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When a Comet Met Ganymede

Galileo image of a crater chain on Jupiter's moon Ganymede (NASA/JPL)

Galileo image of a crater chain on Jupiter’s moon Ganymede (NASA/JPL)

Captured by NASA’s Galileo spacecraft on April 5, 1997, this image shows Enki Catena, a 161.3-km (100-mile) long crater chain on the surface of Jupiter’s moon Ganymede. Named after the Sumerian god of fresh water, Enki Catena is thought to have been formed when a comet approached too close to Jupiter and was torn into 13 pieces, each impacting Ganymede in rapid succession… sort of a miniature version of what occurred in 1994 with comet Shoemaker-Levy 9.

Ganymede is not only Jupiter’s largest moon but also the largest moon in the Solar System. At 5,268 km (3,273 miles) across it is larger than Pluto and Mercury, and is the only moon that generates its own magnetosphere.

Launched in October 1989, Galileo arrived at Jupiter in December 1995 and orbited the giant planet 34 times before ending its mission with a dive into Jupiter’s atmosphere on September 21, 2003. Learn more about Galileo mission highlights here.


Oh What a Relief! Cool 3D Views of the Moon via LROC

Red/cyan anaglyph of Hell Q crater on the Moon's near side  (NASA/GSFC/Arizona State University)

Red/blue anaglyph of Hell Q crater on the Moon’s near side (NASA/GSFC/Arizona State University)

Do you have any of those paper 3D viewers around? You know, with the red and blue lenses? If so, pop ‘em on and check out the image above from NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter Camera (LROC) showing the crater “Hell Q,” located on the Moon’s southern near side near the brightly-rayed Tycho. You might think a crater was just carved into your screen!

The 3.75-km-wide Hell Q is one of a cluster of 19 craters located around the main 32.5-km Hell crater. (And no, it wasn’t named after a realm of the afterworld but rather for Hungarian astronomer Maximillian Hell.)

The image was acquired on April 11, 2014. You can see a larger 3D view of the region around Hell Q below.

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Astronaut Ron Garan Says Let’s Set Up a Moon Base First

Ron Garan: "I think we have a long, long way to go to get to Mars." (HuffPost LIVE)

Ron Garan: “I think we have a long, long way to go to get to Mars.” (HuffPost LIVE)

Former NASA astronaut Ron Garan was recently interviewed for Huffington Post’s LIVE broadcast. Ron talked about his new book The Orbital Perspective (read my review here) along with what it was like to be an astronaut and the way his experiences changed his views of life on Earth. (He also live-narrated some of the work being done at the time of the interview outside the ISS during EVA 30!)

In addition to talking about astronaut stuff, Ron weighed in on the human exploration of Mars, recently brought into the spotlight – for better or worse – with the announcement of 100 finalists by the Dutch MarsOne company, which has aspirations of creating the first human colony on the Red Planet. Ron says that while it will be important for us to venture out into the Solar System, really the next logical step would be to establish a permanent presence on our own Moon first.

“This is our closest neighbor, it’s three days away… There are so many things that could be done on the Moon that would have tremendous benefit.”
– Ron Garan, NASA astronaut

You can watch the entire video here, and share what you think in the poll below – should we go back to the Moon first? Or head right on out to Mars?

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Three Worlds, One Shot: a February 2015 Conjunction Event

Conjunction of the Moon, Venus, and Mars on Feb. 20, 2015. © Jason Major.

Conjunction of the Moon, Venus, and Mars on Feb. 20, 2015. © Jason Major.

Did you have clear skies last night? If so, you may have been able to catch the sight above: a conjunction of the crescent Moon and the planets Venus and Mars in the western sky!

I captured the photo above with a Nikon D7000 and a Sigma 150-500mm lens. Venus is the brighter object at left, Mars appears dimmer and redder above. Part of the Moon’s “dark side” can be seen due to Earthshine – sunlight reflected off Earth onto the Moon. (Sometimes romantically called “the old Moon in the new Moon’s arms.”)

Although the worlds were only within a degree or two of each other in the sky they were in reality very far apart (obviously). The actual distances from Earth to each at the time of the event? Moon: 363,784 km; Venus: 213 million km; Mars: 329.1 million km.

Check out this and other images in my Flickr gallery here.

Despeckled Radar Images Give a Clearer View of Titan’s Shores

Before despeckling (top) and after (bottom) images of portions of the shoreline around Ligeia Mare, Titan's second-largest hydrocarbon sea.  Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech/ASI

Before despeckling (top) and after (bottom) images of portions of the shoreline around Ligeia Mare, Titan’s second-largest hydrocarbon sea. Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech/ASI

At 1,600 miles (2,576 km) across Titan is by far Saturn’s largest moon – in fact it’s the second-largest satellite in the solar system. It’s also the only world besides Earth where liquids have been found in large amounts on the surface, in the form of lakes and streams of frigid methane and ethane. This makes Titan an intriguing subject of study for planetary scientists, but unfortunately it’s not all that easy to get a good look at its surface because of its thick orange clouds and dense atmosphere.

Now, researchers have developed a “despeckling” method to smooth out Cassini’s typically grainy radar maps, giving scientists a whole new way to look at Titan’s alien — yet surprisingly Earth-like — surface.

Read the rest of my article on Discovery News here. 

Neil Armstrong Had a Man Purse and It Was Full of Awesome Stuff From His Moon Trip. True Story.

Neil Armstrong leading the Apollo 11 crew to the Astrovan on July 16, 1969 (NASA/KSC)

Neil Armstrong leading the Apollo 11 crew to the Astrovan on July 16, 1969 (NASA/KSC)

So we all know that Neil Armstrong was pretty much one of the coolest guys ever and, on July 20, 1969, achieved a level of awesomeness that will never be surpassed.* Sadly, the 82-year-old Armstrong passed away on Aug. 25, 2012 due to complications from surgery. But he left us with the memory of one of humankind’s most lofty achievements and gave face, voice, and heart to the unflagging need of our species to continually reach further and explore.

An Apollo-era TSB, or McDivitt purse Credit: Air and Space Museum)

An Apollo-era TSB, or McDivitt purse (Credit: Air and Space Museum)

Now, it turns out that he even left a little bit more that that. After his passing, Neil’s wife Carol found a white cloth bag in one of his closets and contacted National Air and Space Museum curator Allan Needell about it. Called a TSB (Temporary Stowage Bag) or, more colloquially, a “McDivitt purse,” Neil’s bag was filled with various objects that had been used during the Apollo 11 mission and, thankfully, not left aboard the LM to crash into the lunar surface before the astronauts began their trip back home. For a curator of space artifacts this was a windfall – here were 18 flown items from the most famous spaceflight mission ever, collected and held on to for 43 years by the first man on the Moon!

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