Category: jupiter

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The night sky isn’t flat. If you traveled deep into this part of the sky at the speed of the radio waves leaving this tower, here are some places you could reach.

Jupiter: Travel time – 35 minutes, 49 seconds.

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The closest object in this view is the planet Jupiter, brilliant now in the evening sky…and gorgeous when seen up close by our Juno spacecraft. Distance on the night this picture was taken: 400 million miles (644 million kilometers). 

Saturn: Travel time – one hour and 15 minutes.

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The next closest is Saturn, another bright “star” in this summer’s sky. On the right, one of the Cassini spacecraft’s last looks. Distance: 843 million miles (1.3 billion kilometers).

Pluto: Light-speed travel time from the radio tower – four hours, 33 minutes.

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It’s not visible to the unaided eye, but Pluto is currently found roughly in this direction. Our New Horizons space mission was the first to show us what it looks like. Distance: more than 3 billion miles.

F-type star, HD 1698330: Light-speed travel time from the radio tower – 123 years.

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Within this patch of sky, there’s an F-type star called HD 169830. At this speed, it would take you 123 years to get there. We now know it has at least two planets (one of which is imagined here) — just two of more than 4,000 we’ve found…so far.

The Lagoon Nebula: Light-speed travel time from the radio tower – 4,000 years.

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If you look closely, you’ll see a fuzzy patch of light and color here. If you look *really* closely, as our Hubble Space Telescope did, you’ll see the Lagoon Nebula, churning with stellar winds from newborn stars.

Black hole, Sagittarius A*: Light-speed travel time from the radio tower – 26,000 years.

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In 26,000 years, after passing millions of stars, you could reach the center of our galaxy. Hidden there behind clouds of dust is a massive black hole. It’s hidden, that is, unless you use our Chandra X-ray Observatory which captured the x-ray flare seen here.

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The next time you’re under a deep, dark sky, don’t forget to look up…and wonder what else might be out there.

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Earth is a dynamic and stormy planet with everything from brief, rumbling thunderstorms to enormous, raging hurricanes, which are some of the most powerful and destructive storms on our world. But other planets also have storm clouds, lightning — even rain, of sorts. Let’s take a tour of some of the unusual storms in our solar system and beyond.

Tune in May 22 at 3 p.m. for more solar system forecasting with NASA Chief Scientist Jim Green during the latest installment of NASA Science Live: https://www.nasa.gov/nasasciencelive.

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1. At Mercury: A Chance of Morning Micrometeoroid Showers and Magnetic ‘Tornadoes’

Mercury, the planet nearest the Sun, is scorching hot, with daytime temperatures of more than 800 degrees Fahrenheit (about 450 degrees Celsius). It also has weak gravity — only about 38% of Earth’s — making it hard for Mercury to hold on to an atmosphere.

Its barely there atmosphere means Mercury doesn’t have dramatic storms, but it does have a strange “weather” pattern of sorts: it’s blasted with micrometeoroids, or tiny dust particles, usually in the morning. It also has magnetic “tornadoes” — twisted bundles of magnetic fields that connect the planet’s magnetic field to space.

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2. At Venus: Earth’s ‘Almost’ Twin is a Hot Mess

Venus is often called Earth’s twin because the two planets are similar in size and structure. But Venus is the hottest planet in our solar system, roasting at more than 800 degrees Fahrenheit (430 degrees Celsius) under a suffocating blanket of sulfuric acid clouds and a crushing atmosphere. Add to that the fact that Venus has lightning, maybe even more than Earth. 

In visible light, Venus appears bright yellowish-white because of its clouds. Earlier this year, Japanese researchers found a giant streak-like structure in the clouds based on observations by the Akatsuki spacecraft orbiting Venus.

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3. At Earth: Multiple Storm Hazards Likely

Earth has lots of storms, including thunderstorms, blizzards and tornadoes. Tornadoes can pack winds over 300 miles per hour (480 kilometers per hour) and can cause intense localized damage.

But no storms match hurricanes in size and scale of devastation. Hurricanes, also called typhoons or cyclones, can last for days and have strong winds extending outward for 675 miles (1,100 kilometers). They can annihilate coastal areas and cause damage far inland.

