Cooling Off

  Nov 15, 2018 Jupiter’s Red Spot is shrinking. For over 300 years, the Great Red Spot has persisted in Jupiter’s atmosphere—longer than telescopes have existed to see it. It is commonly believed to be a cyclonic storm driven by thermal convection from deep inside Jupiter’s atmosphere. How it was …

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Concentrated Power

Nov 14, 2018 Lightning is not well understood. Prevailing ideas see circulating water vapor moving up and down through clouds in a process of convection. The condensation theory presupposes that water is heated by the Sun until it evaporates, rising into the air where it collects into clouds, finally cooling …

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A Cold Exterior

  Nov 12, 2018 One of the most important questions about other planets is whether water is present in any significant amount. Water sustains Earth’s ecology, so there is a presumption among planetary scientists that water is necessary for life to exist on other planets. There are rovers on Mars, …

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Large and Small

Nov 12, 2018 Plasma’s behavior is independent of scale. Intense lightning in thunderstorms can interact with charged particles (cosmic rays) coming from space. Given the right conditions, lightning causes giant particle accelerators to form above the clouds. Cosmic rays are sub-atomic particles, mostly protons, that can knock electrons off molecules …

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Plasma Braids

  Nov 8, 2018 Filaments are common in the Milky Way The Herschel Space Observatory was launched on May 14, 2009 into an orbit around LaGrange point L2 (behind Earth in relation to the Sun). Herschel’s supercooled infrared detectors were built to last only three years, so its cooling systems has long since …

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Fields and Forces

  Nov 5, 2018 Jupiter’s environment Is electrically active. The Juno spacecraft entered orbit around Jupiter in July 2016 and began collecting data on its atmosphere, as well as its electromagnetic and gravitational fields. Jupiter’s toroidal electromagnetic field is so large that it extends outward beyond Saturn’s orbit. Charged particles …

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Freezing Desert

Nov 5, 2018 Mars is devoid of any detectable life. Martian areography bears witness to violent events at some time in the past. Images from the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) reveal scenes of devastation: the North polar terrain, for instance, is six kilometers below the planet’s mean elevation. Burned craters …

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Take the Plunge

  Nov 1, 2018 Electrical perspectives. Astronomers recently discovered a galactic filament extending outward from galaxy CGCG254-021 on a scale never before observed: “This ribbon, or X-ray tail, is likely due to gas stripped from the galaxy as it moves through a vast cloud of hot intergalactic gas.” It might …

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