Blog Archives

Bright Objects

In case you were wondering, the two very bright objects visible in the sky shortly after sunset are Venus (in the west) and Jupiter (in the southeast). After the sun and the moon, these are the two brightest natural celestial

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Posted in Planets, Sky Phenomena

Dwarf Planets and New Planets, Oh My!

Just about the time that one NASA spacecraft is closing in on Ceres (formerly known as an asteroid, now semi-officially designated as a dwarf planet) and another nears its encounter with Pluto, a group of astronomers has suggested that there

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Posted in Planets, Spacecraft

Dusty Mars–Bad. Windy Mars–Good.

My favorite writer about planetary science is, hands down, Emily Lakdawalla. She writes an occasional article for Sky & Telescope magazine, whose editor informed me on a recent astronomy-themed tour that “Emily is the consummate professional”. Where you can really

Posted in Mars, Planets

Planets? Positively! Meteors? Maybe.

This week the sky offers some absolutely “gonna-be-there” viewing, plus a tantalizing possibility for a once every few decades special event. Both of these, of course, depend on there being clear skies at your viewing location. First, the sure thing.

Posted in Planets, Sky Phenomena

Hurray For Plutonium!

Wait a minute! Isn’t plutonium that nasty stuff they make bombs from? Radioactive? The stuff Doc Brown stole from Libyans to fuel the Back to the Future DeLorean time machine? Well, yes…but there’s more to it than that. Plutonium exists

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Posted in Planets, Spacecraft

In Saturn’s Shadow

One of the most astounding images of the space age is about to be replicated. Take a look at this image of a backlit Saturn eclipsing the sun. This is a mosaic of images taken over three hours in September,

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Posted in Planets, Solar System, Spacecraft

Weekend Sky Show

The two brightest planets in the sky, Venus and Jupiter, have been drawing closer and closer to each other as seen from Earth for the past several days. This weekend they will be joined by the hard-to-see innermost planet Mercury

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Posted in Planets, Sky Phenomena, Solar System

A Pattern And A Puzzle

In my previous post, I talked about the strong evidence for the presence of water ice in permanently shaded crater floors around the north pole of Mercury. Part of the evidence for this was the thermal modeling of surface and

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Posted in Planets, Solar System

Ice On A Sun-Scorched Planet

The universe is full of surprises. More than once I have read an article about a new discovery and told myself something like this: “That can’t be right! They must have messed up somewhere, and we’ll read about how in

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Posted in Planets, Spacecraft

The “What Ifs?” of Science Fiction

If someone were to ask people who have one way or another made a career out of science or technology what they read in their childhood, the chances are very good that the common thread would be science fiction. I

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Posted in human spaceflight, Planets, Solar System