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.

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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Saturn’s moon Mimas may have an underground ocean – or just a weird core

Mimas, a cold, icy, and tiny moon of Saturn, may have a liquid water ocean below its heavily cratered surface. Photo Credit: NASA/JPL/SSI

Mimas, a cold, icy, and tiny moon of Saturn, may have a liquid water ocean below its heavily cratered surface. Photo Credit: NASA/JPL/SSI

It wasn’t that long ago that Earth was thought to be the only place in the Solar System capable of having liquid water oceans, but now we know of several moons that do as well, including Europa and Enceladus, and likely Titan and Ganymede as well. In all these cases, the oceans are below ground, similar to ocean water below ice sheets at the Earth’s poles. Now there is yet another moon which might be added to this special list: Saturn’s moon Mimas.

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MESSENGER takes first images of ice near Mercury’s north pole

Wide-Angle Camera (WAC) image of Kandinsky crater, near Mercury’s north pole, which contains water ice. The original broadband image is on the left (outlined in yellow), and the brightness and contrast-enhanced version is on the right. Image Credit: NASA/Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory/Carnegie Institution of Washington

Wide-Angle Camera (WAC) image of Kandinsky crater, near Mercury’s north pole, which contains water ice. The original broadband image is on the left (outlined in yellow), and the brightness and contrast-enhanced version is on the right. Image Credit: NASA/Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory/Carnegie Institution of Washington

The Solar System is full of surprises. Mercury, the planet closest to the Sun, is a baking hot world, as would be expected. It is one of the last places where you would think anything would or could be frozen, but things aren’t always as they seem. There has been tantalizing evidence already for water ice deposits in craters at Mercury’s north pole, and now the MESSENGER spacecraft in orbit around the small planet has visually confirmed it for the first time.

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New Uranus-like ‘ice giant’ exoplanet discovered

Artist’s conception of an ice-giant type exoplanet. Image Credit: NASA/ESA/G. Bacon (STScI)

Artist’s conception of an ice giant type exoplanet. Image Credit: NASA/ESA/G. Bacon (STScI)

Many different kinds of exoplanets have been found by astronomers, from giant “hot Jupiters” and “super Earths” to smaller rocky worlds like Earth or Mars. Now, another type has been discovered, an “ice giant” similar to Uranus or Neptune in our own Solar System. The planet is about 25,000 light-years away in the constellation Sagittarius and is one of the first found that appears to be similar to the ice giant planets in our Solar System, Uranus and Neptune, which are part gas and part ice in composition. The discovery was made by an international team of astronomers, led by Radek Poleski, a postdoctoral researcher at Ohio State University.

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