Enceladus Ocean

Artist concept:  NASA/JPL-Caltech

A possible internal structure of Enceladus. Artist concept: NASA/JPL-Caltech

I love this! I know, it’s not “for sure positively” but close enough for me. I was in the “global ocean” camp, then I thought “why not” this seems perfectly reasonable.

I do have to take issue with the very last line of the ESA press release (included / linked below): “This experiment provides a crucial new piece of information towards understanding the formation of plumes on this intriguing moon,” says Nicolas Altobelli, ESA’s Cassini project scientist.  Yeah it does provide a piece, but seems like it brings up more questions than it answered. That’s awesome is what it is!

Here is the Enceladus image gallery from NASA.

The press release from ESA is excellent:

Saturn’s icy moon Enceladus has an underground sea of liquid water, according to the international Cassini spacecraft.

Understanding the interior structure of 500 km-diameter Enceladus has been a top priority of the Cassini mission since plumes of ice and water vapour were discovered jetting from ‘tiger stripe’ fractures at the moon’s south pole in 2005.

Subsequent observations of the jets showed them to be relatively warm compared with other regions of the moon and to be salty – strong arguments for there being liquid water below the surface.

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Lunar Flows

Bright rock material (talus) flows in the lunar crater Dionysius. Image: NASA/GSFC/Arizona State University

This looks like flowing water, but no this is the moon.  Most of what we are looking at is material disturbed by the impact that created Dionysius, some if it is from other geologic processes.  This flow is on the eastern side of the crater (see the link above)

There is a large image and a detailed description of the scene at the LROC site.


X-1 Flare

The flare of 29 March from SDO. Click for larger. Image: SDO/NASA via SpaceRef

A pretty nice flare was emitted on 29 March 2014. The flare is an X-1 flare, think of the X class as the largest sized/intensity group of flares, other groups are named: M, C, B and A in decreasing size. The number adds a scale within the group. The X-1 is a smaller of the X group where an X-9 would be a monster flare. It would go something like this (in increasing size/intensity): M-7, M-8, M-9, X-1, X-2 and so on. Think of how earthquakes are scaled, it’s quite similar.

So this is a bigger flare, and by 02 April there should be a nice display of the Aurora at high latitudes (both poles) and possibly a sighting at mid-latitudes (where I am). Keep an eye to the sky if they are clear.

It is possible to have radio blackouts but not any the average person will notice. Ham radio operators might note a little degradation at HF frequencies.

The flare also caused some coronal dimming. The SDO captured a (really fast) video of the effect and Dean Pesnell posted it and a description at the SDO blog. Very cool!

Oppy’s Selfie

MER Rover Opportunity on Martian day 3609. Click for larger. Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

The Mars Exploration Rover Opportunity gives us this “selfie”. Okay, so it’s the rover’s shadow, it still counts if you are on Mars because there’s no mirrors.

The image was taken on the 3,609th day on the surface of Mars! That would be 20 March 2014 here on Earth.

Here’s the press release – you can get larger versions at the link too:

NASA’s Mars Exploration Rover Opportunity caught its own silhouette in this late-afternoon image taken by the rover’s rear hazard avoidance camera. This camera is mounted low on the rover and has a wide-angle lens.
The image was taken looking eastward shortly before sunset on the 3,609th Martian day, or sol, of Opportunity’s work on Mars (March 20, 2014). The rover’s shadow falls across a slope called the McClure-Beverlin Escarpment on the western rim of Endeavour Crater, where Opportunity is investigating rock layers for evidence about ancient environments. The scene includes a glimpse into the distance across the 14-mile-wide (22-kilometer-wide) crater.

Saturn Storm

The churning atmosphere of Saturn. Copyright NASA/JPL-Caltech/SSI/Hampton University

I was having a look at the ESA Space in Images page and they had this image of the stormy atmosphere of Saturn. We tend to be more used to seeing this sort of activity in the atmospheric bands of Jupiter, Saturn shares similar storm processes (and banding) although the colors tend to be more muted. The image colors were enhanced to tease out the visual details as explained below in the ESA caption.

