Written by Elizabeth Landau
Pasadena, CA – Dwarf planet Ceres may be hundreds of millions of miles from Jupiter, and even farther from Saturn, but the tremendous influence of gravity from these gas giants has an appreciable effect on Ceres’ orientation.
In a new study, researchers from NASA’s Dawn mission calculate that the axial tilt of Ceres — the angle at which it spins as it journeys around the sun — varies widely over the course of about 24,500 years. Astronomers consider this to be a surprisingly short period of time for such dramatic deviations.
Written by Brian Wallheimer
Washington, D.C. – As children, we learned about our solar system’s planets by certain characteristics — Jupiter is the largest, Saturn has rings, Mercury is closest to the sun. Mars is red, but it’s possible that one of our closest neighbors also had rings at one point and may have them again someday.
That’s the theory put forth by NASA-funded scientists at Purdue University, Lafayette, Indiana, whose findings were published in the journal Nature Geoscience. David Minton and Andrew Hesselbrock developed a model that suggests that debris that was pushed into space from an asteroid or other body slamming into Mars around 4.3 billion years ago alternates between becoming a planetary ring and clumping together to form a moon.
Written by Mara Johnson-Groh
Greenbelt, MD – The movements of the stars and the planets have almost no impact on life on Earth, but a few times per year, the alignment of celestial bodies has a visible effect.
One of these geometric events — the spring equinox — is just around the corner, and another major alignment — a total solar eclipse — will be visible across America on August 21st, with a fleet of NASA satellites viewing it from space and providing images of the event.
To understand the basics of celestial alignments, here is information on equinoxes, solstices, full moons, eclipses and transits:
Written by Elizabeth Landau
Pasadena, CA – At first glance, Ceres, the largest body in the main asteroid belt, may not look icy. Images from NASA’s Dawn spacecraft have revealed a dark, heavily cratered world whose brightest area is made of highly reflective salts — not ice.
But newly published studies from Dawn scientists show two distinct lines of evidence for ice at or near the surface of the dwarf planet. Researchers are presenting these findings at the 2016 American Geophysical Union meeting in San Francisco.
Washington, D.C. – A newly discovered “great valley” in the southern hemisphere of Mercury provides more evidence that the small planet closest to the sun is shrinking.
Scientists used stereo images from NASA’s MESSENGER spacecraft to create a high-resolution topo map that revealed the broad valley — more than 620 miles (1,000 kilometers) long — extending into the Rembrandt basin, one of the largest and youngest impact basins on Mercury. About 250 miles (400 kilometers) wide and 2 miles (3 kilometers) deep, Mercury’s great valley is smaller than Mars’ Valles Marineris, but larger than North America’s Grand Canyon and wider and deeper than the Great Rift Valley in East Africa.
Written by Jay Thompson
Pasadena, CA – Humans sometimes struggle to adjust to Daylight Saving Time, but just measuring the exact length of a Saturn day is one of the big challenges for scientists on NASA’s Cassini mission. Over more than a decade in Saturn orbit, Cassini’s instruments have wrestled with confusing measurements to determine the planet’s precise rotation rate.
The mission’s final year and unprecedented trajectory will carry Cassini to unexplored regions so near to Saturn that scientists might finally answer the question:
Just how long is a day on Saturn?
Washington, D.C. – It takes a little imagination to wish some favorite fictional universes into existence. But, for legions of “Star Trek” fans, they don’t have to wish: one star system really exists in our Milky Way galaxy.
In Star Trek lore, Vulcan is the home of logic, learning and the deeply beloved first officer Mr. Spock. While Vulcan is fictional, the star system it belongs to–40 Eridani–is very real. It’s located only 16.5 light-years away from Earth and its primary star can be spotted with the naked eye.
Written by Elizabeth Zubritsky
Greenbelt, MD – Scientists with NASA’s Dawn mission have identified permanently shadowed regions on the dwarf planet Ceres. Most of these areas likely have been cold enough to trap water ice for a billion years, suggesting that ice deposits could exist there now.
“The conditions on Ceres are right for accumulating deposits of water ice,” said Norbert Schorghofer, a Dawn guest investigator at the University of Hawaii at Manoa. “Ceres has just enough mass to hold on to water molecules, and the permanently shadowed regions we identified are extremely cold — colder than most that exist on the moon or Mercury.”
Written by Elizabeth Landau
Pasadena, CA – Astronomers have discovered the youngest fully formed exoplanet ever detected. The discovery was made using NASA’s Kepler Space Telescope and its extended K2 mission, as well as the W. M. Keck Observatory on Mauna Kea, Hawaii. Exoplanets are planets that orbit stars beyond our sun.
The newfound planet, K2-33b, is a bit larger than Neptune and whips tightly around its star every five days. It is only 5 to 10 million years old, making it one of a very few newborn planets found to date.
Written by Steve Koppes
Chicago, IL – The four planets of the Kepler-223 star system appeared to have little in common with the planets of our own solar system today. But a new study using data from NASA’s Kepler space telescope suggests a possible commonality in the distant past.
The Kepler-223 planets orbit their star in the same configuration that Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus and Neptune may have had in the early history of our solar system, before migrating to their current locations.
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