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Special Report Gas Giants

Investigating the Mysterious Snow on Saturn's Moon

by Amelia Pearson, age 13

The snow on Saturn’s moon, Enceladus, can bury almost any skyscraper on Earth. Scientists would like to find out why.

The snow’s depth on Enceladus shows that its water vapor could have been more active in the past. Geysers on the moon allow for water from a salty ocean under an icy shell to rise to the surface of Enceladus. Some of this water contributes to forming one of Saturn’s rings. According to the researchers, the rest of this water seems to land back on the ground in the form of snow. Scientists believe that if they could fully understand the snow's properties, it could help uncover Enceladus’ history.

For scientists to fully understand the properties of the snow on Enceladus, they looked into Iceland. In Iceland, there are marks in the ground made from loose rocks, ice, or snow called pit chains. Scientists discovered they are very similar to features on Enceladus. [Read More]

Are Saturn's Rings Destined to Vanish?

by Avaiana House, age 14

Saturn is the sixth planet from the Sun and the second-largest in the Solar System. It is known for the colorful rings surrounding it, made up of rock and icy materials. These rings consists of colors such as pink, red, brown or gray.

These rings are vanishing and in fact, according to Japanese scientists who study the planet, the rings will no longer be around in about 300 million years. This is attributed to the impact of micrometeorites and the sun's radiation [Read More]

Scientists Watch as Jupiter Comes Close to Planet Earth

by Allison Torres, age 14

Earlier this year, people were able to get a glimpse of Jupiter's rings and moons with only a telescope or binoculars. Jupiter is the largest planet in our solar system and in September it passed closer to Earth than it has in 59 years.

Jupiter is at opposition, meaning Earth is halfway between the planet and the sun, with about 367 million miles between Earth and Jupiter. At its farthest point, Earth and Jupiter are about 600 million miles apart. Patrick Hartigan, a professor of physics and astronomy at Rice University in Houston, said the planet would rise around sunset and look pearly white to the naked eye. [Read More]

Local Observatory Renamed For Woman STEM Pioneer

by Mariah Justice, age 17

“Astronomy compels the soul to look upward, and leads us from this world to another,” said Greek philosopher Plato. With the renaming event on September 7 for the Bell Burnell Observatory— previously the Oscar Mayer Observatory—Madison has a new facility for cultivating the exploration of astronomy.

The history of the Bell Burnell Observatory dates back to 1880, when the director of the Washburn Observatory, located on University of Wisconsin-Madison's (UW) campus, felt there was too much student traffic for the University to only have one observatory. This notion spurred him to personally fund the construction of the student observatory, which was then called the Student Observatory. However, as Madison grew, light pollution obstructed both the Student and Washburn observatories, rendering the facilities obsolete. [Read More]

Saturn: A Fascinating Planet with Unique Characteristics and Enigmatic Moons

by Kaleab Afeworki, age 11

Saturn is the second-largest planet in the solar system. There are many features of Saturn that make it an interesting planet to study.

Saturn's the only plant in the solar system that has less density than water, it has a mean density of 0.687 grams per cubic centimeter. Saturn’s mass is about 95 times the Earth's mass. Saturn is also made out of hydrogen and helium, some of the lightest gasses in the universe. It is made up of approximately 75 percent hydrogen and 25 percent helium with some other substances as well. In fact, Saturn could float in your bathtub! [Read More]

The Fiery Death of Leonard’s Comet

by Leilani McNeal, age 17

After scientists expected its demise for a year, Leonard’s Comet, the brightest comet of 2021, has finally disintegrated. But its tumultuous journey to the sun has caused excitement among astronomers.

Comet C/2021 A1, generally referred to as Leonard’s Comet, began breaking apart after passing the sun on January 3, 2022 at perihelion, which occurs when a comet is at its closest to the sun. [Read More]

New Count Reveals Jupiter has Most Moons in Solar System

by Lah’Nylah Bivens, age 15

Astronomers discovered 12 new moons in Jupiter’s orbit in 2021 and 2022. That discovery bumped up Jupiter’s moon count to 92 moons, which is more than any other planet in our solar system. Previously, Saturn had the record for the most confirmed moons at 83.

Jupiter’s new moons have been added to the International Astronomical Union's Minor Planet Center’s list of moons. Scott Sheppard of the Carnegie Institution, who was one of the people to discover the moons, has also participated in 70 other moon findings around Jupiter. [Read More]

Would You Want to Live on Neptune?

by Dilma Attidekou, age 8

Neptune, the smallest out of all outer planets, is known for its blue color. Methane is the reason for its color. Neptune has less then four percent of methane within its atmosphere.

Neptune is very far from Earth, approximately 2.5 billion miles away. Pluto is usually farther from the sun than Neptune, but once every 248 years, Pluto crosses in front of Neptune. The planet has enormous storms, but they don’t last as long as Jupiter's great Red Spot.