Like a swirl from a paintbrush being dipped in water, this image from the Cassini orbiter shows the progress of a massive storm on Saturn. The storm first developed in December 2010, and this mosaic captures how it appeared on 6 March 2011.

The head of the storm is towards the left of the image, where the most turbulent activity is shown in white, but towards the centre you can also see the trace of a spinning vortex in the wake of the storm.

This image, centred at about 0º longitude and 35º N latitude, has had its colours enhanced to help reveal the complex processes in Saturn’s weather. The white corresponds to the highest cloud tops, but to the human eye the storm would appear more as a bright area against a yellow background.
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Mars at Opposition

If you’ve noticed Mars being especially bright (for Mars), you would be correct. If you’ve NOT noticed Mars being especially bright it would be a good time to have a look if you are out and about.

On 8 April 2014 Mars will be at opposition and six days later it will be at it’s closest to us. Don’t expect it to be bigger than the full moon this time around.


Rosetta Updated

There is a nice video out that shows what we might expect to see during the approach and encounter with the comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko.

As the video showed the comet is just now becoming visible and in fact Rosetta did get a couple of pictures of 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko. Rosetta is about 5 million km / 3.1 million miles from the comet and this image comes from 60-300 second exposures. Nice and steady!

Rosetta’s first sighting of its target in 2014 – narrow angle view  Image and caption: ESA

Rosetta’s first sighting of its target in 2014 – narrow angle view Image and caption: ESA

The camera is working great!  I especially like the globular cluster! It is M107.

See more at the Rosetta site.

Video source

C/2013 A1 (Siding Spring)

Hubble Sees Mars-Bound Comet Sprout Multiple Jets

Hubble’s latest look at comet C/2013 A1 (Siding Spring) on its way to a close encounter with Mars.

Source: Hubblesite.org

Hubble gives us this updated image of C/2013 A1 (Siding Spring). The image is all the better knowing the comet is somewhere around a magnitude 18 or so making it thousands of times fainter than we can see. Clicking the image will take you to Hubblesite. Clicking here will take you directly to the Comet C/2013 A1 (Siding Spring)image page at Hubblesite.

From Hubble:

Comet Siding Spring is plunging toward the Sun along a roughly 1-million-year orbit. The comet, discovered in 2013, was within the radius of Jupiter’s orbit when the Hubble Space Telescope photographed it on March 11, 2014. Hubble resolves two jets of dust coming from the solid icy nucleus. These persistent jets were first seen in Hubble pictures taken on Oct. 29, 2013. The feature should allow astronomers to measure the direction of the nucleus’s pole, and hence, rotation axis. The comet will make its closest approach to our Sun on Oct. 25, 2014, at a distance of 130 million miles, well outside Earth’s orbit. On its inbound leg, Comet Siding Spring will pass within 84,000 miles of Mars on Oct. 19, 2014, which is less than half the Moon’s distance from Earth. The comet is not expected to become bright enough to be seen by the naked eye.

A New Dwarf Planet

Dwarf Planet 2012 VP113 in three different images stacked together, it's the red, blue and green dots. Image: Courtesy Scott Sheppard and Chad Trujillo.

Dwarf Planet 2012 VP113 in three different images stacked together, it’s the red, blue and green dots. Image: Courtesy Scott Sheppard and Chad Trujillo.

A new dwarf planet has been found in our solar system, its name: 2012 VP113. The new dwarf planet is a long ways out, coming no closer to the sun than 80 AU.

Not just that, but it sounds like there is a potential of a new planet out there, possibly up to 10 times the size of the Earth! This remains to be seen though.

This from the Carnegie Institute:

New work from Carnegie’s Scott Sheppard and Chadwick Trujillo of the Gemini Observatory reports the discovery of a distant dwarf planet, called 2012 VP113, which was found beyond the known edge of the Solar System. This is likely one of thousands of distant objects that are thought to form the so-called inner Oort cloud. What’s more, their work indicates the potential presence of an enormous planet, perhaps up to 10 times the size of Earth, not yet seen, but possibly influencing the orbit of 2012 VP113, as well as other inner Oort cloud objects.

Read the rest of the press release at the Carnegie Institute (more images too).