The Great Red Spot is Changing Shape

great red spot

Jupiter’s Great Red Spot is a swirling anticyclonic storm that was previously large enough to fit three Earths inside.  However, observations taken by the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope has revealed that this is changing, both in shape and size.

So why is Jupiter’s trademark feature beginning to downsize?

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10 Little Known Facts About the Juno Mission

little known facts about juno

Juno is the second spacecraft designed under NASA’s New Frontiers Program and left Earth on August 8, 2011 for a journey to Jupiter.  July 4, 2016 it finally entered Jupiter’s orbit and will now orbit the massive gas giant 37 times in a span of 20 months.  Its mission: to collect data on the planetary core, map the magnetic field, and measure the amount of water and ammonia in the atmosphere.
That’s the gist of the mission, but here are some little known facts you may not already know.

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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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Eurpoa…. here we come

“NASA plots daring flight to Jupiter’s watery moon”

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(Credit: NASA/JPL/Ted Stryk)

On March 4, 2014 Charles Bolden, NASA Administrator, released a statement which includes, “In the coming year, we’ll build on our nation’s record of breathtaking and compelling scientific discoveries and achievements in space, with science missions that will reach far into our solar system, reveal unknown aspects of our universe and provide critical knowledge about our home planet.  It includes funding for missions to Mars and the formulation for a mission to Jupiter’s moon, Europa.”

It looks as though we may finally go to a ‘local’ body that will hold many surprises and in astronomical distances Europa is so very close.

Europa is just begging us to visit and the Europa Clipper is one mission.

This artist’s impression of Europa makes the place look more exotic than Mars.

(Credit: Chris Weeks)

ICE, ICE EVERYWHERE?

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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.

 

 

In The Wake of Comet ISON comes Comet Lovejoy

Comet Lovejoy

Poor Comet ISON was torn apart as it traveled around the Sun around Thanksgiving this year.  And as we mourn the loss of Comet ISON we can still rejoice in the fact that there is another comet to be seen in our night sky with a pair of binoculars.  Comet Lovejoy, also known as C/2011 R1, was first discovered by amateur astronomer, Terry Lovejoy, and is known as a long-period comet.  This northern-hemisphere object was discovered on September 7 2013 and can currently be seen as it travels from Bootes across the constellations of Corona Borealis and Hercules.

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Juno Update

NASA is back up and running, and we’ve got some pictures back from Juno! The spacecraft bound for Jupiter, made a close flyby around Earth two weeks ago to get the gravitational assist it needed to reach the outer solar system. While passing Earth, Juno snapped a picture of our home planet. It also tested some instruments to make sure they were ready to go upon arrival at Jupiter.junoearth

Click here for status update of the Juno mission.