On March 9, 2017, NASA’s Curiosity rover took this picture with its turret-mounted MAHLI camera of the calibration target installed near the “shoulder” of its robotic arm. In addition to color chips and a metric line graph, the target also includes a U.S. coin: a 1909 Lincoln penny, adhered heads-up.
Curiosity’s coin isn’t just for good luck though; it’s also a nod to geologists who typically use familiar objects in field photos to help determine scale. (Curiosity is, after all, one of only two working robot geologists on all of Mars!)
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.
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!
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 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!
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.