Writing in the journal Icarus this week, Prof. Carl Murray from Queen Mary Univ. of London’s Astronomy Unit reports that recently discovered disturbances at the very edge of Saturn’s outer bright A ring result from a small icy object that formed within the ring and which may be in the process of migrating out of it. His team have nicknamed the object, “Peggy.”
"We hadn’t seen anything like this before," explains Murray. "We may be looking at the act of birth, where this object is just leaving the rings and heading off to be a moon in its own right."
The soil on Mars may be suitable for cultivating food crops – this is the prognosis of a study by plant ecologist Wieger Wamelink of Wageningen Univ. & Research Centre. This would prove highly practical if we ever decide to send people on a one-way trip to the red planet. After all, if we are going to live anywhere in outer space in the future Mars stands a good chance of being the place.
In a unique pilot experiment Wamelink tested the growth of 14 plant varieties on artificial Mars soil over 50 days. NASA composed the soil based on the volcanic soil of Hawaii. To his surprise, the plants grew well; some even blossomed.
Beginning this year, NASA will launch four satellites equipped with technology from KTH Royal Institute of Technology. The mission: to study the microphysics of magnetic reconnection — the fundamental process that happens during such solar atmosphere events as solar flares and coronal mass ejections.
Resting on a table in an office at KTH Royal Institute of Technology, lies a case containing what appears to be a gold Christmas tree ornament. Tomas Karlsson gently lifts the orb and removes its protective wrapping to offer his visitor a close-up look.
Image of the Week: False-color Image of Earth Shows Plant Growth
On Aug. 3, 2004, NASA’s Mercury Surface, Space Environment, Geochemistry and Ranging (MESSENGER) spacecraft began a seven-year journey, spiraling through the inner solar system to Mercury. One year after launch, the spacecraft zipped around Earth, getting an orbit correction from Earth’s gravity and getting a chance to test its instruments by observing its home planet.
In the last 20 years the search for Earth-like planets around other stars has accelerated, with the launch of missions like the Kepler space telescope. Using these and observatories on the ground, astronomers have found numerous worlds that at first sight have similarities with the Earth. A few of these are even in the “habitable zone” where the temperature is just right for water to be in liquid form and so are prime targets in the search for life elsewhere in the universe.
Now a team of scientists has looked at how these worlds form and suggest that many of them may be a lot less clement than was thought. They find that planets that form from less massive cores can become benign habitats for life, whereas the larger objects instead end up as mini-Neptunes with thick atmospheres and probably stay sterile.
In the evening sky this month, Mercury and Jupiter are visible to the unaided eye, but you’ll need binoculars or telescopes to spot Uranus and Neptune.
Mars rises before midnight, joining Jupiter as they gracefully arc from east to west. Spot Mercury and Venus in the southeast sky before dawn, and Mars and Saturn higher in the morning sky. Ceres and Vesta are near each other this month. Look for the pair in the early morning between the bright stars Arcturus and Spica. They’ll both be close to Mars.
Every Thursday, Laboratory Equipment features a Scientist of the Week, chosen from the science industry’s latest headlines. This week’s scientist is James Wray from the Georgia Institute of Technology. He and a team found that Mars is much more geologically complex than believed and has a mineral found in granite, known as feldspar.
An international team of astronomers has discovered the first Earth-mass planet that transits, or crosses in front of, its host star. KOI-314c is the lightest planet to have both its mass and physical size measured. Surprisingly, although the planet weighs the same as Earth, it is 60 percent larger in diameter, meaning that it must have a very thick, gaseous atmosphere.
"This planet might have the same mass as Earth, but it is certainly not Earth-like," says David Kipping of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics (CfA), lead author of the discovery. "It proves that there is no clear dividing line between rocky worlds like Earth and fluffier planets like water worlds or gas giants."
Researchers now have stronger evidence of granite on Mars and a new theory for how the granite — an igneous rock common on Earth — could have formed there, according to a new study. The findings suggest a much more geologically complex Mars than previously believed.
Large amounts of a mineral found in granite, known as feldspar, were found in an ancient Martian volcano. Further, minerals that are common in basalts that are rich in iron and magnesium, ubiquitous on Mars, are nearly completely absent at this location. The location of the feldspar also provides an explanation for how granite could have formed on Mars. Granite, or its eruptive equivalent, rhyolite, is often found on Earth in tectonically active regions such as subduction zones. This is unlikely on Mars, but the research team concluded that prolonged magmatic activity on Mars can also produce these compositions on large scales.
A Florida State Univ. scientist has uncovered what may be the first recognized example of ancient Martian crust.
The work of Munir Humayun — a professor in FSU’s Department of Earth, Ocean and Atmospheric Science and a researcher at the National High Magnetic Field Laboratory (MagLab) — is based on an analysis of a 4.4 billion-year-old Martian meteorite that was unearthed by Bedouin tribesmen in the Sahara desert. The rock (NWA 7533) may be the first recognized sample of ancient Martian crust and holds a wealth of information about the origin and age of the Red Planet’s crust.
A planned mission to return a sample from the Martian moon Phobos will likely be a twofer, according to a study by Brown Univ. geologists.
The study helps to confirm the idea that the surface of Phobos contains tons of dust, soil and rock blown off the Martian surface by large projectile impacts. Phobos’ orbital path plows through occasional plumes of Martian debris, meaning the tiny moon has been gathering Martian castoffs for millions of years. That means a sample-return mission planned by the Russian space agency could sample two celestial bodies for the price of one.
One in Five Sun-Like Stars Have a Habitable Planet
NASA’s Kepler space telescope, now crippled and its four-year mission at an end, nevertheless provided enough data to answer its main research question: how many of the 200 billion stars in our galaxy have potentially habitable planets?
Based on a statistical analysis of all the Kepler observations, astronomers at UC Berkeley and Univ. of Hawaii, Manoa now estimate that one in five stars like the sun have planets about the size of Earth and a surface temperature conducive to life.
India is aiming to join the world’s deep-space pioneers with a journey to Mars that it hopes will showcase its technological ability to explore the solar system while seeking solutions for everyday problems on Earth.
With a Tuesday launch planned for Mangalyaan, which means “Mars craft” in Hindi, India will attempt to become only the fourth country or group of countries to reach the Red Planet, after the Soviet Union, U.S. and Europe.