Neptune takes 165 Earth years to orbit around the sun. Due to the planet's orbit being almost a perfect circle, its seasons are all of even length. Neptune’s climate and seasons are different from Earth’s seasons. [Read More]

Understanding Gas Giants: What Is a “Hot Jupiter” Anyway?

by Elim Eyobed, age 11

What are gas giants? Gas giants are large planets of relatively low density consisting predominantly of hydrogen and helium, such as Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, and Neptune. These planets, unlike their counterparts, don’t have hard surfaces that are made from rock. Instead they’re comprised of “swirling gases and a solid core.”

For most of human history, our understanding of planets has evolved, primarily based on the eight (or nine) planets in our own sun system. Over the past 25 years, the discovery of more than 4,000 exoplanets, or planets outside our sun system, has changed our understanding. [Read More]

The Cosmic Oasis and Jupiter's Largest Moons

by Amelia Pearson, age 13

One of the three largest moons on Jupiter, named Europa, is said to be the most promising place to find alien life in our solar system today.

Recently, there was a mission launched by the European Space Agency called the Juice mission to Jupiter. The Juice mission’s main job is to make observations of Jupiter. The spacecraft's purpose is to also get close-up images of the three largest moons of Jupiter. The three largest moons are Europa, Ganymede, and Callisto. They are all very icy and it is believed beneath their surfaces, there are oceans.

These moons were not discovered until the 17th century by Galileo. He also discovered a fourth moon on Jupiter named Io. This moon is hot and fiery, covered in mostly volcanoes, which are the most active out of anywhere in the solar system. Galileo discovered these four moons on Jupiter, and he realized that Earth is not the center of the universe. [Read More]

Webb Space Telescope Sends New Images to Scientists on Planet Earth

by Lah’Nylah Bivens, age 15

The James Space Webb Telescope launched on December 25th, 2021. It is the newest and most powerful space telescope. It has been sending images and data to scientists on Earth since early summer 2022.

This telescope helps scientists study information and data from our universe's earliest galaxies and stars. NASA scientists have been discussing the image they received of the Southern Ring planetary nebula. The image depicts a gas that surrounds a dying star. Researchers found the image fascinating, particularly since this is what our own sun could look like in five billion years. They also report that the star is pushing out its outer layers which include oxygen and carbon that could help feed other space objects. This happens when a star is dying and a new star is coming to life. [Read More]

Mysterious Ring Discovered in the Outer Solar System

by Jonah Smith, age 14

Jupiter, Neptune, Uranus, and Saturn all have one major thing in common: they all have rings. Some might not be as visible as Saturn’s rings, but they do exist. Even things like dwarf planets and asteroids have rings. These rings all are specifically distanced from the parent body. Quaoar, however, has rings that fall outside this domain. This makes Quaoar’s rings seemingly impossible.

Quaoar is a dwarf planet. Dwarf planets are planet-like bodies that do not fit all of the requirements to be deemed a planet. Quaoar itself is an icy body smaller than Pluto inside the Kuiper Belt at our solar system's edge. Due to it being so far away, it makes it difficult to research.

Even with these difficulties, Bruno Morgado, an astrologer at Federal University of Rio de Janeiro in Brazil, found a way to gather information about Quaoar. Morgado formed a team to observe when Quaoar blocked the light of a star. This observation revealed details about its size and its own atmosphere. [Read More]

Mars: Planet of Mystery and Discovery

by Dayanis Torres Cruz, age 13

Mars was named after an ancient Roman god of war. The rocks and soil on the surface of the planet are usually a type of rusty chestnut color, making Mars known as the red planet.

The surface of Mars is flat, empty, and rocky, containing many canyons. Mars even has the the largest volcano in the solar system. Mars moves around the Sun in an oval orbit, it can go from 128 to 155 million miles away from the Sun.

Earth and Mars have some similarities and differences. Like Earth, Mars has three main layers: the crust, mantle and core. Time on Mars is different than Earth; a year on Mars is 687 days while a year on Earth is 365 days. Earth has only one moon while the red planet has two moons. Scientists think about the size, mass, rotation rate, and overall activity of Mars but do not know exactly what Mars looks like under the surface, although they’ve made models of the interior. Similar to Earth, Mars has an atmosphere, however, the gas on Mars is not particularly thick. [Read More]

Hubble Telescope Explores Another Giant Red Spot on Jupiter

by Giovanni Tecuatl, age 17

Did you know that storms form in places other than on Planet Earth? NASA has studied storms on planets in our Solar System for many years. And NASA continues to study large storms on Jupiter. In August of 2020, NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope captured images of another giant storm on the surface of Jupiter. Scientists refer to this area of storms as “Red Spot Junior.”

Jupiter is known as the “Monster Planet” due to its large size and turbulent atmosphere. While the pictures were being taken, NASA found that new storms were brewing on Jupiter and that the planet’s famous Great Red Spot region was preparing to change color once again. [Read More]

In a Distant Part of our Solar System, Astronomers Find New Ring Orbiting a Small, Icy World

by Allison Torres, age 14

Billions of miles beyond Neptune, astronomers have found a new ring in space orbiting a small ice world named Quaoar. It was discovered by an international group of researchers with several Brazilian members.

Sixty researchers from different countries used telescopes on Earth and in space to confirm that the ring is orbiting approximately 2,500 miles above the surface of Quaoar. [Read More]