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The “Front” Side of Tethys

Color-composite image of Tethys from Feb. 1, 2017 (NASA/JPL-Caltech/SSI/J. Major)

Color-composite image of Tethys from Feb. 1, 2017 (NASA/JPL-Caltech/SSI/J. Major)

This is a color image of Saturn’s moon Tethys I made from raw images acquired by Cassini on Feb. 1, 2017 in visible-light color channels. It shows the moon’s sunlit leading side—the face that aims in the direction that it moves in its orbit around Saturn. (Click image for a larger version.)

While this icy moon is mostly monochromatic—appearing quite grey even in a color image—there are some subtle variations over large parts of its surface. Here you can just make out a slightly darker bluish band that runs across Tethys’ equatorial region. This is the result of surface weathering by high-energy electrons within Tethys’ orbit. The pale pinker regions to the north and south of the band are thought to be a coating of small ice particles that have been expelled from nearby Enceladus.

Also visible along the terminator is part of the 1,200-mile long, 60-mile-wide Ithaca Chasma, an enormous and ancient canyon system that runs almost all the way from Tethys’ north to south poles.

Tethys is 662 miles (1,065 km) in diameter and composed mostly of water ice and rock. It orbits Saturn at a distance of 183,000 miles (295,000 km) and takes 45.3 hours to complete one orbit. Read more about Tethys here.

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Behold the Hidden Colors of Pluto

Enhanced-color view of Pluto (NASA/JHUAPL/SwRI)

Enhanced-color view of Pluto (NASA/JHUAPL/SwRI)

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!

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Share the Pluto Love!

New Horizons image of Pluto the day before the flyby. NASA/JHUAPL/SWRI

New Horizons image of Pluto the day before the flyby. NASA/JHUAPL/SWRI

It’s happened! At 7:49 a.m. EDT (11:49 UTC) this morning, July 14 2015, NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft performed its close pass of Pluto and, fourteen minutes later, its moon Charon. While we won’t receive a signal from New Horizons until about 9 p.m. tonight (and image data from the flyby won’t arrive until July 15th) NASA did share this gorgeous image this morning just before the flyby. it was taken by New Horizons on July 13th and has a resolution of about 4 km (2.4 miles) per pixel, and shows the distant world in approximate true-color. It’s highly-publicized “heart” feature is seen front-and-center – proof that Pluto loves ya!

And, according to New Horizons PI Dr. Alan Stern, this is but a teaser for the “data waterfall” that’s to begin arriving tomorrow! What an amazing day for science.

“The New Horizons team is proud to have accomplished the first exploration of the Pluto system. This mission has inspired people across the world with the excitement of exploration and what humankind can achieve.”

– Dr. Alan Stern, New Horizons PI, SwRI

The New Horizons team at Johns Hopkins APL when the image above was revealed. (NASA TV)

The New Horizons team at Johns Hopkins APL when the image above was revealed. (NASA TV)

The spacecraft is now moving away from the Pluto system at over 30,000 mph. It will spend the next 16 months transmitting data from the flyby back to Earth so scientists can fill in the long-missing gaps on our knowledge of Pluto and its family of moons.

Check back at the New Horizons site for updates.

“It’s truly amazing that humankind can go out and explore these worlds.”
– Alice Bowman, New Horizons Mission Operations Manager

Update: I had a chance to talk about Pluto with Nerdist.com writer Sarah Keartes – check out her article here.

Also, there was a funny segment by Stephen Colbert and Neil deGrasse Tyson (whom I do not completely agree with regarding Pluto) on the night of the flyby about these images of Pluto – check that out below!

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Hyperion in Color: a Composite from Cassini’s Last Visit

RGB color-composite of Hyperion from Cassini's May 31, 2015 flyby. NASA/JPL-Caltech/SSI. Edited by Jason Major.

RGB color-composite of Hyperion from Cassini’s May 31, 2015 flyby. NASA/JPL-Caltech/SSI. Edited by Jason Major.

Here’s a color view of Hyperion made from raw images acquired in optical wavelengths by Cassini during its flyby on May 31, 2015 – the last pass it will make by this moon during its mission. Read more about this flyby here.

This Is the First Color Image from the Surface of Venus

Color image data sent from the surface of Venus by the Soviet Venera-13 lander (Credit: NASA history office)

Color image data sent from the surface of Venus by the Soviet Venera-13 lander (Credit: NASA history office)

The surface of Venus is definitely no easy place to which to send a spacecraft. Crushing atmospheric pressures, powerful high-altitude winds amid caustic clouds of sulfuric acid, and temperatures that can soar above 880ºF (475ºC) make the next planet in a no-man’s-land for robotic spacecraft. But those challenges didn’t stop the Soviet space program from successfully putting several craft onto Venus’ surface in the 70s and early 80s, giving us our first views of its kiln-dried landscape.

Venera-3 became the fist spacecraft on the surface of another planet when it impacted Venus on March 1, 1966, but no data was returned. The next year Venera-4 was sent to Venus but was likely crushed by its atmosphere. Venera-7 became the first spacecraft to successfully soft-land on Venus on Dec. 15, 1970, sending back temperature data. Venera-8 landed on July 22, 1970, taking light measurements and confirming suitable levels for imaging. On Oct. 22, 1975, the Venera-9 lander returned the first image data from the surface of Venus before going out of range of the orbiting spacecraft 53 minutes later (and succumbing to harsh surface conditions after that) with Venera-10 landing three days later. Then, on March 1, 1982, Venera-13 landed on Venus, analyzing soil and capturing the first color images from the planet’s surface.

The image above is a section of a larger panorama. See the full image below:

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New OSIRIS Image of 67P Shows a Color Picture of a Black and White World

True-color OSIRIS image of comet 67P/C-G. Credits: ESA/Rosetta/MPS for OSIRIS Team MPS/UPD/LAM/IAA/SSO/INTA/UPM/DASP/IDA.

True-color OSIRIS image of comet 67P/C-G. Credits: ESA/Rosetta/MPS for OSIRIS Team MPS/UPD/LAM/IAA/SSO/INTA/UPM/DASP/IDA.

Many of the images we’ve been seeing of the craggy surface of comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko, as incredible as they are, are still monochrome. Now Rosetta’s OSIRIS team has released a true-color image of the comet taken with it high-res science imaging instrument… but even then it’s still pretty much grey.

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