Magnetoastrocoolness: How Cosmic Magnetic Fields Shape Planetary Systems

For one thing, they can cause embryonic planets to spiral inward.

AUSTIN, Texas—Astrophysicists have a funny attitude toward magnetic fields. You might say they feel both repelled and attracted. Gravitation is assumed to rule the cosmos, so models typically neglect magnetism, which for most researchers is just as well, because the theory of magnetism has a forbidding reputation. The basic equations are simple enough, solving them […]

Something Slammed Into the Rings of Saturn and Jupiter

And we’re seeing the aftermath years later.

PASADENA—This week I’m here at the annual Division for Planetary Sciences meeting. Much as I enjoy Pasadena, it’s rather a comedown from last year’s meeting place in Puerto Rico. Leave aside the natural attractions: even the freeways in Puerto Rico are in better repair than California’s. Then again, we don’t come here for the earthly […]

What Do We Really Know About the Kuiper Belt?

Kindly explain to me what Quaoar is. A fifth dispatch from the annual planets meeting.

FAJARDO, Puerto Rico—It smacked of a cunning plan. The organizers of last week’s planets conference put one of the best talks in the very last session of the very last day. Most scientists had either left for the airport or the beach. I almost didn’t make it myself—the room and time got switched at the […]

LCROSS Strikes Earth’s Moon As Other Moons Continue to Puzzle

If planet formation is a mystery, satellite formation is a mystery upon a mystery. A fourth dispatch from the annual planets meeting.

FAJARDO, Puerto Rico—”We could have just stayed in bed” was one comment I overheard this morning from planetary scientists who had woken up early to see NASA’s Lunar Crater Observation and Sensing Satellite (LCROSS) crash into the lunar surface. At 7:31 A.M. (Eastern Daylight Time) the spacecraft’s Centaur-class rocket booster slammed (deliberately) into the moon, […]

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