TMJ is now Planetaria!

PLEASE NOTE: This blog formerly known as The Meridiani Journal is now Planetaria (http://planetaria.ca)! TMJ was first started in 2005 when the primary planetary exploration missions at the time were the Mars rovers Opportunity (landing in Meridiani Planum) and Spirit. Now there are many different missions happening as well as thousands of exoplanets being discovered, so the new name is a better and simpler reflection of that. The old domain for TMJ still works and now redirects to Planetaria, as well as all previous links.

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Flying the friendly Martian skies: NASA to test Mars airplane prototype

Artist’s conception of the Prandtl-m airplane flying above the surface of Mars. Image Credit: NASA Illustration/Dennis Calaba
Artist’s conception of the Prandtl-m airplane flying above the surface of Mars. Image Credit: NASA Illustration/Dennis Calaba

For several decades, Mars has been a busy place, with orbiters, landers, and rovers providing unprecedented views of the Red Planet. Another exciting possibility which has yet to be realized is an airplane, which could soar through the atmosphere, showing Mars in a way not possible before – closer than an orbiter, but unique from a lander or rover stuck on the surface. NASA is now testing just such a concept, the first Mars airplane which could fly in the Martian skies in the 2020s.

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Muddy Mars: new evidence for liquid water flows within past million years

Illustration of debris flows inside Istok crater on Mars, which have provided evidence of large amounts of flowing water and mud in the past. The flows are very similar to ones on Earth in Arctic regions such as Iceland. Image Credit: Nature Communications
Illustration of debris flows inside Istok crater on Mars, which have provided evidence of large amounts of flowing water and mud in the past. The flows are very similar to ones on Earth in Arctic regions such as Iceland. Image Credit: Nature Communications

The fact that Mars used to have large amounts of liquid water on its surface is pretty much accepted among scientists, but there is still the question of how long that water lasted. How long ago was it still present? A billion years? A few million? New evidence based on data from the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) suggests that water was still on the surface within the past million years, perhaps even as recently as 500,000 years ago, which is indeed recent, geologically speaking.

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Sinkholes on Titan: new study shows how hydrocarbon lakes may form by Earth-like erosion

Coloured mosaic of lakes near Titan’s north pole. Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/ASI/USGS
Coloured mosaic of lakes near Titan’s north pole. Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/ASI/USGS

Saturn’s largest moon, Titan, has seas and lakes of liquid methane and ethane dotting its surface, but one question scientists have been trying to figure out is how the hollows in the ground, which hold the lakes, form to begin with. Now, a new study offers a solution: The depressions in the surface are formed in a process similar to sinkholes on Earth.

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Methane discovered in Martian meteorites: a clue to possible life?

Methane has been discovered in some meteorites originating from Mars. Could it be a clue to life? Image Credit: Michael Helfenbein
Methane has been discovered in some meteorites originating from Mars. Could it be a clue to life? Image Credit: Michael Helfenbein

The puzzle of methane on Mars has taken an interesting new twist: for the first time, the gas has been detected within Martian meteorites. The finding adds another layer to the ongoing controversy over the origin of the methane, whether it is abiotic and geological or a potential biosignature of life, either past or present.

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Alien ocean: all systems go for new NASA mission to Europa

Artist’s conception of the Europa Clipper during a flyby of Europa. Image Credit: NASA
Artist’s conception of the Europa Clipper during a flyby of Europa. Image Credit: NASA

After many years of people hoping and waiting, NASA has announced that a new mission to Europa has successfully completed its first major review by the agency and now is entering the development phase, known as formulation. In other words, we are finally going back to Europa!

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Early Mars may have been cold and icy rather than warm, according to new study

Conceptual image of the two competing warm and cold models of early Mars. Image Credit: Robin D. Wordsworth
Conceptual image of the two competing warm and cold models of early Mars. Image Credit: Robin D. Wordsworth

The debate over whether Mars used to be warmer and wetter or colder and wetter earlier in its history has been a long and contentious one. Now, a new study suggests it may be the latter, that Mars was indeed wetter, as overwhelming evidence has already shown, but that it was still a rather cold and icy climate overall.

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Mars Cube One: new deep-space CubeSats will travel to Mars along with InSight lander

Artist’s conception of the MarCO CubeSats flying past Mars as the InSight lander descends to the surface. Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech
Artist’s conception of the MarCO CubeSats flying past Mars as the InSight lander descends to the surface. Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

The next NASA mission to Mars, the InSight lander, will include some additional experimental technology: the first deep-space CubeSats. Two small CubeSats will fly past the planet as the lander is descending through the atmosphere; this will be the first time CubeSats have been used in an interplanetary mission.

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Saturn’s massive Phoebe ring even larger than previously thought

Image of the Phoebe ring taken in 2009, overlaid in tan colors. The ring is much larger than Saturn’s other more visible rings and is also tilted with respect to the other rings. Image Credit: NASA/JPL/U. Virginia
Image of the Phoebe ring taken in 2009, overlaid in tan colours. The ring is much larger than Saturn’s other more visible rings and is also tilted with respect to the other rings. Image Credit: NASA/JPL/U. Virginia

Saturn is truly the “Lord of the Rings” and one of the most majestic places in the Solar System. Its massive ring system is well-known, but in 2009 another previously unknown ring was discovered, much larger than the others but fainter, being composed of dark grains of dust thought to originate from the moon Phoebe. Now, new research indicates that the Phoebe ring is even larger than first thought.

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