Washington, D.C. – They say you can’t judge a book by its cover. But what about planets?
Take Neptune for example. For many years, especially since 1989 when Voyager 2 flew past Neptune and measured its gravity field, astronomers have known that the blue giant harbors a secret world inside. Hidden deep below the azure cloud tops lies a rocky core not much larger than Earth. Uranus has one, too! These “worlds within worlds” could have exotic properties including scorching hot oceans and diamond rain.
If only researchers could peel back the clouds for a closer look….
Written by Alan Buis
Pasadena, CA – Research using NASA satellite measurements has given scientists a better understanding of what happens to rain and snow that falls on land — how much runs off into rivers, lakes and aquifers; how much plants use; and how much simply evaporates.
Among the new findings: plants around the world use less water than previous studies had indicated, and most freshwater passes more rapidly through soil than previously thought, with less exposure to the nutrients and contaminants contained there.
Written by Guy Webster
Pasadena, CA – NASA’s Curiosity Mars rover is driving toward the southwest after departing a region where for several weeks it investigated a geological contact zone and rocks that are unexpectedly high in silica and hydrogen content. The hydrogen indicates water bound to minerals in the ground.
In this “Marias Pass” region, Curiosity successfully used its drill to sample a rock target called “Buckskin” and then used the camera on its robotic arm for multiple images to be stitched into a self-portrait at the drilling site.
Written by Roberto Molar Candanosa
Greenbelt, MD – The largest and most powerful hurricanes ever recorded on Earth spanned over 1,000 miles across with winds gusting up to around 200 mph. That’s wide enough to stretch across nearly all U.S. states east of Texas. But even that kind of storm is dwarfed by the Great Red Spot, a gigantic storm in Jupiter. There, gigantic means twice as wide as Earth.
With tumultuous winds peaking at about 400 mph, the Great Red Spot has been swirling wildly over Jupiter’s skies for the past 150 years—maybe even much longer than that.
Written by Elizabeth Landau
Pasadena, CA – Mysterious objects called brown dwarfs are sometimes called “failed stars.” They are too small to fuse hydrogen in their cores, the way most stars do, but also too large to be classified as planets.
But a new study in the journal Nature suggests they succeed in creating powerful auroral displays, similar to the kind seen around the magnetic poles on Earth.
“This is a whole new manifestation of magnetic activity for that kind of object,” said Leon Harding, a technologist at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, California, and co-author on the study.
Written by Felicia Chou
Washington, D.C. – Astronomers using NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope have discovered an immense cloud of hydrogen dubbed “The Behemoth” bleeding from a planet orbiting a nearby star. The enormous, comet-like feature is about 50 times the size of the parent star. The hydrogen is evaporating from a warm, Neptune-sized planet, due to extreme radiation from the star.
This phenomenon has never been seen around an exoplanet so small. It may offer clues to how other planets with hydrogen-enveloped atmospheres could have their outer layers evaporated by their parent star, leaving behind solid, rocky cores. Hot, rocky planets such as these that roughly the size of Earth are known as Hot-Super Earths.
Written by Whitney Clavin
Pasadena, CA – They wouldn’t float like balloons or give you the chance to talk in high, squeaky voices, but planets with helium skies may constitute an exotic planetary class in our Milky Way galaxy.
Researchers using data from NASA’s Spitzer Space Telescope propose that warm Neptune-size planets with clouds of helium may be strewn about the galaxy by the thousands.
“We don’t have any planets like this in our own solar system,” said Renyu Hu, NASA Hubble Fellow at the agency’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, and lead author of a new study on the findings accepted for publication in the Astrophysical Journal. “But we think planets with helium atmospheres could be common around other stars.”
NASA’s Alice instrument aboard Rosetta spacecraft makes discovery on Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko
Written by DC Agle
Pasadena, CA – Data collected by NASA’s Alice instrument aboard the European Space Agency’s Rosetta spacecraft reveal that electrons close to the surface of comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko — not photons from the sun, as had been believed — cause the rapid breakup of water and carbon dioxide molecules spewing from the comet’s surface.
“The discovery we’re reporting is quite unexpected,” said Alan Stern, principal investigator for the Alice instrument at the Southwest Research Institute (SwRI) in Boulder, Colorado. “It shows us the value of going to comets to observe them up close, since this discovery simply could not have been made from Earth or Earth orbit with any existing or planned observatory. And, it is fundamentally transforming our knowledge of comets.”
Written by Rob Gutro
Greenbelt, MD – Scientists using NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope have discovered that the immense halo of gas enveloping the Andromeda galaxy, our nearest massive galactic neighbor, is about six times larger and 1,000 times more massive than previously measured.
The dark, nearly invisible halo stretches about a million light-years from its host galaxy, halfway to our own Milky Way galaxy. This finding promises to tell astronomers more about the evolution and structure of majestic giant spirals, one of the most common types of galaxies in the universe.
Written by Tony Phillips
Washington, D.C. – Mission controllers at the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory in Laurel, Maryland, have confirmed that MESSENGER slammed into the surface of Mercury on April 30th at 3:26pm EDT.
It had used the last of its propellant on April 24th and could no longer maintain a stable orbit. Traveling some 8,750 mph, the plummeting spacecraft made an unseen crater on the side of the planet facing away from Earth.
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