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Friday, 16 October 2015

The deformed landscape of Enceladus, New Horizon's first science results, China's titanic radio dish....

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New images from Enceladus show weirdly deformed landscape

Earlier in the week I mentioned that the Cassini spacecraft was about to fly by Saturn's ocean bearing moon, Enceladus, and take the first ever images of its north polar region. The point is to look for geological clues to the energy source that Keeps the moon's interior warm and its ocean liquid. But I wasn't expecting the images of the bizarre terrain that has been streaming back to Earth over the last 24 hours:

Above: The Northern polar region of Enceladus. Or possibly an extreme close up of mouldy bread -  these worlds just keep getting stranger... Courtesy of NASA/JPL
For mosaics showing where on Enceladus these terrains are located (courtesy of jccwrt on unmanned, check out this link. For the raw images go to the title link. I can't wait to hear what the story behind this landscape is!

First science results from New Horizons are out!

Although we've heard a lot from New Horizons in recent months - ever since its ground breaking fly through of the system of moons orbiting the dwarf planet Pluto - these are the first official science results, and they're well worth a read: Pluto has surprised everybody: A lot of people were expecting a dull ball of cratered ice, and instead Pluto seems to be an active and very strange world. Thanks to New Horizon's principle investigator, Alan Stern, the findings have been made free to access.

Above: Sunset over Cthlhu Regio, Pluto. Courtesy of NASA/JPL.
That said, the flyby of Pluto is well over and done with, so what's next for New Horizons...?

Where is New Horizons going next?

New Horizon's next target doesn't even have a name yet, but Alan Stern, speaking at the ScienceWriters2015 meeting gave a quick explanation of what little we know about the tiny world so far:

"We found these targets with the Hubble Space Telescope. They’re very faint, they’re very hard to do. You can’t find them from the ground.... in just over two weeks we’ll be firing the engines on New Horizons to retarget in that direction for that flyby…
It doesn’t have a real name yet, just a license plate. It’s called 2014 MU69. I promise we’ll do better before the flyby. But this is going to be a really fascinating target scientifically. Because this is an object about 10 times bigger and a thousand times more massive than the comet that Rosetta is orbiting. And that comet, by the way, is from the Kuiper Belt, it just came down into the inner solar system due to orbital dynamics. And this object that we’re going to fly by is also about a thousand times less massive than Pluto. So logarithmically it’s perched right in the middle between the comet that we’re studying with Rosetta and Pluto, the small planet that we just flew by and studied with New Horizons. And we’re going to hopefully be able to connect the dots of planetary accretion by studying this object and its composition. It’s been in this deep freeze for four billion years, and it should teach us a lot about the origin of the planets of the Kuiper Belt.”

Above: Images of Nix and Hydra, two of Pluto's smallest moons, sent back by New Horizons. Courtesy of JPL/NASA

Drone footage of China's half kilometre wide mega telescope:

If you haven't heard of the gigantic, 300 meter wide, Arecibo radio observatory, I did a Q and A with one of their researchers a while ago. To cut a long story short: It's a monstrously big radio telescope, capable of taking radar images of the rings of Saturn, water ice in the bottom of craters on Mercury, and mapping through the clouds of Venus. But now it has serious competition: The Chinese are building a 500 meter wide radio telescope called FAST ( Five-hundred-meter Aperture Spherical Telescope), and from the looks of the drone footage below construction is well underway:

Above: Drone footage of China's massive new radio telescope. Courtesy of Xinhua news.

Earth caught in winds from coronal hole - aurora likely

If you're a sky watcher then you may be in luck:Currently the Earth is passing through a stream of solar wind, shooting out of the Sun from a massive coronal hole. A coronal hole is a region of the Sun's magnetic field where the field lines open out, allowing the solar wind to escape more easily than in places where the field is more tangled. This wind buffets Earth's protective magnetic field and increases the chances of seeing an aurora...

Above: A false colour image of the coronal hole (huge dark patch on the Sun's surface) facing Earth. The lines are the magnetic field lines, emanating from the Sun's hot plasma.

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