So now that NASA’s Dawn spacecraft has been in orbit around Ceres for seven months, has the nature of its strange bright spots finally been determined? Are they brilliantly reflective deposits of water ice, as many initially suspected? Or just some curiously-bright rock faces? (Or the metallic remains of an ancient alien space base, like more than a few folks have imagined?) As it turns out, Ceres’ bright spots may be none of these (and especially not that last one… puh-leeze) — they may be enormous deposits of salt.
If you’re a space fan and you’ve decided to hold off seeing The Martian on opening weekend until you know what to expect, I totally understand — I very rarely see films on opening weekends myself (I have a thing about overcrowded theaters, but that’s another story.) And I also hate to be sorely disappointed in films, which is all too often the case when I’m going in with particularly high expectations. This of course was exactly what I had with The Martian, having read and enjoyed Andy Weir’s book shortly after it was published and subsequently being thrilled not even a year later to hear that one of my favorite directors (Sir Ridley Scott) would be making the movie version of the novel. But, being the big ol’ space geek that I am I felt I would have been amiss to not see the film ASAP, and so I went this past Saturday afternoon. Here’s what I thought of it.
(Spoiler: just writing this gives me a big smile, so you already kinda know how I feel!)
So on the same week that the highly-anticipated film “The Martian” opens in U.S. theaters (you are going to go see it, I assume) NASA revealed the latest discovery regarding the Red Planet: there is water on the surface there, salty rivulets that periodically run down steep slopes in Hale Crater and stain its sands with dark streaks.
It might not be something that Mark Watney would want to guzzle a glassful of, but it is a major finding for planetary scientists!
Ever since we got our first good look at Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko from the approaching Rosetta spacecraft in 2014 it has been considered to be a textbook example of a contact binary, with its “rubber duckie” double-lobed shape consisting of an oval “head” and flat-bottomed “body” joined by a “neck.’ Now, using data gathered by Rosetta’s OSIRIS instrument while in permanent orbit, scientists are certain that this is indeed the case: 67P/C-G as we see it today was created by the slow-speed collision of two separate comets, each once an independent and fully-formed object in its own right (and not, as the alternate hypothesis suggested, via the gradual erosion of a once-larger single object.)
Read more about these findings and how they were determined on ESA’s Rosetta site here.
The Saturn V line of heavy launch vehicles used for NASA’s Apollo program were to this day the most powerful rockets ever used, and this video shows an intimate on-pad view of the ignition and liftoff of the one that carried Apollo 11 into space on July 16, 1969. Captured at 500 frames per second, the mesmerizing 8 minutes of footage represent 30 seconds in real time (as described in the video by Mark Gray of Spacecraft Films.)
Why? Because watching giant machines ride controlled mega-explosions into space will never not be fun!
You can view a similar high-speed video of the Apollo 13 Saturn launch here, and check out some of the interesting Apollo 11 post-launch “B-roll” footage captured by the many cameras set up around the pad below:
Last night a large part of the world’s population was treated to a relatively rare variety of a not-so-rare night sky spectacle: a total lunar eclipse that happened to coincide with the closest perigee Moon (aka “supermoon”) of the year. The last time these scenarios lined up this way was in 1982, and it won’t occur exactly like that again until 2033. While some parts of the U.S. were clouded out (Los Angeles and Las Vegas included, oddly enough) it was a clear night here in Rhode Island and I took the opportunity to capture some photos of the eclipse from the State House lawn, where I could include the iconic statue of the “Independent Man” atop the capitol’s neoclassical dome.
See some photos of the eclipse from around the world on NASA’s Flickr album here, and check out a couple more of my photos below: