geologic features

Largest Batch of Earth-size, Habitable Zone Planets

Our Spitzer Space Telescope has revealed the first known system of seven Earth-size planets around a single star. Three of these planets are firmly located in an area called the habitable zone, where liquid water is most likely to exist on a rocky planet.

This exoplanet system is called TRAPPIST-1, named for The Transiting Planets and Planetesimals Small Telescope (TRAPPIST) in Chile. In May 2016, researchers using TRAPPIST announced they had discovered three planets in the system.

Assisted by several ground-based telescopes, Spitzer confirmed the existence of two of these planets and discovered five additional ones, increasing the number of known planets in the system to seven.

This is the FIRST time three terrestrial planets have been found in the habitable zone of a star, and this is the FIRST time we have been able to measure both the masses and the radius for habitable zone Earth-sized planets.

All of these seven planets could have liquid water, key to life as we know it, under the right atmospheric conditions, but the chances are highest with the three in the habitable zone.

At about 40 light-years (235 trillion miles) from Earth, the system of planets is relatively close to us, in the constellation Aquarius. Because they are located outside of our solar system, these planets are scientifically known as exoplanets. To clarify, exoplanets are planets outside our solar system that orbit a sun-like star.

In this animation, you can see the planets orbiting the star, with the green area representing the famous habitable zone, defined as the range of distance to the star for which an Earth-like planet is the most likely to harbor abundant liquid water on its surface. Planets e, f and g fall in the habitable zone of the star.

Using Spitzer data, the team precisely measured the sizes of the seven planets and developed first estimates of the masses of six of them. The mass of the seventh and farthest exoplanet has not yet been estimated.

For comparison…if our sun was the size of a basketball, the TRAPPIST-1 star would be the size of a golf ball.

Based on their densities, all of the TRAPPIST-1 planets are likely to be rocky. Further observations will not only help determine whether they are rich in water, but also possibly reveal whether any could have liquid water on their surfaces.

The sun at the center of this system is classified as an ultra-cool dwarf and is so cool that liquid water could survive on planets orbiting very close to it, closer than is possible on planets in our solar system. All seven of the TRAPPIST-1 planetary orbits are closer to their host star than Mercury is to our sun.

 The planets also are very close to each other. How close? Well, if a person was standing on one of the planet’s surface, they could gaze up and potentially see geological features or clouds of neighboring worlds, which would sometimes appear larger than the moon in Earth’s sky.

The planets may also be tidally-locked to their star, which means the same side of the planet is always facing the star, therefore each side is either perpetual day or night. This could mean they have weather patterns totally unlike those on Earth, such as strong wind blowing from the day side to the night side, and extreme temperature changes.

Because most TRAPPIST-1 planets are likely to be rocky, and they are very close to one another, scientists view the Galilean moons of Jupiter – lo, Europa, Callisto, Ganymede – as good comparisons in our solar system. All of these moons are also tidally locked to Jupiter. The TRAPPIST-1 star is only slightly wider than Jupiter, yet much warmer. 

How Did the Spitzer Space Telescope Detect this System?

Spitzer, an infrared telescope that trails Earth as it orbits the sun, was well-suited for studying TRAPPIST-1 because the star glows brightest in infrared light, whose wavelengths are longer than the eye can see. Spitzer is uniquely positioned in its orbit to observe enough crossing (aka transits) of the planets in front of the host star to reveal the complex architecture of the system. 

Every time a planet passes by, or transits, a star, it blocks out some light. Spitzer measured the dips in light and based on how big the dip, you can determine the size of the planet. The timing of the transits tells you how long it takes for the planet to orbit the star.

The TRAPPIST-1 system provides one of the best opportunities in the next decade to study the atmospheres around Earth-size planets. Spitzer, Hubble and Kepler will help astronomers plan for follow-up studies using our upcoming James Webb Space Telescope, launching in 2018. With much greater sensitivity, Webb will be able to detect the chemical fingerprints of water, methane, oxygen, ozone and other components of a planet’s atmosphere.

