Written by Felicia Chou
Washington, D.C. – NASA’s Juno is now poised to shine a spotlight on the origins and interior structure of the largest planet in our solar system.
As we wait for Juno’s first close-up images of Jupiter (to be taken August 27th during the spacecraft’s next pass by the planet), NASA continues to explore our solar system to help answer fundamental questions about how we came to be, where we are going and whether we are alone in the universe.
Written by DC Agle / Preston Dyches
Pasadena, CA – The JunoCam camera aboard NASA’s Juno mission is operational and sending down data after the spacecraft’s July 4th arrival at Jupiter. Juno’s visible-light camera was turned on six days after Juno fired its main engine and placed itself into orbit around the largest planetary inhabitant of our solar system. The first high-resolution images of the gas giant Jupiter are still a few weeks away.
“This scene from JunoCam indicates it survived its first pass through Jupiter’s extreme radiation environment without any degradation and is ready to take on Jupiter,” said Scott Bolton, principal investigator from the Southwest Research Institute in San Antonio. “We can’t wait to see the first view of Jupiter’s poles.”
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 DC Agle
“We’ve just crossed the boundary into Jupiter’s home turf,” said Juno Principal Investigator Scott Bolton of Southwest Research Institute, San Antonio. “We’re closing in fast on the planet itself and already gaining valuable data.”
NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory
Pasadena, CA – A new NASA study modeling conditions in the ocean of Jupiter’s moon Europa suggests that the necessary balance of chemical energy for life could exist there, even if the moon lacks volcanic hydrothermal activity.
Europa is strongly believed to hide a deep ocean of salty liquid water beneath its icy shell. Whether the Jovian moon has the raw materials and chemical energy in the right proportions to support biology is a topic of intense scientific interest.
The answer may hinge on whether Europa has environments where chemicals are matched in the right proportions to power biological processes. Life on Earth exploits such niches.
Written by Preston Dyches
Pasadena, CA – During a recent stargazing session, NASA’s Cassini spacecraft watched a bright star pass behind the plume of gas and dust that spews from Saturn’s icy moon Enceladus. At first, the data from that observation had scientists scratching their heads. What they saw didn’t fit their predictions.
The observation has led to a surprising new clue about the remarkable geologic activity on Enceladus: It appears that at least some of the narrow jets that erupt from the moon’s surface blast with increased fury when the moon is farther from Saturn in its orbit.
Written by Bill Steigerwald
Greenbelt, MD – A powerful combination of observations and computer simulations is giving new clues to how the moon got its mysterious “tattoos” — swirling patterns of light and dark found at over a hundred locations across the lunar surface.
“These patterns, called ‘lunar swirls,’ appear almost painted on the surface of the moon,” said John Keller of NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland. “They are unique; we’ve only seen these features on the moon, and their origin has remained a mystery since their discovery.” Keller is project scientist for NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO) mission, which made the observations.
Written by Preston Dyches
Pasadena, CA – Of the hundreds of moons in our solar system, Titan is the only one with a dense atmosphere and large liquid reservoirs on its surface, making it in some ways more like a terrestrial planet.
Both Earth and Titan have nitrogen-dominated atmospheres — over 95 percent nitrogen in Titan’s case. However, unlike Earth, Titan has very little oxygen; the rest of the atmosphere is mostly methane and trace amounts of other gases, including ethane. And at the frigid temperatures found at Saturn’s great distance from the sun, the methane and ethane can exist on the surface in liquid form.
Written by Emily Baldwin
Pasadena, CA – NASA’s Cassini spacecraft has detected the faint but distinct signature of dust coming from beyond our solar system. The research, led by a team of Cassini scientists primarily from Europe, is published this week in the journal Science.
Cassini has been in orbit around Saturn since 2004, studying the giant planet, its rings and its moons. The spacecraft has also sampled millions of ice-rich dust grains with its cosmic dust analyzer instrument. The vast majority of the sampled grains originate from active jets that spray from the surface of Saturn’s geologically active moon Enceladus.
Written by Whitney Clavin
Pasadena, CA – Observations from NASA’s Spitzer Space Telescope have led to the first temperature map of a super-Earth planet — a rocky planet nearly two times as big as ours. The map reveals extreme temperature swings from one side of the planet to the other, and hints that a possible reason for this is the presence of lava flows.
“Our view of this planet keeps evolving,” said Brice Olivier Demory of the University of Cambridge, England, lead author of a new report appearing in the March 30 issue of the journal Nature. “The latest findings tell us the planet has hot nights and significantly hotter days. This indicates the planet inefficiently transports heat around the planet. We propose this could be explained by an atmosphere that would exist only on the day side of the planet, or by lava flows at the planet surface.”
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