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.
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.
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.
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.
After a long, and at times risky two-year journey, the Mars Science Laboratory rover Curiosity has reached the base of the lower slopes of Mount Sharp, the primary destination since its landing back in 2012. Mount Sharp is about the same height as Mount Rainier on Earth and sits in the middle of the expansive Gale crater. The arrival was announced on Thursday, Sept. 11 at a NASA telecon which discussed Curiosity’s achievements so far and what else now awaits at the mountain.
Some interesting images taken on sol 739 by the Curiosity rover on Mars, at the entrance to Owens Valley. Some of the rocks here were overturned by the rover’s wheels and three of them here have a very speckled appearance with white spots. No word yet on what ChemCam analysis may have shown, but perhaps other geologists have some idea as to what these are?
Jupiter’s moon Europa is a fascinating little world, but particularly so for one reason: water. It’s deep alien ocean underneath the surface ice is reminiscent of our own planet, and since our oceans and seas are teeming with life, even beneath the ice at the poles, could Europa’s ocean also harbor life of some kind? Now, another discovery shows that Europa may be similar to Earth in yet another way, and one that could bolster the chances of life even more: plate tectonics. The new results were just published in Nature Geoscience on Sep. 7, 2014.
Saturn’s largest moon, Titan, is a very alien yet eerily Earth-like world, with rain, rivers, lakes, and seas; seen from above, the landscape has a familiar look to it. But those lakes, seas, and rivers are fed by a different kind of rainfall – liquid methane/ethane. It is far too cold on the surface for liquid water, but the liquid hydrocarbons nicely fill in for H20 in Titan’s “water cycle.” Now, a new study shows how this rainfall interacts with and changes underground aquifers.