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4. At Mars: Hazy with a Chance of Dust Storms

Mars is infamous for intense dust storms, including some that grow to encircle the planet. In 2018, a global dust storm blanketed NASA’s record-setting Opportunity rover, ending the mission after 15 years on the surface.

Mars has a thin atmosphere of mostly carbon dioxide. To the human eye, the sky would appear hazy and reddish or butterscotch colored because of all the dust suspended in the air. 

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5. At Jupiter: A Shrinking Icon

It’s one of the best-known storms in the solar system: Jupiter’s Great Red Spot. It’s raged for at least 300 years and was once big enough to swallow Earth with room to spare. But it’s been shrinking for a century and a half. Nobody knows for sure, but it’s possible the Great Red Spot could eventually disappear.

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6. At Saturn: A Storm Chasers Paradise

Saturn has one of the most extraordinary atmospheric features in the solar system: a hexagon-shaped cloud pattern at its north pole. The hexagon is a six-sided jet stream with 200-mile-per-hour winds (about 322 kilometers per hour). Each side is a bit wider than Earth and multiple Earths could fit inside. In the middle of the hexagon is what looks like a cosmic belly button, but it’s actually a huge vortex that looks like a hurricane.

Storm chasers would have a field day on Saturn. Part of the southern hemisphere was dubbed “Storm Alley” by scientists on NASA’s Cassini mission because of the frequent storm activity the spacecraft observed there. 

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7. At Titan: Methane Rain and Dust Storms

Earth isn’t the only world in our solar system with bodies of liquid on its surface. Saturn’s moon Titan has rivers, lakes and large seas. It’s the only other world with a cycle of liquids like Earth’s water cycle, with rain falling from clouds, flowing across the surface, filling lakes and seas and evaporating back into the sky. But on Titan, the rain, rivers and seas are made of methane instead of water.

Data from the Cassini spacecraft also revealed what appear to be giant dust storms in Titan’s equatorial regions, making Titan the third solar system body, in addition to Earth and Mars, where dust storms have been observed.

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8. At Uranus: A Polar Storm

Scientists were trying to solve a puzzle about clouds on the ice giant planet: What were they made of? When Voyager 2 flew by in 1986, it spotted few clouds. (This was due in part to the thick haze that envelops the planet, as well as Voyager’s cameras not being designed to peer through the haze in infrared light.) But in 2018, NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope snapped an image showing a vast, bright, stormy cloud cap across the north pole of Uranus.

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9. At Neptune: Methane Clouds

Neptune is our solar system’s windiest world. Winds whip clouds of frozen methane across the ice giant planet at speeds of more than 1,200 miles per hour (2,000 kilometers per hour) — about nine times faster than winds on Earth.

Neptune also has huge storm systems. In 1989, NASA’s Voyager 2 spotted two giant storms on Neptune as the spacecraft zipped by the planet. Scientists named the storms “The Great Dark Spot” and “Dark Spot 2.”

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10. It’s Not Just Us: Extreme Weather in Another Solar System

Scientists using NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope made a global map of the glow from a turbulent planet outside our solar system. The observations show the exoplanet, called WASP-43b, is a world of extremes. It has winds that howl at the speed of sound, from a 3,000-degree-Fahrenheit (1,600-degree-Celsius) day side, to a pitch-black night side where temperatures plunge below 1,000 degrees Fahrenheit (500 degrees Celsius).

Discovered in 2011, WASP-43b is located 260 light-years away. The planet is too distant to be photographed, but astronomers detected it by observing dips in the light of its parent star as the planet passes in front of it.

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Today is Valentine’s Day. What better way to express that
you love someone than with an intergalactic love gram? Check out some of our
favorites and send them to all of your cosmic companions:

Your love is galactic

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The Hubble Space Telescope revolutionized nearly all areas
of astronomical research — and captured some truly lovely
images
. Here, a pair of intersecting galaxies swirl into the shape of a rose as a
result of gravitational tidal pull. What type of roses are you getting for your
love — red or galactic?

I think you’re n{ice}

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IceBridge is the largest airborne survey of Earth’s polar
ice ever flown. It captures 3-D views of Arctic and Antarctic ice sheets, ice shelves
and sea ice. This lovely heart-shaped glacier feature was discovered in
northwest Greenland during an IceBridge flight in 2017. Which of your lover’s
features would you say are the coolest?

