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Relationship revealed between chemicals found on comets

2 November 2016 Astronomy Now

A new study reveals similarities and relationships between certain types of chemicals found on 30 different comets, which vary widely in their overall composition compared to one another. The research is part of ongoing investigations into these primordial bodies, which contain material largely unchanged from the solar system’s birth some 4.6 billion years ago.

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Mars gullies likely not formed by liquid water

30 July 2016 Astronomy Now

New findings using data from NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter show that gullies on modern Mars are likely not being formed by flowing liquid water. This new evidence will allow researchers to further narrow theories about how Martian gullies form, and reveal more details about Mars’ recent geologic processes.

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Pluto’s “Twilight Zone” reveals its secrets

3 June 2016 Astronomy Now

NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft took this stunning image mere minutes after closest approach on 14 July 2015. Seen here, sunlight filters through and illuminates Pluto’s complex atmospheric haze layers over portions of the nitrogen ice plains informally named Sputnik Planum, as well as mountains of the informally named Norgay Montes.

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Pluto’s atmospheric haze varies in brightness

17 April 2016 Astronomy Now

Scientists on NASA’s New Horizons mission team are learning more about the structure and behaviour of Pluto’s complex atmosphere by discovering new attributes of its extensive haze layers. The hazes were first discovered by New Horizons in July 2015, as the spacecraft swept past Pluto and made its historic first exploration of the mysterious dwarf planet.

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View Pluto’s bladed terrain in 3-D

2 April 2016 Astronomy Now

One of the strangest landforms spotted by NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft when it flew past Pluto was the “bladed” terrain formally named Tartarus Dorsa. The blades reach hundreds of feet high and are typically spaced a few miles apart. No geology degree is necessary to see why the terrain is so interesting — just grab your red and green 3-D spectacles.

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What’s eating at Pluto?

11 March 2016 Astronomy Now

Far in the dwarf planet’s western hemisphere, scientists on NASA’s New Horizons mission have discovered what looks like a giant “bite mark” on Pluto’s surface. They suspect that the methane ice-rich surface on Pluto may be sublimating away into the atmosphere, exposing a layer of water-ice underneath.

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Ten years of discovery by NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter

10 March 2016 Astronomy Now

On 10 March 2006, NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) entered into orbit around the Red Planet. A decade later, with its six science instruments all still operating, MRO has delivered huge advances in knowledge about Mars, revealing in unprecedented detail a world that held diverse wet environments billions of years ago and remains dynamic today.

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Mercury’s mysterious surface darkness revealed

7 March 2016 Astronomy Now

Scientists have long been puzzled about what makes Mercury’s surface so dark. The innermost planet reflects much less sunlight than the Moon, a body on which surface darkness is controlled by the abundance of iron-rich minerals. These are known to be rare at Mercury’s surface, so what is the “darkening agent” there?

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Methane snow on Pluto’s peaks

5 March 2016 Astronomy Now

NASA’s New Horizons team has discovered a chain of exotic snowcapped mountains stretching across the dark expanse on Pluto informally named Cthulhu Regio. One of the dwarf planet’s most identifiable features, Cthulhu (pronounced kuh-THU-lu) is a bit larger than the state of Alaska and stretches nearly halfway around Pluto’s equator.

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Did Pluto’s moon Charon possess an ancient subsurface ocean?

20 February 2016 Astronomy Now

This image from NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft focuses on a section of the informally named Serenity Chasma, part of a vast equatorial belt of chasms on Pluto’s largest moon, Charon. Scientists believe that Charon’s subsurface water-ice layer may have been partially liquid in its early history, and has since refrozen, expanded and pushed the surface outward, producing the massive chasms we see today.