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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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Only the Penitentes Shall Pass: Snow and Stars Near ESO’s ALMA

Icy penitentes march along the cold, dry ground on the Chajnantor Plateau near ALMA (ESO/Babak Tafreshi)

Icy penitentes march along the cold, dry ground on the Chajnantor Plateau near ALMA. Click for full version. (ESO/Babak Tafreshi)

I just had to share this beautiful image by ESO photo ambassador Babak Tafreshi; it shows a star-filled night sky above the Chajnantor Plateau on the border of Chile and Bolivia, the site of the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA) observatory. The site, chosen for its remote location and incredibly clear, dry sky, is one of the best on Earth for observing the most distant objects in the Universe.

The jagged snow features in the foreground are known as penitentes, for their resemblance to the conical hats of Spanish religious group members known as the Nazarenos. They are the result of Sun and wind erosion on high-altitude snow, although the exact process isn’t entirely known.

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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.

Comet 67P Fires Up Its Jets

The nucleus of comet 67P/C-G as seen by Rosetta on Jan. 31(L) and Feb. 3 (R), 2015. Credits: ESA/Rosetta/NAVCAM – CC BY-SA IGO 3.0. Edited by Jason Major.

The nucleus of comet 67P/C-G as seen by Rosetta on Jan. 31(L) and Feb. 3 (R), 2015. Credits: ESA/Rosetta/NAVCAM – CC BY-SA IGO 3.0. Edited by Jason Major.

And the show is on! The dramatic images above show the actively jetting comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko on Jan. 31 and Feb. 3, imaged by Rosetta’s NavCam from a distance of about 28 km (17 miles). Each is a mosaic of four separate NavCam acquisitions, and I adjusted and tinted them in Photoshop to further enhance the jets’ visibility. (You can view the original image mosaics here and here.)

The small bright spots and flecks in the images are bits of icy debris and dust that have been ejected from the comet. In the second image you can see what looks like deflection of the jets from the comet’s lower lobe off the underside of the upper lobe as well as a shadow of the upper section being cast down through the reflective icy spray.

These views are just a hint at what’s in store; 67P’s jet activity will only be increasing in the coming weeks and months and, this Saturday, Rosetta will be swooping down for an extreme close pass over its surface. Luckily for us we get to experience the adventure vicariously through Rosetta!

Read the rest of this article on Universe Today.

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