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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Image Gallery: Rosetta selfie #2

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“Selfie” of the Rosetta spacecraft with the comet in the background. Photo Credit: ESA/Rosetta/Philae/CIVA

The Rosetta spacecraft has taken another “selfie” photo with the comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko in the background. Rosetta was only 16 kilometres (10 miles) from the comet at the time.There is even a jet clearly visible, emanating from the “neck” region of the double-lobed comet!

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Astronomers create most detailed weather map yet of an exoplanet

Graphic depicting how WASP-43b orbits its star, always keeping the same hemisphere facing the star, much like how the Moon always keeps the same hemisphere facing the Earth. Image Credit: NASA, ESA, and Z. Levay (STScI)

Graphic depicting how WASP-43b orbits its star, always keeping the same hemisphere facing the star, much like how the Moon always keeps the same hemisphere facing the Earth. Image Credit: NASA, ESA, and Z. Levay (STScI)

Being able to find exoplanets orbiting distant stars is a major accomplishment in itself, and fine-tuning the data enough to discover details about the characteristics of those planets is quite another. Not an easy task. Astronomers have had some initial success, but now they have been able to create the most detailed weather map for any exoplanet so far.

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Image Gallery: large boulder on comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko

Photo Credit: Credits: ESA/Rosetta/MPS for OSIRIS Team MPS/UPD/LAM/IAA/SSO/INTA/UPM/DASP/IDA

Photo Credit: ESA/Rosetta/MPS for OSIRIS Team MPS/UPD/LAM/IAA/SSO/INTA/UPM/DASP/IDA

A new image from the Rosetta spacecraft, using the high-resolution OSIRIS camera, of a huge boulder on the surface of the comet. The boulder is about 45 metres (147 feet) across and named Cheops, after the largest pyramid at Giza in Egypt. In the wider view image below, it is the largest boulder near the centre of the photo.

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Image Gallery: Earth and Mars as seen from the Moon

Image Credit: NASA/Goddard/Arizona State University. Caption by Adam Voiland

Click on image for larger version. Image Credit: NASA/Goddard/Arizona State University. Caption by Adam Voiland

A great image from the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter, showing the Earth, and, far in the distance, Mars, which looks like a very tiny speck where the label is near the top of the image. Click on image to zoom in. Mars is much farther away than the Moon! A significantly larger version of the photo is available here.

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Giant cloud at Titan’s south pole is toxic and freezing cold

View from Cassini of the huge polar vortex cloud over Titan’s south pole. Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/ASI/University of Arizona/SSI/Leiden Observatory and SRON

View from Cassini of the huge polar vortex cloud over Titan’s south pole. Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/ASI/University of Arizona/SSI/Leiden Observatory and SRON

Titan is the only moon in the solar system known to have a dense atmosphere, and while similar to Earth’s atmosphere in some ways, such as being rich in nitrogen, it also holds surprises for planetary scientists. Analysis of data from Cassini of a huge cloud which hovers over the moon’s south pole shows that it is both toxic and colder than expected.

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Image Gallery: Mars as seen by Mars Orbiter

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View of Mars from the Mars Orbiter spacecraft. Image Credit: ISRO/Ted Stryk

A beautiful new image of Mars taken from orbit by India’s Mars Orbiter spacecraft. Clouds, dust storms and the mottled surface of the planet itself can all be seen in this view. Thanks to Ted Stryk for colour enhancement of original ISRO image. More information about the Mars Orbiter mission is available here.

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It’s back! ‘Mystery Island’ in Titan sea makes unexpected reappearance

Three radar images, taken from April 2007 to August 2014, showing how the “mystery island” in Ligeia Mare has changed in appearance over time. Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/ASI/Cornell

Three radar images, taken from April 2007 to August 2014, showing how the “mystery island” in Ligeia Mare has changed in appearance over time. Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/ASI/Cornell

The mystery of an unusual feature in one of Titan’s hydrocarbon seas, dubbed the “mystery island,” has taken an interesting turn. After apparently disappearing following its initial discovery in 2013, it has now reappeared and has changed in appearance and size, as well.

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Image Gallery: more oddities from Curiosity

The small sphere, maybe a cm or two across. Photo Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

The “ball,” a small spherical stone, about a cm or two across. Photo Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

As the Curiosity rover was approaching the flat rock outcrop called Pahrump Hills, where it is currently drilling again, it spotted a few more interesting features. These include the “ball,” a small round spherical stone, about a cm or two across, which resembles the “blueberry” concretions seen by the Opportunity rover in Meridiani (like the ones in the image at the top of the blog sidebar). The Meridiani ones were all over the place though, while this one seems to be all by itself.

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Landing site selected for first-ever attempt to land on a comet

Landing site J, marked by the white + sign, on the head of comet 67P/Churyumov–Gerasimenko. Image Credit: ESA/Rosetta/MPS for OSIRIS Team MPS/UPD/LAM/IAA/SSO/INTA/UPM/DASP/IDA

Landing site J, marked by the white + sign, on the head of comet 67P/Churyumov–Gerasimenko. Image Credit: ESA/Rosetta/MPS for OSIRIS Team MPS/UPD/LAM/IAA/SSO/INTA/UPM/DASP/IDA

A landing site has now been chosen for the Rosetta spacecraft’s lander, Philae, on comet 67P/Churyumov–Gerasimenko, it was announced yesterday morning. After several candidate landing sites had been considered, site J has now been selected for the daring landing later in November. It will be the first-ever attempt to actually land on a comet.

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