Lunar and Planetary Institute

LPI Earth and Space Science Newsletter

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"Magic Island" Appears and Disappears on Titan
A feature seen by Cassini scientists on Saturn's largest moon, Titan, has reappeared in radar data after disappearing for 13 months. Its physical appearance has changed rather significantly, doubling in size to almost 60 square miles. Scientists suspect that the feature's appearance and disappearance may be the result of changing seasons on Titan.

Tidal Forces Resurfaced Miranda
Uranus' moon Miranda looks as though it was pieced together from parts that didn’t quite fit together properly. A variety of models for this appearance have been examined over the years. Scientists have new evidence that some of the surface features may be due to tidal warming.

Milky Way Deficient in Dark Matter?
Although astronomers have gathered overwhelming evidence that dark matter makes up roughly 84 percent of the universe’s matter, they remain unsure about any specifics. Now, a group of astronomers has found evidence suggesting there’s only half as much dark matter in the Milky Way as previously thought.

‘Heavy Metal’ Frost on Venus?
Researchers re-examining information from the completed NASA Magellan mission found signs of what could be "heavy metal" frost on the 900 degree F surface. What the researchers saw in radio-wave reflectance is the highlands appear brighter, with dark spots in the tallest locations, possibly due to a temperature dependent metal compound precipitating from the air.

Possible Detection of Dark Matter Particle
Astronomers are still seeking the source of "dark matter," an invisible mass that has been detected by its gravitational interaction with galaxies and galaxy clusters. Recently, astronomers found variations in a stream of x-rays from the Sun that match what would be expected if axions--a hypothetical dark matter particle--were interacting with Earth's magnetic field. If confirmed, the axion finding would be a huge discovery.

MAVEN at Mars
After 10-month voyage across more than 400 million miles of empty space, NASA's MAVEN spacecraft reached Mars on Sept. 21st 2014. MAVEN is on a mission to investigate a planetary mystery. Billions of years ago, Mars was blanketed by an atmosphere massive enough to warm the planet and allow liquid water to flow on its surface. Today only a tiny fraction of that ancient air remains. What happened to the atmosphere of Mars? MAVEN will attempt to answer the question by studying the upper atmosphere, where gaseous material could be lost to space.

Evidence for Young Lunar Volcanism
NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter has provided researchers strong evidence the moon’s volcanic activity slowed gradually instead of stopping abruptly a billion years ago. Scores of distinctive lunar rock deposits are estimated to be less than 100 million years old and some areas may be less than 50 million years old. These findings contradict prior estimates of how cool the Moon's interior is.