You’re absolutely
magnetic

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Even though we can’t see them, magnetic fields are all
around us. One of the solar system’s largest magnetospheres belongs to Jupiter.
Right now, our Juno spacecraft is providing scientists with their first
glimpses of this unseen force. Is your attraction to your loved one magnetic?

You’re MARS-velous

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This heart-shaped feature on the Martian landscape was
captured by our Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter. It was created by a small impact
crater that blew darker material on the surface away. What impact has your
loved one had on you?

I <3 you

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From three billion miles away, Pluto sent a “love note” back
to Earth, via our New Horizons spacecraft. This stunning image of Pluto’s
“heart”
shows one of the world’s most dominant features, estimated to
be 1,000 miles (1,600 km) across at its widest point. Will you pass this love
note on to someone special in your life?

Light of my life

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Our Solar Dynamics Observatory keeps an eye on our closest star
that brings energy to you and your love. The observatory helps us understand
where the Sun’s energy comes from, how the inside of the Sun works, how energy
is stored and released in the Sun’s atmosphere and much more. Who would you say
is your ray of sunshine?

Do any of these cosmic phenomena remind you of someone in
your universe? Download these cards here to
send to all the stars in your sky.

Want something from the Red Planet to match your bouquet of
red roses? Here
is our collection of Martian Valentines.

Make sure to follow us on Tumblr for your
regular dose of space: 
http://nasa.tumblr.com

Our solar system was built on impacts — some big, some small — some fast, some slow. This week, in honor of a possible newly-discovered large crater here on Earth, here’s a quick run through of some of the more intriguing impacts across our solar system.

1. Mercury: A Basin Bigger Than Texas

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Mercury does not have a thick atmosphere to protect it from space debris. The small planet is riddled with craters, but none as spectacular as the Caloris Basin. “Basin” is what geologists call craters larger than about 186 miles (300 kilometers) in diameter. Caloris is about 950 miles (1,525 kilometers) across and is ringed by mile-high mountains.

For scale, the state of Texas is 773 miles (1,244 kilometers) wide from east to west.

2. Venus: Tough on Space Rocks

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Venus’ ultra-thick atmosphere finishes off most meteors before they reach the surface. The planet’s volcanic history has erased many of its craters, but like almost any place with solid ground in our solar system, there are still impact scars to be found. Most of what we know of Venus’ craters comes from radar images provided by orbiting spacecraft, such as NASA’s Magellan.

Mead Crater is the largest known impact site on Venus. It is about 170 miles (275 kilometers) in diameter. The relatively-flat, brighter inner floor of the crater indicates it was filled with impact melt and/or lava.

3. Earth: Still Craters After All These Years

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Evidence of really big impacts — such as Arizona’s Meteor Crater — are harder to find on Earth. The impact history of our home world has largely been erased by weather and water or buried under lava, rock or ice. Nonetheless, we still find new giant craters occasionally.

A NASA glaciologist has discovered a possible impact crater buried under more than a mile of ice in northwest Greenland.

This follows the finding, announced in November 2018, of a 19-mile (31-kilometer) wide crater beneath Hiawatha Glacier – the first meteorite impact crater ever discovered under Earth’s ice sheets. 

If the second crater, which has a width of over 22 miles (35 kilometers), is ultimately confirmed as the result of a meteorite impact, it will be the 22nd largest impact crater found on Earth.

4. Moon: Our Cratered Companion

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Want to imagine what Earth might look like without its protective atmosphere, weather, water and other crater-erasing features? Look up at the Moon. The Moon’s pockmarked face offers what may be humanity’s most familiar view of impact craters.

One of the easiest to spot is Tycho, the tight circle and bright, radiating splat are easy slightly off center on the lower-left side of the full moon. Closer views of the 53-mile (85 kilometer)-wide crater from orbiting spacecraft reveal a beautiful central peak, topped with an intriguing boulder that would fill about half of a typical city block.

