Solar System

To Find New Planets, Look for the Lithium?

Publication: National Geographic News   Date: November 11, 2009   View Article

Sunlike stars that harbor planets are low on lithium, according to a recent study that may offer a new tool in the hunt for planets beyond our solar system.

Stars are made almost entirely of hydrogen and helium. A small percentage of a star’s mass comes from heavier elements, which astronomers refer to as metals.

Solar System’s Fate Predicted by White Dwarf?

Publication: National Geographic News   Date: December 21, 2006   View Article

In an example of galactic foreshadowing, scientists have gazed out at the stars and glimpsed how our solar system might look in several billion years.

An unusual ring of metal-rich gas orbiting a white dwarf—the remains of a burned-out star of modest mass—has been spied within the constellation Virgo.

Photo in the News: “Cool” Brown Dwarf, Small Star Found Near Earth

Publication: National Geographic News   Date: March 23, 2006   View Article

Astronomers have discovered a “cool” brown dwarf circling a star relatively close to Earth.

Brown dwarfs are neither stars nor planets. They are typically dozens of times more massive than Jupiter, the most massive planet in our solar system, but too small to shine like a star.

“Hot” Rocks Found in Icy Comet

Publication: National Geographic News   Date: March 14, 2006   View Article

Comet Wild 2 has spent most of its life in the most frigid reaches of our solar system. But at the comet, NASA’s Stardust spacecraft has found minerals born of intense heat near the sun or other stars, scientists announced yesterday afternoon.

The surprising finding may alter our understanding of how comets form, they said.

Mars’s Gravity Captures NASA Spacecraft

Publication: National Geographic News   Date: March 10, 2006   View Article

After a seven-month journey, a NASA spacecraft successfully made orbit around Mars today to the relief of Mission Control.

“I am very relieved,” said James Graf, project manager for the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena, California.

“It was picture perfect. I mean, we could not have scripted something better. As a matter of fact, I think we did script it,” he added.

Stardust Space Capsule to Touch Down Sunday in Utah

Publication: National Geographic News   Date: January 13, 2006   View Article

If all goes according to plan, Stardust—a space capsule carrying a cargo of comet and interstellar dust particles—will scream into Earth’s atmosphere Sunday, deploy a series of parachutes, and drift down to the Utah desert.

Expected to land at 3:12 a.m. local time, the cargo may reveal answers to fundamental questions about comets, the origins of the solar system, and the building blocks of life.

New Planet Discovered in the Solar System?

Publication: National Geographic News   Date: August 1, 2005   View Article

A chunk of rock and ice that may be a planet has been discovered in the farthest reaches of the solar system, astronomers announced Friday. The object, currently called 2003 UB313, orbits the sun and is larger than Pluto, traditionally considered the ninth planet in the solar system.

The news came hot on the heels of the announcement of the discovery of a separate planet-like object at the edge of the solar system—and amid fears that a rogue astronomer may been attempting to announce the UB313 discovery as his or her own.

© 2008-2010 Collected Writings By John Roach