NASA will host a teleconference at 2 p.m. EDT Monday, Sept. 26, to present new findings from images captured by the agency’s Hubble Space Telescope of Jupiter’s icy moon, Europa. (Details here)
Astronomers will present results from a unique Europa observing campaign that resulted in surprising evidence of activity that may be related to the presence of a subsurface ocean on Europa. Participants in the teleconference will be:
Paul Hertz, director of the Astrophysics Division at NASA Headquarters in Washington
William Sparks, astronomer with the Space Telescope Science Institute in Baltimore
Britney Schmidt, assistant professor at the School of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences at Georgia Institute of Technology in Atlanta
Jennifer Wiseman, senior Hubble project scientist at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland
To participate by phone, media must contact Dwayne Brown at 202-358-1726 or firstname.lastname@example.org and provide their media affiliation no later than noon Monday.
Audio of the teleconference will stream live on NASA’s website at:
Follow the Mercury Transit LIVE from NASA! Today from 7:12am-2:42pm EST, as Mercury, the smallest planet in the solar system (sorry Pluto), transits the sun!
NASA is inviting media and viewers around the world to see a relatively rare celestial event, with coverage of the Monday, May 9 transit of the sun by the planet Mercury. Media may view the event at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland.
Agency scientists will be available at the Goddard viewing event for live media interviews from 6 to 11:30 a.m. EDT. To attend, media must contact Michelle Handleman at email@example.com. To schedule an interview with a NASA scientist at the event, contact Claire Saravia,firstname.lastname@example.org.
Mercury passes between Earth and the sun only about 13 times a century, its last trek taking place in 2006. Due to its diminutive size, viewing this event safely requires a telescope or high-powered binoculars fitted with solar filters made of specially-coated glass or Mylar.
NASA is offering several avenues for the public to view the event without specialized and costly equipment, including images on NASA.gov, a one-hour NASA Television special, and social media coverage.
Mercury will appear as a small black dot as it crosses the edge of the sun and into view at 7:12 a.m. The planet will make a leisurely journey across the face of the sun, reaching mid-point at approximately 10:47 a.m., and exiting the golden disk at 2:42 p.m. The entire 7.5-hour path across the sun will be visible across the Eastern United States – with magnification and proper solar filters – while those in the West can observe the transit in progress after sunrise.
The position of the Moon and Jupiter in the night sky on Monday, March 21st, as presented via the Sky Guide, Fifth Star Labs.
Looking to the East-Southeast direction, the waxing gibbous moon will appear to be closest to Jupiter throughout the evening of Monday, March 21st. This will make Jupiter look like the “moon’s moon” as they both travel upward and westward in the night sky. This pairing is only viewable from our planet though. In reality, Jupiter is more than 300x the mass of Earth, and the Moon is about 25% the size of Earth. Even comparing our moon to Jupiter’s Galilean moons, three of Jupiter’s moons are larger than our own.
If you’re on the west coast:
With an amateur telescope you could spot the double shadow on Jupiter as the two moons cross in front of it. The best time to notice these shadows will be from 9:23PM to 11:31PM Pacific Time. Leading the shadows across Jupiter are the moons themselves, which are much harder to see since they will be the same brightness as Jupiter. If you’re glancing at the shadows of the moon, you’ll also notice the Great Red Spot rotating across the planet around 10:34PM Pacific Time.
American astronomers say they have strong evidence that there is a ninth planet in our Solar System orbiting far beyond even the dwarf world Pluto.
The team, from the California Institute of Technology (Caltech), has no direct observations to confirm its presence just yet.
Rather, the scientists make the claim based on the way other far-flung objects are seen to move.
But if proven, the putative planet would have 10 times the mass of Earth.
The Caltech astronomers have a vague idea where it ought to be on the sky, and their work is sure to fire a campaign to try to track it down.
“There are many telescopes on the Earth that actually have a chance of being able to find it,” said Dr Mike Brown.
“And I’m really hoping that as we announce this, people start a worldwide search to go find this ninth planet.”
The group’s calculations suggest the object orbits 20 times farther from the Sun on average than does the eighth – and currently outermost – planet, Neptune, which moves about 4.5 billion km from our star.
But unlike the near-circular paths traced by the main planets, this novel object would be in a highly elliptical trajectory, taking between 10,000 and 20,000 years to complete one full lap around the Sun.
The Caltech group has analysed the movements of objects in a band of far-off icy material known as the Kuiper Belt. It is in this band that Pluto resides.
The scientists say they see distinct alignments among some members of the Kuiper Belt – and in particular two of its larger members known as Sedna and 2012 VP113. These alignments, they argue, are best explained by the existence of a hitherto unidentified large planet.