At 40 light-years away, humans won’t be visiting this system in person anytime soon…that said…this poster can help us imagine what it would be like: 

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Snow clings to the jagged sides of Devils Tower National Monument in Wyoming. This astounding geologic feature is considered sacred to the Northern Plains Indians and other tribes, who called it “Bear’s Tipi” or “Bear’s Lodge.” Hundreds of parallel cracks make it one of the finest crack climbing areas in North America. Devils Tower entices us to explore and define our place in the natural and cultural world. Photo by National Park Service.

New day, new series of photos. I’m going to try to blog about the planets of the Solar System; First up is Mercury, which is the smallest and innermost planet. With a diameter ~4878km, it is smaller than some of the moons in the Solar System. The small planet in a 3:2 resonance with the sun, giving it a unique position where a single day takes 2 Mercurian years. It has the smallest tilt of any planet in the Solar System at just 1/30 of a degree.

Keep reading

As night falls on Devils Tower National Monument, it transforms from a place of darkness into a place of wonder. Thousands of twinkling, glittering stars dot the night sky over an astounding geologic feature that protrudes out of the rolling prairie surrounding the Black Hills. Stay for nature’s night show at Wyoming’s Devils Tower – it’s worth it! Photo courtesy of David Kingham.

Journal Ideas!

I’ve been the type of person who carries a notebook everywhere since I was 12, so I’ve experimented with a whole range of journal variations. Here are some thing that I like to do with some of the pretty notebooks/journals in my (shamefully substantial) collection:

1) Scientific research/field notes: I’ve found this extremely useful on field trips. I try to be interdisciplinary so when I did an Environmental Science field trips for one of my courses it was a good place to write quick notes, draw sketches of geological features and stick interesting leaves into. I’ve used it on trips to national parks to record which animals I saw, and recently I’ve added a Southern Sky star map where I mark off constellations and stars that I’ve identified. I prefer to use this journal for science that I’m doing *outside* of my university studies and NOT as a notebook for class.

2) Faith journal: This type is pretty great if you’re religious and want to write down meaningful verses, prayers, how you feel about your faith, e.t.c. I kept one of these during Ramadan last year and found it beneficial

3) Commonplace notebook: This is the kind of notebook where you copy interesting information, quotes, pieces of writing, e.t.c. I started doing this after reading A Series of Unfortunate Events and wanting my own commonplace notebook so I could feel as intelligent as the Baudelaire orphans and the Quagmire triplets . It’s also great if you find that you have interesting thoughts and observations that you want to write down and remember, but you don’t necessarily want to ~journal~ about them.

4) Gratitude journal: Pretty straightforward - write down a few things you’re grateful for every day. This has - personally - been very therapeutic and often prompted writing longer paragraphs and pages. If you want to get into ~journalling~ but don’t know how or where to start, I really recommend this method.

5) Writing notebook! Any fiction writer knows how useful one of these is. When a story idea strikes, or that perfect scene or character name. Research for stories. This is where they go. 

6) Art journal: I don’t have much experience with these, but you use it to draw, doodle and just be creatively free.

7) Bullet journal: I really don’t have to explain this to the studyblr community. There are thousands of posts about bullet journals out there. They’ve evolved beyond a simple description in a paragraph.  

Overall, I’ve found it’s best to just have fun with a notebook. If you start it off as one type of journal and it ends up being something completely different, just go with it! There are no rules. Write and collect what makes you happy to read through. My journals are rarely neat, but I love them all. You can be as public or private with your journals as you’d like. Try different things in the same notebook if you find that you’re no longer using it for it’s initial purpose. The trick is to carry it around with you so you can use it whenever the need or inspiration strikes, and to not be intimidated by a blank page. 

