Breakthrough Initiatives to Fund Research into Search for Primitive Life in Clouds of Venus

Venus hides a wealth of information that could help us better understand Earth and exoplanets. (Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech)

SAN FRANCISCO (Breakthrough Initiatives PR)  – Breakthrough Initiatives, the privately-funded space science programs founded by science and technology investor and philanthropist Yuri Milner, are funding a research study into the possibility of primitive life in the clouds of Venus. The study is inspired by the discovery, announced yesterday, of the gas phosphine, considered a potential biosignature, in the planet’s atmosphere.

(more…)

Evidence for Volcanic Craters on Saturn’s Moon Titan

This image compares nested, multi-collapse craters on Titan (upper left), Mars (upper right), and two on Earth (below). (Credit: Planetary Science Institute)

TUCSON, Ariz. (PSI PR) — Volcano-like features seen in polar regions of Saturn’s moon Titan by NASA’s Cassini spacecraft could be evidence of explosive eruptions that may continue today, according to a new paper by Planetary Science Institute Senior Scientist Charles A. Wood and coauthor Jani Radebaugh of Brigham Young University.

Morphological features such as nested collapses, elevated ramparts, halos, and islands indicate that some of the abundant small depressions in the north polar region of Titan are volcanic collapse craters, according to “Morphologic Evidence for Volcanic Craters near Titan’s North Polar Region” (https://doi.org/10.1029/2019JE006036) that appears in the Journal of Geophysical Research: Planets. A few similar depressions occur near the south pole of Titan. 

(more…)

Are Planets with Oceans Common in the Galaxy? It’s Likely, NASA Scientists Find

This illustration shows NASA’s Cassini spacecraft flying through plumes on Enceladus in October 2015. (Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech)

by Lonnie Shekhtman
NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center

Greenbelt, Md. (NASA PR) — Several years ago, planetary scientist Lynnae Quick began to wonder whether any of the more than 4,000 known exoplanets, or planets beyond our solar system, might resemble some of the watery moons around Jupiter and Saturn.

Though some of these moons don’t have atmospheres and are covered in ice, they are still among the top targets in NASA’s search for life beyond Earth. Saturn’s moon Enceladus and Jupiter’s moon Europa, which scientists classify as “ocean worlds,” are good examples.

(more…)

NASA’s OSIRIS-REx Finds Heat, Cold Fracturing Rocks on Asteroid Bennu

Exfoliation features on a cliff face (a) and on boulders (b-f) with varying size and location. The bright dome on the horizon of panel (a) is a boulder behind the exfoliating cliff. (Credit: NASA/Goddard/University of Arizona)

TUCSON (Planetary Science Institute PR) — Close-up observations of asteroid Bennu by NASA’s OSIRIS-REx spacecraft contain the first evidence of thermal fracturing of rocks on an airless body, a Nature Communications paper by Planetary Science Institute Research Scientist Jamie Molaro says. 

(more…)

Meet 8 Teams Sending Payloads to the Moon on Masten’s Lander

Masten’s XL-1 lunar lander will deliver science and technology payloads to the Moon’s South Pole in 2022. (Credits: Masten Space Systems)

MOJAVE, Calif. (Masten Space Systems PR) — Imagine having the opportunity to send your payload to the lunar surface. Not next decade, but in 2022!

Well, that’s the incredible opportunity that the NASA Commercial Lunar Payload Services (CLPS) project — and Masten Space Systems — has presented for 8 visionary teams and their instruments. Each and every one is cool in their own way and we couldn’t be prouder to be the lunar lander company that will set them down safely on the surface of the Moon. 

(more…)

Impacts on Asteroids Produce Regolith, Erase Small Craters

A shaded-relief map of a surface cratering simulation of near-Earth asteroid 433 Eros, color-coded according to surface elevation (blue = -125 meters, pink = +125 meters). The surface is shown after 400 million years of exposure to the Main Asteroid Belt, where Eros spent most of its lifetime. (Credit: James Richardson)

TUCSON (PSI PR) — Impact cratering both produces new regolith and causes seismic events that can degrade and erase small craters on the surface of asteroids, a paper by Planetary Science Institute Senior Scientist James Richardson says.

