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Planetary

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Tue, February 26 2013

Vulcan? But that’s not logical…

The news that “Vulcan” topped the poll results taken by the SETI (Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence) Institute in Mountain View, California as a possible name for one of the two tiny moons newly discovered to be orbiting Pluto has gotten quite a bit of press this week. In 2012, Mark Showalter of SETI, working with scientists on the New Horizons mission sending a probe to Pluto, found a tiny fifth moon orbiting the icy world.

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Fri, February 15 2013

When Worlds Collide

A particularly bright fireball was observed earlier today over a wide area in Russia. Of even greater significance was the very strong sonic boom associated with the passage of the meteor through Earth’s atmosphere.

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Tue, January 15 2013

Reflections on "Explore the Universe" 2001-2012

One of the jokes I inherited from my student years is the final exam question "Describe the Universe" which was followed by "and give two examples."

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Thu, November 22 2012

This Pie is out of this World

It’s said that “art imitates life,” but how about baked goods imitating geologic formations!

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Thu, October 18 2012

Investigating the Apollo Valley

In July, I joined a team from Johnson Space Center and elsewhere in investigating the geology of Apollo Valley with rover-deployed scientific instruments. Apollo Valley is a former 1960s Apollo-era astronaut training site at 3,505 meters (11,500 feet) on Mauna Kea, Hawaii. The project was funded by NASA's Moon and Mars Analog Mission Activities Program, which funds projects that simulate scientific, robotic, and human aspects of exploring the Moon and Mars, with the goal of designing the most effective, efficient, and well-integrated future missions. 

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Fri, June 8 2012

Ray Bradbury and the Lost Planetarium Show

When I learned Ray Bradbury died on June 5, 2012, two things came to mind.

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Mon, June 4 2012

Why should you care about the Transit of Venus?

Astronomy enthusiasts around the world are gearing up for Tuesday’s celestial show: the transit of Venus across the face of the Sun.  The small black dot of Venus, silhouetted against the bright Sun, will be visible with safe solar telescopes and, to those with especially good vision, with the naked eye when protected by eclipse glasses.

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Wed, May 16 2012

Scratching Beneath the Surface

What's inside a planet? What instruments do scientists use to figure it out? And what clues does a planet's surface give us? On Saturday, April 21, Lisa Walsh and I, scientists from the Museum's Center for Earth and Planetary Studies, invited visitors to the National Air and Space Museum's Explore the Universe Family Day to think about these questions, through two hands-on activities relating to our research into tectonics on Mercury.

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Wed, March 7 2012

Climate Change in the Solar System

We are all familiar with the climate on Earth: the seasons, the range of surface temperatures that are just right for being a water world, the oxygen we breathe, the ozone layer that protects us from UV radiation. In short: habitable. So what other bodies in the Solar System might be (or might have been) habitable, and why aren’t they today? Mars probably comes to mind, and for good reason. Mars has the most similar climate to our own, with water ice caps at the poles, seasonal snow, and dust storms. This is because Mars has a similar axial tilt as the Earth, which creates similar seasonal temperature variations.

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Wed, November 16 2011

Was Mars Ever Habitable?

If all goes according to plan, on November 25th the Mars Science Laboratory (MSL) rover Curiosity will leave the Earth and begin its journey to Mars. Any delays due to weather or other factors should be accommodated by a launch window that extends until December 18th. The spacecraft will use a new landing system to arrive at its landing site on Mars in August, 2012, and the rover carries an impressive array of scientific instruments.

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