[This post is inspired by @dis-organiser. 100% recommend following]

I hope this post is useful! Happy journalling!

xx Munira 


Lassen Volcanic National Park

My stay in this park was short lived, as I quickly found out that the main highway was still covered under several feet of snow, and the volcanic vents were not exactly accessible yet. However, I found a few easy trails that were clear around the Manzanita Lake area that provided some great view of Lassen Peak. After 2 miles, I was left with no other good options and had to leave the park to continue West. It would be nice to come back some day and see the highlights of this parks and it’s interesting geological features that are best explored in the Summer time. 


Heavy rain on Mars reshaped the planet’s impact craters and carved out river-like channels in its surface billions of years ago, according to a new study published in Icarus. In the paper, researchers from the Smithsonian Institution and the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory show that changes in the atmosphere on Mars made it rain harder and harder, which had a similar effect on the planet’s surface as we see on Earth.

The fourth planet from the Sun, Mars has geological features like the Earth and Moon, such as craters and valleys, many of which were formed through rainfall. Although there is a growing body of evidence that there was once water on Mars, it does not rain there today.

But in their new study, geologists Dr. Robert Craddock and Dr. Ralph Lorenz show that there was rainfall in the past – and that it was heavy enough to change the planet’s surface. To work this out, they used methods tried and tested here on Earth, where the erosive effect of the rain on the Earth’s surface has important impacts on agriculture and the economy.

“Many people have analyzed the nature of rainfall on the Earth, but no one had thought to apply the physics to understanding the early Martian atmosphere,” said Dr. Craddock of the Smithsonian Institution.

To understand how rainfall on Mars has changed over time, the researchers had to consider how the Martian atmosphere has changed. When Mars first formed 4.5 billion years ago, it had a much more substantial atmosphere with a higher pressure than it does now. This pressure influences the size of the raindrops and how hard they fall.

Early on in the planet’s existence, water droplets would have been very small, producing something like fog rather than rain; this would not have been capable of carving out the planet we know today. As the atmospheric pressure decreased over millions of years, raindrops got bigger and rainfall became heavy enough to cut into the soil and start to alter the craters. The water could then be channeled and able to cut through the planet’s surface, creating valleys.

“By using basic physical principles to understand the relationship between the atmosphere, raindrop size and rainfall intensity, we have shown that Mars would have seen some pretty big raindrops that would have been able to make more drastic changes to the surface than the earlier fog-like droplets,” commented Dr. Lorenz of John Hopkins University, who has also studied liquid methane rainfall on Saturn’s moon Titan, the only other world in the solar system apart from Earth where rain falls onto the surface at the present day.

They showed that very early on, the atmospheric pressure on Mars would have been about 4 bars (the Earth’s surface today is 1 bar) and the raindrops at this pressure could not have been bigger than 3 mm across, which would not have penetrated the soil. But as the atmospheric pressure fell to 1.5 bars, the droplets could grow and fall harder, cutting into the soil. In Martian conditions at that time, had the pressure been the same as we have on Earth, raindrops would have been about 7.3 mm – a millimeter bigger than on Earth.

“There will always be some unknowns, of course, such as how high a storm cloud may have risen into the Martian atmosphere, but we made efforts to apply the range of published variables for rainfall on Earth,” added Dr. Craddock. “It’s unlikely that rainfall on early Mars would have been dramatically different than what’s described in our paper. Our findings provide new, more definitive, constraints about the history of water and the climate on Mars.”

IMAGE….Valley networks on Mars show evidence for surface runoff driven by rainfall.


Humphry Davy’s landscape sketches

Humphry Davy was one of history’s finest chemists, and grew popular in his day through popular public lectures and scientific discoveries. Esteemed men like Sir Humphry travelled widely around Britain and Europe, and throughout his journal are sketches in pencil and iron gall ink. Being a scientist, he not only captured the landscape, but the geology itself. Included in his journals are images of Col de Tende, Perpignan and closer to home Loch Lomond.

These illustrations show: Route to Brignolles; Danube, possibly sketched during his trip along the Rhine; Canigou with part of Perpignan sketched during his continental tour with Michael Faraday; Loch Lomond; and a panorama of Giant’s Causeway in Northern Ireland, with geological features identified.