“The most distant objects all swing out in one direction in a very strange way that shouldn’t happen, and we realised the only way we could get them to swing in one direction is if there is a massive planet, also very distant in the Solar System, keeping them in place while they all go around the Sun,” explained Dr Brown.
“I went from trying very hard to be sceptical that what we were talking about was true, to suddenly thinking, ‘this might actually be true’.”
The ‘ninth planet’ – where to look?
The six most distant known objects in the Solar System with orbits exclusively beyond Neptune (magenta) all line up in a single direction. Why? Drs Brown and Batygin argue that this is because a massive planet (orange) is anti-aligned with these objects. Can telescopes now find this planet? Could the evidence already be in observational data but no-one has yet recognised it? The hunt is on.
The idea that there might be a so-called Planet X moving in the distant reaches of the Solar System has been debated for more than a hundred years. It has fallen in and out of vogue.
What makes this claim a little more interesting is Dr Brown himself.
He specialises in finding far-flung objects, and it was his discovery of 2,236km-wide Eris in the Kuiper Belt in 2005 that led famously to the demotion of Pluto from full planet status a year later (Dr Brown’s Twitter handle is @PlutoKiller).
Others who model the outer Solar System have been saying for some years that the distribution of sizes seen in the objects so far identified in the Kuiper Belt suggests another planet perhaps the size of Earth or Mars could be a possibility. But there is sure to be strong scepticism until a confirmed observation is made.
Nasa’s chief scientist, Ellen Stofan, said she certainly needed telescopic evidence.
“The intriguing point is: we’ve identified lots of planets (beyond our Solar System) in this category of ‘super-Earth’ with our Kepler telescope; over 5,000 planet candidates. The fact that we don’t have a planet in that size class between Earth and Neptune makes us think, ‘well, maybe we are missing one’, and maybe they’ve predicted it,” she told BBC News.
No, not Pluto. Two scientists from CalTech announced today that there is evidence for a new 9th planet, about the size of Neptune. This planet is thought to orbit the sun every 15,000 years. From Science:
The claim is the strongest yet in the centuries-long search for a “Planet X” beyond Neptune. The quest has been plagued by far-fetched claims and even outright quackery. But the new evidence comes from a pair of respected planetary scientists, Konstantin Batygin and Mike Brown of the California Institute of Technology (Caltech) in Pasadena, who prepared for the inevitable skepticism with detailed analyses of the orbits of other distant objects and months of computer simulations.
Outside scientists say their calculations stack up and express a mixture of caution and excitement about the result. “I could not imagine a bigger deal if—and of course that’s a boldface ‘if’—if it turns out to be right,” says Gregory Laughlin, a planetary scientist at the University of California (UC), Santa Cruz. “What’s thrilling about it is [the planet] is detectable.”
Batygin and Brown inferred its presence from the peculiar clustering of six previously known objects that orbit beyond Neptune. They say there’s only a 0.007% chance, or about one in 15,000, that the clustering could be a coincidence. Instead, they say, a planet with the mass of 10 Earths has shepherded the six objects into their strange elliptical orbits, tilted out of the plane of the solar system.
The orbit of the inferred planet is similarly tilted, as well as stretched to distances that will explode previous conceptions of the solar system. Its closest approach to the sun is seven times farther than Neptune, or 200 astronomical units (AUs). (An AU is the distance between Earth and the sun, about 150 million kilometers.) And Planet X could roam as far as 600 to 1200 AU, well beyond the Kuiper belt, the region of small icy worlds that begins at Neptune’s edge about 30 AU.
If Planet X is out there, Brown and Batygin say, astronomers ought to find more objects in telltale orbits, shaped by the pull of the hidden giant. But Brown knows that no one will really believe in the discovery until Planet X itself appears within a telescope viewfinder. “Until there’s a direct detection, it’s a hypothesis—even a potentially very good hypothesis,” he says. The team has time on the one large telescope in Hawaii that is suited for the search, and they hope other astronomers will join in the hunt.
“Hubble has provided a new view of Pluto and its moons revealing a cosmic dance with a chaotic rhythm,” said John Grunsfeld, associate administrator of NASA’s Science Mission Directorate in Washington.
The moons’ wobbling comes from the shifting gravitational field generated by Pluto and Charon, which together have been compared to a barbell, for the way they roll through space together.
“Their variable gravitational field sends the smaller moons tumbling erratically,” NASA says. “The effect is strengthened by the football-like, rather than spherical, shape of the moons.”
NASA released images of Nix, which can be seen above. If you stare at the oddly shaped, gnarled moon, with its craters and swirls, you’ll be forgiven for thinking it looks not just like a football but like a potato. Which raises the question: Would a nickname for these moons be pronounced plutayto — or plutahto?