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

Concept: Ecliptic


The deep nitrogen-covered basin on Pluto, informally named Sputnik Planitia, is located very close to the longitude of Pluto’s tidal axis and may be an impact feature, by analogy with other large basins in the Solar System. Reorientation of Sputnik Planitia arising from tidal and rotational torques can explain the basin’s present-day location, but requires the feature to be a positive gravity anomaly, despite its negative topography. Here we argue that if Sputnik Planitia did indeed form as a result of an impact and if Pluto possesses a subsurface ocean, the required positive gravity anomaly would naturally result because of shell thinning and ocean uplift, followed by later modest nitrogen deposition. Without a subsurface ocean, a positive gravity anomaly requires an implausibly thick nitrogen layer (exceeding 40 kilometres). To prolong the lifetime of such a subsurface ocean to the present day and to maintain ocean uplift, a rigid, conductive water-ice shell is required. Because nitrogen deposition is latitude-dependent, nitrogen loading and reorientation may have exhibited complex feedbacks.

Concepts: Earth, Sun, Solar System, Mars, Moon, Neptune, Io, Ecliptic


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 earliest dynamic and thermal history of the Moon is not well understood. The hydrogen content of deposits near the lunar poles may yield insight into this history, because these deposits (which are probably composed of water ice) survive only if they remain in permanent shadow. If the orientation of the Moon has changed, then the locations of the shadowed regions will also have changed. The polar hydrogen deposits have been mapped by orbiting neutron spectrometers, and their observed spatial distribution does not match the expected distribution of water ice inferred from present-day lunar temperatures. This finding is in contrast to the distribution of volatiles observed in similar thermal environments at Mercury’s poles. Here we show that polar hydrogen preserves evidence that the spin axis of the Moon has shifted: the hydrogen deposits are antipodal and displaced equally from each pole along opposite longitudes. From the direction and magnitude of the inferred reorientation, and from analysis of the moments of inertia of the Moon, we hypothesize that this change in the spin axis, known as true polar wander, was caused by a low-density thermal anomaly beneath the Procellarum region. Radiogenic heating within this region resulted in the bulk of lunar mare volcanism and altered the density structure of the Moon, changing its moments of inertia. This resulted in true polar wander consistent with the observed remnant polar hydrogen. This thermal anomaly still exists and, in part, controls the current orientation of the Moon. The Procellarum region was most geologically active early in lunar history, which implies that polar wander initiated billions of years ago and that a large portion of the measured polar hydrogen is ancient, recording early delivery of water to the inner Solar System. Our hypothesis provides an explanation for the antipodal distribution of lunar polar hydrogen, and connects polar volatiles to the geologic and geophysical evolution of the Moon and the bombardment history of the early Solar System.

Concepts: Oxygen, Water, Earth, Sun, Solar System, Moon, Ecliptic, Lunar mare


In the giant-impact hypothesis for lunar origin, the Moon accreted from an equatorial circum-terrestrial disk; however, the current lunar orbital inclination of five degrees requires a subsequent dynamical process that is still unclear. In addition, the giant-impact theory has been challenged by the Moon’s unexpectedly Earth-like isotopic composition. Here we show that tidal dissipation due to lunar obliquity was an important effect during the Moon’s tidal evolution, and the lunar inclination in the past must have been very large, defying theoretical explanations. We present a tidal evolution model starting with the Moon in an equatorial orbit around an initially fast-spinning, high-obliquity Earth, which is a probable outcome of giant impacts. Using numerical modelling, we show that the solar perturbations on the Moon’s orbit naturally induce a large lunar inclination and remove angular momentum from the Earth-Moon system. Our tidal evolution model supports recent high-angular-momentum, giant-impact scenarios to explain the Moon’s isotopic composition and provides a new pathway to reach Earth’s climatically favourable low obliquity.

