Saturday, March 11, 2006

Solar System News Roundup

The solar system was prominent in the news this week. First came news that Saturn's small moon Enceladus might have liquid water geysers. This would be an incredible find. The Earth is the only world known to have liquid water at the surface. Jupiter's moons Europa and Ganymede may have subsurface oceans. But for water geyser activity to be happening in Enceladus, the water would have to be awfully near the surface. Many questions remain, though - most small worlds are geologically dead, and I don't know that the scientists studying Enceladus have determined the reason for such unexpected geologic activity. Let's hear it, though, for the amazing science coming from the Cassini mission.

Can't leave the planet Mars out of the news. The Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter successfully completed its orbit insertion around Mars. It will be aerobraking into a low Martian orbit for the next six months. Expect the first Mars data in November 2006.

Lost in the coverage of Enceladus and MRO was the followup Hubble observations of the two new moons of Pluto. Scientists have determined that the two new moons show the same color properties as Charon, Pluto's largest moon, pointing to a common origin for all three moons. It is thought that another Kuiper Belt object smashed into Pluto and formed the three moons, much as we think a Mars-sized object impacted the Earth and formed our Moon.

And on a local scale, but seeming almost as important today, it's raining here in the Phoenix metro area, bringing an end to a record-setting 143 days without measurable rain! Believe it or not, some parts of the region are getting snow! From the Arizona Republic:

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