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.
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:
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:
On July 29, with ESA’s Rosetta spacecraft in orbital tow, the 2.5-mile (4-kilometer) -long Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko fired its brightest jet yet since Rosetta’s arrival just over a full year ago, on Aug. 6, 2014.
Most of the images of 67P showing jets and outgassing activity released over the past few months have been edited to boost jet visibility but this recent flare-up needed no such enhancement. Rosetta’s high-resolution OSIRIS camera had no problem capturing the brief ice capade from 115 miles (186 km) away.
I’m in a debunking mood today, probably brought on by the seasonal “double Moon hoax” that raises its oh-so-wrong head every August. (Read more on that nonsense here.) So here’s one more thing to say “NO” to: giant alien cave crabs on Mars.
Apparently there’d been some buzz recently in the “space woo” circles online over an image acquired by NASA’s Curiosity rover showing an exposed rock outcrop on Mars. In the image, tucked into a corner between a couple of larger rocks, is an oddly-shaped… thing… that some of the more “open-minded” (sarcasm intended) viewers have claimed is an alien organism, not unlike some that have made appearances in various sci-fi films over the years.
I’ve included the original Mastcam image above with the object in question outlined and “enhanced” on the left. Is this indisputable evidence of tentacled cave dwellers on the Red Planet? Hardly.