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Have No Fear, Phobos is Here!

Mars and Phobos imaged by Hubble on may 12, 2016. Credits: NASA, ESA, and Z. Levay (STScI), Acknowledgment: J. Bell (ASU) and M. Wolff (Space Science Institute).

On May 12, 2016, the Hubble Space Telescope captured a series of images of Mars and in them the planet’s moon Phobos can be seen appearing from behind the western limb. This was just 10 days before opposition which, in 2016, was the closest Mars had been to Earth since 2005, lending particularly good opportunity for picking out its largest—yet still quite small—moon.

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This Day in Space History: One Small Step

Note: This is an updated article from 2012.

Panorama of the Eagle lunar module by Ed Hengeveld from JSC scans.

“That’s one small step for a man… one giant leap for mankind.”

I’m not sure what else need be said about the significance of what happened on this day in 1969, 48 years ago… it was a shining moment in human history, and will be — should be — remembered forever as an example of what people can achieve when challenged, driven, and inspired.

More giant leaps have been made since then, and undoubtedly more will be made in the future, but this was the first and to this date still very much the biggest.
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How NASA’s Lunar Orbiter was Struck by a Meteoroid and Survived to Tell the Tale

This image from NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter narrow-angle camera (NAC) shows jagged lines caused by a meteoroid impact in Oct. 2014. (NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center/Arizona State University)

On October 13, 2014, something rather…striking…happened to one of the cameras aboard NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO), which has been imaging the Moon from lunar orbit since 2008. The Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter Camera (LROC), which normally produces beautifully clear images of the lunar surface, produced an image that was wild and jittery. From the sudden and jagged pattern apparent in the image, the LROC team determined that the camera must have been hit by a tiny meteoroid, a piece of space debris no larger than the head of a pin but traveling much faster than a bullet.

“A meteoroid impact on the LROC NAC reminds us that LRO is constantly exposed to the hazards of space,” says Noah Petro, deputy project scientist from NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center. “And as we continue to explore the Moon, it reminds us of the precious nature of the data being returned.”

Read the full story from NASA here: Camera on NASA’s Lunar Orbiter Survived 2014 Meteoroid Hit

There’s a New Moon in the Solar System

Hubble WFC3 observations of 2007 OR10 in the Kuiper Belt in Nov. 2009 and Sept. 2010 reveal a small moon. Credits: NASA, ESA, C. Kiss (Konkoly Observatory), and J. Stansberry (STScI).

Ok, technically it’s not a new moon as it’s probably several billion years old but we didn’t know about it before, so it’s new to us! A team of researchers has just announced the discovery of a 150- to 250-mile-wide moon orbiting a dwarf planet in the Kuiper Belt named 2007 OR10. This distant, icy world is only 950 miles wide itself but it’s still the third largest dwarf planet, ranking behind Pluto and Eris in size.

The existence of the moon was first hinted at in observations by NASA’s Kepler telescope, which showed 2007 OR10 to be rotating suspiciously slowly for a KBO—45 hours as compared to a more typical under 24. After reviewing earlier Hubble observations of the object a moon was positively identified.

This discovery not only adds a new member to the Solar System’s family tree but also helps better understand the formation of KBOs.

“The discovery of satellites around all of the known large dwarf planets—except for Sedna—means that at the time these bodies formed billions of years ago, collisions must have been more frequent, and that’s a constraint on the formation models,” said Csaba Kiss of the Konkoly Observatory in Budapest, Hungary, lead author of the research. “If there were frequent collisions, then it was quite easy to form these satellites.”

Read the full article from NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center here: Hubble Spots Moon Around Third Largest Dwarf Planet

Saturn’s Moon Atlas Is Even More Flying Saucery Than Pan

Animation made from images acquired by Cassini on April 12, 2017.

If you thought Pan resembled a UFO, Atlas is even more saucer-shaped! Slightly larger at about 19 miles across, Saturn’s moon Atlas was passed by NASA’s Cassini spacecraft on April 12, 2017, coming within about 9,000 miles. The images above are a collection of eight from Cassini’s closest approach. Like its smaller sibling Pan, Atlas has a flattened shape, created by the presence of a large buildup of icy material around its equator.

Atlas orbits Saturn just outside the edge of the A ring, taking about 14 hours to complete a full orbit.

Learn more about Atlas here.

UPDATE: Here’s a color image of Atlas made from raw images acquired by Cassini on April 12 in infrared, green, and UV wavelengths. I’ve adjusted it to bring out some surface detail and (hopefully) closer match actual visible light.

Atlas IR--G-UV 4-12-17

Color image of Atlas from April 12, 2017. Credit: NASA/JPL/Caltech/Space Science Institute/Jason Major.

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