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NASA’s Dawn mission reveals Ceres’ Ice in Shadowed Craters related to dwarf planet’s tilt

 

Written by Elizabeth Landau
NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory

NASA - National Aeronautics and Space AdministrationPasadena, 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.

This animation shows how the illumination of Ceres' northern hemisphere varies with the dwarf planet's axial tilt, or obliquity. Shadowed regions are highlighted for tilts of 2 degrees, 12 degrees and 20 degrees. (NASA/JPL-Caltech/UCLA/MPS/DLR/IDA)

This animation shows how the illumination of Ceres’ northern hemisphere varies with the dwarf planet’s axial tilt, or obliquity. Shadowed regions are highlighted for tilts of 2 degrees, 12 degrees and 20 degrees. (NASA/JPL-Caltech/UCLA/MPS/DLR/IDA)

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NASA’s Cassini Spacecraft detects Heat under Ice of Saturn’s Moon Enceladus

 

Written by Preston Dyches
NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory

NASA - National Aeronautics and Space AdministrationPasadena, CA – A new study in the journal Nature Astronomy reports that the south polar region of Saturn’s icy moon Enceladus is warmer than expected just a few feet below its icy surface. This suggests that Enceladus’ ocean of liquid water might be only a couple of miles beneath this region — closer to the surface than previously thought.

The excess heat is especially pronounced over three fractures that are not unlike the “tiger stripes” — prominent, actively venting fractures that slice across the pole — except that they don’t appear to be active at the moment.

This enhanced-color Cassini view of southern latitudes on Enceladus features the bluish "tiger stripe" fractures that rip across the south polar region. (NASA)

This enhanced-color Cassini view of southern latitudes on Enceladus features the bluish “tiger stripe” fractures that rip across the south polar region. (NASA)

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NASA names mission to Jupiter’s ice moon “Europa Clipper”

 

Written by Preston Dyches
NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory

NASA - National Aeronautics and Space AdministrationPasadena, CA – NASA’s upcoming mission to investigate the habitability of Jupiter’s icy moon Europa now has a formal name: Europa Clipper.

The moniker harkens back to the clipper ships that sailed across the oceans of Earth in the 19th century. Clipper ships were streamlined, three-masted sailing vessels renowned for their grace and swiftness. These ships rapidly shuttled tea and other goods back and forth across the Atlantic Ocean and around the globe.

In the grand tradition of these classic ships, the Europa Clipper spacecraft would sail past Europa at a rapid cadence, as frequently as every two weeks, providing many opportunities to investigate the moon up close.

The puzzling, fascinating surface of Jupiter's icy moon Europa looms large in this reprocessed color view, made from images taken by NASA's Galileo spacecraft in the late 1990s. (NASA/JPL-Caltech/SETI Institute)

The puzzling, fascinating surface of Jupiter’s icy moon Europa looms large in this reprocessed color view, made from images taken by NASA’s Galileo spacecraft in the late 1990s. (NASA/JPL-Caltech/SETI Institute)

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NASA’s Dawn spacecraft data used to determine age of Bright Spot on Dwarf Planet Ceres

 

Written by Elizabeth Landau
NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory

NASA - National Aeronautics and Space AdministrationPasadena, CA – The bright central area of Ceres’ Occator Crater, known as Cerealia Facula, is approximately 30 million years younger than the crater in which it lies, according to a new study in the Astronomical Journal. Scientists used data from NASA’s Dawn spacecraft to analyze Occator’s central dome in detail, concluding that this intriguing bright feature on the dwarf planet is only about 4 million years old — quite recent in terms of geological history.

Researchers led by Andreas Nathues at the Max Planck Institute for Solar System Research (MPS) in Gottingen, Germany, analyzed data from two instruments on board NASA’s Dawn spacecraft: the framing camera, and the visible and infrared mapping spectrometer.

The bright spots in the center of Occator Crater on Ceres are shown in enhanced color in this view from NASA's Dawn spacecraft. (NASA/JPL-Caltech/UCLA/MPS/DLR/IDA/PSI/LPI)

The bright spots in the center of Occator Crater on Ceres are shown in enhanced color in this view from NASA’s Dawn spacecraft. (NASA/JPL-Caltech/UCLA/MPS/DLR/IDA/PSI/LPI)

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NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope to examine Seven Earth Sized Planets

 

Written by Laura Betz
NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center

NASA - National Aeronautics and Space AdministrationGreenbelt, MD – With the discovery of seven earth-sized planets around the TRAPPIST-1 star 40 light years away, astronomers are looking to the upcoming James Webb Space Telescope to help us find out if any of these planets could possibly support life.

“If these planets have atmospheres, the James Webb Space Telescope will be the key to unlocking their secrets,” said Doug Hudgins, Exoplanet Program Scientist at NASA Headquarters in Washington. “In the meantime, NASA’s missions like Spitzer, Hubble, and Kepler are following up on these planets.”

Rendering of the James Webb Space Telescope. (Northrop Grumman)

Rendering of the James Webb Space Telescope. (Northrop Grumman)

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NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope sees Comet-Like Object ripped apart in Atmosphere of White Dwarf

 

Written by Ann Jenkins / Ray Villard
Space Telescope Science Institute

NASA - National Aeronautics and Space AdministrationBaltimore, MD – For the first time, scientists using NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope have witnessed a massive object with the makeup of a comet being ripped apart and scattered in the atmosphere of a white dwarf, the burned-out remains of a compact star.

