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Behold the Most Distant Crescent Moon

Pluto's largest moon Charon crescent-lit by the Sun and reflected "Plutoshine" from Pluto. (NASA/Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory/Southwest Research Institute)

Pluto’s largest moon Charon crescent-lit by the Sun and reflected “Plutoshine” from Pluto. (NASA/Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory/Southwest Research Institute)

At first glance this pixelated picture may not look all that spectacular, but it gains a whole new meaning when you realize what it’s actually showing: a look at the most distant crescent moon ever seen! But this isn’t Earth’s moon; it’s Charon, Pluto’s largest companion, lit by the light from a Sun 3.2 billion miles away—some of it even reflected off Pluto.

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Out of the Blue

Earth's crescent taken by the departing Akatsuki's ultraviolet imager (JAXA)

Earth’s crescent taken by the departing Akatsuki’s ultraviolet imager (JAXA)

Japan’s Akatsuki (PLANET-C) spacecraft, launched on May 20, captured this image of home as it sped away on its six-month journey to Venus. Using its ultraviolet camera Akatsuki (“Dawn” in Japanese) saw the crescent Earth as a bright electric blue from a distance of over 155,000 miles away, on May 21, 2010.

Akatsuki (as well as the IKAROS spacecraft, also launched on May 20) are doing well and on their way  to Venus. Akatsuki will arrive at our planetary neighbor in December and spend two years studying its dense, turbulent atmosphere – in particular its curiously fast movement; at 220 mph it moves around Venus 60 times faster than the planet itself rotates. IKAROS, the first solar sail spacecraft, will pause briefly at Venus before heading towards the far side of the Sun.

Image: JAXA

Good Morning Antarctica

NAC_2009-11-12T21-28_H180

Midnight sun over Antarctica

Last night the Rosetta spacecraft took this stunning image of Earth, showing the rosy crescent of the southern pole lit by the summer sun. (It’s nearing the height of summer in Antarctica, when the sun never fully sets for several months.) Click for a larger view.

Absolutely beautiful.

I rotated the image so that south is up, cropped it and extended the blackness of space a bit to the left and right. See the original release here, as well as an intriguing view of the nighttime lights of eastern North America as seen by Rosetta.

(Read more about the Rosetta mission on my previous post.)

Image: ESA ©2009 MPS for OSIRIS Team MPS/UPD/LAM/IAA/RSSD/INTA/UPM/DASP/IDA

For the first time in my life I saw the horizon as a curved line. It was accentuated by a thin seam of dark blue light—our atmosphere. Obviously this was not the ocean of air I had been told it was so many times in my life. I was terrified by its fragile appearance.

— Ulf Merbold, first ESA astronaut to fly in space

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