Blog Archives

The Scale of the Solar System With a Soccer Ball, a Drone, Pin Heads, and Planet Nine

I love models that demonstrate the incredible size and space of the Solar System, very much so because many illustrations and diagrams fail to portray it accurately (and for very good reason…it’s enormous.) The most recent is shown here, enthusiastically created and narrated by former NASA engineer Mark Rober. This particular demonstration is unique in that it’s the only one (that I’ve seen so far) that includes the newest possible-planet in the Solar System, “Planet Nine,” a Neptune-mass world that may orbit the Sun up to four times farther away than Pluto. Check it out above, and you can find some other cool scale models of the Solar System I’ve encountered previously below.

(And remember kids, space is really, really, really BIG.)

How Big is the Solar System?
What is Space?
If the Moon Were Only 1 Pixel
A Matter of Scale
A Scale Model of the Solar System Like You’ve Never Seen Before

Europe’s Sentinel-3A Returns Gorgeous “First Light” Earth Images

Day to night transition over Norway captured by ESA's Sentinel 3A satellite. Credit: Copernicus data (2016).

Day to night transition over Norway captured by ESA’s Sentinel 3A satellite. Credit: Copernicus data (2016).

Captured by the EU’s Copernicus Sentinel-3A satellite on Feb. 29, 2016, this beautiful composition of blacks, purples, and blues shows the twilight transition across the Norwegian archipelago of Svalbard, located north of the Arctic Circle between Norway and the North Pole.  The snow-covered and fjord-cut large island of Spitsbergen can be seen at the right edge, while sea ice and clouds follow their own swirling currents on and above the Greenland sea.

This is the first image acquired by the spacecraft, which was launched aboard a converted-ICBM Rockot vehicle on Feb. 16 from Russia’s Plesetsk Cosmodrome. The first of two planned Sentinel-3 satellites, 3A is currently in a high-inclination orbit at an altitude of 505 miles (814 km).

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Pale Blue Dot: Our Valentine from Voyager 1

If you’re in love with space exploration then you’ll fall for this: a picture of Earth (and five other planets) taken from the Voyager 1 spacecraft after it passed the orbit of Pluto in 1990, 26 years ago today. That image of our planet from almost 4 billion miles away inspired Carl Sagan to write his famous “Pale Blue Dot” passage, and reminds us that we are all just floating on “a mote of dust suspended in a sunbeam.”

This is from a post I originally published in 2010. I’ll keep trotting it out until it’s not cool anymore. (Which I don’t think will ever will NEVER happen.)

Venus, Earth, Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus and Neptune as seen by Voyager 1 in 1990 (Credit: NASA)

On February 14, 1990, after nearly 13 years of traveling the solar system, the Voyager 1 spacecraft passed the orbit of Pluto and turned its camera around to take a series of photos of the planets. The image above shows those photos, isolated from the original series and are left to right, top to bottom: Venus, Earth, Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, and Neptune.

From that distance, over 4 billion miles from the Sun, the planets each appear as little more than a bright dot against the vastness of interplanetary space.

“That’s here. That’s home. That’s us. On it everyone you love, everyone you know, everyone you ever heard of, every human being who ever was, lived out their lives. … There is perhaps no better demonstration of the folly of human conceits than this distant image of our tiny world.”

– Carl Sagan

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Is This New Picture of Earth From the Moon for Real? Yes, Yes It Is.

An "Earthrise" over Compton crater as imaged by LRO on Oct. 12, 2015. Credit: NASA/GSFC/Arizona State University

An “Earthrise” over Compton crater as imaged by LRO on Oct. 12, 2015. Credit: NASA/GSFC/Arizona State University

Today NASA released an amazing image of Earth taken from the Moon — specifically from lunar orbit by NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter, which has been studying our Moon since the summer of 2009. In it our planet appears as an incredibly bright blue globe with swashes of white clouds and Africa and northeastern South America clearly visible beyond the rolling grey hills of the Moon. It’s so clear and perfect it almost doesn’t look real — so is it?

Why yes. Yes it is. (But of course there was a little help needed from the LROC imaging teams at Arizona State University and Goddard Space Flight Center!)

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This Asteroid Will Come Eerily Close to Earth on Halloween

Concept image of a large asteroid passing by Earth and the Moon

A recently-discovered asteroid named 2015 TB145 will come within 1.3 lunar distances of Earth on Oct. 31, 2015. (Illustration by J. Major.)

Yes, it’s true: a rather not-so-tiny near-Earth asteroid SKULL-SHAPED ZOMBIE COMET (see below) 2015 TB145 will make a relatively close pass by our dear planet Earth on October 31, aka Halloween — the day when certain beliefs profess that the veil separating the worlds of the living and the dead is at its thinnest, allowing spiritual and even physical interaction to occur between both.

Of course there is no scientific evidence that the latter is at all true but it makes for good scary stories around the light of a campfire. And as the first-world campfires of today are the stark lights of computer monitors and smartphone screens, some are trying to weave scary stories about the passing of this asteroid as well. Should you be afraid? Certainly not. (But there is a cautionary tale to be told.)

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Elusive Red Sprite Seen From the Space Station

NASA photo ISS044-E-45576 showing storms over southern Mexico on Aug. 10, 2015. (NASA/JSC)

NASA photo ISS044-E-45576 showing storms over southern Mexico on Aug. 10, 2015. (NASA/JSC)

Let’s take a look back at our own planet for a moment with this stunning photo captured from the Space Station. This shot, taken on the night of Aug. 10, 2015, shows lightning flashes in thunderstorms over southern Mexico. Along the right edge bright red and purple streamers can be seen extending high into the atmosphere above a particularly powerful flash: a full-on “red sprite” caught on camera!

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