The yellow spots represent icy areas.
Ice? On the planet closest to the Sun? You heard right: Mercury’s northern pole may have craters containing frozen water.
The evidence, presented in three papers published last week in Science, comes from several sources. The Mercury Laser Altimeter, an instrument on the Mercury space probe, MESSENGER, helps scientists map the topography of the planet by firing lasers at its surface and recording the time it takes for the light to return. The instrument also records the intensity of the return beams, and the bright spots reflecting off Mercury’s surface suggest the presence of ice. Read More
The most recently observed stellar explosion in our neighborhood
was Kepler’s supernova, spotted 400 years ago.
Scientists using a telescope atop a Hawaiian volcano have detected a pair of extra-bright supernovae, or star explosions, one of which is the oldest, most-distant supernova ever detected.
That explosion occurred 12 billion years ago, making it a billion years older than the oldest supernova ever seen before. Because they are so bright—about 10 to 100 times brighter than most supernovae—these superluminous supernovae extend the limit on how far scientists can look back in time when they study the stars, whose light takes so long to reach us that what they are showing us is a picture of the universe in the past. With these results, published in Nature, scientists are peering closer than ever before to the time of the Big Bang, 13.7 billion years ago. Read More
The Curiosity rover has looked for methane on the Red Planet and has found none, disappointing hopes for finding life—Earth’s main source of methane—on Mars.
Researchers had good reasons to pin their hopes for Martian life on methane. On Earth, living things, such as methanogenic microbes, wetlands, and cattle, release vast quantities of the stuff. Researchers thought that any methane found on Mars might have come from a living thing, too. Plus, in Mars’ atmosphere, methane would dissipate quickly, so any that they did find was likely to be fresh and might even indicate that its Martian producer was still alive.
To deflect an asteroid, paint it white. That’s the idea that made MIT graduate student Sung Wook Paek the winner of the 2012 Move An Asteroid Competition, a contest set up by the United Nations’ Space Generation Advisory Council that sought innovative ways to deflect asteroids. Paek’s plan is to hurl pellets of white paint at an asteroid in order to make it more reflective, meaning that more photons, or particles of light, would bounce off it, rather than being absorbed. Over time, the force of those photonic collisions, combined with the initial force of the paintballs, would be enough, Paek thinks, to move the asteroid off its path toward Earth.
In 1986, in a flyby shooting, the Voyager 2 space probe took some of our first photos of Uranus. The planet looked blue-green and featureless, a planetary pokerface. In the decades since, we’ve learned that Uranus does have weather, visible as variations in color on the surface, and new photos from by the Keck II telescope in Hawaii (above) reveal the ice giant’s meteorology in more detail than ever before. The scalloped pattern near the equator is a ring of clouds; the busy, blue-flecked cap at the right end—the planet’s North Pole—are storms.
For sunny weather, try another planet: this one gets sunlight hundreds times weaker than we do on Earth, and the temperature of its upper atmosphere drops as low as -371 F, making it the coldest planet in the solar system.
Image via Lawrence Sromovsky, Pat Fry, Heidi Hammel, Imke de Pater/University of Wisconsin
UPDATE: The jump as been canceled, due to gusty wind conditions. Stay tuned…
This afternoon, the Austrian parachuter Felix Baumgartner is expected to leap from a balloon nearly 23 miles above Roswell, New Mexico, and freefall Earthwards, achieving speeds faster than the speed of sound.
The launch of the Long March-2F rocket carrying Shenzhou-9 into space
On Monday, Chinese spaceship Shenzhou-9 docked with Tiangong-1, the first time that China connected a manned craft with an orbiting module. Liu Yang, one of the three crew members, also became the nation’s first woman in space.
China’s ground base regulated the docking by remote control, and then Yang, along with fellow crew member Liu Wang and mission commander Jing Haipeng, entered the Tiangong-1 module for a 10-day stay in space. Although China did not send a man into space until 2003, becoming the third nation to do so behind both Russia and the United States, its space program does not lack for ambition. It plans to launch more manned space missions, possibly even to the moon, and to replace tiny Tiangong-1 with a larger 60-ton space station by 2020.
Ever wondered how the Tiangong-1 module of China’s in-progress space station measures up to, say, the International Space Station? Over at the astronomy blog Supernova Condensate, molecular astrophysicist Invader Xan has created an infographic comparing the sizes of various spacefaring vessels. It’s fun to see how different ships stack up next to each other, like the British spaceplane Skylon versus the U.S.’s recently retired spaceplane (i.e., the Space Shuttle). And Invader Xan also made a bonus image to demonstrate how our past may compare to the future, where no man has gone before.
[via Boing Boing]
Artist’s rendering of AVIATR flying on Titan.
Saturn’s moon Titan is a lot like Earth: it has rain, seasons, volcanoes, and maybe even life. Well, it’s not exactly like Earth: the rain is liquid methane, the volcanoes spew ice, and any life would be based on methane. But still, it’s an interesting and relatively Earth-like place, considering the other planets and moons in our solar system. And University of Idaho physicist Jason Barnes says he has a perfect way to explore this moon: with a flying drone.
Why use a flying machine rather than the rovers that worked so well on Mars? With 1/7 the gravity but 4 times the atmospheric density of Earth, flying through Titan is 28 times easier than on our own planet. In fact, it’s the easiest place to fly in our entire solar system. Drones on Titan can be heavier while requiring less fuel. With these facts in hand, University of Idaho physicist Jason Barnes has proposed AVIATR, otherwise known as the Aerial Vehicle for In-situ and Airborne Titan Reconnaissance.
What’s the News: Jupiter’s moon Io is more volcanically active than any other object in our solar system, releasing 30 times more heat than Earth through volcanism. It’s thought that Jupiter’s gravity pulls so hard on the moon and causes so much friction that the resulting thermal energy melts a huge amount of underground rock, feeding Io’s 400 active volcanoes.
For years, astronomers have debated whether Io’s spewing lava comes from isolated pockets of magma or a layer that spans the entire moon. Astronomers have now peered into Io’s interior for the first time, discovering that it has a global sea of magma roughly 30 miles thick. “It turns out Io was continually giving off a ‘sounding signal’ in Jupiter’s … magnetic field that matched what would be expected from molten or partially molten rocks deep beneath the surface,” lead researcher Krishan Khurana told Wired. Read More