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Oxygen detected in atmosphere of Saturn's moon Dione: Discovery could mean ingredients for life are abundant on icy space bodies

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BestAstronomy (Mar. 2, 2012) — Los Alamos National Laboratory scientists and an international research team have announced discovery of molecular oxygen ions (O2+) in the upper-most atmosphere of Dione, one of the 62 known moons orbiting the ringed planet. The research appeared recently in Geophysical Research Letters and was made possible via instruments aboard NASA's Cassini spacecraft, which was launched in 1997.

Dione -- discovered in 1684 by astronomer Giovanni Cassini (after whom the spacecraft was named) -- orbits Saturn at roughly the same distance as our own moon orbits Earth. The tiny moon is a mere 700 miles wide and appears to be a thick, pockmarked layer of water ice surrounding a smaller rock core. As it...

NASA's Galileo reveals magma 'ocean' beneath surface of Jupiter's moon

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— A new analysis of data from NASA's Galileo spacecraft has revealed that beneath the surface of Jupiter's volcanic moon Io is an "ocean" of molten or partially molten magma.

The finding, from a study published May 13 in the journal Science, is the first direct confirmation of such a magma layer on Io and explains why the moon is the most volcanic object known in the solar system. The research was conducted by...

— A new analysis of data from NASA's Galileo spacecraft has revealed that...

Beams of electrons link Saturn with its moon Enceladus

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— Data from NASA's Cassini spacecraft have revealed that Enceladus, one of Saturn's diminutive moons, is linked to Saturn by powerful electrical currents -- beams of electrons that flow back and forth between the planet and moon.

The finding is part of a paper published in Nature.

CAPS, one of the instruments on board Cassini which made the electron beam discovery, includes a electron sensor called CAPS-ELS -- led by...

— Data from NASA's Cassini spacecraft have revealed that...

Mysteries of Jupiter and Saturn rings: Forensic sleuthing ties ring ripples to impacts

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— Like forensic scientists examining fingerprints at a cosmic crime scene, scientists working with data from NASA's Cassini, Galileo and New Horizons missions have traced telltale ripples in the rings of Saturn and Jupiter back to collisions with cometary fragments dating back more than 10 years ago.

The ripple-producing culprit, in the case of Jupiter, was comet Shoemaker-Levy 9, whose debris cloud hurtled through the...

— Like forensic scientists examining fingerprints at a cosmic...

New observations of the giant planet orbiting beta Pictoris

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— Astronomy & Astrophysics publishes new high angular resolution observations of the giant planet orbiting the star β Pictoris. Located at 63.4 light-years from the Sun, β Pic is a very young star of about 12 million years old [1], which is 75% more massive than our Sun. β Pic is well known for harboring an extended and structured circumstellar disk. It was actually the first star to have its disk directly imaged m...

— Astronomy & Astrophysics publishes new high angular...