Dawn Arrives at Ceres Today!

Today is the day that the Dawn Mission completes a long 7.5 year long journey that has taken it past the orbit of Mars and into the asteroid belt, studying the second largest asteroid Vesta before heading toward the dwarf planet Ceres, where it has now injected itself into orbit, as of 7:39 am EST. This marks the first time in history a spacecraft has seen a dwarf planet up close, and with New Horizons passing Pluto in July, Dawn won the race in an astronomical photo finish. The Story So Far Launching on September 27th, 2007, Dawn orbited the Sun and...

Nitrogen-Based Life is Possible on Titan!

Since the Huygens probe dropped down to the surface of Saturn’s largest moon Titan, astronomers have pondered the idea of life on the distant world.  With a liquid cycle not unlike Earth’s water cycle in form, but consisting of frigid liquid hydrocarbons, could a new variation of life exist, not as we know it? Jonathan Lunine, director for Cornell’s Center for Radiophysics and Space Research, is an expert on Saturn’s Moons and is a scientist on the Cassini-Huygens mission, which originally discovered the Methane-Ethane lakes on Titan a decade ago.  Given a grant to study non-aqueous life, he needed help....

Ceres has a Mystery Bright Spot: What is it?

As the Dawn Spacecraft readies for orbit insertion only a week from now, the images coming in are getting sharper and sharper.  Once the craft is fully in orbit its first task will be to map the surface of the planet in high definition.  Even on the last few weeks of the journey to Ceres, we have seen increasingly clear images, and have already started asking ‘What the heck is that?’ This week’s ‘what the heck are we looking at?’ involves this apparent double bright spot on Ceres, imaged on February 19th from a distance of 46,000 Km, about an...

Mining the Moon: Science Fiction or Industrial Future?

If I told you that humanity was going to mine the Moon for rare elements and water ice, you might think it was the plot of a science fiction book I was writing.  However, with the recent strides made by unmanned space missions, coupled with a discovery of water and rare elements near the lunar surface, that story could become fact sooner than you’d think. It’s been 40 years since the Apollo landings on the Moon, and for a long time we naively thought we had discovered everything there was to discover about the Moon.  We assumed it was a big...

Water, Methane, and even Organics on Mars – Amazing new Data!

It’s been an amazing week for detection and study of water in our Solar system.  Just last week we received the first results of the Rosetta mission’s analysis of water from comet 67P. Now we’ve received the latest breakthrough from the Curiosity Rover on Mars, results on Water, Methane, and even Organic material! The Sample Analysis at Mars instrument (SAM) took measurements of the Martian atmosphere over a period of 20 months, and for two of these months in late 2013 and early 2014, the Methane levels were 10 times as high as measurements before and after the spike. “This temporary...

Rosetta Sheds New Light on Origin of Earth’s Oceans

One of the most important science goals of the Rosetta mission is to determine the conditions in the early solar system, as well as the element abundance and climate that led to the development of life on Earth. By studying a comet that has been isolated in Space for 4.5 Billion years, we can learn about the formation of the Solar System and the origin of the raw materials for life on Earth.  The Earth was thought to be so warm when it formed that any water would have evaporated away into space.  If so, where did our vast oceans come...