1. MISSIONS – Titan’s Strange Surface

    New images and spectroscopic data of the surface of Titan, Saturn’s largest moon, have puzzled NASA scientists.

    Cassini spacecraft instruments have peered through the orange smog of Titan and glimpsed the surface below. Images sent back to Earth reveal dark areas and lighter, fuzzy areas. Data from the Visual Infrared Mapping Spectrometer (VIMS) indicate that the dark areas are pure water ice. The bright fuzzy regions have several different types of non-ice materials, and may include organic materials such as hydrocarbons.

    Dark and light surface regions had been seen by other telescopes, including the Hubble Space Telescope, but the ...

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  1. MISSIONS – Cassini Detects Oxygen Buildup in Saturn’s E Ring

    A massive oxygen buildup was seen by Cassini’s Ultraviolet Imaging Spectrograph (UVIS) instrument earlier this year, while the spacecraft was en route to Saturn, mission scientists said Friday. Saturn’s rings are composed, for the most part, of pure water ice, good ol’ H 2 O. As this icy material is bombarded by charged particles from Saturn’s magnetosphere, it breaks down into its constituents, hydrogen and oxygen. So there is always some oxygen floating around in the ring system. But what UVIS detected in Saturn’s E ring wasn’t just “some” oxygen; it was a tremendous burst ...

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  1. MISSIONS – Weather May Disrupt Cassini Signals

    “Everything still appears to be right on track.” That was the word from Robert Mitchell, Cassini program manager, as he addressed reporters Wednesday morning at a briefing at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena, California. Cassini, a $3 billion international mission to explore Saturn and its rings and moons, is scheduled to arrive at the ringed planet tonight. But Mitchell offered a caveat. Things are on track at the Saturn end of things, he said. Back on Earth, however, predicted high winds threaten to force engineers to stow a massive dish-shaped antenna at Canberra, Australia, to protect it from ...

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  1. MISSIONS – Cassini Closes in on Saturn

    After a seven-year journey through interplanetary space, Cassini-Huygens is about to reach its destination. Wednesday night (early Thursday morning in Europe) the $3 billion spacecraft will arrive at Saturn; and if a 96-minute engine burn comes off as planned, become the first artificial satellite ever to go into orbit around the ringed planet.

    Cassini mission planners say that everything looks good for Saturn orbital insertion (SOI), the engine burn that will slow the spacecraft down enough to allow it to be captured by Saturn’s gravitational field. Mission engineers have verified that Cassini’s systems are working as expected; they ...

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  1. Raw Ingredients for Life Detected in Planetary Construction Zones

    NASA has announced new findings from the Spitzer Space Telescope, including icy dust particles coated with water, methanol and carbon dioxide, which may help explain the origin of icy planetoids like comets.

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  1. Faking Titan in the Lab

    Researchers from the University of Arizona have recreated some of the chemicals thought to be in the atmosphere of Titan, Saturn’s largest moon.

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  1. Did an Impact Trigger the Permian-Triassic Extinction?

    New evidence suggests a possible impact cause for the greatest mass extinction of all time, although many scientists remain skeptical that this long-standing mystery has been solved. A NASA news conference was held May 13 to announce the discovery of an impact crater near Australia that might be implicated in the Permian-Triassic or PT extinction event, 251 million years ago.

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  1. Second Opportunity

    NASA’s Opportunity rover is about to embark on a second journey of exploration. Opportunity spent the past several days taking in the view from the rim of Endurance Crater. The first full-color panorama of the crater, released by NASA late last week, reveals large bedrock outcrops that mission scientists are anxious to study.

    Initial Pancam images and spectral analysis performed by the rover’s Mini-TES instrument indicate that the Endurance Crater outcrops are not composed of the same sulfate-rich material found in Eagle Crater. Steve Squyres, principal investigator for the Mars Exploration Rover (MER) mission, said the new outcrop ...

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  1. Methane on Mars: A Possible Biomarker?

    Is the methane discovered on Mars evidence for contemporary life on the Red Planet?

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  1. NASA Research Focuses on Yellowstone’s Hot Springs and Compares Findings to Rocks From Mars

    Yellowstone Park Foundation receives $66,000 grant from NASA and Lockheed Martin Corporation to help tell the story.

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  1. Iron Blueberries

    The story of water on ancient Mars just got more interesting. Scientists working on the Mars Exploration Rover (MER) mission announced last week that the small spherules of rock, referred to as “blueberries,” embedded in the bedrock outcrop near the Opportunity landing site contain the iron oxide hematite.

    Scientists previously announced that the rock matrix that makes up the bulk of the outcrop contained a high concentration of sulfate minerals – a clear indication, they said, that the rock was once saturated with water. Embedded within this rock matrix, and scattered across the floor of the crater, are tiny gray spheres ...

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  1. Opportunity Finds Beachfront Property on Mars

    The rocks in the outcrop that NASA’s Opportunity rover has been exploring for the past several weeks “were not just altered and modified by water; they were actually formed in water, perhaps [in] a shallow salty sea,” NASA Associate Administrator Ed Weiler said Tuesday.

    Three weeks ago, NASA scientists announced that they had uncovered mineral evidence that water had percolated underground through Opportunity Ledge, altering its chemical composition. Opportunity Ledge is the bedrock outcrop in Eagle Crater, where the rover landed. Last week, the mission science team reported that the tiny gray spherules embedded in the rock were hematite-bearing ...

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  1. More Evidence for Ancient Water on Mars

    If Mars ever supported life, it must have had liquid water, something that is now precluded on the surface by sub-freezing temperatures and a low atmospheric pressure. One of the main objectives of the current Mars Exploration Rovers is to find evidence on the surface of what might have been a warmer, wetter planet in the past.

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  1. Surviving With – and Without – Oxygen: An Interview With Christopher Chyba

    Without oxygen, animal life on Earth would not be possible. But Earth’s atmosphere wasn’t always rich in oxygen.

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  1. When Did Earth’s Oceans Become Oxygenated?

    New measurements by University of Rochester geochemists have uncovered evidence that even after 2.2 billion years ago, the amount of oxygen in the oceans remained low, perhaps up to the time when multicelled life began to proliferate a few hundred million years ago.

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