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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Cosmos 2.0: a space science classic rebooted for the 21st century – a review

Banner image for Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey. Credit: FOX

Banner image for Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey. Credit: FOX

When it comes to presenting space exploration and science to the general public, there is one program that continues to stand out, setting the standard for how it should be done: Cosmos, hosted by the late Carl Sagan, in 1980 (who passed away in 1996). Both visually captivating and filled with scientific facts, the 13-part series took viewers on a journey through the universe, while explaining our place in it in a way that was easy to understand by non-scientists. Now, in 2014, the landmark series has been reborn for a new generation.

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Europa or bust: possible mission to icy moon in fy 2015 budget proposal

Europa peeking out from Jupiter's limb, as seen by Voyager 2 on July 3, 1979. Credit: NASA / JPL / Daniel Macháček

Europa peeking out from Jupiter’s limb, as seen by Voyager 2 on July 3, 1979. Credit: NASA / JPL / Daniel Macháček

For scientists and space enthusiasts who have been advocating a mission to Jupiter’s moon Europa, there was some good news this week from NASA. A mission to Europa has been officially included in the NASA 2015 Budget request. The inclusion is a reason for cautious optimism; while naming it as a target for a future robotic mission in the 2020s, NASA also wants to do that mission as cheaply as possible. Given the current economic climate, that may not be surprising, but what would reduced cost mean in terms of science?

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Planetary archive: Rosetta at Mars

The Rosetta spacecraft as it flew past Mars in 2007. Credit: ESA

The Rosetta spacecraft as it flew past Mars in 2007. Click for larger version. Credit: ESA

This is a nice “selfie” photo that the Rosetta spacecraft took of itself as it flew past Mars in 2007. Rosetta is still en route to comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko, and will start approaching it in May of this year, then will enter orbit around the comet and later deploy a lander in November. Hopefully this will be the view that astronauts have in the not-too-distant future.

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Exoplanet bonanza: Kepler confirms more than 700 new worlds

Illustration showing multiple-transiting planetary systems, such as those found by Kepler. Credit: NASA

Illustration showing multiple-transiting planetary systems, such as those found by Kepler. Credit: NASA

There was more exciting exoplanet news this week from the Kepler mission: the space telescope has confirmed 715 new exoplanets! This brings the current total number of such worlds to 1,766, of which 961 have been found by Kepler. There are still also 3,601 other Kepler planetary candidates awaiting confirmation.

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Is this new evidence for ancient life on Mars?

Scanning electron microscope image from inside the Martian meteorite Yamato 000593 (Y000593), showing the tunnels and micro-tunnels. Credit: NASA

Scanning electron microscope image from inside the Martian meteorite Yamato 000593 (Y000593), showing the tunnels and micro-tunnels. Credit: NASA

The debate over possible evidence for life on Mars is one of the most hotly debated subjects in space science, and some news released today, February 27, is sure to add fuel to the fire. Studies of a Martian meteorite, known as Yamato 000593 (Y000593), have revealed signs of past liquid water activity as well as possible evidence of actual biological processes.

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Planetary archive: Io

Jupiter's moon Io, the most volcanically active place in the solar system. Credit: NASA / JPL / University of Arizona

Jupiter’s moon Io, the most volcanically active place in the solar system. Credit: NASA / JPL / University of Arizona

This is a beautiful image of Jupiter’s moon Io, taken by the Galileo spacecraft on September 19, 1997. Io is slightly larger than Earth’s moon and is the most volcanically active place in the solar system. Sulfur dioxide and various other sulfurous materials blanket the surface, creating a colourful landscape on this “pizza moon” as it is sometime referred to. A lovely but deadly environment!

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