When you first glimpse one of the most storied towns in Europa, you will probably be disappointed at its modest size.

For close to a thousand years, Mechanicsburg has been the home of the infamous Heterodynes: that dynasty of merciless Sparks who once roamed the continent at will, plundering and subjugating all before them. Mechanicsburg was and is their capital, but the traveler will discover that it is unlike any other capital city on Earth.

For one thing, it is constrained in size by the very geological features that defend it. Girt by some of the most vertiginous mountains of the Transylvanian Alps and sheer chasms carved by the Dyne—that fierce and unpredictable river which rises within the town itself—Mechanicsburg could only get so big.
This geological unevenness is found within the town’s walls as well, and as a result, it is a superb example of extreme land-use management. Indeed, several of the ingenious techniques developed by the masters of Mechanicsburg have subsequently been adopted by the rest of Europa.

Secondly, although Heterodynes easily conquered vast stretches of the land, they were never very interested in holding it afterwards. An area would be conquered and the inhabitants forced to pay tribute, and then, more often than not, would hear nothing more from their conquerors for a generation. For the Heterodynes, as a rule, the thrill was in the conquering.

Thus, the town never received a sustained influx of treasure in the form of taxes or, perhaps more importantly, the swarms of ambitious courtiers and bureaucrats that would follow same. While Mechanicsburg never forbade visitors, it was a rare traveler that went there willingly, and thus any new ideas from the outside world were usually dragged in at the end of a chain.

This resulted in a business class composed almost entirely of subjugated merchants, minions, tradesmen, monsters, and artisans who were directly answerable to an unstable higher authority. Today, this has evolved into a level of service that the visitor may find surprising, if not downright unnerving.

Less than thirty years ago, Mechanicsburg was still a place to be avoided—spoken of only in whispers—a dark stain upon the map.

All of that changed when the last of the Heterodynes assumed the mantle. William (Bill) Heterodyne, and his brother Barry Heterodyne, seemed determined to redeem the family name, and to a large extent, have managed to do so through their exploits and good works.

They opened Mechanicsburg to the outside world when they established The Great Hospital, which quickly became one of the most advanced centers of medical learning in Europa. Patients came, slowly, at first, and the wondrous cures they reported soon ensured a steady stream of visitors.

Once back on their feet, these visitors discovered a town like no other. The Heterodynes of old spent their time and money in their own backyard, as it were, and as a result, bequeathed the town an assortment of truly wondrous spoils—many of which can be viewed in a wide variety of museums and semi-private collections.

Mechanicsburg also contains stunning examples of architecture and civil engineering. Everywhere, you will find evidence of the ingenious and unexpected mechanisms that run the town. These will prove a source of perpetual delight to the mechanically-minded tourist.

After the disappearance of the Heterodyne Boys, Mechanicsburg was quickly absorbed into the Empire of Baron Klaus Wulfenbach, and today is a loyal and law-abiding member of the Pax Transylvania, sharing in the Empire’s currency, postal, and transportation systems.

The historical adventures of the early Heterodyne family, while unsavory, have left a colorful legacy. Echoes of those tumultuous days can be detected in the traditions still practiced at the numerous festivals and fairs, many unique to the region, that are generously spread throughout the town’s calendar year. With an exciting nightlife, vibrant market places, a plethora of inns, and an award-winning restaurant scene taking full advantage of the famous Mechanicsburg snail, it is safe to say that the town has embraced its new identity as a tourist destination and is quickly becoming one of the expected stops on the traditional Grand Tour.

The town is informally divided into five neighborhoods. These are roughly wedge-shaped areas that all meet at Castle Heterodyne, which looms on a pinnacle of rock in the center of town.

