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Author Archives: Jason Major

Three Years Ago Today New Horizons Passed Pluto

Extended-color image of Pluto made from data acquired by New Horizons on July 14, 2015. (NASA/JHUAPL/SwRI/Jason Major)

Holy Hadean history Batman, where does the time go? Today marks the third anniversary of New Horizons‘ flyby of Pluto and Charon, the first, last, and as yet only mission ever to the distant dwarf planet (aka the reigning King of the Kuiper Belt.) All of the close-up detailed images of Pluto and Charon we have (like this one) and likely will ever have for a long time were captured on this day in 2015 as the spacecraft zipped past. It was truly a historic moment in planetary exploration history!

Below is the post I wrote on the day of the flyby, July 14, 2015….just for a little space reverie.

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Well, It’s Official: Uranus Smells Like Farts

Approximate true-color view of the southern hemisphere of Uranus made from images acquired by the Voyager 2 spacecraft in January 1986.

Scientists have just confirmed what every third-grader has known for nearly 170 years* as irrefutable fact: Uranus smells like stinky farts.

Let the giggling commence.

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Meet Metis – Jupiter’s Closest, Quickest Moon

Processed raw image of Metis captured by NASA’s Galileo spacecraft in 1997. (NASA/JPL/Jason Major)

Everyone’s heard of Jupiter’s four most famous moons Europa, Io, Callisto, and Ganymede—we’ve known about them for over 400 years, thanks to Galileo—but giant Jupiter has many more moons than that. To date there are thought to be 69 natural satellites orbiting Jupiter. 53 are officially named, while 16 are awaiting further confirmation. So you’d be forgiven for not being immediately familiar with all of them…it’s a big Jovian family!

The little world seen above is one of Jupiter’s smaller and lesser-known satellites and it holds a particular distinction. It’s called Metis (pronounced like “meet” in the present tense, not “met” in the past) and it’s only about 37 miles across and 21 miles high. It is the closest moon to Jupiter, orbiting within the planet’s main ring (yes, Jupiter has rings) at a distance of about 80,000 miles. It’s also Jupiter’s speediest moon—at 70,500 mph it completes a single orbit in just over 7 hours. That’s almost three hours less than a Jovian day!

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An Opportunity From Above

To commemorate the 12th anniversary of NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter at Mars (March 10, 2006) and the still-roving Opportunity, below is an edited version of an article I wrote back in 2011 showing Opportunity imaged by MRO’s HiRISE camera.

NASA’s Opportunity rover on the edge of Santa Maria crater imaged by HiRISE on March 1, 2011.

The eye in the sky sees all…especially when that eye is the HiRISE camera on the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter! Here’s an image of a crater known as Santa Maria, taken from over 150 miles above the Martian surface by the MRO…and if you look carefully at the lower right portion of the crater rim you can see a small grey object that casts a bit of a shadow. That’s the rover Opportunity, which has been investigating the area around Santa Maria for the past several months and was using its robotic arm to take close-up shots of a small nearby rock when the image above was acquired.

I wonder if she got the feeling that she was being watched. 😉

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Surprise! Jupiter’s Poles are Literally Encircled by Cyclones

Infrared composite of cyclones over and around Jupiter’s north pole. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/SwRI/ASI/INAF/JIRAM

If you think that Saturn’s polar storm systems are amazing then you’re gonna love this: Jupiter has them too, and not just a single central storm over each of its poles either. NASA’s Juno mission has revealed that Jupiter has not only polar vortices but also a ring of enormous cyclones spinning in formation around both of its poles—five around its south pole and a whopping eight around its northern one! Each of these cyclones is gargantuan in its own right, easily big enough to span the Atlantic Ocean, and somehow they all manage to avoid merging with their respective neighbors via some as-yet unknown process. It’s literally like nothing found anywhere else in the Solar System!

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