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NASA’s NEOWISE mission spies one comet, maybe two

30 December 2016 Stephen Clark

NASA’s NEOWISE mission has recently discovered some celestial objects traveling through our neighborhood, including one on the blurry line between asteroid and comet. Another — definitely a comet — might be seen with binoculars through next week.

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Mars rover’s drill out of action

18 December 2016 Stephen Clark

The rock-coring drill fixed to the end of the Curiosity rover’s robot arm has suspended operations to allow engineers on the ground to diagnose, and officials hope correct, a problem traced to the mechanism that pushes the drill bit onto rocks to collect powder samples.

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Did a low-mass supernova trigger formation of solar system?

29 November 2016 Astronomy Now

About 4.6 billion years ago, a cloud of gas and dust that eventually formed our solar system was disturbed. The ensuing gravitational collapse formed the proto-Sun with a surrounding disc where the planets were born. Now, forensic evidence from meteorites provides conclusive evidence that a low-mass supernova was the trigger.

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Curious tilt of the Sun traced to undiscovered Planet Nine

20 October 2016 Astronomy Now

Planet Nine — the undiscovered planet at the edge of the solar system that was predicted by the work of Caltech’s Konstantin Batygin and Mike Brown in January 2016 — appears to be responsible for the unusual tilt of the Sun. The large and distant planet may be adding a wobble to the solar system, giving the appearance that the Sun is tilted slightly.

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Discovery of binary-binary calls solar system formation into question

20 October 2016 Astronomy Now

University of Florida astronomers have discovered the first “binary-binary” — two massive companions around one star in a close binary system, one so-called giant planet and one brown dwarf, or “failed star.” For such large companion objects to be stable so close together defies our current popular theories on how solar systems form.

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Hunt for Planet 9 reveals extremely distant solar system objects

30 August 2016 Astronomy Now

In the race to discover a proposed ninth planet in our solar system, astronomers are conducting the largest, deepest survey for objects beyond Neptune and the Kuiper Belt. Nearly 10 percent of the sky has been explored to date using some of the largest and most advanced telescopes, revealing several never-before-seen objects at extreme distances from the Sun.

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Freezing effects of Jupiter’s shadow on Io’s volcanic gases revealed

3 August 2016 Astronomy Now

A team of scientists has documented atmospheric changes on Io, Jupiter’s volcanically active satellite, as the giant planet casts its shadow over the moon during daily eclipses. Io’s thin atmosphere collapses as the sulfur dioxide gas emitted from volcanoes freezes when shaded by Jupiter. The atmosphere reforms when Io moves out of eclipse and the ice sublimates.

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Solving the mystery of how comets are born

29 July 2016 Astronomy Now

Detailed analysis of data collected from Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko by ESA’s Rosetta spacecraft show that comets are the ancient leftovers of early solar system formation, and not younger fragments resulting from subsequent collisions between other, larger bodies.

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