Solar System News (miscellaneous articles)


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Unobscured Vision

I smell another "ThinkTank(TM)" in the works ... :D 

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Jim K

Couldn't really find a place to put this ... since it isn't "Solar System".  Draggen ... think maybe change the title to reflect "Universe" ?  Or am I missing a more appropriate ongoing thread for this kind of awesomeness?


Astronomers get once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to predict supernova

A serendipitous observation of a distant supernova by the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope is providing astronomers with a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to definitively test their understanding of massive clusters of galaxies.

In November 2014 astronomers spotted a strange and rare sight. The huge mass of the galaxy cluster MACS J1149+2223 was magnifying the light from a much more distant supernova behind it, nicknamed Refsdal.

The light from Refsdal was magnified and distorted due to gravitational lensing, creating four separate images of the supernova arranged in a formation known as an Einstein Cross. Although astronomers have discovered dozens of multiply imaged galaxies, they had never before seen multiple images of a supernova (heic1505).

The four supernova images have been slowly fading away as the explosion dies down, but astronomers now have the unique chance to catch a rerun of Refsdal: The supernova images do not arrive on Earth at the same time because, for each image produced, the light takes a different route. For some of these routes, the light takes longer to reach us than for others.

Using various models of the cluster acting as a lens, astronomers have made a consistent set of predictions for when the next image will appear. Hubble’s gaze will now periodically be fixed on the skies in anticipation of once again observing Refsdal. The next image of this extraordinary event is expected to peak in the first third of 2016.

Follow the progress of Hubble’s upcoming observations on social media, on Hubble’s Twitter and Facebook pages. Stay tuned!


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Unobscured Vision

Ohhh SNAP. They know where to look now. Problem is, it could happen tomorrow or 1,000 years -- just like any other Supernova.

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That is a neat article....a real replay of an event in history, using gravitational lensing....awesome....:D

If one knows particulars of the "various lenses" in the general path, you may be able to narrow down the time frame considerably.

How do you edit a thread name ?..never did that before.......

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A witness to a wet early Mars

Close-up of features in Ganges Chasma, close to Aurorae Chaos. The image focuses on the valley walls in this region, which show evidence for slumping and landslides. Material closest to the valley floor shows a stepped morphology, which could reflect different water or ice levels over time. Small channels are observed on the cliff tops. Image courtesy ESA/DLR/FU Berlin, CC BY-SA 3.0 IGO. For a larger version of this image please go here.

Vast volumes of water once flooded through this deep chasm on Mars that connects the 'Grand Canyon' of the Solar System - Valles Marineris - to the planet's northern lowlands. The image, taken by ESA's Mars Express on 16 July, focuses on Aurorae Chaos, close to the junction of Ganges, Capri and Eos Chasmata.

Aurorae Chaos measures roughly 710 km across (a smaller section is shown here) and plunges some 4.8 km below the surrounding terrain.

The region is rich in features pointing to wet episodes in the history of the Red Planet. Dominating the southern (left) portion of the scene are numerous jumbled blocks - 'chaotic terrain', believed to form when the surface collapses in response to melting of subsurface ice and the subsequent sudden release of water.

Towards the centre of the image is the smoother floor of Ganges Chasma, comprising mostly alluvial deposits, and which transitions into a steep scarp and a cratered plateau to the north (right).

The northern plateau shares the same elevation as that on the southern side, but does not exhibit similar levels of catastrophic collapse.

However, the cliff tops display small channels and the walls show evidence of slumped material or landslides - best seen in the perspective view. Material closest to the main chasma floor appears stepped, which could reflect different water or ice levels over time.

Another interesting feature can be seen towards the upper centre and to the left in the main images, where a pair of faults cuts through a collapsed block, and perhaps extends into the southern plateau at the top of the image.

The faults could be the result of a tectonic event that occurred after the formation of the chaotic terrain, or they could be from simple subsidence.

This region is just a small subsection of a huge system of interconnected valleys and flood channels that emptied water into the northern plains, and which were most likely active in the first 1-2 billion years of Mars' history.


 Could Liquid Lakes Form on Mars Today?

A simulated image of a lake filling Mars' Gale Crater in the ancient past. New research suggests that lakes could form on present-day Mars and, if deep enough, could last at least a year, though they would quickly form an icy crust.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/ESA/DLR/FU Berlin/MSSS

Despite its frigid temperatures, Mars might be able to host lakes of water on its surface today, a new study suggests.

Although extremely small amounts of water would quickly evaporate inMars' low-pressure atmosphere, water from sources such as aquifers could last long enough to pool, with larger pools remaining liquid for at least a year, researchers said.

"Nobody's doubting that liquid water was on Mars at some point," Jules Goldspiel, of the Planetary Science Institute in Arizona, told "The question I was interested in is, given today's conditions, which are hostile to liquid water, could you [still] get it." [Photos: The Search for Water on Mars]

He created a simulation to determine if liquid water could puddle and form pools to remain liquid today.

"You could get it for a little while, potentially," said Goldspiel, who presented his results Nov. 12 at the 47th annual meeting of the American Astronomical Society's Division for Planetary Sciences in National Harbor, Maryland.

Flow, water, flow!

Billions of years ago, Mars had a thick atmosphere and a relatively warm surface with lots of liquid water. But the Red Planet lost most of its air to space billions of years ago and, as a result, is very cold and dry today.

For example, surface temperatures on present-day Mars can dip below minus 80 degrees Fahrenheit (minus 60 degrees Celsius). And the planet has low surface pressures, so small amounts of liquid water quickly turn to gas.

"If you put water on the surface, either it evaporates or [it] freezes," Goldspiel said.

Recent research suggested that if a significant amount of water flowed from a source such as an aquifer, it could stay liquid on the surface for a while, forming the puzzling features known as recurring slope lineae (RSL) that appear on some Red Planet slopes during warm months. RSL could form if a landslide or some other event exposed a source of water at the surface. Eventually, the water would begin to freeze and replug the source, cutting off the flow, researchers have said.

Goldspiel wondered what might happen if the water managed to collect in a pool. He simulated the flow of both hot and cold water running down a slope to collect in a basin with a 320-foot (100 meters) radius. While the surface layer would evaporate off, a layer of ice would eventually cover such a pool.

For shallow ponds just 10 feet (3 m) or so deep, Goldspiel found that the water would freezealmost immediately. However, when the water flowed long enough to form lakes about 65 feet (20 m) deep, it would remain liquid for at least a year, he found. 



Furthermore, cold water — at temperatures around 35 F (2 C) or so — would form an icy crust that would act as a thermal blanket, Goldspiel determined. In the Martian summer, any ice throttling the source could melt, allowing more water to flow down to the pool. The new water would freeze on top of the existing ice, but would provide some warmth that could pass through and melt the layer in contact with liquid water, helping to thin the ice layer even while building it.

However, if the water were hot — around 170 F (77 C) — it could not only build the small lake but also help keep the layer of water beneath the surface liquid. Beds of ice have already been found beneath the Martian surface, and other scientists have proposed that liquid water could lie under the planet's red dirt. Pockets of subsurface water might even be able to support life, protected against the harmful radiation that scours the planet, many astrobiologists say.

A one-time spurt from a hot-water source would eventually freeze over. So far, Goldspiel has run his simulation for only one Mars year, but he plans to run it longer to see how long such a pool would last before freezing over. He estimates it would take three to four years to freeze solid.

However, if that water were continuously replenished, the pool could last even longer, with incoming hot water helping to melt the already-thinning summer ice. Hot water might come from features like a low-pressure hydrothermal vent— or, as Goldspiel called it, a "hydrothermal seep."

Goldspiel noted that, although 170 F sounds hot, "on Earth, you see temperatures like that all the time, or like Yellowstone water coming out hot." [Ancient Mars Could Have Supported Life, NASA Finds (Video)]

"It's not an unreasonable temperature for a hydrothermal system," he said.

Deep, not hot

The idea that water could flow on Mars today has been explored since the 1980s, but as far as Goldspiel knows, no one has explored the idea of how long it could remain liquid at various depths under today's conditions.

Although no signs of the ice packs that would hint of these lakes are visible, that doesn't mean they couldn't form in the future under present conditions. But for these pools to build even temporarily, the water would have to flow quickly and the pools would have to be deep, Goldspiel said.

"The cold [water] isn't necessarily going to freeze faster than the warm [water]," Goldspiel said. "The deep [layer] freezes faster than the thin [one]."

This actually lends credence to sub surface water pools and aquifers surviving, today, in some areas. This, and we have not even talked about the lower levels of northern/southern glaciation and thermal effects........:) 

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NEOWISE observes carbon gases in comets

An expanded view of comet C/2006 W3 (Christensen) is shown here. The WISE spacecraft observed this comet on April 20th, 2010 as it traveled through the constellation Sagittarius. Image courtesy NASA/JPL-Caltech.

After its launch in 2009, NASA's NEOWISE spacecraft observed 163 comets during the WISE/NEOWISE prime mission. This sample from the space telescope represents the largest infrared survey of comets to date. Data from the survey are giving new insights into the dust, comet nucleus sizes, and production rates for difficult-to-observe gases like carbon dioxide and carbon monoxide.

