Blog Archives

ICY WORLDS AND THE PUZZLES OF PLUTO

Over the next 16 months, the data collected during the New Horizons spacecraft’s mid-July flyby of Pluto will find its way back to Earth, a few bits at a time. Already there are surprises in the data so far received.

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Posted in Planets, Solar System, Spacecraft

The Great Age of Planetary Exploration

How do you measure the milestones in your life? We all have events that help us mark the passage of years: school and jobs, marriage and family, births and deaths. These are of course primary in all our lives, but

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Posted in Planets, Solar System, Spacecraft

Nine Years to the Ninth Planet

Yes, you read that right. In honor of Pluto’s imminent debut on computer screens worldwide, I’ll award it planetary status for the next few months. After all, when the New Horizons spacecraft nearing Pluto now was launched in January 2006,

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Posted in Planets, Solar System, Spacecraft

Venus, Jupiter…and Earth

Those of us of a certain age will remember these song lyrics: When the moon is in the seventh house And Jupiter aligns with Mars… Jupiter is about to align not with Mars, but with Venus, the ancient goddess of

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Posted in Planets, Sky Phenomena, Solar System

A Cosmic Dance

The two brightest planets in the sky right now—and the two brightest planets, period—are Venus and Jupiter. Shortly after sunset at the end of April, Venus is the very bright object in the west, and Jupiter is only a little

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Posted in Planets, Sky Phenomena, Solar System

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