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Cassini Survived Its Historic First Pass Between Saturn and Rings; First Pics In!

An image of Saturn’s north polar vortex captured by Cassini on April 26, 2017. (NASA/JPL-Caltech/SSI)

Cassini made it! On April 26, 2017, NASA’s Saturn-exploring spacecraft made its closest pass by the planet since its arrival in 2004, beginning the final phase of its mission with its first “Grand Finale” orbital pass that took it between the top of the planet’s atmosphere and the innermost edge of the ring system. It’s literally a journey that no other spacecraft has ever made—and now the pictures are coming in!

It’s also the closest Cassini has come to Saturn itself; at closest point Cassini was only about 1,900 miles (3,000 km) above the tops of Saturn’s swirling clouds. It’s amazing to think that the images we’re seeing were captured with Cassini’s wide angle camera—typically views like this have had to use its “zoom” narrow-angle camera!

Check out an animation below of some of Cassini’s views captured during the pass over Saturn’s north pole.

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Bright Clouds Make a Comeback on Titan’s North Pole

Titan’s methane lake-covered north pole imaged in infrared on Oct. 29, 2016 (NASA/JPL-Caltech/SSI)

Floating high above Titan’s hydrocarbon lakes, wispy clouds have finally started to return to the moon’s northern latitudes…but in much less numbers than expected.

Models of Titan’s climate have predicted more cloud activity during early northern summer than what Cassini has observed so far, suggesting that the current understanding of the giant moon’s changing seasons is incomplete.

Watch an animation of the clouds above in action here, and read the full story at: Send in the Clouds

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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