Carbon monoxide (CO) and carbon dioxide (CO2) are common molecules found in the environment of the early solar system, and in comets. In most circumstances, water-ice sublimation likely drives the activity in comets when they come nearest to the sun, but at larger distances and colder temperatures, other common molecules like CO and CO2 may be the main drivers.

Spaceborne carbon dioxide and carbon monoxide are difficult to directly detect from the ground because their abundance in Earth's own atmosphere obscures the signal. The NEOWISE spacecraft soars high above Earth's atmosphere, making these measurements of a comet's gas emissions possible.

"This is the first time we've seen such large statistical evidence of carbon monoxide taking over as a comet's gas of choice when they are farther out from the sun," said James Bauer, deputy principal investigator of the NEOWISE mission from NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, and author of a paper on the subject.

"By emitting what is likely mostly carbon monoxide beyond four astronomical units (4 times the Earth-Sun distance; about 370 million miles, 600 million kilometers) it shows us that comets may have stored most of the gases when they formed, and secured them over billions of years.

"Most of the comets that we observed as active beyond 4 AU are long-period comets, comets with orbital periods greater than 200 years that spend most of their time beyond Neptune's orbit."

While the amount of carbon monoxide and dioxide increases relative to ejected dust as a comet gets closer to the sun, the percentage of these two gases, when compared to other volatile gases, decreases.

"As they get closer to the sun, these comets seem to produce a prodigious amount of carbon dioxide," said Bauer.

"Your average comet sampled by NEOWISE would expel enough carbon dioxide to provide the bubble power for thousands of cans of soda per second."


Earth's magnetic field is not about to flip    

This is an artistic impression of how auroras could be more widespread under a geomagnetic field much weaker than today's. Image courtesy Huapei Wang, with source files courtesy of NASA's Earth Observatory/NOAA/DOD.

(Note...This is the second recent study with the same conclusions).other study in ISS thread....

The intensity of earth's magnetic field has been weakening in the last couple of hundred years, leading some scientists to think that its polarity might be about to flip. But the field's intensity may simply be coming down from an abnormal high rather than approaching a reversal, scientists write in a new paper in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Humans have lived through dips in the field's intensity before, and there are debates about whether reversals in the more distant past had any connection to species extinctions. Today, we have something else today that would be affected by weakening of the magnetic field alone: technology. The magnetic field deflects the solar wind and cosmic rays. When the field is weaker, more radiation gets through, which can disrupt power grids and satellite communications.

"The field may be decreasing rapidly, but we're not yet down to the long-term average. In 100 years, the field may even go back the other direction [in intensity]," said Dennis Kent, an expert in paleomagnetism at Columbia University's Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory and co-author of the study with his former student, Huapel Wang, now a post-doctoral research associate at MIT, and Pierre Rochette of Aix-Marseille Universite.

The scientists used a new technique to measure changes in the magnetic field's strength in the past and found that its long-term average intensity over the past five million years was much weaker than the global database of paleointensity suggests - only about 60 percent of the field's strength today. The findings raise questions both about claims that the magnetic field may be nearing a reversal and about the database itself.

The study's results fit expectations that the magnetic field's intensity at the poles should be twice its intensity at the equator. In contrast, the time-averaged intensity calculated from the PINT paleointensity database doesn't meet the two-to-one, poles-to-equator dipole hypothesis, and the database calculation suggests that the long-term average intensity over the past 5 million years is similar to the field's intensity today.

The authors believe the difference is in how the samples are analyzed. They say the database, which catalogs paleointensity data from published papers, includes a variety of methods and doesn't clearly delineate data from two different types of magnetized mineral samples, tiny single-domain grains that come from sites that cooled quickly, like basalt glass on the outer edges of lava flows, and more common larger multi-domain grains found deeper inside lava whose magnetic behavior is more complex and require a different type of analysis.

Earth's magnetic poles have reversed several hundred times over the past 100 million years, most recently about 780,000 years ago. Some scientists believe a dip in the magnetic field's intensity 41,000 years ago was also a brief reversal. When scientists recently began noticing a decline in the magnetic field - about 10 percent over the past two centuries - it led to speculation that another reversal could be coming. That doesn't mean it would happen quickly, if it happens at all. The magnetic field's intensity rises and dips without a clear pattern, only sometimes dipping far enough to become unstable and possibly reverse. During a reversal, geomagnetic intensity declines during a transition period that typically lasts hundreds to thousands of years, then rebuilds.

For the new study, the scientists used ancient lava flows from sites near the equator and compared the paleointensity data with what had been regarded as an anomalously low intensity obtained by others from lavas from near the South Pole. As lava cools, iron-bearing minerals form inside and act like tiny magnets, aligning with the Earth's magnetic field. Scientists can analyze ancient lava to determine both the direction and the intensity of the magnetic field at the time the lava formed.

For the new study, the scientists used ancient lava flows from sites near the equator and compared the paleointensity data with from lavas collected near the South Pole. As lava cools, iron-bearing minerals form inside and act like tiny magnets, aligning with the Earth's magnetic field. Scientists can analyze ancient lava to determine both the direction and the intensity of the magnetic field at the time the lava formed.

The scientists used a new technique for analyzing multi-domain samples. They worked with a representative range from the past 5 million years using 27 lavas from the Galapagos Islands, about 1 degree of latitude from the equator. The results were then compared to those from 38 lavas with single-domain properties from a volcanic area near McMurdo Station in Antarctica, about 12 degrees from the South Pole.

When they averaged the geomagnetic intensity of each set, it revealed close to a two-to-one intensity difference between the polar site and the equatorial site, fitting the geocentric axial dipole (GAD) hypothesis, on which most paleogeographic reconstructions rely.

The results show that the time-averaged geomagnetic field intensity over the past 5 million years is about 60 percent of the field's intensity today and aligns with the GAD hypothesis, both in direction and intensity. Other studies using only single-domain basalt glass from the ocean floor have found a similar time-averaged intensity, but they did not have samples to test the polar-equator ratio. The agreement helps to validate the new multiple-domain analysis technique, Kent said.

The lower time-averaged paleointensity also suggests a shorter average magnetopause standoff distance--the distance at which the Earth's magnetic field repels the solar wind. The average is about 9 times the Earth's radius compared to nearly 11 times the Earth's radius today, according to the paper. A shorter standoff distance results in stronger radiation at Earth's surface and in the atmosphere, causing more frequent low-latitude auroras.


Acid Fog on Mars Likely Took a Bite Out of Its Rocks

On the surface of Mars, the three Cumberland Ridge outcrops: a) Larry's Lookout, b) Jibsheet and c) Methuselah. Their progressively different terrain and levels of iron oxidation suggest they were affected by acidic fog.
Credit: D. Savransky and J. Bell (Cornell) / JPL / NASA, annotated by S. Cole.

Acid fog may once have eaten away rocks on Mars, researchers say.

Scientists concentrated on data that the Spirit rover gathered from exposed bedrock at the Columbia Hills of Gusev Crater near the equator of Mars. Spirit analyzed a dozen locations on four outcrops of rocks spanning about 650 feet (200 meters) along Cumberland Ridge and the Husband Hill summit.

Although Spirit's chemical scanner found the chemical composition of these rocks was similar, they looked different to all the rover's other instruments. For instance, the degree to which the rocks had either an orderly crystalline structure or a disorderly amorphous structure varied greatly over a distance of only about 100 feet (30 meters) in Cumberland Ridge, or about a third the size of a football field. [Infographic: How NASA's Mars Rovers Spirit and Opportunity Work]

These rocks also varied when it came to the sizes of the knobby bumps on them, as well as how much the iron in the rocks was oxidized. These variations in structure, bumps and iron may all stem from the same cause — acid fog.

"What we saw on Mars was the result of volcanic eruptions that happened billions of years ago, probably before there was multicellular life on Earth," study co-author Shoshanna Cole, a planetary scientist at Ithaca College in New York, told researchers suggest these rocks were exposed to acidic water vapor from volcanic eruptions. This corrosive fog may have been similar to the caustic volcanic smog, or "vog," spewed from the eruptions of Kilauea in Hawaii.


This false-color mosaic of Cumberland Ridge on the Martian surface covers a space about 1/3 the size of a football field. Its labeled regions show dramatically varying iron-bearing mineralogy.
Credit: S. Cole; background image: NASA/JPL/Cornell/Arizona State University; Moessbauer values from Morris et al. 2008 (doi: 10.1029/2008JE003201)

When Martian vog drifted onto the surface of the rocks that Spirit analyzed, the acid fog would have made them lose their crystalline structure and dissolved some of the minerals, forming a gel. The water in the vog then evaporated, cementing grains of the rock together into bumps. Similar effects were seen in previous experiments that exposed volcanic rocks similar to those on Mars to sulfuric and hydrochloric acids.

"So nothing is being added or taken away, but it was changed," Cole said in a statement. "This would have happened in tiny amounts over a very long time. There's even one place where you see the cementing agent healing a fracture. It's pretty awesome. I was pretty happy when I found that one."