5. Mars: Still Taking Hits

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Mars has just enough atmosphere to ensure nail-biting spacecraft landings, but not enough to prevent regular hits from falling space rocks. This dark splat on the Martian south pole is less than a year old, having formed between July and September 2018. The two-toned blast pattern tells a geologic story. The larger, lighter-colored blast pattern could be the result of scouring by winds from the impact shockwave on ice. The darker-colored inner blast pattern is because the impactor penetrated the thin ice layer, blasting the dark sand underneath in all directions.

6. Ceres: What Lies Beneath

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The bright spots in Ceres’ Occator crater intrigued the world from the moment the approaching Dawn spacecraft first photographed it in 2015. Closer inspection from orbit revealed the spots to be the most visible example of hundreds of bright, salty deposits that decorate the dwarf planet like a smattering of diamonds. The science behind these bright spots is even more compelling: they are mainly sodium carbonate and ammonium chloride that somehow made their way to the surface in a slushy brine from within or below the crust. Thanks to Dawn, scientists have a better sense of how these reflective areas formed and changed over time — processes indicative of an active, evolving world.

7. Comet Tempel 1: We Did It!

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Scientists have long known we can learn a lot from impact craters — so, in 2005, they made one themselves and watched it happen.

On July 4, 2005, NASA’s Deep Impact spacecraft trained its instruments on an 816-pound (370-kilogram) copper impactor as it smashed into comet Tempel 1.

One of the more surprising findings: The comet has a loose, “fluffy” structure, held together by gravity and contains a surprising amount of organic compounds that are part of the basic building blocks of life.

8. Mimas: May the 4th Be With You

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Few Star Wars fans — us included — can resist Obi Wan Kenobi’s memorable line “That’s no moon…” when images of Saturn’s moon Mimas pop up on a screen. Despite its Death Star-like appearance, Mimas is most definitely a moon. Our Cassini spacecraft checked, a lot — and the superlaser-looking depression is simply an 81-mile (130-kilometer) wide crater named for the moon’s discoverer, William Herschel.

9. Europa: Say What?

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The Welsh name of this crater on Jupiter’s ocean moon Europa looks like a tongue-twister, but it is easiest pronounced as “pool.” Pwyll is thought to be one of the youngest features we know of on Europa. The bright splat from the impact extends more than 600 miles (about 1,000 kilometers) around the crater, a fresh blanket over rugged, older terrain. “Fresh,” or young, is a relative term in geology; the crater and its rays are likely millions of years old.

10. Show Us Your Greatest Hits

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Got a passion for Stickney, the dominant bowl-shaped crater on one end of Mars’ moon Phobos? Or a fondness for the sponge-like abundance of impacts on Saturn’s battered moon Hyperion (pictured)? There are countless craters to choose from. Share your favorites with us on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook.

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Icy Hearts: A heart-shaped calving front of a glacier in Greenland (left) and Pluto’s frozen plains (right). Credits: NASA/Maria-Jose Viñas and NASA/APL/SwRI

From deep below the soil at Earth’s polar regions to Pluto’s frozen heart, ice exists all over the solar system…and beyond. From right here on our home planet to moons and planets millions of miles away, we’re exploring ice and watching how it changes. Here’s 10 things to know:

1. Earth’s Changing Ice Sheets

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An Antarctic ice sheet. Credit: NASA

Ice sheets are massive expanses of ice that stay frozen from year to year and cover more than 6 million square miles. On Earth, ice sheets extend across most of Greenland and Antarctica. These two ice sheets contain more than 99 percent of the planet’s freshwater. However, our ice sheets are sensitive to the changing climate.

Data from our GRACE satellites show that the land ice sheets in both Antarctica and Greenland have been losing mass since at least 2002, and the speed at which they’re losing mass is accelerating.

2. Sea Ice at Earth’s Poles

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Earth’s polar oceans are covered by stretches of ice that freezes and melts with the seasons and moves with the wind and ocean currents. During the autumn and winter, the sea ice grows until it reaches an annual maximum extent, and then melts back to an annual minimum at the end of summer. Sea ice plays a crucial role in regulating climate – it’s much more reflective than the dark ocean water, reflecting up to 70 percent of sunlight back into space; in contrast, the ocean reflects only about 7 percent of the sunlight that reaches it. Sea ice also acts like an insulating blanket on top of the polar oceans, keeping the polar wintertime oceans warm and the atmosphere cool.

