Discover the most talked about and latest scientific content & concepts.

Concept: Dwarf planet


Planetary formation models show that terrestrial planets are formed by the accretion of tens of Moon- to Mars-sized planetary embryos through energetic giant impacts. However, relics of these large proto-planets are yet to be found. Ureilites are one of the main families of achondritic meteorites and their parent body is believed to have been catastrophically disrupted by an impact during the first 10 million years of the solar system. Here we studied a section of the Almahata Sitta ureilite using transmission electron microscopy, where large diamonds were formed at high pressure inside the parent body. We discovered chromite, phosphate, and (Fe,Ni)-sulfide inclusions embedded in diamond. The composition and morphology of the inclusions can only be explained if the formation pressure was higher than 20 GPa. Such pressures suggest that the ureilite parent body was a Mercury- to Mars-sized planetary embryo.

Concepts: Earth, Sun, Solar System, Planet, Mars, Dwarf planet, Mercury, Venus


Establishing the age of the Moon is critical to understanding solar system evolution and the formation of rocky planets, including Earth. However, despite its importance, the age of the Moon has never been accurately determined. We present uranium-lead dating of Apollo 14 zircon fragments that yield highly precise, concordant ages, demonstrating that they are robust against postcrystallization isotopic disturbances. Hafnium isotopic analyses of the same fragments show extremely low initial (176)Hf/(177)Hf ratios corrected for cosmic ray exposure that are near the solar system initial value. Our data indicate differentiation of the lunar crust by 4.51 billion years, indicating the formation of the Moon within the first ~60 million years after the birth of the solar system.

Concepts: Earth, Sun, Solar System, Moon, Dwarf planet, Venus, Io, Impact crater


There is an increasing interest in the icy moons of the Solar System due to their potential habitability and as targets for future exploratory missions, which include astrobiological goals. Several studies have reported new results describing the details of these moons' geological settings; however, there is still a lack of information regarding the deep subsurface environment of the moons. The purpose of this article is to evaluate the microbial habitability of Europa constrained by terrestrial analogue environments and sustained by radioactive energy provided by natural unstable isotopes. The geological scenarios are based on known deep environments on Earth, and the bacterial ecosystem is based on a sulfate-reducing bacterial ecosystem found 2.8 km below the surface in a basin in South Africa. The results show the possibility of maintaining the modeled ecosystem based on the proposed scenarios and provides directions for future models and exploration missions for a more complete evaluation of the habitability of Europa and of icy moons in general.

Concepts: Energy, Earth, Natural environment, Solar System, Planet, Dwarf planet, Jupiter, Europa


Studies indicate that a fraction of nursing professionals believe in a “lunar effect”-a purported correlation between the phases of the Earth’s moon and human affairs, such as birth rates, blood loss, or fertility.

Concepts: Earth, Moon, Dwarf planet, Lunar eclipse, Natural satellite, Ecliptic


The observable Solar System can be divided into three distinct regions: the rocky terrestrial planets including the asteroids at 0.39 to 4.2 astronomical units (AU) from the Sun (where 1 AU is the mean distance between Earth and the Sun), the gas giant planets at 5 to 30 AU from the Sun, and the icy Kuiper belt objects at 30 to 50 AU from the Sun. The 1,000-kilometre-diameter dwarf planet Sedna was discovered ten years ago and was unique in that its closest approach to the Sun (perihelion) is 76 AU, far greater than that of any other Solar System body. Formation models indicate that Sedna could be a link between the Kuiper belt objects and the hypothesized outer Oort cloud at around 10,000 AU from the Sun. Here we report the presence of a second Sedna-like object, 2012 VP113, whose perihelion is 80 AU. The detection of 2012 VP113 confirms that Sedna is not an isolated object; instead, both bodies may be members of the inner Oort cloud, whose objects could outnumber all other dynamically stable populations in the Solar System.

Concepts: Earth, Solar System, Planet, Mars, Dwarf planet, Jupiter, Pluto, Oort cloud


The dwarf planet Ceres is known to host a considerable amount of water in its interior, and areas of water ice were detected by the Dawn spacecraft on its surface. Moreover, sporadic water and hydroxyl emissions have been observed from space telescopes. We report the detection of water ice in a mid-latitude crater and its unexpected variation with time. The Dawn spectrometer data show a change of water ice signatures over a period of 6 months, which is well modeled as ~2-km2increase of water ice. The observed increase, coupled with Ceres' orbital parameters, points to an ongoing process that seems correlated with solar flux. The reported variation on Ceres' surface indicates that this body is chemically and physically active at the present time.

