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Charon: A Dark Moon With a Dark Past

Something is rotten in the state of Charon, Pluto’s giant moon. OK maybe not rotten, exactly, but it’s just not…right. Before the New Horizons spacecraft took a tour of the Pluto system in July, scientists guessed they might see a few interesting features on Charon — things like craters, and more craters, and maybe some notable landforms because Charon’s water ice […]…

Pluto’s Colorful, Scaly Terrain Revealed in Detailed Closeups…

The more we see of Pluto, the more stunning it gets – and that’s not because we understand what’s going on. It’s the opposite. Rather than neatly fitting pieces into a big, Pluto-shaped puzzle, NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft is returning data that make it clear just how unbelievably enigmatic this little world is. That’s why […]…

Pluto at Dusk: Spectacular, and Spookily Earthlike

There’s a world near the solar system’s fringe that, in many ways, is more Earthlike than anyone could have imagined. Here, frosted glaciers slowly drain moisture from icy mountains that tower over smooth, lowland basins. Overhead, the sky is filled with haze – lots and lots of it, carved into multiple layers. That world is Pluto. […]…

In Space, Every Goodbye Could Be Our Last

Getting to know a new place in space is kind of like becoming familiar with a new city: It reveals itself slowly, a patch of terrain or a new neighborhood here, a curious landform or hidden garden there. Over time, all those pieces assemble themselves into an image of somewhere we think we know. But it’s necessarily superficial. For the most […]…

In the Jungle, You Can Swim in a Stream of Stars

Two weeks ago, I was staring at an unbelievably star-studded sky. We were in the Peruvian Amazon, far from city lights, and had set up camp along the Alto Madre de Dios, one of the region’s mighty rivers. I wasn’t there to star gaze – my assignment was to report on the jungle tribe that […]…

Beyond Pluto: Let’s Go See Some More New Worlds

Two weeks ago, Earthlings got their first good look at the splattered, champagne-colored sphere that is dwarf planet Pluto. But it wasn’t just NASA’s 4.1 million Instagram followers, or the 3.4 million people following President Obama on Twitter, or the crowds in Times Square that got a little googly-eyed at the sight of that distant, frosted […]…

The New $100 Million Search For Life in the Cosmos

Can you hear me? More than a half-century after the first modern search for communicating extraterrestrial life, humanity’s quest to find intelligent beings in the cosmos is getting a much-needed boost. Today, Silicon Valley billionaire Yuri Milner announced a $100 million project that will scan the sky for radio signals from other worlds. Called Breakthrough […]…

Charon: The Mega-Moon With a Mountain in a Moat

Pluto’s largest moon, Charon, is almost as enigmatic as Pluto. As NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft helps unveil the underworldly moon, most of its features are turning out to be more puzzling than expected. Early images showed an unexpectedly dark polar cap, which scientists think could be the result of material migrating over from Pluto. And […]…