Some Arctic sea ice has survived multiple years of summer melt, but our research indicates there’s less and less of this older ice each year. The maximum and minimum extents are shrinking, too. Summertime sea ice in the Arctic Ocean now routinely covers about 30-40 percent less area than it did in the late 1970s, when near-continuous satellite observations began. These changes in sea ice conditions enhance the rate of warming in the Arctic, already in progress as more sunlight is absorbed by the ocean and more heat is put into the atmosphere from the ocean, all of which may ultimately affect global weather patterns.

3. Snow Cover on Earth

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Snow extends the cryosphere from the poles and into more temperate regions.

Snow and ice cover most of Earth’s polar regions throughout the year, but the coverage at lower latitudes depends on the season and elevation. High-elevation landscapes such as the Tibetan Plateau and the Andes and Rocky Mountains maintain some snow cover almost year-round. In the Northern Hemisphere, snow cover is more variable and extensive than in the Southern Hemisphere.

Snow cover the most reflective surface on Earth and works like sea ice to help cool our climate. As it melts with the seasons, it provides drinking water to communities around the planet.

4. Permafrost on Earth

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Tundra polygons on Alaska’s North Slope. As permafrost thaws, this area is likely to be a source of atmospheric carbon before 2100. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Charles Miller

Permafrost is soil that stays frozen solid for at least two years in a row. It occurs in the Arctic, Antarctic and high in the mountains, even in some tropical latitudes. The Arctic’s frozen layer of soil can extend more than 200 feet below the surface. It acts like cold storage for dead organic matter – plants and animals.

In parts of the Arctic, permafrost is thawing, which makes the ground wobbly and unstable and can also release those organic materials from their icy storage. As the permafrost thaws, tiny microbes in the soil wake back up and begin digesting these newly accessible organic materials, releasing carbon dioxide and methane, two greenhouse gases, into the atmosphere.

Two campaigns, CARVE and ABoVE, study Arctic permafrost and its potential effects on the climate as it thaws.

5. Glaciers on the Move

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Did you know glaciers are constantly moving? The masses of ice act like slow-motion rivers, flowing under their own weight. Glaciers are formed by falling snow that accumulates over time and the slow, steady creep of flowing ice. About 10 percent of land area on Earth is covered with glacial ice, in Greenland, Antarctica and high in mountain ranges; glaciers store much of the world’s freshwater.

Our satellites and airplanes have a bird’s eye view of these glaciers and have watched the ice thin and their flows accelerate, dumping more freshwater ice into the ocean, raising sea level.

6. Pluto’s Icy Heart

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The nitrogen ice glaciers on Pluto appear to carry an intriguing cargo: numerous, isolated hills that may be fragments of water ice from Pluto’s surrounding uplands. NASA/Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory/Southwest Research Institute

Pluto’s most famous feature – that heart! – is stone cold. First spotted by our New Horizons spacecraft in 2015, the heart’s western lobe, officially named Sputnik Planitia, is a deep basin containing three kinds of ices – frozen nitrogen, methane and carbon monoxide.

Models of Pluto’s temperatures show that, due the dwarf planet’s extreme tilt (119 degrees compared to Earth’s 23 degrees), over the course of its 248-year orbit, the latitudes near 30 degrees north and south are the coldest places – far colder than the poles. Ice would have naturally formed around these latitudes, including at the center of Sputnik Planitia.

New Horizons also saw strange ice formations resembling giant knife blades. This “bladed terrain” contains structures as tall as skyscrapers and made almost entirely of methane ice, likely formed as erosion wore away their surfaces, leaving dramatic crests and sharp divides. Similar structures can be found in high-altitude snowfields along Earth’s equator, though on a very different scale.

7. Polar Ice on Mars

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This image, combining data from two instruments aboard our Mars Global Surveyor, depicts an orbital view of the north polar region of Mars. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

Mars has bright polar caps of ice easily visible from telescopes on Earth. A seasonal cover of carbon dioxide ice and snow advances and retreats over the poles during the Martian year, much like snow cover on Earth.