The Hospital District is the area most familiar to visitors. It is dominated by the Great Hospital itself, and it is here that you will find most of the related businesses and industries, such as pharmacies, medical supply shops, and some of the more exotic specialists. There are also inns and hostels for outpatients and their guests, as well as a number of shops and eateries to cater to their needs. It is the quietest neighborhood, and revelry is curtailed, especially after dark. It is the result of massive rebuilding and redesign by the Heterodyne Boys themselves, and on old maps, you will find it labeled as The Flesh Yards. Usually in red.

Going clockwise, we come to The Greens. The old Heterodynes maintained this open greensward within the town and over the centuries, it has been used for everything from grazing, to jousts, to biological experiments, to the hunting of prisoners for sport. These days it has been extensively landscaped and contains assorted water features, gazebos, and botanical curiosities, the more dangerous of which are clearly marked. In older maps, one will find reference to a Petting Zoo. Avoid this area at all costs.

Next is The Field of Weights. Here you will find most of the businesses, especially those that cater to visitors, as well as the Government Offices, and most of the towns’ restaurants and entertainments. Do explore the famous Poisoner’s Market, as well as the many other specialty bazaars and shopping districts, which are clearly marked on any city map.

Next, we come to The Tumbles. It is here that the people of Mechanicsburg tend to live. It is a quiet district, with little of interest to outsiders, aside from the occasional restaurant. For those so inclined, it is where you will find some of the town’s more interesting architecture, and as always, the residents will cheerfully provide directions and suggestions on how to go somewhere else.

Last, but not least, there is The Court of Gears. Here you will find The Factory, as well as Mechanicsburg’s freelance inventors, artisans, and builders. Almost any machine or component thereof can be found here, as well as the famous Scrap Swap Yards. For the casual visitor, we recommend The Dawn Clank Inspection and Activation, which takes place every morning at six a.m.



On February 25, 2016, NOAA Ship Okeanos Explorer embarked on a 23 day mission to explore uncharted ecosystems and seafloor in and around Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument (PMNM) off the coast of Hawai’i. The monument is one of the largest conservation areas in the world; over 139,797 square miles and is home to 7,000 species, a variety of geological features and a Japanese aircraft carrier lost during WWII. 

The discovery of an unknown octopod - possibly a new species - has already caught the attention of the internet.

According to Athline Clark, PMNM superintendent for NOAA’s Office of National Marine Sanctuaries, "NOAA’s exploration efforts provide the information we need to properly protect the health and integrity of this precious ecosystem.“

The expedition includes 24-hour operations consisting of remotely operated vehicle (ROV) dives and mapping operations. All dives are being live-streamed so you can follow along!

Images Courtesy of the NOAA Office of Ocean Exploration and Research, 2016 Hohonu Moana.


Mesas and canyons, cholla and barrel cactus, sky and springs, peace and quiet.

This is Warm Springs Wilderness. The 112,400-acre Wilderness is located in Mohave County, 30 miles southwest of Kingman, Arizona and 30 miles north of Lake Havasu City, Arizona. The Warm Springs Wilderness encircles an immense and pristine desert landscape. One thousand feet above the surrounding desert, the 10-mile long Black Mesa dominates the Wilderness. Its edges are dissected into a maze of winding canyons. Remnant mesas and isolated hills dot a vast encircling alluvial apron.The diverse zoologic and geologic features offer outstanding opportunities for primitive recreation. Water at Warm Springs and other springs allow for extended camping trips. Horseback riding and hiking are further enhanced by the presence of an old historic trail and numerous burro trails. In the spring following a wet winter, this area unveils a notably colorful wildflower display, including ocotillos, blooming annuals, shrubs, and cactus.

Happy Wilderness Wednesday! Photos by BLMer Justin Robbins.

The Space Shuttle Endeavour receives a high-flying salute from its sister Shuttle Columbia, atop NASA’s Shuttle Carrier Aircraft, shortly after its landing Oct. 12, 1994 at Edwards, California, to complete mission STS-68. Columbia was being ferried from the Kennedy Space Center, Florida to Air Force Plant 42, Palmdale, California, where it will undergo six months of inspections, modifications, and systems upgrades. The STS-68 11-day mission was devoted to radar imaging of Earth’s geological features with the Space Radar Laboratory. The orbiter is surrounded by equipment and personnel that make up the ground support convoy that services the space vehicles as soon as they land.

