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.

Hot ‘super-Earths’ provide clues to water in exoplanet atmospheres

Artist’s conception of super-Earth 55 Cancri e, one of the few exoplanets so far which astronomers are able to study the atmosphere of. Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Artist’s conception of super-Earth 55 Cancri e, one of the few exoplanets so far which astronomers are able to study the atmosphere of. Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Some of the most interesting exoplanets discovered so far are the “super-Earths,” rocky worlds which are significantly larger and more massive than Earth but still smaller than the ice giants such as Uranus or Neptune. Since they are not present in our own Solar System, their existence elsewhere can provide valuable information about planetary formation processes around other stars. One of the most significant aspects of this is the detection of water vapor in the atmospheres of these or other exoplanets, as this can help astronomers determine which super-Earths, or other exoplanets, may also have liquid water and be potentially habitable.

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Image Gallery: Europa redux

Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/SETI Institute

Europa. Click for larger version. Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/SETI Institute

NASA just released this new version of probably the most well-known image of Jupiter’s moon Europa. First taken in the late 1990s by the Galileo spacecraft, this version has been enhanced by more current imaging techniques, with more accurate colours. The cracked icy surface hides a deep global ocean of water, making Europa a prime target in the search for life elsewhere.

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Image Gallery: interesting rock textures in Pahrump Hills

Some of the rounded "blisters" as seen on sol 810 by Curiosity. Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Some of the rounded “blisters” as seen on sol 810 by Curiosity. Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

As Curiosity has continued to investigate the rock outcrops of Pahrump Hills near the base of Mount Sharp, it has found a variety of interesting textures on the rocks that should provide more clues to the conditions here a long time ago. Shown here are examples of rounded, raised “blisters” and many small elongated “hollows” which look similar to the vugs (where crystals had once formed) seen previously by the Opportunity rover. The hollows were revealed after Curiosity brushed off a layer of dust on the rock.

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Cassini plumbs the depths and new mysteries of Titan’s seas

Cassini radar image of part of Kraken Mare, the largest sea on Titan. Radar echoes on a 25-mile (40-kilometer) track along the eastern shoreline are shown as black and blue circles. Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/ASI/Cornell

Cassini radar image of part of Kraken Mare, the largest sea on Titan. Radar echoes on a 25-mile (40-kilometer) track along the eastern shoreline are shown as black and blue circles. Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/ASI/Cornell

The Cassini spacecraft continues to make new discoveries about Titan’s methane seas and lakes, answering some questions but raising additional ones as well. As announced this week, Cassini has discovered two more of the unusual “magic islands” – bright features which seem to appear in the seas where they didn’t exist before – and has measured the depth of the largest Titanian sea.

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TESS exoplanet-hunting space telescope ready for development

Artist’s conception of the Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS). Image Credit: MIT

Artist’s conception of the Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS). Image Credit: MIT

The search for exoplanets is about to enter an exciting new phase, as the Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS) mission has now been cleared for development by NASA. TESS will greatly expand the number of stars being observed for evidence of exoplanets orbiting them, as the next step forward from the Kepler space telescope and others which have already found thousands of such worlds outside of our own Solar System.

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Three Mars orbiters observe comet Siding Spring’s effects on Martian atmosphere

Artist's concept of the comet Siding Spring passing by Mars on Oct. 19, 2014. Image Credit: NASA/JPL

Artist’s concept of the comet Siding Spring passing by Mars on Oct. 19, 2014. Image Credit: NASA/JPL

For the first time ever, the effects of a comet making a close flyby of Mars have been observed by spacecraft orbiting the Red Planet. The results of this event was announced at a media teleconference held on Friday, Nov. 7. As comet Siding Spring made its closest approach on Oct. 19, the Mars Atmosphere and Volatile Evolution (MAVEN), Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO), and Mars Express spacecraft turned their attention to the small icy body from the safety of their orbits, studying the comet itself as well as its effects on the Martian atmosphere.

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Titan’s seas and lakes sparkle in the sunlight in recent Cassini images

Near-infrared view, taken Aug. 21, 2014 from Cassini of sunlight glints on methane/ethane seas and lakes near Titan's north pole. Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/University of Arizona/University of Idaho

Near-infrared view, taken Aug. 21, 2014 from Cassini of sunlight glints on methane/ethane seas and lakes near Titan’s north pole. Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/University of Arizona/University of Idaho

Saturn’s moon Titan is a very unique world, and the only place in the solar system known to have seas and lakes (liquid methane/ethane) on its surface, other than Earth. And just like our home world, if you look at them at the right moment from space, you can see sunlight gleaming off of them, as the Cassini spacecraft just did again on Aug. 21, 2014.

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Image Gallery: Earth and Moon from Chang’e 5 T1

Photo Credit: CNSA

Photo Credit: CNSA

A beautiful new image of Earth and Moon from the Chinese Chang’e 5 T1 spacecraft.

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Astronomers observe nearly 500 exocomets around nearby star

Artist's conception of exocomets around the star Beta Pictoris. Image Credit: ESO/L. Calçada

Artist’s conception of exocomets around the star Beta Pictoris. Image Credit: ESO/L. Calçada

Comets have been in the news a lot recently, with the ongoing investigation of comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko by the Rosetta spacecraft and the close flyby of Mars by comet Siding Spring this past week. But there is also another comet discovery – one much further out from our solar system. With the help of the HARPS instrument, on the European Southern Observatory’s (ESO) 3.6-meter telescope, astronomers have identified nearly 500 comets orbiting the nearby star Beta Pictoris, as part of an unprecedented new survey of exocomets orbiting other stars.

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Super-hot Venus may have heavy metal frost

Radar image of bright areas and dark patches in a swath of terrain in Ovda Regio going from lower to higher elevations. Image Credit: The Geological Society of America/Elise Harrington, Simon Fraser Univ. (LPI undergraduate intern)/Allan Treiman, LPI.

Radar image of bright areas and dark patches in a swath of terrain in Ovda Regio going from lower to higher elevations. Image Credit: The Geological Society of America/Elise Harrington, Simon Fraser Univ. (LPI undergraduate intern)/Allan Treiman, LPI.

Venus is one of the most inhospitable places in the Solar System, with temperatures hot enough to melt lead, crushing air pressure on the surface, and thick, toxic clouds perpetually hiding the planet itself from view. Now new research is helping to solve a long-standing mystery by showing that there may be frost on the surface. Not water frost, of course, given the conditions, but rather a bizarre frost composed of heavy metals.

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