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This animation shows a side-by-side comparison of CO2 ice at the north (left) and south (right) Martian poles over the course of a typical year (two Earth years). This simulation isn’t based on photos; instead, the data used to create it came from two infrared instruments capable of studying the poles even when they’re in complete darkness. This data were collected by our Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, and Mars Global Surveyor. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

During summertime in the planet’s north, the remaining northern polar cap is all water ice; the southern cap is water ice as well, but remains covered by a relatively thin layer of carbon dioxide ice even in summertime.

Scientists using radar data from our Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter found a record of the most recent Martian ice age in the planet’s north polar ice cap. Research indicates a glacial period ended there about 400,000 years ago. Understanding seasonal ice behavior on Mars helps scientists refine models of the Red Planet’s past and future climate.

8. Ice Feeds a Ring of Saturn

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Wispy fingers of bright, icy material reach tens of thousands of kilometers outward from Saturn’s moon Enceladus into the E ring, while the moon’s active south polar jets continue to fire away. Credit: NASA/JPL/Space Science Institute

Saturn’s rings and many of its moons are composed of mostly water ice – and one of its moons is actually creating a ring. Enceladus, an icy Saturnian moon, is covered in “tiger stripes.” These long cracks at Enceladus’ South Pole are venting its liquid ocean into space and creating a cloud of fine ice particles over the moon’s South Pole. Those particles, in turn, form Saturn’s E ring, which spans from about 75,000 miles (120,000 kilometers) to about 260,000 miles (420,000 kilometers) above Saturn’s equator. Our Cassini spacecraft discovered this venting process and took high-resolution images of the system.

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Jets of icy particles burst from Saturn’s moon Enceladus in this brief movie sequence of four images taken on Nov. 27, 2005. Credit: NASA/JPL/Space Science Institute

9. Ice Rafts on Europa

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View of a small region of the thin, disrupted, ice crust in the Conamara region of Jupiter’s moon Europa showing the interplay of surface color with ice structures. Credit: NASA/JPL/University of Arizona

The icy surface of Jupiter’s moon Europa is crisscrossed by long fractures. During its flybys of Europa, our Galileo spacecraft observed icy domes and ridges, as well as disrupted terrain including crustal plates that are thought to have broken apart and “rafted” into new positions. An ocean with an estimated depth of 40 to 100 miles (60 to 150 kilometers) is believed to lie below that 10- to 15-mile-thick (15 to 25 km) shell of ice.

The rafts, strange pits and domes suggest that Europa’s surface ice could be slowly turning over due to heat from below. Our Europa Clipper mission, targeted to launch in 2022, will conduct detailed reconnaissance of Europa to see whether the icy moon could harbor conditions suitable for life.

10. Crater Ice on Our Moon

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The image shows the distribution of surface ice at the Moon’s south pole (left) and north pole (right), detected by our Moon Mineralogy Mapper instrument. Credit: NASA

In the darkest and coldest parts of our Moon, scientists directly observed definitive evidence of water ice. These ice deposits are patchy and could be ancient. Most of the water ice lies inside the shadows of craters near the poles, where the warmest temperatures never reach above -250 degrees Fahrenheit. Because of the very small tilt of the Moon’s rotation axis, sunlight never reaches these regions.

A team of scientists used data from a our instrument on India’s Chandrayaan-1 spacecraft to identify specific signatures that definitively prove the water ice. The Moon Mineralogy Mapper not only picked up the reflective properties we’d expect from ice, but was able to directly measure the distinctive way its molecules absorb infrared light, so it can differentiate between liquid water or vapor and solid ice.

With enough ice sitting at the surface – within the top few millimeters – water would possibly be accessible as a resource for future expeditions to explore and even stay on the Moon, and potentially easier to access than the water detected beneath the Moon’s surface.

11. Bonus: Icy World Beyond Our Solar System!

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With an estimated temperature of just 50K, OGLE-2005-BLG-390L b is the chilliest exoplanet yet discovered. Pictured here is an artist’s concept. Credit: NASA

OGLE-2005-BLG-390Lb, the icy exoplanet otherwise known as Hoth, orbits a star more than 20,000 light years away and close to the center of our Milky Way galaxy. It’s locked in the deepest of deep freezes, with a surface temperature estimated at minus 364 degrees Fahrenheit (minus 220 Celsius)!