In this slow motion meteorite impact we can see the formation of ‘ejecta patterns’ as sub-surface material is blasted from underneath the top layer. These patterns are formed in the creation of impact craters when two celestial bodies collide, typically caused by a meteorite impact on the surface of a planet, mood or asteroid. Impact craters are the dominant geological feature of most moons and asteroids, but are far more rare on Solar System objects with active surface geological processes (such as Earth, Mars, Titan, Europa, and Io), since they are eroded. By studying the size & shape of the crater and resulting ejecta patterns, scientists are able to determine the size, velocity and trajectory of the impactor. Such geological studies not only paint a picture of our solar system’s history, but can also prepare us for impacts in the future… Click here to watch the full video & learn how to make your own craters in a great experiment to try at home.

Richat structure, Mauritania

A giant, geological wonder in the Sahara Desert of Mauritania is pictured in this satellite image.

The 40 km-diameter circular Richat structure is one of the geological features that is easier to observe from space than from down on the ground, and has been a familiar landmark to astronauts since the earliest missions.

Once thought to be the result of a meteor impact, researchers now believe it was caused by a large dome of molten rock uplifting and, once at the surface, being shaped by wind and water into what we see today. Concentric bands of resistant quartzite rocks form ridges, with valleys of less-resistant rock between them.

The dark area on the left is part of the Adrar plateau of sedimentary rock standing some 200 m above the surrounding desert sands. A large area covered by sand dunes – called an erg – can be seen in the lower-right part of the image, and sand is encroaching into the structure’s southern side.

Zooming in on the southern side of the bullseye, we can see individual trees and bushes as tiny dots. These follow a river-like structure that appears to have been dry when this image was acquired, a few weeks after the rainy season. Some areas to the south and east of the Richat appear to be covered with temporary lakes, which are dry for most of the year.

Image credit & copyright JAXA/ESA



The Big Stone River is a chaotic jumble of huge boulders flowing down the slope of the Taganay mountains in the Southern Urals, on the territory of Chelyabinsk Oblast, Russia. The river of stone is 6 km long and averages 200 meters in width. Parts of it are 700 meters wide.

The gigantic rock slide is believed to have occurred during the last glaciation some 10,000 years ago. At that time, glaciers covered the top of the ridges of the Taganay mountains reaching heights up to 4,800 meters. Under the immense weight of this ice, the top of the mountain was pulverized into millions of large boulders. When the ice melted away, these rocks slowly slide down the hill creating the Big Stone River. The geological feature is named “river” only because it resembles as such, not because it actually flows. The rock slide has been sitting motionless for thousands of years.


On this day in 2002, Sloan Canyon National Conservation Area and 13 wilderness areas in Nevada were established through the Clark County Conservation of Public Land and Natural Resources Act of 2002.

A part of the BLM’s National conservation Lands, Sloan Canyon NCA offers solitude with unique scenic and geologic features and extraordinary cultural resources. The centerpiece of the area is the Sloan Canyon Petroglyph Site, one of the most significant cultural resources in Southern Nevada. Archaeologists believe the more than 300 rock art panels with 1,700 individual design elements were created by native cultures from the Archaic to historic era.

Photos by Bob Wick, BLM


Desert Landscape                                                                                        Joshua Tree Naitonal Park

The higher and cooler Mojave Desert is the special habitat of Yucca brevifolia, the Joshua tree for which the park is named. It occurs in patterns from dense forests to distantly spaced specimens. In addition to Joshua tree forests, the western part of the park includes some of the most interesting geologic displays found in California’s deserts. The dominant geologic features of this landscape are hills of bare rock, usually broken up into loose boulders.