Look! Up in the Sky...

Caltech Astronomer Finds Solar System's 10th Planet

from Reuters

LOS ANGELES - A California astronomer has discovered what he believes is the 10th planet in our solar system, a group of NASA-funded researchers said on Friday.

The new planet, known as 2003UB313, has been identified as the most distant object ever detected orbiting the sun, California Institute of Technology astronomer Michael Brown said.

Brown and colleagues Chad Trujillo and David Rabinowitz have submitted a name for the planet to the International Astronomical Union and are confident it will be designated a planet. Brown did not reveal the proposed name.

The procedure for approving the new planet is somewhat hazy as no new bodies have received that designation since Pluto was discovered in 1930, Brown said.

"We hope that it's fairly noncontroversial among those who believe Pluto is a planet," Brown said. "I would say get out your pens and start rewriting the textbooks today."

The planet is located about 9.7 billion miles from the sun and is about 1 1/2 times the size of Pluto, the researchers said. It orbits the sun once every 560 years and is now at its farthest point from Earth, he said. In about 280 years, the planet will be as close as Neptune, he said.

The new planet is believed to be part of the Kuiper Belt, a large ring of icy objects that orbit beyond Neptune and are believed to be remnants of the material that formed the solar system.

Their finding comes a day after a Spanish team of astronomers announced the discovery of another relatively large object orbiting in the solar system's outer reaches. That object, Brown said, was about three-quarters the size of Pluto.

Report: Saturn Moon May Have Ice Volcanoes

from The Associated Press

LOS ANGELES - Saturn's tiny moon Enceladus, long thought to be cold and still, appears to have active ice volcanoes, scientists reported Friday.

A recent flyby of the international Cassini spacecraft found evidence of a huge cloud of water vapor over the moon's south pole and dramatic warm zones of heat leaking out of the icy moon.

If confirmed, the discovery would put Enceladus in the class of geologically active moons with Jupiter's Io and Neptune's Triton.

The July 14 flyby, in which Cassini flew within 110 miles of Enceladus, confirmed that the moon possessed a significant atmosphere, possibly created by volcanism, geysers or gases escaping from the surface or the interior. The planet-sized Titan is the only other Saturn moon known to have a thick atmosphere.

Recent images snapped by the spacecraft revealed distinctive geological features on the snow-white moon. Its south pole was covered with house-sized ice boulders and showed no evidence of impact craters - an indication that the terrain is much younger than the rest of the moon's surface.

Scientists expected Enceladus' southern region to be cold and lacking in activity because of the little sunlight it receives. But to their surprise, they spotted warm spots in its icy surface that most likely came from heat from evaporating ice. Scientists have not ruled out the possibility that the moon may have special sunlight-trapping techniques that may help explain the south pole's warmness.

Ice Lake Found on Mars

from Space.com

The European Space Agency’s (ESA) Mars Express has snapped an image of a modest ice lake on the Red Planet.

The frozen patch of water ice is tucked away in an unnamed impact crater. The feature is located on Vastitas Borealis, a broad plain that covers much of the far northern latitudes.

The ice patch is present all year round, as the temperature and pressure are not high enough to allow the frozen water to escape into the atmosphere.

Faint traces of water ice are also visible along the rim of the crater and on the crater walls, ESA officials said. The absence of ice along the north-west rim and walls may occur because this area receives more sunlight due to the Sun’s orientation.

The poles on Mars are known to contain large quantities of water ice. There is also ample water ice beneath the surface of Mars. But it is not so common to see isolated patches of water ice away from the poles.

Earlier this year, ESA scientists said subsurface ice they detected on Mars could provide habitats for life. But so far, there is no convincing evidence for martian biology.


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