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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.

This Is The First Photo Ever Taken of Earth From Space

The first photo of Earth from space was taken on Oct. 24, 1946 (Credit: White Sands Missile Range/Applied Physics Laboratory. HT to Smithsonian Air & Space.)

This is the first photo of Earth taken from space. (Credit: White Sands Missile Range/Applied Physics Laboratory. HT to Smithsonian Air & Space.)

These days we get to see photos of our planet taken from space literally every day. Astronauts and cosmonauts living and working aboard the ISS, weather and Earth-observing satellites in various orbits, even distant spacecraft exploring other planets in our Solar System… all have captured images of Earth from near and far. But there was a time not that long ago when there were no pictures of Earth from space, when a view of the planet against the blackness of the cosmos was limited to the imagination of dreamers and artists and there was nothing but the Moon orbiting our world.

On October 24, 1946, — before Apollo, before Mercury, even before Sputnik — that was no longer the case.

The image above shows the first photo captured of Earth from space, taken by a camera mounted to a V-2 rocket that was launched from the White Sands Missile Range in New Mexico. Taken to the United States by the dozen from Germany after the end of World War II, V-2 (for “Vergeltungswaffe 2″) missiles were used by the US Army to improve on their own rocket designs and also by scientists who were permitted to fill their payloads with experiments.

Read the rest of this article and see some cool video footage of the V-2 launch here.

On the Lunatic Fringe: LADEE’s First Pictures of the Moon

Image of the Moon and stars from NASA's LADEE spacecraft, Feb. 8, 2014 (NASA/Ames)

Image of the Moon and stars from NASA’s LADEE spacecraft, Feb. 8, 2014 (NASA/Ames)

It’s getting so a spacecraft can’t take a decent picture these days without SOMEONE getting in the way! (*Ahem* MOON.) But then it just might be the lunatic we’re looking for…

The image above is one of five that were downlinked by NASA’s Lunar Atmospheric Dust Environment Explorer — aka LADEE (that’s “laddie” à la Mr. Scott, not “lady” à la Jerry Lewis) — and was taken on Feb. 8 with its wide-angle star tracker camera. We see a small portion of the lunar terrain illuminated by reflected light from the Earth from the spacecraft’s position about 156 miles above the Moon, which is about 100 miles lower than the ISS orbits above the Earth.

While not a particularly detailed image of the Moon like something we’d see from LRO, it’s still neat to see it close up and on its night side! The star tracker instrument is mainly a calibration tool for navigation… but that doesn’t mean it’s blind. (Just a wee bit farsighted.)

Read more about this in my Discovery News article.

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