Concepts: Time, Solar System, Mars, Dwarf planet, Asteroid, Ceres, Asteroid belt, Dawn


Determining the origin of water and the timing of its accretion within the inner solar system is important for understanding the dynamics of planet formation. The timing of water accretion to the inner solar system also has implications for how and when life emerged on Earth. We report in situ measurements of the hydrogen isotopic composition of the mineral apatite in eucrite meteorites, whose parent body is the main-belt asteroid 4 Vesta. These measurements sample one of the oldest hydrogen reservoirs in the solar system and show that Vesta contains the same hydrogen isotopic composition as that of carbonaceous chondrites. Taking into account the old ages of eucrite meteorites and their similarity to Earth’s isotopic ratios of hydrogen, carbon, and nitrogen, we demonstrate that these volatiles could have been added early to Earth, rather than gained during a late accretion event.

Concepts: Solar System, Planet, Mars, Dwarf planet, Jupiter, 4 Vesta, Ceres, Asteroid belt


The asteroid belt contains less than a thousandth of Earth’s mass and is radially segregated, with S-types dominating the inner belt and C-types the outer belt. It is generally assumed that the belt formed with far more mass and was later strongly depleted. We show that the present-day asteroid belt is consistent with having formed empty, without any planetesimals between Mars and Jupiter’s present-day orbits. This is consistent with models in which drifting dust is concentrated into an isolated annulus of terrestrial planetesimals. Gravitational scattering during terrestrial planet formation causes radial spreading, transporting planetesimals from inside 1 to 1.5 astronomical units out to the belt. Several times the total current mass in S-types is implanted, with a preference for the inner main belt. C-types are implanted from the outside, as the giant planets' gas accretion destabilizes nearby planetesimals and injects a fraction into the asteroid belt, preferentially in the outer main belt. These implantation mechanisms are simple by-products of terrestrial and giant planet formation. The asteroid belt may thus represent a repository for planetary leftovers that accreted across the solar system but not in the belt itself.

Concepts: Earth, Solar System, Planet, Mars, Dwarf planet, Jupiter, Neptune, Gas giant


We present orbital bistatic radar observations of a small-body, acquired during occultation by the Dawn spacecraft at asteroid Vesta. The radar forward-scattering properties of different reflection sites are used to assess the textural properties of Vesta’s surface at centimeter-to-decimeter scales and are compared to subsurface hydrogen concentrations observed by Dawn’s Gamma Ray and Neutron Detector to assess potential volatile occurrence in the surface and shallow subsurface. We observe significant differences in surface radar reflectivity, implying substantial spatial variations in centimeter-to-decimeter-scale surface roughness. Our results suggest that unlike the Moon, Vesta’s surface roughness variations cannot be explained by cratering processes only. In particular, the occurrence of heightened hydrogen concentrations within large smoother terrains (over hundreds of square kilometers) suggests that potential ground-ice presence may have contributed to the formation of Vesta’s current surface texture. Our observations are consistent with geomorphological evidence of transient water flow from Dawn Framing Camera images.The Dawn spacecraft has provided orbital bistatic radar observations of a small body in the solar system. Here, the authors present results from Vesta suggesting that smooth terrains with heightened hydrogen concentrations indicate that ground-ice presence potentially helped shape Vesta’s current surface texture.

Concepts: Earth, Solar System, Mars, Moon, Dwarf planet, Space exploration, Asteroid, Ceres


Most stars become white dwarfs after they have exhausted their nuclear fuel (the Sun will be one such). Between one-quarter and one-half of white dwarfs have elements heavier than helium in their atmospheres, even though these elements ought to sink rapidly into the stellar interiors (unless they are occasionally replenished). The abundance ratios of heavy elements in the atmospheres of white dwarfs are similar to the ratios in rocky bodies in the Solar System. This fact, together with the existence of warm, dusty debris disks surrounding about four per cent of white dwarfs, suggests that rocky debris from the planetary systems of white-dwarf progenitors occasionally pollutes the atmospheres of the stars. The total accreted mass of this debris is sometimes comparable to the mass of large asteroids in the Solar System. However, rocky, disintegrating bodies around a white dwarf have not yet been observed. Here we report observations of a white dwarf–WD 1145+017–being transited by at least one, and probably several, disintegrating planetesimals, with periods ranging from 4.5 hours to 4.9 hours. The strongest transit signals occur every 4.5 hours and exhibit varying depths (blocking up to 40 per cent of the star’s brightness) and asymmetric profiles, indicative of a small object with a cometary tail of dusty effluent material. The star has a dusty debris disk, and the star’s spectrum shows prominent lines from heavy elements such as magnesium, aluminium, silicon, calcium, iron, and nickel. This system provides further evidence that the pollution of white dwarfs by heavy elements might originate from disrupted rocky bodies such as asteroids and minor planets.

Concepts: Sun, Solar System, Planet, Dwarf planet, Star, Asteroid, Comet, Asteroid belt