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Advances in Planetary Science

Planetary science has long enjoyed an important role in Nature history.

Nature has published many important advances since the beginning of space exploration, from a seminal series of papers on Giotto observations of comet Halley, to the detection of the first Kuiper belt object, the presentation of the Grand Tack theory and the first results of the Huygens probe that landed on Titan in 2005, just to name a few.

This collection aims to highlight just a few of the discoveries in planetology published by Nature Research in the past three years. Five different journals contribute to this collection (Nature, Nature Geoscience, Nature Physics, Nature Chemistry and Nature Communications), demonstrating the widespread interest and the great diversity of themes presented in our pages.

Nature Astronomy, a new member of the Nature family set to launch in January 2017, welcomes planetary science as an important part of its scope and will be the latest addition to this great tradition.

This collection is formed by six main sections, each dedicated to a different theme or target: Comparative planetology, Mars' surface flows, Dwarf planets, Comets-asteroids, Moons, and Gas giant planets. The sections contain a small set of manuscripts illustrating the Nature output in the various fields. Different types of publications are represented, from standard Articles and Letters, to the various other formats, including News & Views, Commentaries and Reviews, which the Nature journals propose to the scientific community as companion pieces for a more in-depth analysis and discussion on the published original research.

Articles on the Research and Comment pages are freely available to access for a limited time.

 

The Pluto image in the header is from NASA/JHUAPL/SwRI.

Comments

This year, NASA's Dawn and New Horizons rendezvoused with Ceres and Pluto, respectively. These worlds, despite their modest sizes, have much to teach us about the accretion of the Solar System and its dynamical evolution.

Commentary | | Nature Physics

Observations of a stellar occultation by (10199) Chariklo, a Centaur-class outer-system asteroid orbiting between Saturn and Uranus, reveal that it has a ring system, a feature previously observed only for the four giant planets. Chariklo, with a diameter of about 250 km, has two narrow and dense rings separated by a small gap, probably due to the presence of a (yet-to-be-found) kilometre-sized satellite. The discovery of these rings raises questions about the formation and dynamical evolution of planetary rings. For one thing, it seems likely that planetary rings are much more common than previously thought.

News & Views | | Nature

Between 2005 and 2012 the Cassini spacecraft's Visual and Infrared Mapping Spectrometer (VIMS) obtained 252 images of the plume of water vapour and ice particles emitting from near the south pole of Saturn's moon Enceladus. These images have been analysed with a view to establishing the nature of the geological forces driving the plume. The authors show that as Enceladus moves along its elliptical orbit, the brightness of the plume peaks — and larger amounts of material join the plume — when the moon is furthest from Saturn. This is consistent with a model in which tidal forces have an important role in controlling plume activity, perhaps by changing the width of the conduits between the surface and various underground reservoirs supplying the fissures through which the plume emerges.

News & Views | | Nature

In the second of two essays looking at organic chemistry that can be found in the Solar System, Bruce C. Gibb focuses on the gas and ice giants as well as their satellites — concluding the tour on Saturn's fascinating moon Titan.

Thesis | | Nature Chemistry

Research

'Pebble accretion' models for the formation of the solid cores of gas giant planets assume that centimetre- to metre-sized objects or pebbles are concentrated by aerodynamic drag and then gravitationally collapse to form 100–1,000 km objects. These 'planetesimals' would then efficiently accrete leftover pebbles to produce cores in only a few thousand years. However, simulations suggest that rather than creating a few large planetary cores, the models produce a population of hundreds of Earth-mass objects. Harold Levison et al. resolve this difficulty by showing that if the pebbles form sufficiently slowly, gravitational interactions between the planetesimals can lead to the formation of one to four gas giants, in agreement with the observed structure of the Solar System.

Letter | | Nature

Observations of a stellar occultation by (10199) Chariklo, a Centaur-class outer-system asteroid orbiting between Saturn and Uranus, reveal that it has a ring system, a feature previously observed only for the four giant planets. Chariklo, with a diameter of about 250 km, has two narrow and dense rings separated by a small gap, probably due to the presence of a (yet-to-be-found) kilometre-sized satellite. The discovery of these rings raises questions about the formation and dynamical evolution of planetary rings. For one thing, it seems likely that planetary rings are much more common than previously thought.

Letter | | Nature

Between 2005 and 2012 the Cassini spacecraft's Visual and Infrared Mapping Spectrometer (VIMS) obtained 252 images of the plume of water vapour and ice particles emitting from near the south pole of Saturn's moon Enceladus. These images have been analysed with a view to establishing the nature of the geological forces driving the plume. The authors show that as Enceladus moves along its elliptical orbit, the brightness of the plume peaks — and larger amounts of material join the plume — when the moon is furthest from Saturn. This is consistent with a model in which tidal forces have an important role in controlling plume activity, perhaps by changing the width of the conduits between the surface and various underground reservoirs supplying the fissures through which the plume emerges.

Letter | | Nature