Lunar and Planetary Institute

LPI Earth and Space Science Newsletter

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Haze, Flowing Ice on Pluto
Flowing ice and a surprising extended haze are among the newest discoveries from NASA’s New Horizons mission, which reveal distant Pluto to be an icy world of wonders. The new images show fascinating details within the Texas-sized plain, informally named Sputnik Planum, which lies within the western half of Pluto’s heart-shaped feature, known as Tombaugh Regio. There, a sheet of ice clearly appears to have flowed -- and may still be flowing -- in a manner similar to glaciers on Earth.

Bigger, Older Cousin to Earth Discovered
NASA's Kepler mission has confirmed the first near-Earth-size planet in the "habitable zone" around a sun-like star. This discovery and the introduction of 11 other new small habitable zone candidate planets mark another milestone in the journey to finding another "Earth."

Stars in the Milky Way Have Moved
A team of scientists with the Sloan Digital Sky Survey have discovered that nearly a third of the stars have dramatically changed their orbits. Astronomers examined the chemical composition of stars and determined that up to 30% of the stars surveyed had compositions indicating that they were formed in parts of the galaxy far from their current positions.

Largest Feature in the Universe
A team of astronomers have found what appears to be the largest feature in the observable universe: a ring of nine gamma ray bursts 5 billion light years across. Each gamma ray burst is thought to be a supermassive black hole at the center of a separate galaxy. The team now want to find out more about the ring, and establish whether the known processes for galaxy formation and large scale structure could have led to its creation, or if astronomers need to radically revise their theories of the evolution of the cosmos.

Mysterious Bright Spots on Ceres
The Dawn mission orbiting the dwarf planet Ceres has discovered some mysterious bright spots, a variety of craters, and a pyramid-shaped mountain. Scientists have released a new video with a flyover view of these features.

The End of the Universe
An international team of astronomers studying more than 200 000 galaxies has measured the energy generated within a large portion of space more precisely than ever before. Based on findings from the Galaxy and Mass Assembly (GAMA) project, the energy output of the nearby Universe is currently half of what it was only 2 billion years ago, and it’s still decreasing. The fact that the Universe is slowly fading has been known since the late 1990s, but this work shows that it is happening across all wavelengths from the ultraviolet to the infrared, representing the most comprehensive assessment of the energy output of the nearby Universe.

Auroras on Mars
In late Dec. 2014, NASA's MAVEN spacecraft detected evidence of widespread auroras in Mars's northern hemisphere. The "Christmas Lights," as researchers called them, circled the globe and descended so close to the Martian equator that, if the lights had occurred on Earth, they would have been over places like Florida and Texas. Unlike Earth, Mars does not have a global magnetic field; instead, there are umbrella-shaped magnetic fields here and there, but mainly in the southern hemisphere. These umbrellas are remnants of an ancient global field that decayed billions of years ago.

NASA Online Tool Helps Predict Floods
Predicting floods is notoriously tricky. They depend on a complex mixture of rainfall, soil moisture, the recent history of precipitation, and more. A NASA-funded computer tool known as the Global Flood Monitoring System, which maps flood conditions worldwide, is now available online. Users anywhere in the world can use the system to determine when flood water might engulf their communities.