(more…)

NIAC Award: Heat Exchange-Driven Aircraft for Low Altitude and Surface Exploration of Venus

Image depicting the Heat Exchange-Driven Aircraft for Low Altitude and Surface Exploration of Venus. (Credits: Eldar Noe Dobrea)

NASA Innovative Advanced Concepts (NIAC)
Phase I Award
Amount: $125,000

Heat Exchange-Driven Aircraft for Low Altitude and Surface Exploration of Venus

Eldar Noe Dobrea
Planetary Science Institute

We propose to investigate a fixed wing aircraft platform concept capable of flying over multiple sites in close proximity to the surface of Venus in a cyclic manner. Central to this investigation is the development of a system capable of using the heat from the Venusian atmosphere to power a heat engine capable of supplying propulsion and power to the aircraft.

(more…)

NASA to Discuss Planetary Protection Review’s Findings and Recommendations

This scene from the panoramic camera on NASA’s Mars Exploration Rover Opportunity looks back toward part of the west rim of Endeavour Crater that the rover drove along, heading southward, during the summer of 2014. (Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Cornell/ASU)

WASHINGTON (NASA PR) — NASA will host a media teleconference at 3:30 p.m. EDT Friday, Oct. 18, to discuss recommendations presented by the Planetary Protection Independent Review Board (PPIRB), established in June 2019 by Thomas Zurbuchen, associate administrator for the agency’s Science Mission Directorate.

Audio of the teleconference will be streamed live on NASA’s website.

(more…)

New Camera System to Offer High-Resolution Images and Video of Lunar Landings

The Heimdall camera system. (Credit: Malin Space Science Systems)

TUCSON (Planetary Science Institute PR) — A new spacecraft-mounted camera system funded by NASA is poised to return the first high-resolution video of a landing plume as it lands on the Moon.

The Heimdall camera system project, headed by Planetary Science Institute Senior Scientist R. Aileen Yingst, consists of four color cameras and a DVR to store images until they can be uplinked to Earth.

(more…)











TRAPPIST-1 System Planets Potentially Habitable

The TRAPPIST-1 star, an ultra-cool dwarf, has seven Earth-size planets orbiting it. This artist’s concept appeared on the cover of the journal Nature on Feb. 23, 2017. (Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech)

Tucson, Ariz. (Planetary Science Institute PR) — Two exoplanets in the TRAPPIST-1 system have been identified as most likely to be habitable, a paper by PSI Senior Scientist Amy Barr says.

The TRAPPIST-1 system has been of great interest to observers and planetary scientists because it seems to contain seven planets that are all roughly Earth-sized, Barr and co-authors Vera Dobos and Laszlo L. Kiss said in “Interior Structures and Tidal Heating in the TRAPPIST-1 Planets” that appears in Astronomy & Astrophysics.

(more…)











PSI’s Toolbox for Research and Exploration Project Funded for $5.5 Million

TUCSON, Ariz. (PSI PR) – The Planetary Science Institute has been awarded $5.5 million by NASA to be a research node of the Solar System Exploration Research Virtual Institute (SSERVI) to advance basic and applied research for lunar and planetary science, and advance human exploration of the solar system. The node, known as the Toolbox for Research and Exploration (TREX) project, will be led by PSI Senior Scientist Amanda Hendrix, the Principal Investigator, and funded for five years. The Deputy Principal Investigator for TREX is PSI Senior Scientist Faith Vilas. An additional 18 PSI scientists are on the team.

(more…)











MARSDROP Micro-probes Could Explore Alien World

MarsDropFlight
The steerable MARSDROP parawing glider is capable of up to 10 minutes of guided flight covering a lateral distance of approximately 10 kilometers (~6 miles). Foreground image is a MER scene. Inset is from a high-altitude weather balloon drop test that demonstrated parawing deployment within speeds and atmospheric conditions expected during Mars entry. The image captures the parawing and capsule descending to the Nevada desert floor. (Credit: Planetary Science Institute)

TUCSON, Ariz. (PSI PR) — Microprobes that piggyback on Mars-bound spacecraft could investigate areas currently unavailable to surface instruments, a Planetary Science Institute researcher said.

The payload could be steered to scientifically desired targets during the gliding phase, enabling a wide variety of enticing research locations including canyons, fresh impact crater sites, volcanic region and glaciers, PSI’s Rebecca M.E. Williams said during a poster presentation today at the 46th Lunar and Planetary Science Conference in Houston.

(more…)











Atsa Team Successfully Fits Observatory Camera in XCOR Spacecraft


Sept. 5, 2012, Tucson, Ariz
. (PSI PR) — Planetary Science Institute scientists and undergraduate students from The Citadel and other South Carolina colleges visited XCOR Aerospace in Mojave, Calif., to fit the Atsa Suborbital Observatory Mark I camera in an engineering model of the Lynx Mark I spacecraft.

(more…)