So now that NASA’s Dawn spacecraft has been in orbit around Ceres for seven months, has the nature of its strange bright spots finally been determined? Are they brilliantly reflective deposits of water ice, as many initially suspected? Or just some curiously-bright rock faces? (Or the metallic remains of an ancient alien space base, like more than a few folks have imagined?) As it turns out, Ceres’ bright spots may be none of these (and especially not that last one… puh-leeze) — they may be enormous deposits of salt.
But they are real, and that’s what’s so great!
Obviously you’re already looking at one of them above: it’s a view of Pluto captured after New Horizons had already made its closest pass over Pluto on July 14 and was moving into its night side, giving a literally unprecedented perspective of the planet in backlit detail. With this low-angle lighting Pluto’s surface features are emphasized and its multi-layered atmospheric haze is highlighted in amazing detail.
Incredible, right? Well, get an even better look in the next one:
People of past civilizations had their own ideas of what the stars in the night sky are… distant campfires, lights shining through holes in a vast blanket covering the Earth, deceased ancestors, countless and constantly-traveling gods… whether or not they really believed these stories or if they were just tales to inspire poets and provide entertainment on dark nights is hard to tell. But one thing is for certain: we now know what those points of light really are, thanks to the past several centuries of hard work by astronomers, scientists, and engineers, and although that may make ancient tales about the stars obsolete it certainly doesn’t reduce the inherent wonder and beauty of the night sky – if anything, it has increased it many times over.
Recently French cartoonist Boulet illustrated his own lifelong fascination with space in a webcomic published on his Bouletcorp.com site. In a Dante-esque fashion he takes the figure of French singer Georges Brassens on a trip across the solar system, showing him why science and rational thought have not chased away fascination and beauty along with “the old gods”, as Brassens sang in a 1964 song (which I was not familiar with.) “Eureka” was not a death sentence for wonder!
It’s a really beautiful comic, with brilliant timing and subtle animations to highlight keep points along the way. Don’t scroll too fast.
HT to Laurie C. for the link.
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:
This newly-released picture of Pluto isn’t quite what our eyes would perceive… but then our eyes aren’t high-tech scientific imaging sensors like the ones aboard New Horizons! An enhanced-color image made from data acquired by the spacecraft’s LORRI and Ralph cameras on July 13, 2015, this view of Pluto shows the many variations in surface compositions across the planet’s visible area. What the compositions are specifically and how they got to be in the places they’re in are questions still being worked on by scientists, so for now we can all just have fun speculating and enjoy the view!