The variations seen in these changes may be due to variations in the area's terrain. For instance, the amount of sunshine and wind each rock received would influence the amount of gel the vog formed on it. The more-altered rocks with the larger bumps are on very steep slopes facing away from the sun, which made them shadier, while the least-altered rocks are on sunnier and gentler slopes, the investigators said.

"In the same way that your home garden will have little microclimates, with some places warmer or cooler than others, and plants growing better in one spot than another, there were microclimates on Mars," Cole said.

Future research can model this site in great detail "to see how much erosion might have happened," Cole said.

Cole and her colleagues detailed their findings Nov. 2 at the annual meeting of the Geological Society. of America in Baltimore.


Massive Rocks May Explain Moon's Mysterious Tilt

Gravitational interactions of small bodies with the Earth-Moon system shortly after its formation (artist's depiction).
Credit: Laetitia Lalila

The mysterious tilt of the moon's orbit is due to gravitational tugs it received from giant, close-passing rocks that eventually slammed into the Earth, new research suggests.

The leading explanation for the moon's origin is that a Mars-size rock called Theia struck the newborn Earth about 4.5 billion years ago, and the moon coalesced from the disk of debris that resulted from this crash.

However, the moon's current orbit is tilted about 5 degrees with respect to Earth. Previous research suggested this inclination should be 10 times smaller — a long-standing mystery known as the lunar inclination problem. Now, new research shows that gravitational jostling of the newborn moon may solve this puzzle. This finding could also help to explain the levels of gold, platinum and other metals seen in Earth's outer layers, the authors of the new research added. [How the Moon Formed: An Illustrated Timeline (Gallery)]

Smack! Collisions in the early solar system

The early solar system was full of giant rocks hurtling around it and later colliding with Earth and the other planets.

For the new research, scientists ran computer models of the newborn solar system, and began their simulations with the moon orbiting around the Earth's orbital plane. (Collisions between the rocks that came to make up the moon should have dissipated their energy and evened out the disk of debris around the Earth, causing the moon to orbit around Earth's orbital plane.) The simulations included rocks with a total mass equal to 0.75 to 1.5 percent of Earth's mass. (For comparison, the moon's mass is about 1.2 percent of Earth's mass.) 

Before these giant rocks smacked into Earth, they each typically experienced thousands of close passes with the planet, a portion of which might have brought them close enough to Earth or the moon to strongly perturb the moon's orbit with their gravitational pull. The researchers found that there was a high chance that, a few tens of millions of years after lunar formation, these close passes could have given the moon's orbit the tilt seen today.

"The most surprising thing about these results is the ease with which the moon's orbital trajectory can be tilted, or excited, by gravitational interactions with passing objects," Kaveh Pahlevan, a planetary scientist at the Observatory of the Côte d'Azur in Nice, France, and lead author of the study, told


The moon is tilted with respect to the Earth's orbital plane.
Credit: NASA

These findings suggest that the giant impact that formed the moon occurred near the end of Earth's formation.


"If the moon-forming event had occurred earlier, when more massive bodies were around, the moon's orbit would have been much more excited and likely destabilized, with the moon colliding with the Earth or escaping to interplanetary space," Pahlevan said. "The relative lateness of the moon-forming event during Earth formation can be understood as a necessity for its survival. Earlier moons were simply lost."

Precious metals

These findings also support previous research suggesting that giant rocks delivered a "late veneer" of metals onto Earth, adding about the last 1 percent of the planet's mass. Gold, platinum, iridium and certain other metals are highly siderophile, meaning they have a strong chemical affinity for iron. Because the newborn Earth was largely molten, most of the planet's iron sunk to its core, and this iron should have taken most of Earth's highly siderophile elements with it. The fact that such metals are found in relatively high levels on Earth's surface suggests they were delivered by giant impacts from many massive rocks, after Earth's core finished forming.

"Had such a population of objects not existed, the moon might be orbiting in Earth's orbital plane, with total solar eclipses occurring as a spectacular monthly event," Robin Canup, a planetary scientist at the Southwest Research Institute, wrote in a commentary article about this research, published in the journal Nature. "But our jewelry would be much less impressive — made from tin and copper, rather than from platinum and gold."

The vulnerability of planet-moon systems to gravitational disruption from outside bodies might help to explain some mysterious features of the inner solar system, Pahlevan said. For instance, Venus likely experienced the same kind of giant impacts that created Earth's moon, but it has no moon, and —strangely — spins very little on its axis.

"Could these Venusian features be the outcome of a planet-satellite system that was destabilized by strong collisionless encounters?" Pahlevan said. "That is a topic for future research."

Pahlevan and senior co-author Alessandro Morbidelli, of the Observatory of the Côte d’Azur, detailed their findings in the Nov. 26 issue of the journal Nature.


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SDO Sees a Dark Filament Circle On The Sun


A dark, almost circular filament broke away from the sun in a gauzy, feathery swirl, on Nov. 15, 2015, in this video from NASA's Solar Dynamics Observatory.

This filament eruption was followed by a second filament breaking away on Nov. 16. Filaments are dark strands of plasma tethered above the sun's surface by magnetic forces that, over time, often become disrupted and break away from the sun. Filaments appear darker than the surrounding material because of their comparatively cool temperature. This video was taken in extreme ultraviolet wavelengths of 304 angstroms and colorized in red.

SDO Sees a Dark Filament Circle 
video is 0:18 min



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All you need to know about asteroids and comets in 2 minutes

(well....2:20 min, to be accurate)



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A Crescent Enceladus And Saturn's Rings



Enceladus And Saturn's Rings    NASA




Although Enceladus and Saturn's rings are largely made up of water ice, they show very different characteristics.

The small ring particles are too tiny to retain internal heat and have no way to get warm, so they are frozen and geologically dead. Enceladus, on the other hand, is subject to forces that heat its interior to this very day. This results in its famous south polar water jets, which are just visible above the moon's dark, southern limb, along with a sub-surface ocean.

Recent work by Cassini scientists suggests that Enceladus (313 miles or 504 kilometers across) has a global ocean of liquid water under its surface. This discovery increases scientists' interest in Enceladus and the quest to understand the role of water in the development of life in the solar system.

This view looks toward the unilluminated side of the rings from about 0.3 degrees below the ring plane. The image was taken in visible light with the Cassini spacecraft narrow-angle camera on July 29, 2015.

The view was acquired at a distance of approximately 630,000 miles (1.0 million kilometers) from Enceladus and at a Sun-Enceladus-spacecraft, or phase angle of 155 degrees. Image scale is 4 miles (6 kilometers) per pixel.

The Cassini mission is a cooperative project of NASA, ESA (the European Space Agency) and the Italian Space Agency. The Jet Propulsion Laboratory, a division of the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena, manages the mission for NASA's Science Mission Directorate, Washington. The Cassini orbiter and its two onboard cameras were designed, developed and assembled at JPL. The imaging operations center is based at the Space Science Institute in Boulder, Colorado.

For more information about the Cassini-Huygens mission visit or . The Cassini imaging team homepage is at .

Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Space Science Institute Larger image




Simulating Jet streams and Anticyclones of Jupiter and Saturn



Simulating storms         ©UNIVERSITY OF ALBERTA




A University of Alberta researcher has successfully generated 3D simulations of deep jet streams and storms on Jupiter and Saturn, helping to satiate our eternal quest for knowledge of planetary dynamics.

The results facilitate a deeper understanding of planetary weather and provide clues to the dynamics of Earth's weather patterns evidenced in jet streams and ocean currents.


"Since the pioneering telescope observations of Giovanni Cassini in the mid-17th century, stargazers have wondered about the bands and spots of Jupiter," says Moritz Heimpel, a physics professor at the University of Alberta whose study produced the simulations of the observable phenomena. The bands he references indicate jet streams while the spots signify storms; Heimpel is studying the dynamics between the two.


"The average citizen can now pick up a backyard telescope and see the structures that we write about today. However, even in the present age with the Cassini spacecraft orbiting Saturn and the Juno craft approaching Jupiter, there is considerable debate about the dynamics of the atmospheres of the giant planets." Heimpel notes that despite 350 years of observation, the origin and dynamics of planetary jet streams and vortices or planetary storms remain debated.


Shallow weather layer simulations have struggled to adequately reproduce the jet streams on Jupiter and Saturn, while previous deep-flow models have not reproduced vortices. Heimpel and his colleagues have taken this challenge to the next level, using fluid dynamics equations and supercomputers to produce more realistic simulations that give insight into the origin of both features. "One of the big questions we have is how deep do these structures go?" says Heimpel. "These storms are embedded in these jet streams, and there's no solid surface to stop them. Our simulations imply that the jet streams plunge deep into the interior, while the storms are rather shallow." Unlike great storms on Earth, which eventually lose steam after encountering land mass, planetary storms can continue for centuries.


"At its core, our research is curiosity-based, and our ideas are driven by observations. We have a wealth of those from NASA space missions and ground-based telescopes," says Heimpel. "Now we want match the observations with the theory."

Heimpel notes that he and his colleagues will push their research even further in the coming year with the Juno spacecraft arriving in one of Jupiter's polar orbits in the summer of 2016 and the Cassini mission--in its final phase--moving into a polar orbit of Saturn in 2017. "These two missions will be key to verifying some of the predictions of our computer simulations. And more importantly, the missions will lead to new questions and controversies that we will address with ever more sophisticated analysis."


