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Cassini Survived Its Historic First Pass Between Saturn and Rings; First Pics In!

An image of Saturn’s north polar vortex captured by Cassini on April 26, 2017. (NASA/JPL-Caltech/SSI)

Cassini made it! On April 26, 2017, NASA’s Saturn-exploring spacecraft made its closest pass by the planet since its arrival in 2004, beginning the final phase of its mission with its first “Grand Finale” orbital pass that took it between the top of the planet’s atmosphere and the innermost edge of the ring system. It’s literally a journey that no other spacecraft has ever made—and now the pictures are coming in!

It’s also the closest Cassini has come to Saturn itself; at closest point Cassini was only about 1,900 miles (3,000 km) above the tops of Saturn’s swirling clouds. It’s amazing to think that the images we’re seeing were captured with Cassini’s wide angle camera—typically views like this have had to use its “zoom” narrow-angle camera!

Check out an animation below of some of Cassini’s views captured during the pass over Saturn’s north pole.

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Opportunity Looks Back on Its Downhill Departure from Cape Tribulation

An approximate true-color view from Opportunity acquired on April 21, 2017. (Click for full size.)

It’s all downhill from here! (Well not really, but it was for a little while when Opportunity was at the top of that hill!) The image above is a mosaic I assembled from six color-composites, each made from three separate images acquired in near-infrared, green, and near-ultraviolet color wavelengths on April 21, 2017 (mission sol 4707). It’s been adjusted to appear in approximate true color to what the scene might look like to a human standing on Mars. The view shows a ridge called “Rocheport” located on the western rim of Endeavour Crater (the interior of which would be toward the right in this image) which was the final segment of Opportunity’s last target region of exploration, Cape Tribulation. Opportunity’s wheel tracks can be seen at the bottom center, heading back up the ridge and zig-zagging toward the top (detail below).

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Here’s Hubble’s Newest Knockout Portrait of Jupiter

Jupiter imaged by the Hubble Space Telescope on April 3, 2017. Credit: NASA, ESA, and A. Simon (GSFC)

On April 3, 2017, as Jupiter made its nearest approach to Earth in a year, NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope viewed the solar system’s largest planet in all of its up-close glory. At a distance of 415 million miles (668 million km) from Earth, Jupiter offered spectacular views of its colorful, roiling atmosphere, the legendary Great Red Spot, and its smaller companion at farther southern latitudes dubbed “Red Spot Jr.” Taken with Hubble’s Wide Field Camera 3, the image resolves details in Jupiter’s atmosphere as small as about 80 miles (129 km) across.

Read the full article on NASA’s Hubble site here, and check out a version I made with enhanced contrast and sharpness to bring out some details in Jupiter’s clouds below:

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Get Ready for Cassini’s Glorious Grand Finale

The end is near. On September 15, 2017, NASA’s Cassini spacecraft will end its mission as well as its very existence with a plunge into the atmosphere of the very planet it has been orbiting since June 2004. It’s a maneuver intended to protect the pristine environments of Saturn’s icy moons, some of which harbor hidden reserves of liquid water, from potential impact contamination by an incapacitated spacecraft at some distant time in the future. But even though the reasons are noble, there’s no doubt that the final flight of Cassini and its inevitable loss will be a sad event for all those — myself very much included — who have followed along on its journey of discovery all these years. (Literally my first feature post here was a picture from Cassini.)

The video above, released today by NASA, is a poignant look both back at Cassini’s voyages and ahead at its Grand Finale, the last and most daring part of its mission at Saturn. These last few months will be bittersweet for Cassini fans, as every week will bring us closer to the end but also new and breathtaking views of Saturn…up to and including one last “family portrait” of the planet, its beautiful rings, and family of amazing moons.

Must be dusty in here, there’s something in my eye…

The end phase of the mission begins April 22. Follow along with the Grand Finale here.

These Photos Taken from the Moon Show Lots and Lots of Stars

Photo of a partially-lit Earth captured by the Far Ultraviolet Camera on Apollo 16. Note that stars are visible in the background. (NASA)

One of the favorite allegations by those who continue to be skeptical of the Apollo moon landings is that there are no stars visible in the photographs taken by the astronauts while they were “supposedly” on the Moon. Now while there’s a rather short but succinct list of why that’s the case (and feel free to review those reasons here) the truth is that there ARE stars visible in photographs taken from the Moon—photographs taken in ultraviolet light during the penultimate Apollo 16 mission in April of 1972.

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