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Scientists find fresh impact craters near the Moon’s south pole

23 May 2016 Astronomy Now

Using data from NASA’s Lunar reconnaissance Orbiter, scientists have discovered two geologically young craters — one 16 million, the other between 75 and 420 million years old — in the darkest regions of the Moon’s south pole. Such craters provide valuable information on the frequency of collisions in the solar system.

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New Horizons collects first science on a post-Pluto object

19 May 2016 Astronomy Now

Warming up for a possible extended mission as it speeds through deep space, NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft has now twice observed 1994 JR1, a 90-mile-wide Kuiper Belt object (KBO) orbiting more than 3 billion miles from the Sun. Science team members have used these observations to reveal new facts about this distant remnant of the early solar system.

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NASA directly observes fundamental process of nature for first time

14 May 2016 Astronomy Now

Like sending sensors up into a hurricane, NASA has flown four spacecraft through an invisible maelstrom in space, called magnetic reconnection. Magnetic reconnection is one of the prime drivers of space radiation and so it is a key factor in the quest to learn more about our space environment and protect our spacecraft and astronauts as we explore farther and farther from our home planet.

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Pluto’s interactions with the solar wind are unique

5 May 2016 Astronomy Now

Using data gathered by NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft on its Pluto flyby in July 2015, the dwarf planet has some characteristics less like that of a comet and more like much larger planets, according to the first analysis of Pluto’s unique interaction with the solar wind — the charged particles that spew off from the Sun into the solar system at a supersonic 1 million mph.

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Hubble discovers moon orbiting the dwarf planet Makemake

26 April 2016 Astronomy Now

NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope has spotted a small, dark moon orbiting Makemake, the second brightest icy dwarf planet — after Pluto — in the Kuiper Belt. The moon, provisionally designated S/2015 (136472) 1 and nicknamed MK 2, is estimated to be 100 miles in diameter. Makemake and its moon are more than 50 times farther away than Earth is from the Sun.

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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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Moons of Saturn may be younger than the dinosaurs

25 March 2016 Astronomy Now

New research suggests that some of Saturn’s icy moons, as well as its famous rings, might be modern adornments. Their dramatic birth may have taken place a mere 100 million years ago. This would date the formation of the major moons of Saturn, with the exception of more distant Titan and Iapetus, to the relatively recent Cretaceous Period — the era of the dinosaurs.

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A pond of frozen nitrogen on Pluto

24 March 2016 Astronomy Now

This feature appears to be a frozen, former lake of liquid nitrogen, located in a mountain range just north of Pluto’s informally named Sputnik Planum. Captured by the New Horizons’ Long Range Reconnaissance Imager (LORRI) as the spacecraft flew past Pluto on 14 July 2015, the image shows the possible lake to be about 20 miles (30 kilometres) across.

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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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NASA’s IBEX observations pin down interstellar magnetic field

28 February 2016 Astronomy Now

Immediately after its 2008 launch, NASA’s Interstellar Boundary Explorer, or IBEX, spotted a curiosity in a thin slice of space: More particles streamed in through a long, skinny swath in the sky than anywhere else. The origin of the so-called IBEX ribbon was unknown — but its very existence opened doors to observing what lies outside our solar system.