Heimpel and his group at the University of Alberta are one of only a few teams in Canada that use high-powered supercomputers to solve problems in global atmospheric and interior dynamics of the planets. The group is part of Compute Canada, a nationalized system of resource-sharing across universities.


For this paper, Heimpel teamed up with two researchers--Thomas Gastine and Johannes Wicht--from the Max Planck Institute for Solar System Research in Germany. The findings, "Simulation of deep-seated zonal jets and shallow vortices in giant gas atmospheres," were published in the journal Nature Geoscience.


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It would be nice to think that all of our flaws would stay on earth - 

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13 minutes ago, T3X4S said:

It would be nice to think that all of our flaws would stay on earth - 


I would hope that as well,  at least most of them.....:)

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A Look Back at NASA Solar Missions







Twenty years ago, the Solar and Heliospheric Observatory launched into space and revolutionized our study of the sun and a scientific discipline called heliophysics.

Heliophysics is the study of how the sun's influence spreads out in all directions, able to dramatically affect the space environment near Earth and throughout the solar system.

But the field was far from its infancy when that observatory, also called SOHO, launched on Dec. 2, 1995. In fact, it can trace its roots back to Thomas Harriot, who first saw sunspots through a telescope in 1610.

The study really took off about 130 years ago following Dutch astronomer Pieter Zeeman's discovery that a magnetic field, or a field of force generated by electrical currents, alters some spectral lines. Within a decade, American astronomer George Ellery Hale used Zeeman's discovery to demonstrate that sunspots contained strong magnetic fields. But it took NASA missions to get off the ground literally.

"When you can get your instrument above the atmosphere, you begin to be able to see things you couldn't see before," said Keith Strong, heliophysicist emeritus at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland.

Goddard heliophysicist Joe Gurman said gathering observations from above the atmosphere was one of the first science goals of NASA as an agency and an absolute necessity for studying the sun because Earth's atmosphere absorbs or deflects much of the light the sun emits: most ultraviolet radiation, X-rays and gamma-rays.

After World War II, when there was a growing recognition of solar activity's influences on radio frequency propagation in Earth's upper atmosphere, scientists began to study that activity more intensively. They used leftover German rockets to soar above Earth's atmosphere to measure emission in wavelength ranges absorbed by atmospheric gases, and found that the sun's ultraviolet radiation varied wildly from year to year. But these rocket missions were limited. They could only launch to the edge of space for five to 10 minutes, and though they got marginally better over the years, it still wasn't enough. Scientists needed something capable of long-term observation, so NASA developed spacecraft called the Orbiting Solar Observatories to study solar activity.

The OSO satellites, eight spacecraft launched between March 1962 and June 1975, performed solar physics experiments over a complete solar cycle of 11 years, during which the sun transitions from the most solar activity to the least.

"The things that came out of those missions were just groundbreaking for what we've been doing since," Gurman said. From the resulting data, scientists were able to begin to understand the structure of the upper solar atmosphere, study disturbances in the solar atmosphere and more.

In the early 1960s, a whole scientific field helioseismology began to form around new observations of oscillations occurring on the solar surface. European Space Agency heliophysicist Bernhard Fleck, who is based at Goddard believes one of the most significant advancements in solar physics in the 20th century was the discovery of global oscillations, or pressure waves, in the sun. Those oscillations could be used to probe the structure of the sun's interior, a process analogous to a sonogram of the sun. Previously, scientists could only speculate about what was going on inside the sun.

Solar scientists wondered whether sound waves driven by such oscillations might provide the energy source to heat the corona, the sun's tenuous outer atmosphere, which is actually much hotter than the visible surface of the sun. Measurements in 1976 with OSO-8, the final OSO mission, however, demonstrated that the sound waves in the upper solar atmosphere contained far too little energy to heat the corona.

OSO was just the beginning. The OSO results led to heliophysics experiments on Skylab, America's first space station, launched in 1973. On Skylab, astronauts operated a battery of telescopes to learn more about variability of the extreme ultraviolet and X-ray emission from the corona.

"Unfortunately, they also learned that using a human-operated telescope wasn't very effective," Gurman said. "They nearly always missed the beginning of the flare, which is when the interesting physics happens."

Still, Skylab captured the imagination of solar scientists. Indeed, Strong said it was Skylab's high-resolution images of the sun that inspired him when he was in college. Shortly after the end of Skylab, he joined the team of the next big solar spacecraft, the Solar Maximum Mission, at Goddard in 1980. The Solar Maximum Mission improved upon the Skylab telescopes by using automated flare detection to digitally coordinate all the instruments to direct to the flare within a fraction of a second.

Ultimately, these early missions laid the groundwork for missions like SOHO. A cooperative effort between NASA and the European Space Agency, SOHO studies the internal structure of the sun, its outer atmosphere and the origin of solar wind, the stream of ionized gas that blows continuously outward into the solar system.

SOHO offered the first 24/7 view of the giant explosions on the sun, called coronal mass ejections or CMEs, and made us aware for the first time of the sun's effect on the technological world.

Taken together, flares, CMEs, and solar energetic particles constitute space weather, which in extreme cases can cause power grids and communications systems like GPS to fail.

"It has an impact directly on life," Strong said. "For example, you can't lay oil pipelines very accurately beneath the sea during times that your GPS doesn't work."

These generations of solar spacecraft have helped to solve a number of mysteries surrounding the sun, but they also raised more questions.

Unlike in the early days of NASA, the agency currently flies multiple spacecraft to study the sun and its effects on the solar system, providing a range of different observations.

The Solar Terrestrial Relations Observatory, or STEREO, launched in October 2006, explores the sun-Earth system, tracing the flow of energy and matter from the sun to Earth. The dual spacecraft of the observatory made 3-D imaging of the sun possible for the first time. Another mission, the Solar Dynamics Observatory, launched in 2010, observes the solar atmosphere and makes helioseismology measurements, continuously returning incredibly high-resolution images at a rapid pace of 135 megabits per second to help understand the causes of solar variability and its effect on Earth.

An upcoming mission called Solar Probe Plus, scheduled to launch in 2018, will be humanity's first voyage to a star, exploring the sun's outer atmosphere from as close as 3.7 million miles from the sun's surface,. That is a tenth the distance from the sun to Mercury, far closer than any spacecraft has ever gone.

SOHO and NASA's heliophysics missions throughout the decades have built the foundation for NASA to begin answering the hardest questions about the sun and its effect on the solar system.


Pretty good solar probe review, and to show were we get our data from, example at the link, SolarHam data...



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SOHO Celebrates 20 Years of Space-based Science




After 20 years in space, ESA and NASA's Solar and Heliospheric Observatory, or SOHO, is still going strong. Originally launched in 1995 to study the sun and its influence out to the very edges of the solar system, SOHO revolutionized this field of science, known as heliophysics, providing the basis for nearly 5,000 scientific papers. SOHO also found an unexpected role as the greatest comet hunter of all time-reaching 3,000 comet discoveries in September 2015.


When SOHO was launched on Dec. 2, 1995, the field of heliophysics looked very different than it does today. Questions about the interior of the sun, the origin of the constant outflow of material from the sun known as the solar wind, and the mysterious heating of the solar atmosphere were still unanswered. Twenty years later, not only do we have a much better idea about what powers the sun, but our entire understanding of how the sun behaves has changed.


"SOHO changed the popular view of the sun from a picture of a static, unchanging object in the sky to the dynamic beast it is," said Bernhard Fleck, ESA SOHO project scientist at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland.


Even the concept of space weather-now defined to encompass any events or conditions stemming from the sun that can affect space-borne and ground-based technological systems and through these, human life and endeavors-wasn't well-understood when SOHO launched. At the time, it was thought that solar flares were the primary Earth-effective solar event, in part because they were the most commonly-observed.


Thanks to SOHO's coronagraph-a type of camera that uses a solid disk to block out the bright face of the sun to better observe the comparatively faint solar atmosphere, known as the corona-today we know that giant clouds that burst off the sun called coronal mass ejections, or CMEs, are a major piece of the space weather puzzle. Though two space-based coronagraphs preceded the one on SOHO, neither provided the same quantity or quality of observations.


"Many faint CMEs had escaped notice on older coronagraphs," said Joe Gurman, US project scientist for SOHO at Goddard. "In light of the SOHO data, we realized CMEs are much more common-and more variable throughout the solar cycle-than we thought."

CMEs, which are huge, fast-moving clouds of electrically-charged solar material that contain embedded magnetic fields, can cause geomagnetic storms when they collide with Earth's magnetic field, causing it to shimmy and shake. The ability to connect the effects of geomagnetic storms-like auroras, GPS and communication disturbances, and geomagnetically induced currents, which can put a strain on power grids-to events on the sun has brought the idea of space weather into the mainstream.


"Thanks to SOHO, there's a growing public recognition that we live in the extended atmosphere of a magnetically active star," said Gurman. "And people realize that solar activity can affect Earth."


