The world has lost one of its special treasures: retired Navy captain and former NASA astronaut Edgar D. Mitchell, LM pilot for Apollo 14 and one of the 12 men who walked on the Moon, died on the evening of Thursday, Feb. 4, 2016 at the age of 85.
What a difference half a century makes! This week marks 50 years since the Soviet Luna 9 spacecraft made humanity’s first-ever soft landing on the surface of the Moon. Launched from Baikonur on Jan. 31, 1966, the Luna 9 lander touched down within Oceanus Procellarum at 18:44:52 UTC on Feb. 3. Over the following three days Luna 9 sent us our first views of the Moon’s surface from the surface and, perhaps even more importantly, confirmed to scientists that a landing by spacecraft was indeed possible (which, by the way, was achieved on this day in 1971 by Al Shepard and Ed Mitchell with Apollo 14.)
An image like this could only be captured by an observer who’d traveled the 3.2 billion miles to take it beyond the orbit of Pluto! Luckily for us, in July 2015 we had exactly that: the New Horizons spacecraft, which had spent the previous nine and a half years soaring across the Solar System.
Drumroll please… the little moon Telesto! (You like it, you really like it!) This image, captured by Cassini on Jan. 14, 2016, shows Saturn’s moon Telesto – a “leading trojan” of the much larger satellite Tethys.
A trojan moon is one that orbits a parent body within the same path as a more massive satellite, positioned at the Lagrangian points L4 and L5… usually at 60º ahead and behind within the orbit relative to the overall center (which, in the case of Tethys, is Saturn.)
The irregularly-shaped, 15-mile (24-km) -wide Telesto rides around Saturn ahead of Tethys, making it the moon’s “leading” trojan. Its slightly larger sister Calypso follows behind Tethys as the trailing trojan. All three orbit the ringed planet at a distance of over 183,000 miles (294,000 km).
After nearly eleven and a half years in orbit around Saturn the Cassini spacecraft has made its last-ever targeted flyby of Enceladus, the 320-mile-wide moon of Saturn that has intrigued scientists and the public alike with its active water ice geysers for more than a decade since their discovery. On Saturday Dec. 19, 2015, Cassini performed its E-22 flyby of Enceladus, coming within 3,106 miles (5,000 km) of the moon’s fractured and frozen surface as it sped by at over 21,000 mph. It captured some incredible images along the way, including the one above showing a crescent-lit Enceladus from its night side silhouetted against the hazy upper atmosphere of Saturn, 150,000 miles beyond.
Take a look through some more raw images from the E-22 flyby below.
Today NASA released an amazing image of Earth taken from the Moon — specifically from lunar orbit by NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter, which has been studying our Moon since the summer of 2009. In it our planet appears as an incredibly bright blue globe with swashes of white clouds and Africa and northeastern South America clearly visible beyond the rolling grey hills of the Moon. It’s so clear and perfect it almost doesn’t look real — so is it?
Why yes. Yes it is. (But of course there was a little help needed from the LROC imaging teams at Arizona State University and Goddard Space Flight Center!)