Dawn over Ceres: the lonely volcano

Ceres is different. It was the first asteroid to be discovered and is by some distance the largest. Ceres contains a quarter of all the mass on the entire asteroid belt. (That sounds more impressive than it is: the mass is just over 1% of that of the Moon.) But it does not look like…

Vesta’s volcanoes: Dawn’s blast in the past

This is the second instalment of the Dawn space trilogy. If you haven’t seen the first part yet, you may want to read that first. The region was known to be peculiar. The ground around the German town of Nordlingen contained strange rocks – the houses were build from them. Geologists had decided that it…

Dawn over Ceres: the journey

There used to be a missing planet. It had long been realized that there was an empty gap in the Solar System, between Mars and Jupiter. The two were just too far apart. The distribution of the planets was described well by a relation proposed by Johann Titius and Johann Bode, and this relation predicted…

Saving the Earth with asteroids

The dinosaurs would disagree. After owning the Earth, they were now in a bit of a bother. A major re-arrangement of the Earth had taken place. Pangea had split; Gondwana was broken up. The Indian ocean had formed but not in a clean way: a number of parallel rifts were running through Africa, and the…

Beneath a Boiling Sun: Mercury Rising

All volcanoes are the same. You start with liquid rock some distance below the surface. It tries to rise because molten rock is less dense than the solid rock that surrounds it. Once it reaches the surface it is called a volcano. There are many variations, of course. The liquid may pour out and form…

The Moon, the Moon! Mount Marilyn and the Merry Men of Apollo 8

The space race had seemed a bit pointless. The first orbiting satellites were mainly there to demonstrate the capability of the carrying rockets – whose real task was to deliver missiles to whoever was deemed to be the enemy. Jodrell Bank became famous not by detecting the first Sputnik – anyone with a radio could…

New Horizons: News from Pluto

The Judgement of Jupiter is a story written around 1495 in Germany and published under the pen name of Paulus Niavis. It tells of a case in the court of law of Jupiter. The accusation is parricide (destruction of the environment). The accused is a mine worker; the victim is Mother Earth. Mercury is the…

New Horizons: the way to Pluto

The exploration of space has been a two-way battle. Not between the Russians and Americans, but between humans and robots. The race to the Moon was a victory for the humans. But it is notable that the humans have been in retreat since. We no longer go beyond low-Earth orbit: we could not go back…

Pluto: the big-hearted dwarf + Katla Reawakening

Its career as a planet last for less than half its year. Pluto was discovered late, in 1930, as our final planet, completing the Sun’s brood of nine. (In hindsight it had been seen, but not recognized, as early as 1909.) But it was always an odd one, the runt of the litter, banished to…

The Science behind ”Mars 2067, the Olympus Mons Expedition”

Science should be “sexy”. Once we had decided to write an article on Olympus Mons, we began to consider how to present it in a manner that would appeal to our readers. The regular science article is usually a rather monotonous enumeration of facts, figures and equations and thus heavy to digest for the average…