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20 April 2015

Sol 959-961: Daughter of the Sun

by Ryan Anderson The short drive on sol 958 was a success, placing us at the top of a small ridge, facing an outcrop dubbed “Daughter of the Sun”. The plan for sol 959 is to do some ChemCam and Mastcam of targets “Gold” and “Espinoza”, followed by several Mastcam mosaics. The biggest mosaic will be a 26×2 stereo mosaic looking toward Logan Pass. We also have a 7×3 stereo …


16 April 2011

Dreaming of Easy-to-Use Data

Some thoughts on how difficult it is to use multiple different types of data in planetary science, how easy it could be, and two free programs that are important first steps in making easy-to-use data a reality.


7 January 2011

Strange New Worlds

I realized relatively recently that I like planets and I like speculative fiction for basically the same reason: strange new worlds just fire up my imagination.  That’s the topic of my latest post over at Science in my Fiction, where I take a look at some spectacular and bizarre real (or at least realistic) planetary locations that I think would be great settings for some sci-fi. I got a little …


1 November 2010

Planets Like Grains of Sand

The other day I came across a press release announcing that nearly one in four sun-like stars could have planets as small as Earth. That’s pretty awesome! But I though it was especially interesting how they came up with this number. Current technology can’t quite see an Earth-sized planet around a sun-like star, so how do you count things that you can’t see? Well, you count everything else and then extrapolate.


27 May 2010

Solar System Overview

Welcome to the solar system! It’s a really interesting place, and there’s a lot to cover. First lets get a basic idea of what our solar system looks like. There are eight planets in the solar system and five “dwarf planets” and they all orbit around the sun. The four planets closest to the sun are called the “inner” planets. They are all pretty small and made mostly of rocks. …


22 December 2009

AGU 2009: Day 4 – Enceladus and Exoplanets

Thursday at AGU started with a tough choice. At 8 am there was a talk about methane on Mars, and a special lecture about the water plumes on Enceladus, and plate tectonics on Venus! In the end I decided to go to the Enceladus lecture, given by Sue Kieffer. She explained that there are two primary models for how the Enceladus plumes form. The first is dubbed the “cold faithful” …


4 November 2009

How Habitable is the Earth?

Charlie Stross has an interesting post on his blog that asks the question “How habitable is the Earth?” He goes on to conclude, through a great discussion of the evolution of our planet, that the fraction of time that the earth has been habitable to humans is a tiny sliver of the time the Earth has been around, and that furthermore, much of the earth is not habitable for humans …


10 July 2009

Solar System Creator

As I mentioned last month, on top of research and grad school duties, I’m in the process of planning out a sci-fi novel. It began with the month-long outlining challenge “Midsommer Madness” over at the Liberty Hall writing site, and I am continuing with it in my spare time. I am trying to make my novel grounded in reality whenever possible. It is set in a known star system, 55 …


28 April 2009

Impact Crater

In my posts about our field trip to Arizona, I showed my best pictures of meteor crater, but really none of them come close to expressing the feeling of standing on the brink of such a feature and trying to imagine an explosion big enough to carve it out. I just came across a photo by Stan Gaz that does a much better job than my snapshots (click to follow …


26 April 2009

Discoveries in Planetary Science

The Division for Planetary Sciences of the American Astronomical Society just released several short sets of slides summarizing recent important discoveries in planetary science that aren’t yet in textbooks. They are very nice, easy to understand summaries so I encourage you to check them out. The topics so far are: Mars Methane, Extrasolar Planet Imaging, The Chaotic Early Solar System, Mars Sulfur Chemistry, and Mercury Volcanism. Follow those links to …


21 April 2009

Cassini Questions Answered

I got a bunch of questions about the BigPicture feature on the Cassini extended mission from an “enthusiastic” commenter, with whom I happen to be related (Hi mom!), and I thought I would dedicate a post to answering them. 1. How does a Jovian equinox work? Start by reviewing how one on earth works. Well, the pictures are of Saturn, not Jupiter, but that doesn’t really matter since equinoxes work …


28 March 2009

LPSC: The Masursky Lecture

Every year at LPSC one of the big events is the Masursky lecture, given by that year’s winner of the Masursky prize recognizing “individuals who have rendered outstanding service to planetary science and exploration through engineering, managerial, programmatic, or public service activities”. This year’s winner was Alan Stern, and he gave a thought-provoking talk about everyone’s favorite subject: What is a Planet? The official title was “Planet Categorization and Planetary …


25 February 2009

A Tidally Locked Earth

A while ago, I posted about an interesting abstract and poster at the Lunar and Planetary Science Conference discussion the possibility that tidally locked exoplanets might still be habitable. Well, apparently the new Discovery series entitled “The World Without…” is doing an episode about what would happen if the Earth stopped rotating. One of their associate producers contacted me after reading my blog post about tidally locked exoplanets and asked …


14 December 2008

Blogging from the American Geophysical Union Fall Meeting

Tomorrow I’m heading to San Francisco along with 15,000 other scientists to participate in the 2008 fall meeting of the American Geophysical Union (AGU). Yes, you read that right: fifteen thousand scientists in one place.  This will be my first AGU and my first time in San Francisco so I’m excited. There’s tons of planetary science stuff scheduled, and I will be taking notes and blogging as much as possible …


21 November 2008

Holst's 'The Planets'

A month or so ago, Cornell hosted a planetary science conference, and one of the big events associated with that was a performance of Holst’s famous symphony “The Planets”. For each movement, some of us in the astronomy department put together a slideshow to go with the music. The concert was totally awesome, and there is now a video and audio version available online! For me, firefox crashed when I …


13 November 2008

Extrasolar Planets Imaged by Hubble and Gemini!

There was a big announcement today: the Hubble space telescope has taken an image of a planet orbiting the bright star Fomalhaut! And not only that, the Gemini telescope has taken an image of TWO planets orbiting the star HR8799! Phil Plait has a nice and very excited post about this over at bad astronomy. You can also go straight to the source and read the JPL press release.  I’ll …


Tectonics on Mars

Mars is often touted as the “most earth-like” planet, but if you take a look at its surface there are some aspects that are decidedly alien. Sure, there are dry river beds and canyons and volcanoes. But there are also craters. Everywhere. So many that, when Mariner 9 sent back the first spacecraft images of Mars, people were dismayed to see a surface that looked just like the moon! Is …


15 October 2008

DPS Posting Intermission

I wasn’t able to make it to many sessions today. I was helping to organize a “Women in Science” event at the local middle school, taking advantage of the fact that so many famous female scientists are in town. So unfortuantely that meant that I only caught a few talks today. Fortunately, the sessions are still available online, so I will be able to get caught up on what I …


12 October 2008

DPS 2008 Day 2: Rings, Titan, Comets, Orbits

Today I didn’t go to most of the first round of presentations. They were about Titan’s upper atmosphere, asteroids, and the theory and dynamics of rings. Not really the stuff that gets me excited. I did catch the last talk in the rings session. It was showcasing a new program used to simulate ring particles, including the ability to make the particles stick together if they collide slowly. Apperntly some …


11 October 2008

DPS 2008 Day One: Mars, Exoplanets, Defining Planets and Enceladus

Today was the first day of the Division for Planetary Sciences conference here at Cornell. All the talks are being live web-streamed, but since most of you probably don’t have time to sit and watch esoteric scientific talks online all weekend, here are the highlights from the sessions I saw today. In the morning, the first session that I went to was Mars Surface and Surface/Atmosphere Interactions. DPS is an …