Concepts: Earth, Planet, Moon, Dwarf planet, Ecliptic, Inclination, Orbital plane


Internal gravity waves are generated as adjustment radiation whenever a sudden change in forcing causes the atmosphere to depart from its large-scale balanced state. Such a forcing anomaly occurs during a solar eclipse, when the Moon’s shadow cools part of the Earth’s surface. The resulting atmospheric gravity waves are associated with pressure and temperature perturbations, which in principle are detectable both at the surface and aloft. In this study, surface pressure and temperature data from two UK sites at Reading and Lerwick are examined for eclipse-driven gravity wave perturbations during the 20 March 2015 solar eclipse over northwest Europe. Radiosonde wind data from the same two sites are also analysed using a moving parcel analysis method, to determine the periodicities of the waves aloft. On this occasion, the perturbations both at the surface and aloft are found not to be confidently attributable to eclipse-driven gravity waves. We conclude that the complex synoptic weather conditions over the UK at the time of this particular eclipse helped to mask any eclipse-driven gravity waves.This article is part of the themed issue ‘Atmospheric effects of solar eclipses stimulated by the 2015 UK eclipse’.

Concepts: Earth, Moon, Lunar eclipse, Eclipse, Ecliptic, Gravity wave, Solar eclipse, Saros cycle


The Moon is generally thought to have formed from the debris ejected by the impact of a planet-sized object with the proto-Earth towards the end of planetary accretion. Models of the impact process predict that the lunar material was disaggregated into a circumplanetary disk and that lunar accretion subsequently placed the Moon in a near-equatorial orbit. Forward integration of the lunar orbit from this initial state predicts a modern inclination at least an order of magnitude smaller than the lunar value-a long-standing discrepancy known as the lunar inclination problem. Here we show that the modern lunar orbit provides a sensitive record of gravitational interactions with Earth-crossing planetesimals that were not yet accreted at the time of the Moon-forming event. The currently observed lunar orbit can naturally be reproduced via interaction with a small quantity of mass (corresponding to 0.0075-0.015 Earth masses eventually accreted to the Earth) carried by a few bodies, consistent with the constraints and models of late accretion. Although the encounter process has a stochastic element, the observed value of the lunar inclination is among the most likely outcomes for a wide range of parameters. The excitation of the lunar orbit is most readily reproduced via collisionless encounters of planetesimals with the Earth-Moon system with strong dissipation of tidal energy on the early Earth. This mechanism obviates the need for previously proposed (but idealized) excitation mechanisms, places the Moon-forming event in the context of the formation of Earth, and constrains the pristineness of the dynamical state of the Earth-Moon system.

Concepts: Earth, Plate tectonics, Solar System, Planet, Moon, Dwarf planet, Natural satellite, Ecliptic


Residence at high altitude has been associated with lower obesity rates probably due to hypoxia conditions. However, there is no evidence of this association in a free-living population.

Concepts: Oxygen, Obesity, Sun, Avicenna, Altitude sickness, Zenith, Ecliptic


From a low-income country like Malawi, it can be difficult to appreciate the tangible fruits of a decades-long international war on cancer. Shooting for the moon in cancer science is important, but so is shooting for a world that is just and equitable.

Concepts: Africa, Earth, Moon, Dwarf planet, Lunar phase, Natural satellite, Ecliptic, Alhazen


Stellar-mass black holes (BHs) are mostly found in x-ray transients, a subclass of x-ray binaries that exhibit violent outbursts. None of the 50 galactic BHs known show eclipses, which is surprising for a random distribution of inclinations. Swift J1357.2-093313 is a very faint x-ray transient detected in 2011. On the basis of spectroscopic evidence, we show that it contains a BH in a 2.8-hour orbital period. Further, high-time-resolution optical light curves display profound dips without x-ray counterparts. The observed properties are best explained by the presence of an obscuring toroidal structure moving outward in the inner disk, seen at very high inclination. This observational feature should play a key role in models of inner accretion flows and jet collimation mechanisms in stellar-mass BHs.

Concepts: Scientific method, Light, Supernova, Black hole, Eris, Binary star, Stellar black hole, Ecliptic


Elegant new experiments show that migrant birds at high European latitudes can use magnetic declination to infer longitude.

Concepts: Navigation, Angle, Global Positioning System, Latitude, Longitude, Ecliptic, Geodetic system, Minute of arc