Blog Archives

Surprise! Pluto May have Clouds

Alleged clouds in Pluto's atmosphere imaged by New Horizons, highlighted by a Southwest Research Institute scientist (NASA/JHUAPL/SwRI)

Alleged clouds in Pluto’s atmosphere imaged by New Horizons, highlighted by a Southwest Research Institute scientist (NASA/JHUAPL/SwRI)

We could be calling it Cloudgate—”leaked” information from internal emails identifying structures in Pluto’s already hazy atmosphere that could very well be clouds, based on a March 4 article in New Scientist.

The image above shows sections of a New Horizons image attached to an email sent by SwRI scientist John Spencer, in which he noted particularly bright areas in Pluto’s atmosphere. “In the first image an extremely bright low altitude limb haze above south-east Sputnik on the left, and a discrete fuzzy cloud seen against the sunlit surface above Krun Macula (I think) on the right,” he wrote.

Read my full story on Discovery News here.


Cassini Watches Clouds Form Over Titan’s Methane Sea

Animation of clouds forming over Ligeia Mare, one of Titan's many large methane lakes (NASA/JPL-Caltech/SSI)

Animation of clouds forming over Ligeia Mare, one of Titan’s many large methane lakes (NASA/JPL-Caltech/SSI)

What’s the weather forecast on Titan? Well if you’re planning a vacation down by the shores of Ligeia Mare you may get some cloudy skies, if what happened at the end of July repeats itself!

The animation above was made from images acquired by Cassini during a flyby of Titan in July 2014, showing the formation and dissipation of bright methane clouds over one of the moon’s polar lakes. Spanning a period of two days, the images reveal what may be the start of summer weather in Titan’s northern hemisphere… or just a bit of isolated “lake effect” cloudiness.

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The Glory of Venus

A rainbow-colored "glory" in Venus' atmosphere seen by ESA's Venus Express

A rainbow-colored “glory” in Venus’ atmosphere seen by ESA’s Venus Express

Oh, glorious Venus! How fragrant are your sulphuric skies! How your rainbow clouds do shimmer!

Actually the sulfuric acid-laden clouds of our neighboring planet would be anything but pleasant for humans, but ESA’s Venus Express orbiter did spot some iridescent hues as it flew over. The picture above, made from images acquired on July 24, 2011, show a circular “rainbow” effect known as a glory. It’s the backscattering of sunlight observed around the shadow point of an object when the Sun is directly behind it from the perspective of the observer (in this case, Venus Express itself.)

Glories are often seen here on Earth from aircraft (but sometimes even from the ground within banks of dense fog) and the mechanics of this one on Venus are pretty much the same — except that the composition of Venus’ clouds is very different, leading to a perfect opportunity for science! Read more…

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Saturn’s Stunning, Swirling Cyclone

Saturn’s north polar cyclone (NASA/JPL/SSI)

Oh man. It’s stuff like this that got me into space blogging in the first place.

Landing here on Earth last night, this is one of several new raw images from Cassini acquired yesterday (Nov. 27) showing the enormous cyclone of clouds swirling around Saturn’s geographic north pole. The angle of sunlight highlights the multilayered structure of the cyclone and surrounding cloud bands wonderfully… this is a roiling feature approximately 3-4,000 km across and in places appears to carve cloud channels hundreds of kilometers into Saturn’s atmosphere. Simply. Beautiful.

It’s been a while since we’ve gotten such a good look at Saturn’s north pole… over four years ago, I’d say, and in fact one of my very first blog posts here on LITD was of the hexagonal feature ringing Saturn’s northern hemisphere. Thanks to Cassini’s new orbital trajectory, which is taking it high over the ring plane and poles of Saturn, we have the opportunity to view the gas giant’s upper latitudes again.

In fact we even have a brand new look at the hexagon, which is still there, four years later:

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High-Flying Ice Clouds Spotted From Space

Polar mesospheric “noctilucent” clouds as seen from the space station (NASA)

Glowing high-altitude ice clouds were spotted over western Asia by the crew of the International Space Station on June 13 during one of their 16 daily orbits of the planet… the photo above shows the wispy filaments shining brightly in the mesosphere above western Iraq and Uzbekistan.

Read the rest of this article here.

Martian Motion

Can’t see the video below? Watch on YouTube here.

Vodpod videos no longer available.

The Planetary Society’s Emily Lakdawalla got a chance to hone her animation skills further with this cool sequence showing clouds drifting over the surface of Mars, made from images taken by the Mars Express orbiter back in October 2010. Awesome!

The region shown here is known as Noachis Terra, in Mars’ southern hemisphere.

The key to making this animation work so well was the use of “tweening”, which helps smooth out the motion between original image frames acquired by the spacecraft’s cameras.

This video represents a milestone for me – I learned how to “tween” an animation! “Tweening” is short for “inbetweening,” a word coined by animators to describe the generation of frames in between two key frames,” stated Emily on The Planetary Society’s blog. “The need is similar with animating space images, because individual photos from space are almost never taken at a high enough frame rate to appear to animate smoothly.

“Making these few seconds of video was a somewhat arduous process, but I think the result was worth it,” she continued. “The process can be broken down into two big tasks: generating the individual animation frames from the raw data, and generating a tweened animation from individual animation frames.”

Well the result was, in my opinion, well worth the effort… it looks awesome! Great job Emily!

Check out the original post here.

Credit: ESA / DLR / FU Berlin (G Neukum); animation by Emily Lakdawalla


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