But SOHO's coronagraph wasn't the only game-changing instrument. Before SOHO launched, carrying the Extreme ultraviolet Imaging Telescope, or EIT, the only cameras taking images of the sun in extreme ultraviolet light-which Earth's atmosphere blocks, making it impossible to observe from the ground-were on suborbital sounding rockets, which collect data for only minutes at a time.

"For the first time ever, we saw waves rippling across the sun at a million miles an hour in extreme ultraviolet light," said Alex Young, a space scientist at Goddard.


These tsunamis on the solar surface-still known by many as EIT waves, after the instrument that first observed them-happen in close conjunction with CMEs. Before the discovery of solar tsunamis, scientists often had no way of knowing if a CME was heading directly toward or directly away from Earth, since all CMEs on the Earth-sun line simply appear in coronagraph images as a giant halo around the sun.


Scientists almost missed out on this and SOHO's other discoveries. In 1998, the spacecraft was lost for four months because of a software error. A joint ESA/NASA team was finally able to recover the spacecraft in September 1998, in part using the giant Arecibo radio telescope to locate the spacecraft and reestablish command. This rescue was crucial for heliophysics, as much of SOHO's scientific success can be attributed to its 20 years of near-constant observation.


"With SOHO, we found that the sun varies on every timescale we can measure," said Gurman. "Whether it's 20 years or just a few milliseconds, we discover new phenomena."


Though it expanded our knowledge of every facet of heliophysics, SOHO was launched to answer three primary questions. First-what is the interior structure of the sun?


Though scientists had developed theories about the layers of ionized gas and complex magnetic field that compose our nearest star, they had no way of confirming their ideas other than by observing the sun's surface. But SOHO carries onboard an instrument that can take a kind of solar sonogram, helping researchers understand the sun's internal structure.


This helped to solve what was known as the solar neutrino problem, in which the number of a certain type of solar neutrino observed at Earth didn't jibe with the number predicted by our theories about the sun.


"Getting an accurate picture of the interior structure of the sun confirmed our theories about the number of neutrinos it emits," said Fleck. "That proved the solar neutrino problem came from a misunderstanding of neutrinos themselves-not the sun."


It was later discovered that neutrinos can undergo a change of type in their journey from the sun, accounting for the difference between predictions and observations. This research won the Nobel Prize in Physics in 2015.


The second question SOHO was designed to answer was that of solar wind acceleration. The sun is constantly losing material in all directions, but the speed of that flowing material-known as the solar wind-is much higher than one would expect from a relatively simple view of the sun. SOHO's observations showed how some of the fastest solar wind streams are accelerated in coronal holes, areas on the sun where the magnetic field is open to interplanetary space.


As of yet, no one has managed to definitely answer SOHO's third question-what causes the extraordinarily high temperatures in the sun's atmosphere, the corona?


"The corona is incredibly hot, hundreds of times hotter than the layers below," said Fleck. "Since the sun's source of energy is at the center, on a simple level, we would expect the corona-the outermost layer-to be the coolest."


Though SOHO's observations have provided the basis for many possible explanations for the coronal heating problem, as it's known, it still hasn't been settled. However, NASA's Solar Probe Plus mission, planned for launch in 2018, will fly closer to the sun than any other spacecraft in order to investigate this very question.


Solar Probe Plus is one of many missions that has been shaped by SOHO and its discoveries. Others include NASA's Solar Dynamics Observatory, NASA's Solar and Terrestrial Relations Observatory, and NASA's Interface Region Imaging Spectrograph, and JAXA/NASA's Hinode.


"Without SOHO, there would be no SDO, no STEREO, no IRIS, no Hinode," said Young. "SOHO showed us things we'd never seen before, and then we realized we needed more eyes on the sun."



Scary X28 Solar Flare Revisited For Solar Probe's 20th Anniversary | Video

video is 5:22 min......a good one....





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SA team discover how water escapes from Saturn



A University of Montana professor who studies astrophysics has discovered how water ions escape from Saturn's environment. His findings recently were published in the journal Nature Physics. UM Professor Daniel Reisenfeld is a member of the Cassini research team. Cassini is a NASA-managed probe that studies Saturn. It has been in orbit continuously collecting data since 2004.


One of the instruments on Cassini measures the planet's magnetosphere - the charged particles, known as plasma, that are trapped in the space surrounding Saturn by its magnetic field. One of Cassini's past discoveries is that Saturn's plasma comprises water ions, which are derived from Saturn's moon Enceladus, which spews water vapors from its Yellowstone-like geysers. Knowing that the water ions would not be able to accumulate indefinitely, the team of researchers set out to explain how the water ions escape from Saturn's magnetosphere.


The answers to this phenomenon were published by Nature Physics in an article titled "Cassini in situ observations of long-duration magnetic reconnection in Saturn's magnetotail."


In the paper, the authors explain that the plasma found a place to exhaust out of the magnetosphere at a reconnection point - basically where magnetic fields from one environment disconnect and reconnect with magnetic fields from another environment. In the case of Saturn, researchers discovered the reconnection point was located at the back of the planet, where the magnetotail was connecting with the solar winds' magnetic field.



Reisenfeld likens the situation to a rotary or a traffic circle. Once you get into the rotary you have limited exit points.

"If you can't find the exit, you keep going around in circles," he said. "So, the plasma around Saturn is basically trapped to go around the rotary. We assumed it had to escape somehow and somewhere, but actually finding the jettison point is pretty cool."


Saturn is a very rapidly rotating planet. This discovery will help scientists understand the physics of how other rapid rotators such as Jupiter, stars and pulsars expel their materials and the details of how it works. "It's very exciting to have discovered this reconnection location because reconnection is one of the holy grails of plasma physics," Reisenfeld said.



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Dawn spiraling in towards Ceres



Dawn will be so near the dwarf planet that its sensors will detect only a small fraction of the vast territory at a time.



An intrepid interplanetary explorer is now powering its way down through the gravity field of a distant alien world. Soaring on a blue-green beam of high-velocity xenon ions, Dawn is making excellent progress as it spirals closer and closer to Ceres, the first dwarf planet discovered. Meanwhile, scientists are progressing in analyzing the tremendous volume of pictures and other data the probe has already sent to Earth.


Dawn's spiral descent from its third mapping orbit (HAMO), at 915 miles (1,470 kilometers), to its fourth (LAMO), at 240 miles (385 kilometers). The two mapping orbits are shown in green. The color of Dawn's trajectory progresses through the spectrum from blue, when it began ion-thrusting in HAMO, to red, when it arrives in LAMO. The red dashed sections show where Dawn is coasting for telecommunications.


It requires 118 spiral revolutions around Ceres to reach the low altitude (and additional revolutions to prepare for and conduct the trajectory correction maneuver described below). Compare this to the previous spiral. (Readers with total recall will note that this is fewer loops than illustrated last year. The flight team has made several improvements in the complex design since then, shortening the time required and thus allowing more time for observing Ceres.)


Dawn is flying down to an average altitude of about 240 miles (385 kilometers), where it will conduct wide-ranging investigations with its suite of scientific instruments. The spacecraft will be even closer to the rocky, icy ground than the International Space Station is to Earth's surface. The pictures will be four times sharper than the best it has yet taken. The view is going to be fabulous!


Dawn will be so near the dwarf planet that its sensors will detect only a small fraction of the vast territory at a time. Mission planners have designed the complex itinerary so that every three weeks, Dawn will fly over most of the terrain while on the sunlit side. (The neutron spectrometer, gamma ray spectrometer and gravity measurements do not depend on illumination from the sun, but the camera, infrared mapping spectrometer and visible mapping spectrometer do.)

Very long article, in depth analysis and some history...good read...






DAWN....raw images



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Peering Through Titan's Haze



Infrared View Titan      NASA



This composite image shows an infrared view of Saturn's moon Titan from NASA's Cassini spacecraft, acquired during the mission's ''T-114'' flyby on Nov. 13, 2015.

The spacecraft's visual and infrared mapping spectrometer (VIMS) instrument made these observations, in which blue represents wavelengths centered at 1.3 microns, green represents 2.0 microns, and red represents 5.0 microns. A view at visible wavelengths (centered around 0.5 microns) would show only Titan's hazy atmosphere (as in Titan Up Front). The near-infrared wavelengths in this image allow Cassini's vision to penetrate the haze and reveal the moon's surface.

During this Titan flyby, the spacecraft's closest-approach altitude was 6,200 miles (10,000 kilometers), which is considerably higher than those of typical flybys, which are around 750 miles (1,200 kilometers). The high flyby allowed VIMS to gather moderate-resolution views over wide areas (typically at a few kilometers per pixel).

The view looks toward terrain that is mostly on the Saturn-facing hemisphere of Titan. The scene features the parallel, dark, dune-filled regions named Fensal (to the north) and Aztlan (to the south), which form the shape of a sideways letter "H."

Several places on the image show the surface at higher resolution than elsewhere. These areas, called subframes, show more detail because they were acquired near closest approach. They have finer resolution, but cover smaller areas than data obtained when Cassini was farther away from Titan. Near the limb at left, above center, is the best VIMS view so far of Titan's largest confirmed impact crater, Menrva (first seen by the RADAR instrument in Circus Maximus). Similarly detailed subframes show eastern Xanadu, the basin Hotei Regio, and channels within bright terrains east of Xanadu. (For Titan maps with named features see

Due to the changing Saturnian seasons, in this late northern spring view, the illumination is significantly changed from that seen by VIMS during the "T-9" flyby on Dec. 26, 2005 . The sun has moved higher in the sky in Titan's northern hemisphere, and lower in the sky in the south, as northern summer approaches. This change in the sun's angle with respect to Titan's surface has made high southern latitudes appear darker, while northern latitudes appear brighter.

