Titan's southern polar vortex appears to be an effect of the change of season, with large amounts of air being heated by sunlight during the northern spring and flowing towards the southern hemisphere. A puzzling detail about this swirling cloud is its altitude, some 300 km above Titan's surface, where scientists thought it was too warm for clouds to form. “We really didn’t expect to see such a massive cloud so high in the atmosphere,” says Remco de Kok of Leiden Observatory and SRON Netherlands Institute for Space Research, lead author of the study published in the journal Nature.
Continue reading "Cassini Spacecraft Zooms in on Titan's Swirling Polar Vortex --"A Massive Mysterious Cloud"" »
Titan is unique in our solar system because of its dense nitrogen-methane atmosphere, which is very similar to Earth's in some ways, but very different in others. For example, air temperatures are around 200 degrees colder and, in contrast to the warm salt water seas of Earth, frigid hydrocarbon lakes populate Titan's surface.
Continue reading "Winter X Games Won't Be Coming to Titan --A Massive Cloud: Swirling Vortex of Gas Blankets South Pole" »
Oceanus Procellarum, a vast dark patch visible on the western edge of the Moon's near side, has long been a source of mystery for planetary scientists. Some have suggested that the "ocean of storms" is part of a giant basin formed by an asteroid impact early in the Moon's history. But new research published today in Nature deals a pretty big blow to the impact theory.
Continue reading "Moon's Vast "Ocean of Storms" Reveals Ancient Rifts of Volcanic Activity (Not a Cosmic Impact Basin)" »
More than one hundred and fifty years ago, Charles Darwin hypothesized that species could cross oceans and other vast distances on vegetation rafts, icebergs, or in the case of plant seeds, in the plumage of birds.Though many were skeptical of Darwin's "jump dispersal" idea, a new study suggests that Darwin might have been correct.
Continue reading "Is Darwin's Long Debated Theory of Species Migration Valid? New Research Says "Yes"" »
Is it possible that our original home exists as a great collection of stars, a star cluster known as Messier 67 (shown above), a gathering of suns and stellar remnants some 2,700 light-years distant that contains more than a hundred stars that bear a striking resemblance to the Sun. Astronomers have searched for star clusters in our galaxy whose members come close to matching the Sun’s elemental composition and age. This past January, astronomers using ESO's HARPS planet hunter in Chile, along with other telescopes around the world, discovered three planets orbiting stars in the cluster Messier 67 shown above. Although more than one thousand planets outside the Solar System are now confirmed, only a handful have been found in star clusters. Remarkably one of these new exoplanets is orbiting a star that is a rare solar twin — a star that is almost identical to the Sun in all respects.
Continue reading "Did Our Solar System Originate in a Distant Star Cluster? " »
This panorama photo, taken by ESO's Yuri Beletsky, shows the view of the starry sky from the site of ESO’s Very Large Telescope (VLT) at Cerro Paranal in Chile during the total lunar eclipse of 21 December 2010. The reddish disc of the Moon is seen on the right of the image, while the Milky Way arches across the heavens in all its beauty. Another faint glow of light is also visible, surrounding the brilliant planet Venus in the bottom left corner of the picture. This phenomenon, known as zodiacal light, is produced by sunlight reflecting off dust in the plane of the planets. It is so faint that it’s normally obscured by moonlight or light pollution.
Continue reading "Unearthly Zodiacal Light --A Fossil Clue to the Origin of Our Solar System" »
NASA's Cassini spacecraft is monitoring the evolution of a mysterious feature in a large hydrocarbon sea on Saturn's moon Titan. The feature covers an area of about 100 square miles (260 square kilometers) in Ligeia Mare, one of the largest seas on Titan. It has now been observed twice by Cassini's radar experiment, but its appearance changed between the two apparitions.
Continue reading "Cassini Spacecraft Tracks Mystery Object in a Titan Sea" »
A planet may be causing the star it orbits to act much older than it actually is, according to new data from NASA’s Chandra X-ray Observatory. This discovery shows how a massive planet can affect the behavior of its parent star. The star, WASP-18, and its planet, WASP-18b, are located about 330 light-years from Earth. WASP-18b has a mass about 10 times that of Jupiter and completes one orbit around its star in less than 23 hours, placing WASP-18b in the “hot Jupiter” category of exoplanets, or planets outside our solar system.
Continue reading "Extreme Alien Planet Found -"One of the Most Massive Known Exoplanets"" »
Thanks to advances in a niche field called paleobiochemistry, researchers in the last decade have started to “resurrect” ancient proteins. Studying these proteins’ properties is offering us glimpses of what life was like in bygone epochs.
Continue reading "Resurrecting 4-Billion-Year-Old Proteins to Decode Earth's Early Epochs --"Will Aid Our Search for Life in the Universe"" »
"The implication of these findings is that some of the solar system's water must have been inherited from the Sun's birth environment, and thus predate the Sun itself. If our solar system's formation was typical, this implies that water is a common ingredient during the formation of all planetary systems.
Continue reading ""Prevalence of Life Throughout Milky Way" --Suggested By Discovery of Earth's Water Predating Birth of Sun" »