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Pluto Looks Amazing (Again) in the Latest View From New Horizons

Image of a backlit Pluto made from images acquired by New Horizons in July 2015. (NASA/JHUAPL/SwRI)

Image of a backlit Pluto made from images acquired by New Horizons in July 2015. (NASA/JHUAPL/SwRI)

At the beginning of September the world was treated to a fantastic view of the night side of Pluto, captured by the New Horizons spacecraft as it departed the distant icy world on July 14, 2015. Backlit by the sun, Pluto’s surprisingly complex atmospheric haze created a ghostly glow above its crescent-lit limb while frozen mountains cast reflected light upon neighboring Plutonian peaks.

On Thursday, NASA released an update to that image showing a more complete view of Pluto in its backlit glory, created from more high-resolution images that continue to stream in from the Kuiper Belt-bound spacecraft, over three billion miles away.

Read the rest of my story on Discovery News.

Supermoon Eclipse 2015

Sept. 27, 2015 "Supermoon" eclipse from the RI State House (© Jason Major)

Sept. 27, 2015 “Supermoon” eclipse from the RI State House (© Jason Major)

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:

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Elusive Red Sprite Seen From the Space Station

NASA photo ISS044-E-45576 showing storms over southern Mexico on Aug. 10, 2015. (NASA/JSC)

NASA photo ISS044-E-45576 showing storms over southern Mexico on Aug. 10, 2015. (NASA/JSC)

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!

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A Northern View of Saturn’s Stained Moon Iapetus

Saturn's moon Iapetus, imaged by Cassini on March 31, 2015 (NASA/JPL-Caltech/SSI)

Saturn’s moon Iapetus, imaged by Cassini on March 31, 2015 (NASA/JPL-Caltech/SSI)

Here’s a raw image of Saturn’s moon Iapetus, looking down on its northern hemisphere from Cassini on March 31, 2015. The moon’s signature two-toned coloration is evident as its bright icy surface is partially coated by dark material, thought to have been ejected from distant neighbor Phoebe.

Iapetus is 914 miles (1,471 km) in diameter, or about as wide as Texas and Louisiana combined. It orbits Saturn at a considerable distance of 2,212,889 miles (3,561,300 km), which is nine times farther than the Moon is from us.

Iapetus’ north pole is located just below and to the left of the centrally-peaked crater south of the brightest region in the image above. (The two prominent craters near image center are Roland and Turpin.)

Learn more about Iapetus here, and for a color version of the above image click here.

An Absolutely Epic Photo of Humans Returning From Space

The Expedition 42 Soyuz capsule descending via parachute to land in Kazakhstan on March 12, 2015. (NASA/Bill Ingalls)

The Expedition 42 Soyuz capsule descending via parachute to land in Kazakhstan on March 12, 2015. (NASA/Bill Ingalls)

It almost doesn’t look real but it is: the return of three humans aboard a Soyuz TMA-14M capsule after spending nearly six months aboard the ISS as part of Expedition 41/42, captured on camera by NASA photographer Bill Ingalls during their sunlit descent via parachute. The Soyuz landed in a remote area near the town of Zhezkazgan, Kazakhstan at 10:07 p.m. EDT March 11 / 02:07 UTC March 12. The landing site may have been in dense fog, but above the clouds the view was simply amazing!

Aboard the Soyuz TMA-14 were cosmonauts Elena Serova, Alexander Samokutyaev, and NASA astronaut Barry “Butch” Wilmore. See more photos from the descent and landing on the NASA HQ Photo album on Flickr 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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