Never Before Seen: New Moon Forming in Saturn’s Rings

New Moon forming in Saturn's rings

For the first time ever, scientists are witnessing the formation of a new moon as it forms within Saturn’s outer rings.  According to a recent report, NASA’s Cassini spacecraft recently discovered this icy formation, currently being called “Peggy,” on April 15th as it disturbed the smooth lines of the ring system.  But will it grow any larger, leave the ring system, or will it fizzle out and break apart?

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SpaceX-3 Commercial Resupply Services flight and Grasshopper test

 

 

 

Mission: SpaceX-3 Commercial Resupply Services flight

Launch Vehicle: Falcon

Launch Site: Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida

Launch Date: April 14, 4:58 p.m. EDT

 

NASA’s International Space Station resupply mission includes the legs for RobonautOPALS Lasercomm experiment and much more.  I think, however, the most exciting and dramatic portion of the flight is the possible test of  the ‘Grasshopper’ reusablility system.

Read the detailed story of the SpaceX Grasshopper  program.

Grasshopper Demonstration Flight

Reusability: The Key To Making Human Life Multi-Planetary

(SpaceX)

 

The launch will be webcast live, with commentary from SpaceX corporate headquarters in Hawthorne, CT at spacex.com/webcast and NASA’s Kennedy Space Center at www.nasa.gov/nasatv.

For a detailed description of the mission timeline, overview and SpaceX go to the SpaceX press kit. This is a wonderful resource.

 

 

Discovery: The Great Pink Planet

Pink Planet  GJ 504b

I’m well aware of what today is.  Believe me, I debated on whether or not to make a fake April Fools Day blog posting along the lines of “NASA announces the discovery of intelligent life on planet Eps Eri 04-01a,” or “50,000 year old space ship discovered in Antarctica.”  However, there’s stuff out there in space that’s real and strange enough to bring to light without having to result in phoney gags.  For example, a couple of days back I heard about the discovery of a pink planet way out in space.  So here’s the rundown on the lowest-mass planet ever detected around a star like the sun, GJ 504b that just happens to be pink.

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Discovery of Ocean Waves off Earth?

alien ocean

It seems that just about every week or so scientists are discovering something weird out there in space.  Some of these discoveries are more exciting than others, i.e., finally discovering water ice on Mars or discovering a star that’s potentially the size of the orbit of Saturn.  But then sometimes new discoveries come and go and few people pay attention to them.  I would like to talk about one such discovery:  the discovery of possible ocean waves on Saturn’s largest moon, Titan.  Could these possible waves be caused by Titan’s winds or something else that lies beneath?

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The Big Bang Makes Waves

Astronomers announced Monday that they had discovered what may be one of the greatest triumphs in modern day observational astronomy – ripples in the fabric of space-time that are echoes of the massive expansion of the universe that took place just after the Big Bang some 14 billion years ago.  Predicted by Albert Einstein nearly a century ago, the discovery of ripples, called gravitational waves, would provide evidence how the universe began and evolved into the countless galaxies and stars, dust, and vast stretches of empty space that make up the known universe.

bangMonday’s announcement was also to confirm the more recent theory of cosmic inflation – that when the universe was roughly a trillionth of a trillionth of a trillionth of a second old, the infant cosmos expanded exponentially, inflating in size by 100 trillion times.  This made the cosmos remarkably uniform across vast expanses of space and also energized tiny fluctuations in gravity, producing gravitational waves, undiscovered until now.  The discovery was made by telescopes at the South Pole under the direction of John M. Kovac and a team of astronomers of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics.

Confirming inflation would mean that the universe we see, extending 14 billion light-years in space with its hundreds of billions of galaxies, is only an infinitesimal patch in a larger cosmos whose extent, architecture and fate are unknowable. Moreover, beyond our own universe there might be an endless number of other universes bubbling into frothy eternity, like a pot of pasta water boiling over.

Water Vapor Discovered on Nearby Alien Planet

Tau Bootis B

Have you ever heard of the exoplanet, Tau Boötis b?  Well, it was discovered back in 1996 and is one of the closest exoplanets to us.   Tau Boötis b is about 51-light-years away and is considered to be a “hot Jupiter” because it is a gas giant orbiting close to its parent star.  Now, with the advances in techniques used to scan planetary atmospheres, something else has been discovered about  Tau Boötis b:  the fact that it has water vapor.

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Water Discovered on the Dwarf Planet Ceres

water found on ceres

The European Space Agency’s Herschel Space Observatory has recently discovered that the dwarf planet Ceres has direct evidence of water.  Ceres, the largest object in the Asteroid Belt, was detected spouting out plumes of water vapor from two different regions.  It’s suggested that this water is possibly coming from volcano-like ice geysers.

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ICE, ICE EVERYWHERE?

Image

An artist’s conception of the dwarf planet Ceres in the asteroid belt between the orbits of Mars and Jupiter.
Image Credit: ESA/ATG medialab

With the crazy winter weather warnings today in south Louisiana and even school cancellations for tomorrow, I thought it was an interesting time to find out that the dwarf planet Ceres has an icy surface also. With the help of the Herschel space observatory, scientists have detected an icy surface on the only dwarf planet that resides in the asteroid belt. It was previously suspected that ice existed on Ceres but it had not been conclusively detected until now. Plumes of water vapor are thought to shoot up from Ceres when portions of its icy surface warm slightly. This happens in the portion of the dwarf planet’s orbit that takes it closest to the sun. This is a surprise because, while comets are known to have water jets and plumes, objects in the asteroid belt are not. They also believe that if the ice in the interior of Ceres melted, there would be more fresh water than exists on all of Earth!

Ceres is smaller than a planet but, considering it’s the largest object in the asteroid belt, is obviously larger than an asteroid. When first discovered, Ceres was thought to be a comet, then a planet and of course at some point an asteroid. In 2006, The International Astronomical Union reclassified Ceres as a dwarf planet.

 

 

The Jelly Donut of Mars

Jelly Donut on Mars

There is no such place as a Mary Lee or Dunkin Donuts over on Mars.  At least, not yet.  But several days ago the Mars Rover Opportunity caught a mysterious object in its lenses that looked awfully like a jelly doughnut.   The strange thing is that it just happened to plop down in front of the camera.  If you look at the picture above you’ll see that it’s obviously a before-and-after shot.  The picture on the left was taken on December 26 of 2013 and the image on the right was taken 13 days later.  The object wasn’t there before.  So how did it get there?

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