Lunar and Planetary Institute

LPI Earth and Space Science Newsletter

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How Did Supermassive Black Holes Form Quickly?
Astronomers have evidence that supermassive black holes (a billion times the mass of the Sun) formed at the centers of many galaxies early in Universe. One puzzle has been how they could form quickly, when the accretion disk around a black hole would make it difficult for it to grow very fast. A new model suggests that they may have formed in clusters of thousands of stars, whose gravitational pull prevented the accretion disk from forming.

New Information about Rosetta Comet
The European Space Agency's Rosetta spacecraft is examining Comet 67P and has discovered it has a dark, dusty crust. Rosetta will approach and orbit the comet, mapping the surface temperature to understand its structure and composition. It will eventually land on the comet.

Titan Has Very Salty Ocean
Data from NASA's Cassini mission indicates that Saturn's moon Titan has an extremely salty ocean beneath its icy crust. The results come from a study of gravitational and topographic data collected during Cassini's flybys of Titan.

New Horizons One Year Out from Pluto
In July 2015, NASA will discover a new world. On July 14th, 2015, NASA's New Horizons spacecraft will make a close flyby of Pluto; no one knows what landscape to expect.

Astronomers Discovery Mystery Matter
Astronomers examining the spectra of superheated gases in the Perseid Galaxy Cluster have found a spectral line that does not correspond to any known type of matter. One possibility is that it may correspond to dark matter.

Comet's Path Narrowly Misses Mars
On Oct. 19, 2014, Comet Siding Spring (C/2013 A1) will pass extremely close to Mars. Siding Spring will glide by Mars only 132,000 km away--about 1/3rd of the distance between Earth and the Moon. Although the comet's nucleus will not strike the planet, gas and dust spewing out of the comet's core will likely interact with the Martian atmosphere. There could be a meteor shower, auroras, and other effects that no one can predict. NASA's fleet of Mars spacecraft and rovers will record whatever happens.

Mars Rover Breaks Distance Record
NASA's Opportunity Mars rover, which landed on the Red Planet in 2004, now holds the off-Earth roving distance record after accruing 25 miles (40 kilometers) of driving. The previous record was held by the Soviet Union's Lunokhod 2 rover.

New Type of Planet: the Mega-Earth
Astronomers have discovered a new type of planet - a rocky world weighing 17 times as much as Earth. This type of planet was not expected to form; scientists suspect that such a massive planet would accumulate gas and become a gas giant. This planet, discovered by the Kepler mission and then observed by the Telescopio Nazionale Galileo, is too dense to be a gas giant.