“Amazing Stories” was the title of 1920s-era comic books about Buck Rogers and space travel. Planetary scientists continue to deliver amazing stories. Whether they are amazing because the observations are stunning, or because the theories behind them are incredible, is a matter for readers to judge on a case by case basis. Here are a few to judge.
Saturn showers: The tiny moon Enceladus pumps out so much water it showers Saturn with oxygen molecules that are detectable. “Enceladus is the only moon in our solar system known to influence substantially the chemical composition of its parent planet.” PhysOrg said, reporting observations from the European Space Agency’s Herschel Space Telescope of a giant torus surrounding Saturn, “373,000 miles (600,000 kilometers) across and about 37,000 miles (60,000 kilometers) thick” that “appears to be the source of water in Saturn’s upper atmosphere.” Of the 200 kilograms of water ejected from Enceladus every second, the majority falls back onto the moon. Out of the remainder that creates the torus, only 3-5% falls onto the rings and Saturn. That’s what has been detected by Herschel. “We can see the water leaving Enceladus and we can detect the end product – atomic oxygen – in the Saturn system,” Ultraviolet spectrometer team member Candy Hansen said, adding, “The profound effect this little moon Enceladus has on Saturn and its environment is astonishing.” The article generated a lively debate in the comments about the age of little Enceladus.
Pluto life: The astonishing thing about a report on New Scientist is not the L-word life, which is predictable every time water is suspected at a planet or moon, but the very idea that a planet as small as Pluto could harbor a liquid water ocean under its icy crust. Not only that, “Other distant icy bodies might also have oceans,” the article suggested. Then came the old boilerplate: “which could mean that the outer solar system is potentially ripe for life.”
Lucky planets: Our solar system would never have become what it is without another gas giant in the mix, claims David Nesvorny of the Southwest Research Institute. According to PhysOrg, his 6,000 computer simulations showed that without a fifth large planet in the initial conditions, Venus, Mars and Earth got destroyed. The article ended with a scene from Lost in Space: “Recent discoveries of free-floating planets in interstellar space show that the ejection of planets could have been common, according to the study.”….
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