Science Daily: Comets and Asteroids

Timing a space laser with a NASA-style stopwatch

To time how long it takes a pulse of laser light to travel from space to Earth and back, you need a really good stopwatch -- one that can measure within a fraction of a billionth of a second. That kind of timer is exactly what engineers have built at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, for the Ice, Cloud and land Elevation Satellite-2.

The electric sands of Titan

Experiments suggest the particles that cover the surface of Saturn's moon, Titan, are 'electrically charged.' When the wind blows hard enough, Titan's non-silicate granules get kicked up and start to hop in a motion. As they collide, they become frictionally charged, like a balloon rubbing against your hair, and clump together in a way not observed for sand dune grains on Earth -- they become resistant to further motion.

NASA spacecraft investigate clues in radiation belts

NASA's Van Allen Probes uncover new phenomena in our near-Earth environment with their unique double orbit. Recently, the spacecraft were in just the right place, at just the right time, to catch an event caused by the fallout of a geomagnetic storm as it happened.

Tracing aromatic molecules in the early Universe

A molecule found in car engine exhaust fumes that is thought to have contributed to the origin of life on Earth has made astronomers heavily underestimate the amount of stars that were forming in the early Universe, a study has found. That molecule is called polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbon. On Earth it is also found in coal and tar. In space, it is a component of dust.

Upper part of Earth’s magnetic field reveals details of a dramatic past

Satellites have been mapping the upper part of the Earth magnetic field by collecting data for three years and found some amazing features about the Earth’s crust. The result is the release of highest resolution map of this field seen from space to date. This ‘lithospheric magnetic field’ is very weak and therefore difficult to detect and map from space. But with the Swarm satellites it has been possible.

Comet 67P is constantly undergoing a facelift

Changes that the Rosetta spacecraft discovered on the surface of Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko, including the collapse of entire cliffs, were likely driven by seasonal events, according to a new study.

Mars volcano, Earth's dinosaurs went extinct about the same time

Arsia Mons produced one new lava flow at its summit every 1 to 3 million years during the final peak of activity, about 50 million years ago. The last volcanic activity there ceased about 50 million years ago -- around the time of Earth's Cretaceous-Paleogene extinction, when large numbers of our planet's plant and animal species (including dinosaurs) went extinct.

Does Mars have rings? Not right now, but maybe one day

Researchers have developed a model that suggests that debris that was pushed into space from an asteroid or other body slamming into Mars around 4.3 billion years ago and alternates between becoming a planetary ring and clumping up to form a moon.

Less radiation in inner Van Allen belt than previously believed

The inner Van Allen belt has less radiation than previously believed, according to a recent study. Observations from NASA's Van Allen probes show the fastest, most energetic electrons in the inner radiation belt are actually much rarer and harder to find than scientists expected. This is good news for spacecraft that are orbiting in the region and can be damaged by high levels of radiation.

Eruptions on the sun trigger surprising phenomenon near Earth

Eruptions on the Sun's surface not only send bursts of energetic particles into the Earth's atmosphere causing disturbances in our planet's magnetic field, they can also strangely decrease the number of free electrons over large areas in the polar region of the ionosphere, new research concludes.

Scientists make the case to restore Pluto's planet status

Kirby Runyon wants to make one thing clear: regardless of what one prestigious scientific organization says to the contrary, Pluto is a planet. So, he says, is Europa, commonly known as a moon of Jupiter, and so is the Earth's moon, and so are more than 100 other celestial bodies in our solar system that are denied this status under the prevailing definition of 'planet.'

Gigantic Jupiter-type planet reveals insights into how planets evolve

A team of astrophysicists studying an enormous and bizarre young planet approximately 300 lights years from Earth has gained a rare glimpse into the final stages of planetary evolution. While astronomers think the vast majority of planets outside our solar system are inside their star system's vast dusty debris disk, this strange planet is far beyond the disk.

Relativistic electrons uncovered with NASA's Van Allen Probes

Earth's radiation belts, two doughnut-shaped regions of charged particles encircling our planet, were discovered more than 50 years ago, but their behavior is still not completely understood. Now, new observations from NASA's Van Allen Probes mission show that the fastest, most energetic electrons in the inner radiation belt are not present as much of the time as previously thought.

New NASA radar technique finds lost lunar spacecraft

A new technological application of interplanetary radar has successfully located spacecraft orbiting the moon -- one active, and one dormant. This new technique could assist planners of future moon missions.

Could fast radio bursts be powering alien probes?

The search for extraterrestrial intelligence has looked for many different signs of alien life, from radio broadcasts to laser flashes, without success. However, newly published research suggests that mysterious phenomena called fast radio bursts could be evidence of advanced alien technology. Specifically, these bursts might be leakage from planet-sized transmitters powering interstellar probes in distant galaxies.

Studying magnetic space explosions with NASA missions

Magnetic explosions happen constantly all across the universe, and new results with NASA's ARTEMIS mission help explain how near-Earth explosions convert energy into heat and propel particles toward Earth.