstanding question: Are we alone? With its nitrogen geysers discovered by NASA’s Voyager 2 spacecraft, possible interior ocean, and lack of craters, Triton could be geologically active, which makes it an excellent celestial body for future astrobiology missions. But Triton isn’t the only place on the edge of the solar system which garners interest for finding life beyond Earth, as one of the most familiar and well-known (former) planets also exhibits evidence of recent geological activity and crater-less surface features. This is everyone’s favorite dwarf planet, Pluto, which like Triton has only been visited by one spacecraft, this one being NASA’s New Horizons, in 2015. But even with only one visitation, we discovered so much about Pluto, and what it might be hiding, as well.

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How Many Stars Formed Together With the Sun in Our Stellar Nebula?

This is a two-panel mosaic of part of the Taurus Giant Molecular Cloud, the nearest active star-forming region to Earth. The darkest regions are where stars are being born. Image Credit: Adam Block /Steward Observatory/University of Arizona

Even though our Sun is now a solitary star, it still has siblings somewhere in the Milky Way. Stars form in massive clouds of gas called Molecular Clouds. When the Sun formed about five billion years ago, other stars would’ve formed from the same cloud, creating a star cluster.

How many other stars formed in the cluster?

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The Universe is Brighter Than we Thought

Artist's impression of NASA's New Horizons spacecraft. Credit: NASA/APL/SwRI and NASA/JPL-Caltech

Over seven years ago, the New Horizons mission made history when it became the first spacecraft to conduct a flyby of Pluto. In the leadup to this encounter, the spacecraft provided updated data and images of many objects in the inner and outer Solar System. Once beyond the orbit of Pluto and its moons, it embarked on a new mission: to make the first encounter with a Kuiper Belt Object (KBO). This historic flyby occurred about four years ago (Dec. 31st, 2015) when New Horizons zipped past Arrokoth (aka. 2014 MU69).

Now that it is passing through the Kuiper Belt, away from the light pollution of the inner Solar System, it has another lucrative mission: measuring the brightness of the Universe. These measurements will allow astronomers to make more accurate estimates of how many galaxies there are, which is still the subject of debate. According to new measurements by New Horizons, the light coming from stars beyond the Milky Way is two to three times brighter than the light from known populations of galaxies – meaning that there are even more out there than we thought!

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Scientists Investigate Potential Regolith Origin on Uranus’ Moon, Miranda

Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

In a recent study published in The Planetary Science Journal, a pair of researchers led by The Carl Sagan Center at the SETI Institute in California investigated the potential origin for the thick regolith deposits on Uranus’ moon, Miranda. The purpose of this study was to determine Miranda’s internal structure, most notably its interior heat, which could help determine if Miranda harbors—or ever harbored—an internal ocean.

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Birds use Dynamic Soaring to Pick Up Velocity. We Could Use a Similar Trick to Go Interstellar

The Solar Sail demonstration mission. Credit: NASA

To stand on a coastal shore and watch how eagles, ravens, seagulls, and crows take flight in high winds. it’s an inspiring sight, to be sure. Additionally, it illustrates an important concept in aerial mechanics, like how the proper angling of wings can allow birds to exploit differences in wind speed to hover in mid-air. Similarly, birds can use these same differences in wind speed to gain bursts of velocity to soar and dive. These same lessons can be applied to space, where spacecraft could perform special maneuvers to pick up bursts of speed from “space weather” (solar wind).

This was the subject of a recent study led by researchers from McGill University in Montreal, Quebec. By circling between regions of the heliosphere with different wind speeds, they state, a spacecraft would be capable of “dynamic soaring” the same way avian species are. Such a spacecraft would not require propellant (which makes up the biggest mass fraction of conventional missions) and would need only a minimal power supply. Their proposal is one of many concepts for low-mass, low-cost missions that could become interplanetary (or interstellar) explorers.

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The Oort Cloud Could Have More Rock Than Previously Believed

This artist's concept puts Solar System distances in perspective. The scale bar is in astronomical units, with each set distance beyond 1 AU representing 10 times the previous distance (logarithmic scale.) The image shows Voyager 2's location in 2018. (It also shows where the star Ross 248 will be in 40,000 years, when it will briefly be the closest star to the Sun.) Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

The Oort Cloud is a collection of icy objects in the furthest reaches of the Solar System. It contains the most distant objects in the Solar System, and instead of orbiting on a plane like the planets or forming a ring like the Kuiper Belt, it’s a vast spherical cloud centred on the Sun. It’s where comets originate, and beyond it is interstellar space.

At least that’s what scientists think; nobody’s ever seen it.

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