Author Archives: Paul Scott Anderson

Paul Scott Anderson is a freelance space writer with a life-long passion for space exploration and astronomy. He currently writes for AmericaSpace, Universe Today and Examiner.com. His own blog The Meridiani Journal is a chronicle of planetary exploration.

NASA designing its own ‘flying saucer’ for future Mars missions

Engineers work on the LDSD system design at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory. Credit: NASA / JPL

Engineers work on the LDSD system design at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory. Credit: NASA / JPL

It may sound like something from a movie but it’s not – NASA is working on building its own version of a “flying saucer” for a future mission to Mars. The disk-shaped spacecraft would be used to transport heavy payloads and even people down to the surface, it was just reported in New Scientist.

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Image Gallery: sunset in Gale crater

Sunset in Gale crater, as seen by Curiosity. Click for larger version. Credit: NASA / JPL-Caltech / Damia Bouic

Sunset in Gale crater, as seen by Curiosity. Click for larger version. Credit: NASA / JPL-Caltech / Damia Bouic

Another beautiful postcard panorama from Damia Bouic, this time showing a dusky sky during sunset as seen by Curiosity in Gale crater. In this view, the Sun is setting behind the western mountainous rim of the huge crater. Scenes like this are amazingly reminiscent of Earth, even though Mars is a truly alien world in many ways.

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Image Gallery: Saturn and Enceladus

Saturn with its rings seen edge-on and tiny Enceladus can be seen just in front of the rings. Credit: NASA / JPL-Caltech

Saturn with its rings seen edge-on and tiny Enceladus can be seen just in front of the rings. Click for larger version. Credit: NASA / JPL-Caltech

This image of Saturn from the Cassini spacecraft shows the planet with its rings edge-on, as a thin vertical line, against the massive gas giant planet itself. The shadows from the rings are on the left side of the planet, and if you look closely, the tiny watery moon Enceladus can be seen just in front of the rings as a dark dot. A very surreal view of this beautiful world.

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If the Moon were only 1 pixel: an incredible scale model of the solar system

Credit: Josh Worth

Credit: Josh Worth (joshworth.com)

This is an amazing rendition, a scrollable scale model of the solar system that shows just how vast the distances between the planets, and other bodies, really are. At this scale, the Moon is depicted as the size of 1 pixel and the Sun about 10 cm across, and it takes several minutes, and patience, to scroll all the way through to get out past Pluto. And that’s just the solar system; the distance to even the nearest other star is many, many times farther still!

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Image Gallery: a heart in Ascraeus Mons

Interesting feature near the Ascraeus Mons volcano. Click for larger version. Credit: NASA / JPL / University of Arizona

Interesting feature near the Ascraeus Mons volcano. Click for larger version. Credit: NASA / JPL / University of Arizona

Mars has a lot of unusual geological features, and this new image from the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter is a good example of that. Somewhat heart-shaped, south of the Ascraeus Mons volcano on the Tharsis volcanic plateau. How did it form?

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Image Gallery: ‘Australia’ rock with weird edges

"Australia" rock seen by Curiosity Click to view larger version. Credit: NASA / JPL-Caltech

“Australia” rock seen by Curiosity Click to view larger version. Credit: NASA / JPL-Caltech

This is an interesting rock slab just seen by the Curiosity rover on Mars. Kind of looks like Australia… It has very thin edges like other similar rock slabs seen before, but note the little pebbles stuck to the edges. How do they stay in place like that?

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Image Gallery: the plumes of Enceladus

The water vapour plumes of Enceladus. Credit: NASA / JPL-Caltech / 2di7 & titanio44 (Alive Universe Images)

The water vapour plumes of Enceladus. Click for larger view. Credit: NASA / JPL-Caltech / 2di7 & titanio44 (Alive Universe Images)

An amazing view of the water vapour plumes erupting from the “tiger stripe” fissures at the south pole of Saturn’s moon Enceladus. The plumes have been sampled and analzyed by the Cassini spacecraft and found to contain water vapour, ice particles, salts and organics. As just reported also, there is now evidence for a subsurface water ocean beneath the ice in this area as well. Additional enhancement and processing by 2di7 & titanio44 of Alive Universe Images.

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Image Gallery: cracked dome

Credit: NASA/JPL/University of Arizona

Click for larger version. Credit: NASA/JPL/University of Arizona

An interesting circular mound in the Nilosyrtis region on Mars, photographed by the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter. How did the flat top get all cracked like that? Original images are here.

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The sea of Enceladus: Cassini confirms underground ocean on Saturn’s geyser moon

Diagram of what the interior of Enceladus is now thought to look like, with the icy outer shell, liquid water ocean, and inner rocky core. Credit: NASA / JPL-Caltech

Diagram of what the interior of Enceladus is now thought to look like, with the icy outer shell, liquid water ocean, and inner rocky core. Credit: NASA / JPL-Caltech

Coming just after the news of the ringed asteroid and new dwarf planet, some more exciting news from the outer Solar System was announced last Thursday, and this will be of particular interest to those hoping to find evidence of alien life elsewhere in our solar system. Saturn’s tiny moon Enceladus, famous for its geysers of water vapour spewing out into space, has long been suspected of harboring an internal ocean, just like Jupiter’s moon Europa (and possibly others). Now it seems that scientists have the evidence they’ve been looking for, thanks to new findings based on data returned by the Cassini spacecraft, still in orbit around Saturn.

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Surprise discovery: rings around an asteroid!

Artist’s conception of the asteroid Chariklo with its ring system. Credit: ESO/L. Calçada/M. Kornmesser/Nick Risinger (skysurvey.org)

Artist’s conception of the asteroid Chariklo with its ring system. Credit: ESO/L. Calçada/M. Kornmesser/Nick Risinger (skysurvey.org)

When it comes to planetary rings, what do you think of? Saturn is the first obvious thing that comes to mind, with its famous majestic ring system surrounding the gas giant planet. The other gas and ice giants – Jupiter, Uranus and Neptune – also have rings, although not as spectacular as Saturn’s. The smaller rocky planets in our solar system are all lacking rings unfortunately. But now, a new set of rings has been discovered for the first time – not around a planet, but an asteroid!

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