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New Satellite Names Approved

Thursday, March 29, 2007

Thirteen names for saturnian sateliites (Aegir, Bebhionn, Bergelmir, Bestla, Farbauti, Fenrir, Fornjot, Hati, Hyrokkin, Kari, Loge, Skoll, and Surtur) and one name for a jovian satellite (Kore) have been approved by the IAU WGPSN. For more information, see the page that describes Planet and Satellite Names in the Gazetteer of Planetary Nomenclature.

New Approval Status Code

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

A new approval status code has been added to the Gazetteer of Planetary Nomenclature to distinguish 45 lunar names that are listed in the gazetteer, but were never officially approved by the IAU. The approval status code for these names is 7, and the names are shown in brown type and in brackets in the gazetteer lists. Please see the page Specifics of the Gazetteer for more information.

Three New Names Approved for Features on Mars

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

The following three names have been approved for use on Mars: Aspledon Undae, Siton Undae, and Olympia Planum. See the Gazetteer of Planetary Nomenclature for more information and imagery that shows the locations of these features.

Cassini Spacecraft Images Seas on Saturn's Moon Titan

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

comparing sizes between lake superior and lakes on titan
A comparison view of a lake on Titan and Lake Superior. Image credit: NASA/JPL/GSFC

Instruments on NASA's Cassini spacecraft have found evidence for seas, likely filled with liquid methane or ethane, in the high northern latitudes of Saturn's moon Titan. One such feature is larger than any of the Great Lakes of North America and is about the same size as several seas on Earth.

Cassini's radar instrument imaged several very dark features near Titan's north pole. Much larger than similar features seen before on Titan, the largest dark feature measures at least 100,000 square kilometers (39,000 square miles). Since the radar has caught only a portion of each of these features, only their minimum size is known. Titan is the second largest moon in the solar system and is about 50 percent larger than Earth's moon.

More: NASA - Cassini Spacecraft Images Seas on Saturn's Moon Titan

New Phobos Maps

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Two new maps of Phobos showing named features have been added to the Gazetteer of Planetary Nomenclature. One map is a global view in cylindrical projection, and the other shows north and south hemispherical views.

NASA-Backed Team Developing Sensor to Check for Life on Mars

Thursday, March 8, 2007

NASA-funded researchers are refining a tool that could not only check for the faintest traces of life's molecular building blocks on Mars, but could also determine whether they have been produced by anything alive.

The instrument, called Urey: Mars Organic and Oxidant Detector, has already shown its capabilities in one of the most barren climes on Earth, the Atacama Desert in Chile. The European Space Agency has chosen this tool from the United States as part of the science payload for the ExoMars rover planned for launch in 2013. Last month, NASA selected Urey for an instrument-development investment of $750,000. Much of the development work on the instrument has been funded by the NASA Astrobiology Program.

The European Space Agency plans for the ExoMars rover to grind samples of Martian soil to fine powder and deliver them to a suite of analytical instruments, including Urey, that will search for signs of life. Each sample will be a spoonful of material dug from underground by a robotic drill.

"Urey will be able to detect key molecules associated with life at a sensitivity roughly a million times greater than previous instrumentation," said Dr. Jeffrey Bada of Scripps Institution of Oceanography at the University of California, San Diego. Bada is the principal investigator for an international team of scientists and engineers working on various components of the device.

More: NASA - NASA-Backed Team Developing Sensor to Check for Life on Mars

Volcanic Plume on Io

Thursday, March 8, 2007

lcanic plume on Io captured by the Long Range Reconnaissance Imager (LORRI) on New Horizons.
Volcanic plume on Io captured by the Long Range Reconnaissance Imager (LORRI) on New Horizons. Credit: NASA/Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory/Southwest Research Institute

This dramatic image of Io was taken by the Long Range Reconnaissance Imager (LORRI) on New Horizons at 11:04 Universal Time on February 28, 2007, just about 5 hours after the spacecraft's closest approach to Jupiter. The distance to Io was 2.5 million kilometers (1.5 million miles) and the image is centered at 85 degrees west longitude. At this distance, one LORRI pixel subtends 12 kilometers (7.4 miles) on Io.

This processed image provides the best view yet of the enormous 290-kilometer (180-mile) high plume from the volcano Tvashtar, in the 11 o'clock direction near Io's north pole. The plume was first seen by the Hubble Space Telescope two weeks ago and then by New Horizons on February 26; this image is clearer than the February 26 image because Io was closer to the spacecraft, the plume was more backlit by the Sun, and a longer exposure time (75 milliseconds versus 20 milliseconds) was used. Io's dayside was deliberately overexposed in this picture to image the faint plumes, and the long exposure also provided an excellent view of Io's night side, illuminated by Jupiter. The remarkable filamentary structure in the Tvashtar plume is similar to details glimpsed faintly in 1979 Voyager images of a similar plume produced by Io's volcano Pele. However, no previous image by any spacecraft has shown these mysterious structures so clearly.

The image also shows the much smaller symmetrical fountain of the plume, about 60 kilometers (or 40 miles) high, from the Prometheus volcano in the 9 o'clock direction. The top of a third volcanic plume, from the volcano Masubi, erupts high enough to catch the setting Sun on the night side near the bottom of the image, appearing as an irregular bright patch against Io's Jupiter-lit surface. Several Everest-sized mountains are highlighted by the setting Sun along the terminator, the line between day and night.

This is the last of a handful of LORRI images that New Horizons is sending "home" during its busy close encounter with Jupiter - hundreds of images and other data are being taken and stored onboard. The rest of the images will be returned to Earth over the coming weeks and months as the spacecraft speeds along to Pluto.

More: NASA - Gallery of Jupiter Images from New Horizons, Tvashtar's Plume

New Name Approved for Use on Venus

Tuesday, March 6, 2007

The Name Kono Mons has been approved for the Venusian feature located at 19.5N, 268.0E on Venus quadrangle V-28. See the Gazetteer of Planetary Nomenclature for more information.

Five New Names Approved for Titan Surface Features

Friday, March 2, 2007

The following five names have been approved for use on Titan: Ara Fluctus, Leilah Fluctus, Rohe Fluctus, Winia Fluctus, and Polelya Macula. See the Gazetteer of Planetary Nomenclature for more information and an image that shows the locations of these features.