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Outstanding views Venus, Jupiter, Saturn and Mars with the naked eye!

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You’ll have to look quickly after sunset to catch Venus. And through binoculars or a telescope, you’ll see Venus’s phase change dramatically during September – from nearly half phase to a larger thinner crescent!

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Jupiter, Saturn and Mars continue their brilliant appearances this month. Look southwest after sunset.

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Use the summer constellations help you trace the Milky Way.

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Sagittarius: where stars and some brighter clumps appear as steam from the teapot.

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Aquila: where the Eagle’s bright Star Altair, combined with Cygnus’s Deneb, and Lyra’s Vega mark the Summer Triangle. 

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Cassiopeia, the familiar “w”- shaped constellation completes the constellation trail through the Summer Milky Way. Binoculars will reveal double stars, clusters and nebulae. 

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Between September 12th and the 20th, watch the Moon pass from near Venus, above Jupiter, to the left of Saturn and finally above Mars! 

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Both Neptune and brighter Uranus can be spotted with some help from a telescope this month.

Look at about 1:00 a.m. local time or later in the southeastern sky. You can find Mercury just above Earth’s eastern horizon shortly before sunrise. Use the Moon as your guide on September 7 and 8th.

And although there are no major meteor showers in September, cometary dust appears in another late summer sight, the morning Zodiacal light. Try looking for it in the east on moonless mornings very close to sunrise. To learn more about the Zodiacal light, watch “What’s Up” from March 2018.

Watch the full What’s Up for September Video: 

There are so many sights to see in the sky. To stay informed, subscribe to our What’s Up video series on Facebook.

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Our Juno mission arrived at the King of Planets in July 2016. The intrepid robotic explorer has been revealing Jupiter’s secrets ever since. 

Here are 10 historic Juno mission highlights:

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1. Arrival at a Colossus

After an odyssey of almost five years and 1.7 billion miles (2.7 billion kilometers), our Juno spacecraft fired its main engine to enter orbit around Jupiter on July 4, 2016. Juno, with its suite of nine science instruments, was the first spacecraft to orbit the giant planet since the Galileo mission in the 1990s. It would be the first mission to make repeated excursions close to the cloud tops, deep inside the planet’s powerful radiation belts.

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2. Science, Meet Art

Juno carries a color camera called JunoCam. In a remarkable first for a deep space mission, the Juno team reached out to the general public not only to help plan which pictures JunoCam would take, but also to process and enhance the resulting visual data. The results include some of the most beautiful images in the history of space exploration.

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3. A Whole New Jupiter

It didn’t take long for Juno—and the science teams who hungrily consumed the data it sent home—to turn theories about how Jupiter works inside out. Among the early findings: Jupiter’s poles are covered in Earth-sized swirling storms that are densely clustered and rubbing together. Jupiter’s iconic belts and zones were surprising, with the belt near the equator penetrating far beneath the clouds, and the belts and zones at other latitudes seeming to evolve to other structures below the surface.

4. The Ultimate Classroom

The Goldstone Apple Valley Radio Telescope (GAVRT) project, a collaboration among NASA, JPL and the Lewis Center for Educational Research, lets students do real science with a large radio telescope. GAVRT data includes Jupiter observations relevant to Juno, and Juno scientists collaborate with the students and their teachers.

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5. Spotting the Spot

Measuring in at 10,159 miles (16,350 kilometers) in width (as of April 3, 2017) Jupiter’s Great Red Spot is 1.3 times as wide as Earth. The storm has been monitored since 1830 and has possibly existed for more than 350 years. In modern times, the Great Red Spot has appeared to be shrinking. In July 2017, Juno passed directly over the spot, and JunoCam images revealed a tangle of dark, veinous clouds weaving their way through a massive crimson oval.

“For hundreds of years scientists have been observing, wondering and theorizing about Jupiter’s Great Red Spot,” said Scott Bolton, Juno principal investigator from the Southwest Research Institute in San Antonio. “Now we have the best pictures ever of this iconic storm. It will take us some time to analyze all the data from not only JunoCam, but Juno’s eight science instruments, to shed some new light on the past, present and future of the Great Red Spot.”

