January 22, 2014 |
Before Pluto's fall from planetary grace, there was Ceres. Depending on your definition, it's either the largest asteroid or the smallest dwarf planet -- but for a few glorious decades in the 1800s, the rocky sphere was a full planet in the solar system's pantheon. Now, astronomers have discovered water vapor steaming off this mysterious little planetoid - - and the discovery, published in the journal Nature, could have fascinating implications for the evolution of our solar system.
December 25, 2013 |
Today is the day Christians around the world celebrate one of the central miracles of the New Testament: the birth of God's son on Earth. Since then, the "miracle" bar has been lowered and the label has been secularized, attached by the media to all manner of unexpected and wondrous feats - from rescue workers finding a baby alive in the rubble five days after the devastating Haitian earthquake in 2010 to the U.S. Olympic hockey team's stunning upset...
November 25, 2013 |
Comet ISON's day of reckoning is nearly upon us. On Thursday -- Thanksgiving Day -- the comet will reach perihelion, its closest approach to the sun. Whether it will survive the blistering heat of this encounter, and the powerful pull of the sun's gravity, or disintegrate into a shower of fragments is still unclear. Regardless of what happens, the journey has been captivating. "We are all standing side by side as we witness a complete scientific mystery unfold before us," astronomer Karl Battams wrote on NASA's Comet ISON Observing Campaign blog . "We have absolutely no idea if ISON will survive past the sun or not, and how it might look in our December night skies, if it ever gets that far. " ISON's journey toward the sun has been epic.
November 21, 2013 |
Is there life beyond Earth in our solar system? If there is, NASA's new chief scientist, Ellen Stofan, would like to find it. "If I had an unlimited budget, I would really be probing that question of life, because we know what the questions are, and we know what the destinations are," she said. Stofan was at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory on Wednesday, attending meetings and speaking with the press. She landed NASA's top scientist job in August, but this was not her first visit to the campus in La Canada Flintridge.
November 21, 2013 |
In a cosmos filled with darkness, scientists say they've discovered the first elusive neutrinos to come from outside our solar system in a quarter-century. The groundbreaking discovery made beneath the ice of Antarctica opens a whole new window onto the high-energy universe -- one that will usher in a new era of astronomy. Using a cubic kilometer of ice buried deep beneath the surface of an Antarctic glacier, the international team of astrophysicists known as IceCube has picked 28 neutrinos that are so energetic that whatever created them must have been extremely powerful, utterly mysterious, or both.
November 7, 2013 |
A bizarre, never-before-seen asteroid with six comet-like tails has been found in the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter, and scientists are shocked. "I'm trying not to use the word 'freak,'" said David Jewitt of UCLA and lead author of a paper about the six-tailed asteroid, "but that's what it is. It is definitely freakish. " A NASA release described the asteroid as looking like "a rotating lawn sprinkler" with dust radiating out from it like spokes on a wheel. PHOTOS: Amazing images from space What makes this find especially weird is that asteroids almost never have any kind of tail at all. Those dramatic blue tails we see in images from space are generally associated with comets -- "dirty snowballs" that originate in the outer regions of our solar system.
October 3, 2013 |
Red planet, meet rogue comet. Comet ISON zipped past Mars this week on its way to a potentially suicidal encounter with the sun on Thanksgiving Day. Scientists are unsure whether the estimated 2-mile-long comet will survive its encounter with the sun or break up on the close approach. "Comets are the rogues of the solar system," said Paul Chodas of JPL's Near Earth Objects office. "They are notoriously hard to predict. " At its closest approach to Mars on Oct. 1, comet ISON was just .07 AU, or about 6.5 million miles, from the Red Planet.
September 30, 2013 |
Saturn's moon Titan is one of the most bizarre places in the solar system, and now, to make things even weirder, scientists have found traces of propylene, the chemical used to make Tupperware, floating in its thick orange atmosphere. Bigger than Mercury, Titan is an icy world where temperatures hover around 228 degrees below zero Fahrenheit. It is the only moon in our solar system with clouds, and it has weather like we have on Earth. But when it rains on Titan, it rains liquid methane. Titan is also the only moon in our solar system with lakes and rivers, but they are filled with liquid methane and ethene, rather than water.
September 23, 2013 |
How old is the moon? Not as old as we once thought. The moon is likely to be 4.4 billion to 4.45 billion years old, or about 100 million years younger than previously thought, according to new research by geochemist Richard Carlson of the Carnegie Institution of Washington. It may be the closest body to us in space, but scientists are still not sure exactly how, or when, it formed. PHOTOS: Mysterious moons of the solar system The current working theory suggests that the moon formed when a large proto-planet plowed into the early Earth, creating a major explosion that sent huge amounts of rocky debris into space.
September 14, 2013
Re "NASA confirms Voyager milestone," Sept. 13 Iread of Voyager 1 leaving our solar system with more excitement, pride and soaring emotion than I had expected. I'm a retired teacher, and I remember the excitement that Voyager 1 stirred when it was launched in 1977. It was proof of American ingenuity, a measure of our national resolve to be first in everything we tried to accomplish. My students' imaginations were fired up by America's achievements in space. In fact, two of them went on to earn seats on space shuttle missions.