The Cassini mission is a cooperative project of NASA, ESA (the European Space Agency) and the Italian Space Agency. The Jet Propulsion Laboratory, a division of the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena, manages the mission for NASA's Science Mission Directorate, Washington. The Cassini orbiter and its two onboard cameras were designed, developed and assembled at JPL. The visual and infrared mapping spectrometer team is based at the University of Arizona.

For more information about the Cassini-Huygens mission The visual and infrared mapping spectrometer team homepage is at

Credit: NASA/JPL/University of Arizona/University of Idaho

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Japanese probe fires rockets to steer into orbit at Venus



Artist’s concept of the Akatsuki spacecraft.



Five years after missing a shot to enter orbit at Venus, Japan’s Akatsuki spacecraft completed a critical rocket burn late Sunday in a bid to salvage the research mission and become the only space probe operating around Earth’s nearest planetary neighbor.

Four maneuvering thrusters were scheduled to ignite at 2351 GMT (6:51 p.m. EST) Sunday for approximately 20 minutes and 30 seconds to slow down the Akatsuki probe enough for Venus’ gravity to capture it into an elongated, high-altitude orbit.

Akatsuki was never designed to fire its secondary attitude control rocket jets for such a long time, but the thrusters were required to steer the craft into orbit after its main engine failed during the mission’s first encounter with Venus exactly five years ago.

Officials confirmed the burn went as planned early Monday.

“It is in orbit!” wrote Sanjay Limaye, a planetary scientist based at the University of Wisconsin in Madison, in an email to Spaceflight Now.

“They were cautiously optimistic before the burn, but confident. Now smiling!” reported Limaye from Akatsuki’s mission control center in Sagamihara, Japan. He is is a NASA-sponsored participating scientist on the Akatsuki mission.

It could take a few days to precisely measure Akatsuki’s trajectory to verify it is in the proper orbit around Venus, officials said.

more at the link...


Venus orbit turned around the orbit of "Akatsuki" (+ from Z) / Orbit of "AKATSUKI" (PLANET-C) (viewing from + Z axis)

video is 16 sec...






Olympus Mons As Seen By ISRO's Mars Orbiter



Olympus Mons         ISRO



Olympus Mons is the largest volcano in the solar systems.

The altitude of Olympus Mons is nearly three times the altitude of the largest peak on Earth, Mt.Everest.

Tharsis volcanoes are Arsia Mons, Pavonis Mons and Ascraeus Mons. Tharsis Montes are product of volcanism and they are associated with tectonic processes which caused extensive crustal deformation in this area.

Water vapor clouds are seen around mons top which is a usual phenomenon during this season in Mars. This image is taken by MCC on November 27, 2015 at an altitude of 32,282 km with a resolution of 1679 m.




To Jupiter with JunoCam



Earth as seen by JunoCam    NASA



When NASA's Juno mission arrives at Jupiter on July 4, 2016, new views of the giant planet's swirling clouds will be sent back to Earth, courtesy of its color camera, called JunoCam.

But unlike previous space missions, professional scientists will not be the ones producing the processed views, or even choosing which images to capture. Instead, the public will act as a virtual imaging team, participating in key steps of the process, from identifying features of interest to sharing the finished images online.

"This is really the public's camera. We are hoping students and whole classrooms will get involved and join our team," said Scott Bolton, Juno principal investigator at the Southwest Research Institute in San Antonio.

The Juno team has kicked off the first stage of JunoCam activity with the launch of a new Web platform on the mission's website. Now and throughout the mission, amateur astronomers are invited to submit images of Jupiter from their own telescopes. These views will be the basis for online discussions about which of Jupiter's swirls, bands and spots JunoCam should image as it makes repeated, close passes over the planet. The ground-based views will be essential for identifying and tracking changes in the planet's cloud features as Juno approaches.

"In between our close Jupiter flybys, Juno goes far from the planet, and Jupiter will shrink in JunoCam's field of view to a size too small to be useful for choosing which features to capture. So we really are counting on having help from ground-based observers," said Candy Hansen, a member of the Juno science team who leads planning for the camera.

Juno will get closer to Jupiter than any previous orbiting spacecraft, giving JunoCam the best close-up views yet of the planet's colorful cloud bands. Every 14 days, the spinning, solar-powered spacecraft will dive past the planet in just a couple of hours, gathering huge amounts of science data, plus about a dozen JunoCam images. At closest approach, Juno will snap photos from only 3,100 miles (5,000 kilometers) above Jupiter's clouds.

"JunoCam will capture high-resolution color views of Jupiter's bands, but that's only part of the story," said Diane Brown, Juno program executive at NASA Headquarters in Washington. "We'll also be treated to the first-ever views of Jupiter's north and south poles, which have never been imaged before."

Unlike most spacecraft cameras, JunoCam was specially designed to work on a spinning spacecraft. Typically, spacecraft must point very precisely at their subjects while taking a picture to avoid smearing their images. Since Juno rotates twice per minute, the Juno team designed a camera that images several lines of pixels at a time, at the right speed to cancel out the rotation and avoid smear.

Previously, the best images of Jupiter were taken by NASA's two Voyager spacecraft, which flew past the planet in 1979. JunoCam's field of view is much wider than that of Voyager's narrow-angle camera. This means every JunoCam image is a kind of panorama, and its highest-resolution images will show wide swaths of clouds. The camera also benefits from decades of technology advancement, making it lighter, less power-hungry and lower in cost.

After JunoCam data arrive on Earth, members of the public will process the images to create color pictures. The Juno team successfully tested this approach when JunoCam acquired its first high-resolution views, showing our home planet during the spacecraft's Earth flyby in October 2013.

Since the mission's beginnings, JunoCam was intended almost entirely as a public outreach tool, in contrast to the spacecraft's other instruments that will address Juno's core science questions. Juno scientists will ensure JunoCam returns a few great shots of Jupiter's polar regions, but the overwhelming majority of the camera's image targets will be chosen by the public, with the data being processed by them as well.

"We want to give people an opportunity to participate with NASA, and public involvement is key to JunoCam's success," said Bolton. "This is citizen science at its best."



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Rocket Smash! Apollo 16 Booster Crater Found



Look at that fresh debris on the moon! It’s the result of a smack-down from a rocket that left Earth 44 years ago, carrying the Apollo 16 astronauts to the lunar surface.

What you’re looking at is a new Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter discovery image that finally shows the remains of a part of the Saturn V rocket that hefted John Young, Charlie Duke and Ken Mattingly towards the moon in 1972. This is the third stage of the rocket, called the Saturn IVB. Its role was to propel the astronauts out of Earth orbit and towards the moon.

Starting with failed moon mission Apollo 13 in 1970, NASA directed the Saturn IVBs to impact the moon. The energy of the impacts were measured by seismometers the astronauts left on the moon, to reveal more about the moon’s inner structure.

“Earlier in the LRO mission, the Apollo 13, 14, 15 and 17 impact sites were successfully identified, but Apollo 16′s remained elusive. In the case of Apollo 16, radio contact with the booster was lost before the impact, so the location was only poorly known,” NASA wrote in a statement.

“Positive identification of the Apollo 16 S-IVB site took more time than the other four impact craters because the location ended up differing by about 30 km (about 19 miles) from the Apollo-era tracking estimate. (For comparison, the other four S-IVB craters were all within 7 km — about four miles — of their estimated locations.)”

LRO, which has been orbiting the moon since 2009, has now imaged all of the Apollo landing sites and booster impact sites.


The site of the Apollo 16 rocket booster impact on the moon, in Mare Insularum.



John Young tests the lunar rover at high speed during Apollo 16, in April 1972.    NASA



Young with rover       NASA




Tethys and Saturn



Tethys and Saturn        NASA



Tethys, dwarfed by the scale of Saturn and its rings, appears as an elegant crescent in this image taken by NASA's Cassini Spacecraft.


Views like this are impossible from Earth, where we only see Saturn's moons as (more or less) fully illuminated disks. The region of Saturn seen at left is on the planet's night side. Reflected light from the rings dimly illuminates the planet's northern hemisphere.


This view looks toward the anti-Saturn side of Tethys. North on Tethys is up and rotated 24 degrees to the left. The image was taken in visible light with the Cassini spacecraft wide-angle camera on Aug. 18, 2015.


The view was acquired at a distance of approximately 184,000 miles (296,000 kilometers) from Tethys. Image scale is 11 miles (18 kilometers) per pixel.


Larger image....





Mars on Earth: Canadian Arctic Serves as Red Planet Training Ground



Canada's Devon Island offers a training ground for future Mars expeditionary crews.
Credit: NASA/HMP/Pascal Lee



Would-be Mars explorers can get a taste of what Red Planet life would be like with a trip to the Canadian Arctic.

