It’s coming — on September 27 there will be a total lunar eclipse, the entirety of which will be visible across much of the western hemisphere! During total lunar eclipses the Moon passes through the shadow of Earth cast by the Sun, and is colored by dusky blue, purple, and crimson light as its normally harsh glare is briefly reduced to nearly nothing before the process reverses. It’s a beautiful cosmic event to behold and this year it’s an extra special treat — not only will the Moon be totally eclipsed but it will also be at perigee, the closest point to Earth along its 27.3-day-long orbit. These days when the Moon is full at perigee it gets called a “supermoon”, and on Sept. 27 it will be totally eclipsed during the closest supermoon of the entire year. That hasn’t happened since 1982, when The Clash was Rocking the Casbah, times were fast at Ridgemont High, and virtually no one knew what an Ewok was. (Yes, kids, it’s true.)
Finally, we have proof of the moon’s “noble” heritage! Measurements from NASA’s Lunar Atmosphere and Dust Environment Explorer, aka LADEE, have confirmed the long-suspected presence of neon in its exosphere (neon is one of the noble gases — see what I did there?) along with isotopes of argon and helium. The relative concentrations of each of these elements also appears to depend on the time of day, which, on the Moon, lasts 29.5 Earth-days long.
People of past civilizations had their own ideas of what the stars in the night sky are… distant campfires, lights shining through holes in a vast blanket covering the Earth, deceased ancestors, countless and constantly-traveling gods… whether or not they really believed these stories or if they were just tales to inspire poets and provide entertainment on dark nights is hard to tell. But one thing is for certain: we now know what those points of light really are, thanks to the past several centuries of hard work by astronomers, scientists, and engineers, and although that may make ancient tales about the stars obsolete it certainly doesn’t reduce the inherent wonder and beauty of the night sky – if anything, it has increased it many times over.
Recently French cartoonist Boulet illustrated his own lifelong fascination with space in a webcomic published on his Bouletcorp.com site. In a Dante-esque fashion he takes the figure of French singer Georges Brassens on a trip across the solar system, showing him why science and rational thought have not chased away fascination and beauty along with “the old gods”, as Brassens sang in a 1964 song (which I was not familiar with.) “Eureka” was not a death sentence for wonder!
It’s a really beautiful comic, with brilliant timing and subtle animations to highlight keep points along the way. Don’t scroll too fast.
HT to Laurie C. for the link.
NASA’s venerable Cassini spacecraft may still have another two years left in its exploration of the Saturn system but on Monday, August 17, it had its final intimate visit with Dione, one of Saturn’s largest natural satellites at nearly 700 miles (1,126 km) across. On that day Cassini passed within 300 miles (480 km) of Dione at 2:33 p.m. EDT (18:33 UTC), not its closest flyby ever but certainly near enough to get some truly spectacular views of the icy moon’s ancient and cratered surface.
Check out some of Cassini’s last close-up images of Dione below:
In case you were concerned, there are no large* asteroids, comets, or anything else of a cosmic origin on a destructive collision course with Earth in the foreseeable future – and that most certainly includes this coming September.
Let’s take a look back at our own planet for a moment with this stunning photo captured from the Space Station. This shot, taken on the night of Aug. 10, 2015, shows lightning flashes in thunderstorms over southern Mexico. Along the right edge bright red and purple streamers can be seen extending high into the atmosphere above a particularly powerful flash: a full-on “red sprite” caught on camera!