Moon: Though it has no overall magnetic field like the Earth, the Moon’s surface does have localized magnetized regions. Turns out that these deflect the Sun’s continuous blasts of high-speed atomic fragments in interesting ways, keeping specific spots on the Moon from getting nonstop lethal radiation. Also, some of the Sun’s material bounces off the Moon surface – reflected like an echo – and flies back up into space.
Mercury: It’s now found to have a tail like a comet. Mercury’s surface oozes off a little bit of sodium, and these atoms stream off into space, where the solar wind pushes on them like a weathervane. The result is a tenuous, barely-there-but-detectable tail that always streams away from the Sun, just like a comet.
Venus: two interesting discoveries. First, its winds move 60 times faster than the planet spins, which is pretty amazing. That would be like our own planet’s high-up winds blowing at 60,000 miles an hour! (The actual top speed of our upper atmosphere winds is about 300 miles per hour). But at Venus’ poles, the winds are very nearly calm. Second new discovery: Venus has lightning that flashes with about the same intensity and frequency as the lightning here on Earth – or about 100 flashes a second when the entire planet is considered.
Mars: The planet’s polar caps look white, and the question has always been: How much of this is “dry ice” (solid carbon dioxide) and how much is water ice? Now it seems the carbon ice forms a layer on top of the water ice. When spring comes, the CO2 sublimates, exposing the water ice below – which only then can sublimate too, or change directly to vapor. No liquid water is possible on Mars because the air pressure is too low.
Jupiter: That’s the brightest “star” in the sky these nights, by far. Through telescopes it continues to display only one main dark belt – for the first time since 1973.
Saturn: The ringed planet, which is currently hidden behind the Sun, has auroras. The news is that these “Northern Lights” brighten and dim in sync with that planet’s 10 ¾-hour spin.
Titan (Saturn’s biggest moon): The Cassini spacecraft has found that it has seven-year-long seasons. Saturn and Titan had their Spring Equinox last year, and this has apparently produced changes in the weather. The overcast clouds over Titan’s poles are clearing away, and the Sun is coming out.
There you go: the latest Planet News. And guess what? Not one word about tax increases, since property assessment rates are still attractively low in places that have no oxygen.