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Cassini beams back first images from new orbit

9 December 2016 Astronomy Now

NASA’s Cassini spacecraft has sent to Earth its first views of Saturn’s atmosphere since beginning the latest phase of its mission. The new images show scenes from high above Saturn’s northern hemisphere, including the planet’s intriguing hexagon-shaped jet stream.

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It’s chaos at Saturn’s moon Hyperion

5 December 2016 Astronomy Now

The moon Hyperion tumbles as it orbits Saturn. Hyperion’s spin axis has a chaotic orientation in time, meaning that it is essentially impossible to predict how the moon will be spinning in the future.

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Could there be life in Pluto’s ocean?

4 December 2016 Astronomy Now

Pluto is thought to possess a subsurface ocean, which is not so much a sign of water as it is a tremendous clue that other dwarf planets in deep space also may contain similarly exotic oceans, naturally leading to the question of life, said one co-investigator with NASA’s New Horizon.

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Tangled threads weave through cosmic oddity

4 December 2016 Astronomy Now

New observations from the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope have revealed the intricate structure of the galaxy NGC 4696 in greater detail than ever before. The elliptical galaxy is a beautiful cosmic oddity with a bright core wrapped in system of dark, swirling, thread-like filaments.

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All’s quiet on the Sun

3 December 2016 Astronomy Now

This week the Sun was hitting its lowest level of solar activity since 2011 as it gradually marches toward solar minimum. See a near spotless Sun revolve in this video from the Solar Dynamic Observatory.

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LIGO resumes search for gravitational waves

1 December 2016 Astronomy Now

After a series of upgrades, the twin detectors of LIGO, the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-wave Observatory, have turned back on and resumed their search for ripples in the fabric of space and time known as gravitational waves. Now boasting a 25 percent improvement in sensitivity, LIGO recommenced science observations at 4pm GMT on 30 November.

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A new perspective on how Pluto’s “icy heart” came to be

1 December 2016 Astronomy Now

Pluto’s “icy heart” is a bright, two-lobed feature on its surface that was discovered by NASA’s New Horizons team in 2015. The heart’s western lobe, informally named Sputnik Planitia, is a deep basin generally thought to have been created by a smaller body striking Pluto at extremely high speed, but a new study suggests a different origin.

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First signs of weird quantum property of empty space?

30 November 2016 Astronomy Now

By studying the polarisation of light emitted from an extraordinarily dense and strongly magnetised neutron star using ESO’s Very Large Telescope, astronomers may have found the first observational indications of a strange quantum effect known as vacuum birefringence, first predicted in the 1930s.

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Icy moon Mimas dwarfed by Saturn’s rings

30 November 2016 Astronomy Now

Saturn’s icy 246-mile-wide moon Mimas (near lower left) appears tiny by comparison to the planet’s rings, but scientists think the all of the small, icy particles spread over a vast area that comprise the rings are no more than a few times as massive as Mimas. The view was obtained by NASA’s Cassini spacecraft at a distance of approximately 564,000 miles from Saturn.

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CaSSIS sends first images from Mars orbit

30 November 2016 Astronomy Now

The Mars Camera, CaSSIS (Colour and Stereo Surface Imaging System), on ESA’s ExoMars Trace Gas Orbiter captured its first high-resolution images of the Red Planet last week. Developed by a team at the University of Bern in Switzerland, CaSSIS is providing spectacular views, including the Hebes Chasma region at a resolution of 2.8 metres per pixel.

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