Devon Island, the largest uninhabited island on Earth, is home to the Haughton-Mars Project (HMP),  an international, multidisciplinary field-research venture that aims to help lay the foundation for crewed missions to the Red Planet.

HMP started in 1997 and has been hosting NASA-supported research each year since then. The rocky, barren terrain of Devon Island offers many challenges, from remoteness and isolation to extreme temperatures and lack of infrastructure.


But that cold-shoulder inhospitality is key to Devon Island's appeal as a Mars-analogue site.  

In the right direction

"This upcoming season is our 20th consecutive field season," said HMP's mission director and principal investigator, Pascal Lee of the Mars Institute, the SETI (Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence) Institute and NASA's Ames Research Center in Moffett Field, California.

"HMP is now the longest NASA-funded research project at the surface of the Earth," Lee told

What makes Devon Island so Mars-like?


Foggy and surrealistic scenery of the Canadian Arctic's Devon Island, a Mars-like setting for science and exploration.
Credit: NASA HMP



"The climate is cold — not quite as cold as Mars, but in the right direction," Lee said. "The climate is dry — not quite as dry as Mars, but it's in the right direction. And the terrain is unvegetated, not completely, but mostly. Not to mention the rocky, frozen ground and glaciers."

And there's another plus.

Impact crater

The island is scarred by Haughton Crater, roughly 12 miles (20 kilometers) in diameter and some 23 million years old.

The impact that created Haughton Crater "was so violent that it dug all the way down to a mile [1.6 km] into the rocks of Devon Island," Lee said.

As a result, the once very compact rocks of Devon are now heavily shattered and colonized by microbes.

"The upshot of this," Lee said, "is that impacts may be bad news for highly evolved creatures like dinosaurs or us … but they were a boon for microbes. Impacts brought in heat, and they created fractures and porosity in rocks to allow microbes to colonize. They were likely part of the vector for the early colonization of life on Earth."

Lee said the initial motivation to go to Devon Island was strictly scientific, because of its Mars-like setting — an impact crater in a polar desert. Around the crater are also valley networks, canyons, gullies and ancient lake beds. In terms of their detailed morphology, those features have counterparts on Mars.

"That's not to say that they were necessarily the same things that we were seeing on Mars. But there was a convergence of all these geologic features in one location," Lee said. [Photos: The Search for Life on Mars]

Cold-climate Mars

Lee said he believes that Devon Island holds important clues about early Mars. He said he's skeptical of the classical view that the Red Planet had a warm and wet climate early in its history. Instead, Lee has proposed that while the ground was warm, early Mars had a cold climate.

"The idea of a warm ground under a cold-climate Mars is still gaining acceptance," Lee said. "Impacts were dumping heat into the ground. Volcanism was also more active on a young Mars. Those two processes were injecting water vapor into a frigid atmosphere. The water vapor would then condense out onto the surface. There were transient ice covers here and there on Mars. Because the ground was warm, not the climate, these ice covers were melting from underneath, creating valley networks."

Examination of Devon Island has raised the prospect for reinterpreting the Martian landscape in terms of a cold climate, ice caps, frozen lakes and other glacial features, Lee said. Mars of old was more likely quite chilly, enveloped in a cold, frigid, thin atmosphere, much as it is today, he added.

Pilot model

With so many Mars-like attributes, Devon Island offers the perfect backdrop to plan out a crewed trip to the Red Planet, Lee said.

Devon Island is rife with canyons, valley networks, gullies, ground ice, patterned ground, debris flows, cold-desert weathering crusts and paleo-lake deposits.

HMP is a real field-exploration setting, Lee said. Valuable lessons learned at HMP are informing the planning and optimization of future human science and exploration activities on Mars, he said, including astrobiology and planetary-protection investigations.

"It's a big team effort," Lee said. The HMP Research Station, the project's base camp, both satisfies scientific interests and serves as a pilot model for how a future Mars outpost might be designed and operated, he said.

"It's an infrastructure that is dedicated to advancing the exploration of Mars by robotic and human means," Lee said. "We've already had astronauts visit the place. We expect more will come as part of the actual training."

HMP expeditionary teams have tested all manner of hardware: new robotic rovers, spacesuits, drills and aerial drones. There is other gear at the site, too, including the Mars-1and OkarianHumvee rovers — the HMP's two simulated pressurized rovers for lengthy traverses into the wilderness — as well as personal all-terrain vehicles (ATVs) for short treks.

An imperative stop

"In terms of the science, I anticipate that there will be many more years of scientific work to be done on Devon Island," Lee said. "We're still making discoveries … we're still learning about the site."

Lee and a small group of other scientists from around the world are now busy plotting out the 20th HMP field campaign, which is scheduled to occur in mid-2016.

And as future human-to-Mars activities gather steam, Lee said that the experiences gleaned from Devon Island will be invaluable.

"The way I envision it, Devon Island will eventually become a training site for astronauts bound forMars," he said. "It will become one of the imperative stops, if not the final stop, in your preparation for the Red Planet."

Lee said, with a smile, that the first words pronounced on the surface of Mars might be: "Wow! This looks just like Devon."


The first paragraph is a bit of a play on words, as "locals" do inhabit the island, just not "full time" habitation. :)


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Akatsuki probe relays its first images from Venus orbit



The Akatsuki spacecraft’s ultraviolet camera took this image of Venus at 0519 GMT (12:19 a.m. EST) on Dec. 7 from a distance of 73,000 kilometers (45,000 miles). Credit: JAXA



Japanese scientists released Wednesday the first views of Venus captured by the Akatsuki spacecraft after arriving in orbit this week, setting the stage for regular observations of the planet’s blistering atmosphere over the next few years.

The Japanese space agency — JAXA — also confirmed Akatsuki is in a good orbit around Venus after a 20-minute firing of four of the spacecraft’s maneuvering thrusters beginning at 2351 GMT (6:51 p.m. EST) Sunday.

Engineers said Monday the make-or-break rocket burn appeared to go as planned, but it took two days for ground stations to carefully monitor Akatsuki’s trajectory and verify the parameters of its orbit.

The thruster firing placed Akatsuki in an elongated elliptical orbit ranging as far as 440,000 kilometers (273,000 miles) from Venus. At the low point of its orbit, Akatsuki passes about 400 kilometers (248 miles) above the planet, JAXA officials said Wednesday.

The orbit is slightly lower than anticipated, an indication that the maneuver outperformed expectations, generating extra impulse to drive Akatsuki on a path closer to Venus, officials said.



This diagram shows Akatsuki’s orbital parameters after arriving at Venus. Credit: JAXA


more data at the link...good article...




Prometheus up close about Saturn



Image courtesy NASA/JPL-Caltech/Space Science Institute



NASA's Cassini spacecraft spied details on the pockmarked surface of Saturn's moon Prometheus (86 kilometers, or 53 miles across) during a moderately close flyby on Dec. 6, 2015. This is one of Cassini's highest resolution views of Prometheus, along with PIA18186 and PIA12593.


This view looks towards the anti-Saturn side of Prometheus. North on Prometheus is up. The image was taken in visible light with the Cassini spacecraft narrow-angle camera.


The view was acquired at a distance of approximately 23,000 miles (37,000 kilometers) from Prometheus and at a Sun-Prometheus-spacecraft, or phase, angle of 87 degrees. Image scale is 722 feet (220 meters) per pixel.


Prometheus orbits Saturn just interior to the narrow F ring, which is seen here at top.


Examining Epimetheus
In other Cassini imaging neews, the spacecraft captured a unique close up view of Saturn's moon Epimetheus (116 kilometers, or 72 miles across) during a moderately close flyby on Dec. 6, 2015. This is one of Cassini's highest resolution views of the small moon, along with PIA09813.


This view looks toward the Saturn facing side of Epimetheus. North on Epimetheus is up. The image was taken in green polarized light with the Cassini spacecraft narrow-angle camera.


The view was acquired at a distance of approximately 22,000 miles (35,000 kilometers) from Epimetheus and at a Sun-Epimetheus-spacecraft, or phase, angle of 28 degrees. Image scale is 697 feet (212 meters) per pixel.






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Brine Deposits Are The Source of Ceres' Bright Spots



Ceres    NASA



Bright spots seen by NASA's Dawn spacecraft on the surface of dwarf planet Ceres are likely salt deposits, a paper published Dec. 9 in Nature says.


Ceres has more than 130 bright areas, and most of them are associated with impact craters. Observations from Dawn's Framing Camera suggest the occurrence of salts originating from Ceres' interior. These salts are consistent with a type called magnesium sulfate.


Andreas Nathues, Max Planck Institute for Solar System Research, is lead author of "Sublimation in bright spots on Ceres." Planetary Science Institute researchers Lucille Le Corre, Vishnu Reddy, Jian-Yang Li, David O'Brien and Mark Sykes are co-authors.

"We reviewed three possible analogs for the bright spots (ice, clays and salts)," said Le Corre, a PSI Research Scientist. "Salts seem to fit the bill and are the best possible explanation of what we see on the surface of Ceres."


Le Corre and colleagues, using images from Dawn's framing camera, suggest that these salt-rich areas were left behind when water-ice sublimated in the past. Impacts from asteroids would have unearthed the mixture of ice and salt.