The object has a chemical composition similar to Halley’s Comet, but it is 100,000 times more massive and has a much higher amount of water. It is also rich in the elements essential for life, including nitrogen, carbon, oxygen, and sulfur.

This artist's concept shows a massive, comet-like object falling toward a white dwarf. New Hubble Space Telescope findings are evidence for a belt of comet-like bodies orbiting the white dwarf, similar to our solar system's Kuiper Belt. The findings also suggest the presence of one or more unseen surviving planets around the white dwarf, which may have perturbed the belt to hurl icy objects into the burned-out star. (NASA, ESA, and Z. Levy (STScI))

This artist’s concept shows a massive, comet-like object falling toward a white dwarf. New Hubble Space Telescope findings are evidence for a belt of comet-like bodies orbiting the white dwarf, similar to our solar system’s Kuiper Belt. The findings also suggest the presence of one or more unseen surviving planets around the white dwarf, which may have perturbed the belt to hurl icy objects into the burned-out star. (NASA, ESA, and Z. Levy (STScI))

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NASA’s Spitzer Space Telescope discover Star with Seven Earth Sized Planets in Orbit

 

Written by Elizabeth Landau
NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory

NASA - National Aeronautics and Space AdministrationPasadena, CA – NASA’s Spitzer Space Telescope has revealed the first known system of seven Earth-size planets around a single star. Three of these planets are firmly located in the habitable zone, the area around the parent star where a rocky planet is most likely to have liquid water.

The discovery sets a new record for greatest number of habitable-zone planets found around a single star outside our solar system. All of these seven planets could have liquid water — key to life as we know it — under the right atmospheric conditions, but the chances are highest with the three in the habitable zone.

The TRAPPIST-1 star, an ultra-cool dwarf, has seven Earth-size planets orbiting it. This artist's concept appeared on the cover of the journal Nature in Feb. 23, 2017 announcing new results about the system. (NASA/JPL-Caltech)

The TRAPPIST-1 star, an ultra-cool dwarf, has seven Earth-size planets orbiting it. This artist’s concept appeared on the cover of the journal Nature in Feb. 23, 2017 announcing new results about the system. (NASA/JPL-Caltech)

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NASA’s Dawn Mission finds Evidence for Organic Material on Dwarf Planet Ceres

 

Written by Elizabeth Landau
NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory

NASA - National Aeronautics and Space AdministrationPasadena, CA – NASA’s Dawn mission has found evidence for organic material on Ceres, a dwarf planet and the largest body in the main asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter.

Scientists using the spacecraft’s visible and infrared mapping spectrometer (VIR) detected the material in and around a northern-hemisphere crater called Ernutet. Organic molecules are interesting to scientists because they are necessary, though not sufficient, components of life on Earth.

This enhanced color composite image, made with data from the framing camera aboard NASA's Dawn spacecraft, shows the area around Ernutet Crater. The bright red portions appear redder with respect to the rest of Ceres. (NASA/JPL-Caltech/UCLA/MPS/DLR/IDA)

This enhanced color composite image, made with data from the framing camera aboard NASA’s Dawn spacecraft, shows the area around Ernutet Crater. The bright red portions appear redder with respect to the rest of Ceres. (NASA/JPL-Caltech/UCLA/MPS/DLR/IDA)

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NASA reviews concept to land probe on surface of Jupiter’s moon Europa

 

Written by Dwayne Brown / Laurie Cantillo
NASA Headquarters

NASA - National Aeronautics and Space AdministrationWashington, D.C. – A report on the potential science value of a lander on the surface of Jupiter’s icy moon Europa has been delivered to NASA, and the agency is now engaging the broader science community to open a discussion about its findings.

In early 2016, in response to a congressional directive, NASA’s Planetary Science Division began a pre-Phase A study to assess the science value and engineering design of a future Europa lander mission. NASA routinely conducts such studies — known as Science Definition Team (SDT) reports — long before the beginning of any mission to gain an understanding of the challenges, feasibility and science value of the potential mission.

This artist's rending illustrates a conceptual design for a potential future mission to land a robotic probe on the surface of Jupiter's moon Europa. (NASA)

This artist’s rending illustrates a conceptual design for a potential future mission to land a robotic probe on the surface of Jupiter’s moon Europa. (NASA)

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NASA’s Mars Rover Curiosity’s latest data adds to puzzle of liquid water on Mars

 

Written by Guy Webster
NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory

NASA - National Aeronautics and Space AdministrationPasadena, CA – Mars scientists are wrestling with a problem. Ample evidence says ancient Mars was sometimes wet, with water flowing and pooling on the planet’s surface. Yet, the ancient sun was about one-third less warm and climate modelers struggle to produce scenarios that get the surface of Mars warm enough for keeping water unfrozen.

A leading theory is to have a thicker carbon-dioxide atmosphere forming a greenhouse-gas blanket, helping to warm the surface of ancient Mars. However, according to a new analysis of data from NASA’s Mars rover Curiosity, Mars had far too little carbon dioxide about 3.5 billion years ago to provide enough greenhouse-effect warming to thaw water ice.

Bedrock at this site added to a puzzle about ancient Mars by indicating that a lake was present, but that little carbon dioxide was in the air to help keep a lake unfrozen. (NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS)

Bedrock at this site added to a puzzle about ancient Mars by indicating that a lake was present, but that little carbon dioxide was in the air to help keep a lake unfrozen. (NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS)

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