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6. Beauty Runs Deep

Data collected by the Juno spacecraft during its first pass over Jupiter’s Great Red Spot in July 2017 indicate that this iconic feature penetrates well below the clouds. The solar system’s most famous storm appears to have roots that penetrate about 200 miles (300 kilometers) into the planet’s atmosphere.

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7. Powerful Auroras, Powerful Mysteries

Scientists on the Juno mission observed massive amounts of energy swirling over Jupiter’s polar regions that contribute to the giant planet’s powerful auroras – only not in ways the researchers expected. Examining data collected by the ultraviolet spectrograph and energetic-particle detector instruments aboard Juno, scientists observed signatures of powerful electric potentials, aligned with Jupiter’s magnetic field, that accelerate electrons toward the Jovian atmosphere at energies up to 400,000 electron volts. This is 10 to 30 times higher than the largest such auroral potentials observed at Earth. 

Jupiter has the most powerful auroras in the solar system, so the team was not surprised that electric potentials play a role in their generation. What puzzled the researchers is that despite the magnitudes of these potentials at Jupiter, they are observed only sometimes and are not the source of the most intense auroras, as they are at Earth.

8. Heat from Within

Juno scientists shared a 3D infrared movie depicting densely packed cyclones and anticyclones that permeate the planet’s polar regions, and the first detailed view of a dynamo, or engine, powering the magnetic field for any planet beyond Earth (video above). Juno mission scientists took data collected by the spacecraft’s Jovian InfraRed Auroral Mapper (JIRAM) instrument and generated a 3D fly-around of the Jovian world’s north pole. 

Imaging in the infrared part of the spectrum, JIRAM captures light emerging from deep inside Jupiter equally well, night or day. The instrument probes the weather layer down to 30 to 45 miles (50 to 70 kilometers) below Jupiter’s cloud tops.

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9. A Highly Charged Atmosphere

Powerful bolts of lightning light up Jupiter’s clouds. In some ways its lightning is just like what we’re used to on Earth. In other ways,it’s very different. For example, most of Earth’s lightning strikes near the equator; on Jupiter, it’s mostly around the poles.

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10. Extra Innings

In June, we approved an update to Juno’s science operations until July 2021. This provides for an additional 41 months in orbit around. Juno is in 53-day orbits rather than 14-day orbits as initially planned because of a concern about valves on the spacecraft’s fuel system. This longer orbit means that it will take more time to collect the needed science data, but an independent panel of experts confirmed that Juno is on track to achieve its science objectives and is already returning spectacular results. The spacecraft and all its instruments are healthy and operating nominally. ​

Read the full web version of this week’s ‘Solar System: 10 Things to Know’ article HERE

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What’s Up For May?

The Moon and Saturn meet Mars in the morning as our InSight spacecraft launches to the Red Planet on May 5!

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You won’t want to miss red Mars in the southern morning skies this month.

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InSight, our first mission to explore Mars’ deep interior, launches on May 5th with a launch window that begins at 4:05 a.m. PDT and lasts for two hours.

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Some lucky viewers in central and southern California and even parts of the Mexican Pacific coast will get a chance to see the spacecraft launch with their unaided eyes AND its destination, Mars, at the same time.

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Mars shines a little brighter than last month, as it approaches opposition on July 27th. That’s when Mars and the Sun will be on opposite sides of the Earth. This will be Mars’ closest approach to Earth since 2003! 

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Compare the planet’s increases in brightness with your own eyes between now and July 27th. 

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The Eta Aquarid meteor shower will be washed out by the Moon this month, but if you are awake for the InSight launch anyway, have a look. This shower is better viewed from the southern hemisphere, but medium rates of 10 to 30 meteors per hour MAY be seen before dawn.

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Of course, you could travel to the South Pacific to see the shower at its best!

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There’s no sharp peak to this shower–just several nights with good rates, centered on May 6th. 

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Jupiter reaches opposition on May 9th, heralding the best Jupiter-observing season, especially for mid-evening viewing. That’s because the king of the planets rises at sunset and sets at dawn. 

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Wait a few hours after sunset, when Jupiter is higher in the sky, for the best views. If you viewed Jupiter last month, expect the view to be even better this month!

Watch the full What’s Up for May Video: 

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This makes me think of Dali or Van Gogh. I’ll take Jupiter anytime.

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