"The location of some bright spots also coincide with places where water vapor was detected by other spacecraft," said Reddy, a PSI Research Scientist. "This gives us confidence that the bright spots are likely salt deposits left over by sublimating salty water."

Dawn is continuing to descend toward its final orbit at Ceres, which will be around 240 miles (385 kilometers) from the surface of Ceres. In mid-December, Dawn will begin taking observations from this orbit, including images at a resolution of 120 feet (35 meters) per pixel, gamma ray and neutron spectra, and high-resolution gravity data. PSI manages the Gamma Ray and Neutron Detector (GRaND) under the leadership of Tom Prettyman.


The PSI contribution to this project was funded by a contract from the University of California, Los Angeles, which leads the Dawn mission under the auspices of the NASA Discovery Program.




The Planetary Science Institute is a private, nonprofit 501(c)(3) corporation dedicated to solar system exploration. It is headquartered in Tucson, Arizona, where it was founded in 1972.


PSI scientists are involved in numerous NASA and international missions, the study of Mars and other planets, the Moon, asteroids, comets, interplanetary dust, impact physics, the origin of the solar system, extra-solar planet formation, dynamics, the rise of life, and other areas of research. They conduct fieldwork on all continents around the world. They also are actively involved in science education and public outreach through school programs, children's books, popular science books and art.


PSI scientists are based in 21 states and the District of Columbia, and work from various locations around the world.


Mystery Solved? Ceres' Bright Spots Likely Made of Salt



The mysterious bright spots on the dwarf planet Ceres may be composed of the same basic stuff that makes a foot bath feel so good, a new study reports.


Observations made by NASA's Dawn spacecraft, which has been orbiting the dwarf planet since March, suggest that Ceres' many bright spots could be made primarily of hydrated magnesium sulfates. Here on Earth, magnesium sulfate is sold as Epsom salt, a popular home remedy for a variety of ailments, including sore feet and joint inflammation. Scientists released an amazing new video of Ceres' bright spots in crystal clarity along with their new findings today (Dec. 9).


Researchers studied images captured by Dawn's framing camera (FC), which covers wavelengths ranging from visible light through the near-infrared. The instrument's data can shed light on Ceres' surface composition, based on reflectance characteristics, NASA officials have said. [Ceres' Mysterious Bright Spots Coming Into Focus (Video)]


The study team, led by Andreas Nathues of the Max Planck Institute for Solar System Research in Germany, counted 130 bright spots across the surface of Ceres, which, at 590 miles (950 kilometers) wide, is the largest object in the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter.


Mosaic showing 130 bright spots on Ceres. Top left: A haze appears above Occator Crater when the sun hits it, suggesting the crater contains subsurface water ice. Top right: A kind of haze also appears above Oxo Crater, the second-brightest structure on Ceres. Bottom: A typical crater without water. 



These whitish patches are mostly associated with impact craters, the team found, and they're much brighter than Ceres' surface as a whole, which is about as reflective as freshly poured asphalt. The spots, by contrast, range in brightness from that of concrete to the reflectivity of ocean ice.


The nature of the bright spots has spurred a great deal of speculation over the past year or so, with most scientists positing that they're composed of water ice or some type of salt. The framing camera data bolster the salt hypothesis, Nathues and his colleagues report in the new study, which was published online today (Dec. 9) in the journal Nature.


For example, the closest match for the middle of the brightest spot in 56-mile-wide (90 km) Occator Crater — which harbors the most dramatic and most famous collection of Ceres bright spots — is a type of hydrated magnesium sulfate known as hexahydrite. The composition appears to shift toward less-hydrated kinds of magnesium sulfate at greater distances from the center of the Occator spot, according to the researchers.


However, this interpretation is not ironclad, the study team stressed.

"Because of the absence of strongly diagnostic absorption features in the wavelength range of the FC, any identification of specific phases must be considered tentative," the researchers wrote in the study.


False-color view of Occator Crater showing differences in surface composition. Red corresponds to a wavelength range around 0.97 micrometers (near infrared), green to a wavelength range around 0.75 micrometers (red, visible light) and blue to a wavelength range around 0.44 micrometers (blue, visible light). These images were captured by NASA's Dawn spacecraft from a distance of 2,750 miles (4,450 kilometers)



When sunlight reaches Ceres' Occator Crater, a kind of haze of dust and evaporating water forms there. This haze can only be discovered by looking at it laterally, as has been done here.


more at the link....




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Unobscured Vision

Makes perfect sense. Take a salt-enriched global ocean, with a (likely tenuous but still-capable) atmosphere around Ceres (in the beginning, like Mars), then whittle away that atmosphere. The H2O component subliminates, leaving the much heavier Sodium products that were once-locked in the water behind, and this is what we'd see.


Wonderful science returns this year from NASA. :yes:

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Just came out.....


With widespread salts and ices, Ceres in a class of its own


Ceres Rotation and Occator Crater, video is 1:12 min.





The dwarf planet Ceres turns out to be a world with untold wonders, with vivid bright spots likely made of dried mineral salts and hazes apparently triggered by daytime heating, drawing a comparison to comets and strikingly differentiating it from neighboring bodies in the asteroid belt, according to the latest results from NASA’s Dawn mission.

The fresh findings on Ceres, detailed in two papers published in Nature magazine this week, offer new insights into the king of the asteroid belt, just as NASA’s Dawn spacecraft reaches its final planned science orbit 240 miles, or 385 kilometers, from Ceres’ cratered surface.

Dawn’s discoveries point to a landscape on Ceres marked with bright features that piqued the interest of scientists as the space probe approached the dwarf planet early this year, raising speculation among observers that they could be ice deposits or even evidence of cryovolcanism.

Scientists said Wednesday the most likely explanation is they are salts left behind as water ice exposed by asteroid impacts sublimated into space, a process in which volatile compounds like ice turn directly from a solid to gaseous state, skipping over the liquid phase.

“The most plausible interpretation of our results is that there is a mixture of ice and salts under at least some parts of Ceres’ surface,” said Andreas Nathues, principal investigator for Dawn’s framing camera from the Max Planck Institute for Solar System Research in Göttingen, Germany.

Researchers analyzing images from the Dawn spacecraft identified more than 130 bright areas on Ceres, according to a NASA press release.

The light reflected by the material making up the bright spots is more blue than light from other regions, scientists said, leading members of Dawn’s science team to conclude it is likely a type of magnesium sulfate called hexahydrite, similar to Epsom salt on Earth.

“Comparisons with a large variety of materials which we examined in the laboratory indicate that among other materials hydrated magnesium sulphates are to be found there,” said Martin Hoffman, a co-author on one of the papers in Nature with lead author Nathues.

Ceres is the largest object in the asteroid belt between the orbits of Mars and Jupiter, accounting for about a third of the belt’s total mass. Ceres has a diameter about the same as the width of France, and its surface temperatures range from minus 136 degrees to minus 28 degrees Fahrenheit (180 to 240 Kelvin) in sunlight.

“The global nature of Ceres’ bright spots suggests that this world has a subsurface layer that contains briny water-ice,” Nathues said.

More at the link......(upload limit reached)




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Unobscured Vision

Told ya! :D


In other Solar System News ... and this is a biggie if it's true ...



Researchers believe they may have spotted a super-Earth, like Kepler-62f (illustrated here), on the fringes of our solar system. Image (C) NASA Ames/JPL-Caltech/Tim Pyle



Astronomers working with the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA) have discovered what they claim could be another large planet on the fringes of our solar system.

While examining the Alpha Centauri star system, the nearest to Earth, they noticed a fast-moving object crossing their field of view.

Its speed and brightness allowed them to rule out another star as the culprit, and based on wavelength readings obtained from ALMA, they believe it could be a Trans-Neptunian Object (TNO) orbiting the sun somewhere between 10 billion and 2 trillion miles from our home star. For comparison, Pluto is less than 4 billion miles away from the sun.

Although the finding is intriguing, the news has been met with a healthy dose of skepticism.



Wow. Fascinating if it's true; but they plainly admit that it could be another Ice Body like Pluto and Sedna. They just aren't sure yet.



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27 minutes ago, BetaguyGZT said:

Wow. Fascinating if it's true; but they plainly admit that it could be another Ice Body like Pluto and Sedna. They just aren't sure yet.

I'm curious to know what kind of atmosphere or geological activity an earth-like planet could have at that distance from a star if it is indeed an earth-like planet.

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Yes, I read both papers, few days ago...


They are just papers...not peer reviewed at all, and i was afraid they would pull this stunt and the media would make a big deal about guess work.

Most sites involved with this are not impressed.



Look of a high it a raft at 2 miles, a schooner at 10 miles or a tanker at 15 miles.

There are reportedly more than a million objects floating around the belt. They both were data mining ALMA results, an extremely narrow search swath. The body can't be too large or gravitational effects would have been noticed. The body can't be too far out, or the light source would not be our sun. Probability is another rocky body in the belt. Most experts expect it to be another rocky body, one of millions.


Media's fault for propaganda....again.....will be just a small rocky chunk...similar to the body that the New Horizon probe is going to check out......:(

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