Category: solar system

Mars Express finds evidence of liquid water un…

A ground-penetrating radar aboard the European Space Agency’s Mars Express satellite has found evidence for a pool of liquid water, a potentially habitable environment, buried under layers of ice and dust at the red planet’s south pole.

“This subsurface anomaly on Mars has radar properties matching water or water-rich sediments,” said Roberto Orosei, principal investigator of the Mars Advanced Radar for Subsurface and Ionosphere Sounding instrument, or MARSIS, lead author of a paper in the journal Science describing the discovery.

The conclusion is based on observations of a relatively small area of Mars, but “it is an exciting prospect to think there could be more of these underground pockets of water elsewhere, yet to be discovered,” added Orosei.

Scientists have long theorised the presence of subsurface pools under the martian poles where the melting point of water could be decreased due to the weight of overlying layers of ice. The presence of salts in the Martian soil also would act to reduce the melting point and, perhaps, keep water liquid even at sub-freezing temperatures.

Earlier observations by MARSIS were inconclusive, but researchers developed new techniques to improve resolution and accuracy.

“We’d seen hints of interesting subsurface features for years but we couldn’t reproduce the result from orbit to orbit, because the sampling rates and resolution of our data was previously too low,” said Andrea Cicchetti, MARSIS operations manager.

“We had to come up with a new operating mode to bypass some onboard processing and trigger a higher sampling rate and thus improve the resolution of the footprint of our dataset. Now we see things that simply were not possible before.”

MARSIS works by firing penetrating radar beams at the surface of Mars and then measuring the strength of the signals as they are reflected back to the spacecraft.

The data indicating water came from a 200-kilometre-wide (124-mile-wide) area that shows the south polar region features multiple layers of ice and dust down to a depth of about 1.5 kilometres (0.9 miles). A particularly bright reflection below the layered deposits can be seen in a zone measuring about 20 kilometres (12 miles) across.

Orosei’s team interprets the bright reflection as the interface between overlying ice and a pool or pond of liquid water. The pool must be at least several centimetres thick for the MARSIS instrument to detect it.

“The long duration of Mars Express, and the exhausting effort made by the radar team to overcome many analytical challenges, enabled this much-awaited result, demonstrating that the mission and its payload still have a great science potential,” says Dmitri Titov, ESA’s Mars Express project scientist.

The discovery is significant because it raises the possibility, at least, of potentially habitable sub-surface environments.

“Some forms of microbial life are known to thrive in Earth’s subglacial environments, but could underground pockets of salty, sediment-rich liquid water on Mars also provide a suitable habitat, either now or in the past?” ESA asked in a statement. “Whether life has ever existed on Mars remains an open question.”




The Venera series space probes were developed by the Soviet Union between 1961 and 1984 to gather data from Venus, Venera being the Russian name for Venus. As with some of the Soviet Union’s other planetary probes, the later versions were launched in pairs with a second vehicle being launched soon after the first of the pair.

Ten probes from the Venera series successfully landed on Venus and transmitted data from the surface of Venus, including the two Vega program and Venera-Halley probes. In addition, thirteen Venera probes successfully transmitted data from the atmosphere of Venus.

Among the other results, probes of the series became the first human-made devices to enter the atmosphere of another planet (Venera 4 on October 18, 1967), to make a soft landing on another planet (Venera 7 on December 15, 1970), to return images from the planetary surface (Venera 9 on June 8, 1975), and to perform high-resolution radar mapping studies of Venus (Venera 15 on June 2, 1983). The later probes in the Venera series successfully carried out their mission, providing the first direct observations of the surface of Venus. Since the surface conditions on Venus are extreme, the probes only survived on the surface for durations varying between 23 minutes (initial probes) up to.




Enceladus in Silhouette

Enceladus in Silhouette

Neptune’s shrinking vortex

Neptune’s shrinking vortex

Hubble delivers first insight into atmospheres…

Hubble delivers first insight into atmospheres of potentially habitable planets orbiting TRAPPIST-1

spaceplasma:   In April and July 2014, the Su…



In April and July 2014, the Sun emitted three jets of energetic
particles into space, that were quite exceptional: the particle flows
contained such high amounts of iron and helium-3, a rare variety of
helium, as have been observed only few times before. Since these
extraordinary events occurred on the backside of our star, they were not
discovered immediately. A group of researchers headed by the Max Planck
Institute for Solar System Research (MPS) and the Institute for
Astrophysics of the University of Göttingen (Germany) present a
comprehensive analysis now in the Astrophysical Journal.  [more]


paper on arXiv:  3He-rich

Solar Energetic Particles in Helical Jets on the Sun (PDF)

spaceplasma:Prominence liftoff on the eastern …


Prominence liftoff on the eastern solar limb.

celestialreconnaissance: Swirls of Jupiter …


Swirls of Jupiter

Jupiter is a very stormy, turbulent, violent planet. The planet completes a day (or one complete rotation) within roughly 10 hours, which creates massive winds, producing these swirls, and violent storms. The fast rotation coupled with the fact that the planet is nothing but gas greatly multiplies the Coriolis effect. Earth too has a Coriolis effect, this creates the characteristic hurricane shapes and also contributes to the fact that storms will spin the opposite direction in different hemispheres. Luckily, our rotation is slower – our storms are less frequent and less violent than they would be if our days were shorter.

The above images come from the recent Juno mission by NASA.

astronomyblog: Saturn, rings and moons seen b…


Saturn, rings and moons seen by the Cassini spacecraft wow!

Image credit: NASA/JPL (original video)