Have a Happy Mars!

The Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) Context Camera (CTX) has been acquiring 6 meters (19.7 feet) per pixel images of Mars since October 2006. To date, more than 20% of Mars has been covered at this scale, and at least 1% more is added each month. This picture of a crater resembling a “happy face” was acquired on 28 January 2008. The unnamed crater is about 3 kilometers (1.9 miles) across. It is located among the Nereidum Montes, north of the Argyre basin, near 45.1°S, 55.0°W. North is toward the right and sunlight illuminates the scene from the upper right.

Credit: Lunar and Planetary Institute

Dramatic change spotted on a faraway planet

28 June 2012

Astronomers using the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope have seen dramatic changes in the upper atmosphere of a faraway planet. Just after a violent flare on its parent star bathed it in intense X-ray radiation, the planet’s atmosphere gave off a powerful burst of evaporation. The observations give a tantalising glimpse of the changing climates and weather on planets outside our Solar System.

Future exploration of the outer solar system

Exploration of the giant planets of our solar system over the past few decades has revealed four unique, complex and dynamic worlds. Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus and Neptune have deep fluid interiors, gaseous atmospheres and extended magnetospheres, which serve as natural planetary-scale laboratories for the fundamental physical and chemical processes at work throughout our galaxy.

Shrinking the planetary radii to occupy the same scale allows scientists to compare the planetary ring and satellite systems for the four giant planets.

Their bulk compositions and internal structures provide signatures of the conditions within our solar nebula during the epoch of planet formation. Each harbours a complex system of planetary rings and a diverse collection of satellite environments, some with deep hidden oceans that may be of astrobiological importance. And although our understanding of these systems remains in its infancy, the four giants serve as templates for the interpretation of exoplanetary systems being discovered throughout our galaxy. The scope for new discoveries in this vast region beyond Mars is enormous, and there is no shortage of exciting mission concepts.

Credit: Leigh Fletcher

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