On Feb. 9, 1971, Apollo 14 astronauts Alan Shepard, Jr., Stuart Roosa, and Edgar Mitchell returned to Earth, their command module Kitty Hawk splashing down in the Pacific Ocean at 21:05 UT (4:05 p.m. EST). They were recovered by the USS New Orleans (LPH-11) and returned to the U.S. by way of American Samoa. But the three men weren’t the only living creatures to return from space that day… in fact, human astronauts were in the minority.
Al, Stu, and Ed also shared their lunar voyage with nearly 500 trees.
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.
On Feb. 3, 1966 the Soviet Luna 9 spacecraft made the first successful robotic soft landing on the Moon. Seven hours later it transmitted its first images of the lunar surface back to Earth. The image above is Luna 9 lander’s first view—the first time humans had ever seen a picture from the surface of another world.
Saturn’s 250-mile-wide icy moon Mimas shines in direct sunlight and reflected light from Saturn in this image, a composite of raw images acquired by NASA’s Cassini spacecraft on Jan. 30, 2017 and received on Earth today, Feb. 1. This is a bit of a “Frankenstein” job I made, assembled from five separate narrow-angle camera images taken in various wavelengths so the proportions are slightly off here and there, but the general placement of surface features are about right and the lighting is accurate to the scene. Mimas’ south pole is within the deeply shadowed area at the bottom; north is up.
America’s newest next-generation Earth observing weather satellite, NOAA’s GOES-16, has returned its first high-definition images of Earth—one of which even includes the Moon!
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.